Michael Moore MP writes… Federalism: The best future for Scotland

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TLast week saw the intervention of two giants of Scotland’s political landscape in the debate over Scottish independence.  An emerging consensus came to light after Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, and Sir Menzies Campbell, former UK leader of the Lib Dems, issued separate calls for the Scottish parliament to be given sweeping new powers as an alternative to independence.

While Gordon Brown was speaking in Glasgow, over in Edinburgh Sir Menzies Campbell was publishing a new report on the Liberal Democrats’ proposals for devolution.  Both statements saw the endorsing of proposals for the UK’s constitution to be rewritten to give Holyrood permanent legal standing and insisted that a timetable for action by the pro-UK parties following a no vote was essential.

Liberal Democrats have advocated the case for Scottish home rule for almost a century and in 2012 we edged closer towards that settlement.  As Secretary of State for Scotland, I oversaw the passing of the Scotland Act in 2012, which saw the most significant transfer of financial powers from London to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom.

The Scotland Act cemented the Scottish Parliament as a major aspect of Scottish social and political life. It was supported by Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives. The Scotland Act establishes a new Scottish rate of Income Tax from 2015, as well as borrowing powers worth up to £2.7 billion.  Therefore, as a result of the Scotland Act, Holyrood now has responsibility for a vast array of tax and borrowing powers, as well as current competences including health, education, justice and local government.

I have been a supporter of home rule and a Scottish Parliament all of my political life. Home rule for Scotland within a reformed, federal United Kingdom has long been the constitutional aim of Liberals and Liberal Democrats. Now, the constitutional debate in Scotland is arriving at an important staging post. The future shape of Scotland, and the very existence of the United Kingdom, is at stake in the forthcoming referendum.

The Liberal Democrats want to trigger reform across the United Kingdom to deliver a truly federal relationship within the United Kingdom. True federalism will allow for a system of government that accommodates for the expression of different identities within one system, but combines with it the additional influence and strength which comes from co-operation and common purpose.  Being a Brit, a Borderer and a Scot, I think that this system best suits the majority of people living on the Border, who do not want to compromise their current multi-faceted identity.

We will use Sir Menzies’ 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.

* Michael Moore was the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk from 1997-2015 and Secretary of State for Scotland from 2010-2013.

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  • This rather sums up the ‘debate’ on federalism: you haven’t mentioned England once. What about fairness and equity for all of the Union instead of simply stuffing Scottish mouths with financial and administrative gold?

  • Robin Bennett 19th Mar '14 - 12:35pm

    Wait a minute. England has around 90% of the population and its regions show no appetite for Scotland-style devolution. Such an unbalanced “federalism” is unworkable.
    The little-noticed Scotland Act in 2012 which Michael Moore piloted through the Commons was hardly the “most significant transfer of financial powers from London to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom” (That happened in 1999, by the way) .
    David Cameron’s speech to the Scottish Tory conference referred to further devolution in terms which, as expected, showed no commitment. Labour have yesterday made a few proposals which Alex Salmond, probably correctly, claims leaves 80% of fiscal control at Westminster. Ming’s latest proposals were recently described as a series of proposals for the three unionist parties to “definitely have some kind of conversation about giving Scotland some new powers of some sort at some point somehow”. Perhaps that goes too far, but the lowest common denominator among the unionist parties is unlikely to be more than tweaking.

  • About borrowing powers. Can’t local councils borrow money? What if Scotland were to default on its borrowing? Would Westminster come in to save it? If so what would be the incentive to behave responsibly. The term ‘home rule’ is a nonsense to my mind and belongs to the imperial age. There is a paradox in recent polling of Scots. Most want more powers for the Scottish parliament but at the same time don’t want different pension/benefit levels to the rest of the UK. I cannot believe that Westminster would allow Scotland to set its own corporation tax rates and undercut England as Ireland has done. Also what would a fully federal UK look like? If you had an English parliament it would dwarf all the others and the Union would be hugely destabilised.

    These are big questions and yet all we ever seem to get is ‘give Scotland more powers to keep them happy.’

  • England should no more be divided into regions that any of the other nations of the UK. Fairness is a parliament for each of the four nations, which would in fact give the much smaller other nations a far, greater say relative to their populations if each had an equal voice. But it would be a start to give England a voice at long last – as a single country, not a series of territories defined by the Scottish dominated Westminster elite.

  • Laurence Scott-Macka 20th Mar '14 - 2:09am

    I agree but as proper Federalism that balances the power of England will never be on offer. If the House of Lords was replaced by Lords of the Isles with 25% for Scotland 25% for Wales 25% for England and 25% for NI and Eire it would eb great. I would be really happy with that but it is never going to happen.

    However – I now think that we must vote YES and then as equals discuss a joint currency, defence etc. Maybe we could get together will Eire as well and offer the the pound as an alternative to the German Centric Euro.

    England is stuck in a time warp with the Queen, Lords and no PR even a “liberal” government could not move them. Scotland has PR, no house of lords for Scottish legislation and has simply moved on.

    Come on Michael get behind the yES side and then lets work with England to build a new co-operative platform.

    Be our Madison – Your Country needs your skill and wisdom!

  • The only way an English Parliament would make sense is if the powers and authority of the Westminster Parliament were severely restricted, limited only to those institutions which are shared between the nations and which could not be devolved. That in turn would raise questions as to whether the resulting Westminster Parliament was not bloated, oversized, overprivileged, and overpaid. So it’s not going to happen.

  • @Robin
    “England has around 90% of the population and its regions show no appetite for Scotland-style devolution. ” What do you base this assertion upon? Certain areas of the country already sense and desire more devolution e.g. Cornwall, London, Yorkshire. Is it because such devolution has never really been explained or offered?

  • John is correct. Current regions are a 1980s fudge designed by the Tories to frustrate the EC (as it was then) which required countries to define regions. They are not based on facts. I live in what the LDs know as the ‘South Central’ region, which is far more logical than the ‘South East’, which has no basis in reality.

    However, England is a single entity as well and, like the other parts of the UK, it needs and deserves a single parliament. Anything less devalues this country at the expense of a few petty nationalists elsewhere who inexplicably see England as a threat.

  • Robin Bennett 20th Mar '14 - 3:10pm

    John Innes: “England has around 90% of the population and its regions show no appetite for Scotland-style devolution. ” What do you base this assertion upon?
    Perhaps I stand to be corrected, but living in Scotland I had not heard, since the decisive outcome of John Prescott’s North East referendum in 2004, that regions of England, apart from Cornwall recently, were agitating for devolution. London? One is tempted to ask what power is there left to devolve.

  • Laurence Scott-Macka 22nd Mar '14 - 1:23am

    All the strain put on students and their families along with the destruction of the Liberal Democrat party has been for nothing – £9000 a year student fees raises no money what so ever. – Way to go Nick. The SNP free student fees is a cost neutral program providing the greatest good for the lowest cost – way to go good government! Vote YES

  • The UK could be compared to Germany before 1933 in which Prussia, like England, was by far the biggest state with Bavaria next and several others such as Saxony, Wurtemberg , Brunswick etc which were formerly kingdoms, grand duchies etc. After WWII the allies abolished Prussia and divided Germany into 16 Lander created partly from the various Prussian provinces , Bavaria and the merging of some of the smaller states into lander of broadly similar size.

    This seems to have worked well and I am not aware of any pressure to abolish the lander. England does have identifiable regions which can be traced back to ancient kingdoms like Wessex, Northumbria, Mercia etc. If it works for Germany it might work here too. It would be hard to say that Germany is not a successful state.

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