Far from being dry, constitutional stuff, Liberal Democrat values of empowering local communities and freeing people from poverty are woven through the document. It suggests that there should be a “constitutional duty to tackle poverty through efforts at every level of Government.”
The key underlying principle is that of empowerment:
The new settlement has, at its heart, a vision of Scotland’s place in the world, of citizens and communities having greater control over their own life circumstances and over the increasingly powerful forces which influence them.
While it’s acknowledged that it’ll take time to establish a fully Federal Government for the UK, the Report suggests that full Home Rule, with Scotland being responsible for raising many more taxes, could be put to the voters at the next General Election to gain a mandate and be in place by the one after that.
I like the way that the Report requires Governments to work together to deliver certain functions. For example, pensions and welfare sensibly would stay at UK level, but the Scottish Government could run things like Job Centre Plus and the Work Programme. There would also be a requirement to consult the Scottish Government if major welfare reforms were planned.
One area I would have liked to see it tackle is immigration. We actually need people to move to Scotland to live, yet the UK Border Agency sets the rules and, at the moment, makes it very difficult for that to happen. It would make more sense for there to be more flexibility within the system and for the Scottish Government to have its say about Scotland’s needs.
What is particularly good about this report is that it enshrines devolution of power not only to Holyrood from Westminster but from Holyrood to local authorities. The SNP Government would centralise anything if it stood still for long enough. By 2016, Scottish Councils will have had to deal with a 9 year Council Tax freeze effectively imposed from Edinburgh. Under the Liberal Democrat vision, local communities and authorities would have much more power to make decisions that reflect their needs and would limit the power of Government ministers to interfere. New Burgh Councils, responsible for local facilities like parks and libraries, could be established if local communities wished.
Speaking at the report launch, Willie Rennie said:
Our ambition is to improve the social, environmental and economic well-being of Scotland.
That ambition can be best achieved when we have a parliament with the powers and responsibilities that enable it to be sensitive and flexible to local needs while able to share risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.
The Home Rule Commission report allocates financial power to the Scottish Parliament and local councils, both raising a majority of what they spend. This would give us fiscal authority to make decisions about how much we raise and spend as well as deciding what we spend it on. Yet it would also enable us to share risk in times of crisis and reward in times of plenty.
We want to trigger reform across the United Kingdom to deliver a truly federal relationship within the United Kingdom. We will use these plans to lead the debate, to build a consensus and secure a mandate for reform at the next general election. We urge people who like our plans to come on side and make the case for this change.
The Liberal Democrats are first to publish a detailed vision for the future that doesn’t involve independence. Now the challenge is to persuade others to adopt it and turn it into a reality.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings