Scottish Liberal Democrats launch vision of federal UK, home rule and local empowerment

Photo: Graeme Littlejohn

Last year, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie asked Menzies Campbell MP to head up a Home Rule Commission to set out our view on how Governments within the UK should work and what they should be responsible for. That report is published today and can be read in full here.  Menzies Campbell launched it at the Scottish Parliament this morning.

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

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15 Comments

  • Tom Robinson 17th Oct '12 - 11:55am

    “While it’s acknowledged that it’ll take time to establish a fully Federal Government for the UK”There will never,ever, be a federal UK government-the English have ZERO interest in it, and the Lib Dems don’t actively campaign for it, even in Scotland, never mind in England.

    Put this report straight into the wastepaper basket-few will bother to read it, even those who are Liberal Democrats 🙂

  • Richard Shaw 17th Oct '12 - 12:19pm

    @Tom Robinson

    “the English have ZERO interest in [a federal UK]”
    Assuming that’s true, which I doubt given the various campaigns for an English Parliament, etc., I suggest that the English have zero interest in most things that they’re not aware of or have been asked about.

    “the Lib Dems don’t actively campaign for it, even in Scotland, never mind in England.”
    And now the report provides a basis on which to do so, which would seem a much better approach than campaigning for things before we know what we’re campaigning for.

  • Robin Bennett 17th Oct '12 - 2:13pm

    Yes, federalism may seem a bit of pipe dream, but Ming and his colleagues are to be congratulated on publishing their proposals for further devolution so much sooner than Labour and the Tories, who are still to get their act together. Hopefullly party thinking can evolve further over the next two years, as more clarity comes on issues such as EU and NATO membership, fiscal union, not to mention the price of oil. Delighted to read the radical proposals for major devolution to local authorities, including of the Crown Estate. The introduction of 21st century burgh councils with planning powers should be popular in Ming’s constituency, but could have gone further, with more influence for community councils.

    Having made no submissions to the Commission, I perhaps have little right to criticise it now. However, this document does little to advance the case for a “No” vote in the referendum. Many of the additional powers for Holyrood are as nothing compared to the big one: control of oil. If exploration, development, taxation and export of non-renewable natural resources can be a matter for the federated states of Australia, Canada and Malaysia, why not for Scotland? Why should we, with our problems of urban deprivation, subsidise the rest of the UK? We can leave that to the South East of England, which luxuriates in the biggest subsidy of all: having the seat of government.

    Among the other matters, one particularly stands out for me: broadcasting. The Commission asks that the BBC spend more in Scotland, but there are many other problems to be tackled. For example, a proportion of the COMMISSIONING of UK-wide programmes must come from Scotland if we are to break the domination of the metropolis on our TV screens.

  • Tom Robinson 17th Oct '12 - 2:18pm

    In response to Richard Shaw saying ” I suggest that the English have zero interest in most things that they’re not aware of or have been asked about.”

    I think that’s rather my point. The Lib Dems and Liberals have not seriously campaigned in England for federalism in the UK, and in my view will not do so seriously now-it will be used as a fig leaf to mask their irrelevance in Scotland. As for the English Democrats-whose wish for an English parliament I support- they clearly have minimal traction in England compared with UKIP who wish to abolish the Scottish Parliament.

  • Al McIntosh 17th Oct '12 - 7:24pm

    It is only six years ago that another report, the Steel Commission report was published – a commission chaired by a former party leader that recommended federalism (sound familiar?).

    http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/files/steelcommission.pdf

    Despite the party having since been in government on both sides of the border, that report has been left to gather dust. The opportunity to actively campaign on it has been used to such extent that if it were a crime to be a federalist there would be insufficient evidence to pursue a prosecution against the party!

    Moreover, this new document represents a retrograde step. At a time when the Irish Republic, despite its recent difficulties, will be able to fully benefit from the oil that has been discovered off its coast, the new report recommends the oil and gas revenues from the resources off the Scottish coast should go to London. The previous report by David Steel would at least give some of them to the Scottish Parliament. In contrast, under full independence Scotland would benefit fully from whatever revenues it chose to levy on the oil and gas. It appears that this report is the smoking gun that Scots are left worse off by remaining in the UK.

    Federalism has a second disadvantage compared with full independence in that it requires the rest of the federal state to agree to the structure. I spend time on both sides of the border and I detect no enthusiasm for federalism in England. It could only ever be enacted with the cooperation of one of the two major English parties. The tories regard federalism as a swearword and Labour are neither going to be keen to repeat the experience of the North East assembly referendum or to create an English parliament they would rarely control and neither are likely to agree to PR so soon after the AV debacle.

    As it stands, federalism remains something that would require a highly unlikely combination of events to ever come to pass. With the opportunity for a second question having been squandered, the referendum is a straight choice between the status quo (or worse) and independence. Of the two, independence remains the most progressive option and is the more likely way to turn the fair and liberal society we want into a reality.

  • Matthew Clark 17th Oct '12 - 8:17pm

    The Steel Commission report did not recommend oil and gas revenues to Scotland. It said consideration should be given to tax sharing. That was considered by the current Commission. What happened two years after Steel is the point: oil revenues dropped by £6bn in a single year. If the Steel package, with accompanying UK balancing grant arrangements, had come in before the 2009 oil drop it would have left a 20% budget cut for Scotland on the table. Similar thinking covered the Commission’s consideration of the importance of the UK to supporting the economy. In particular, the concern at how a future financial disaster such as the colllapse of RBS would be dealt with. Under the Commission’s proposals, the strength of the whole UK can be brought to bear. Under Independence or it’s sibling Full Fiscal Autonomy the liabilities of RBS would have wiped out the whole Scottish balance sheet.

  • PRM .. pleased that you and others have argued for Federalism, as, after all, it is a key part of our constitution.. Paragraph 4 ‘we believe that sovereignty rest with the people and authority derives from the people’.. and then ‘we commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework… ‘ etc.
    So Steel and Campbell are not ‘recommending’ a federal solution, they are promoting one of our core beliefs.

  • Pleased to see that my namesake not only shares my name but a belief in federalism. How do we spread the idea?

  • Tom Robinson 18th Oct '12 - 11:38am

    My last comment seems to have been modded out, though I am wholly unclear in what way that was justified.

    I will briefly try again. Mathew Clark is wrong in believing that RBS would have had to be bailed out entirely by an independent Scotland. That is not what happened in Europe when bank’s operations straddled more than one country. The idea that England would not have been involved in the bailout of NatWest (a major part of RBS) is nonsensical.

  • Old Codger Chris 18th Oct '12 - 2:54pm

    Why is it assumed that federalism is the answer to many of the country’s problems? Where I live the County Council – more local than a federal parliament – is hopelessly out of touch and always has been. One example – they were able to kill off Connexions just when it’s most needed.

  • Robin Bennett 18th Oct '12 - 5:08pm

    Matthew Clark ‘s comments re RBS are debatable, not least because bank regulation was London-based (and Ray Perman, who has just written a book about HBOS, blames the FSA for that debacle) As for RBS “wiping out the whole Scottish balance sheet”, does this include our trillion pound oil and gas reserves?

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