Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission

Scottish Labour is running a consultation on devolution arrangements until October 2013.  If you want to contribute, click here.

Here is the text of my response….   a starter for 10 on a proper debate on UK federalism.

Response to Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, 20.04.13

1.  We need a federal system in the UK..  by concentrating this debate on Scotland alone, we are playing to a Scotland-along tune.   Even if we have ‘independence’, this will only be relative to our current situation, not real independence – the UK will still be heavily interdependent.  Federal UK would be an attractive electoral proposition in all parts of the UK and would allow a meaningful debate about the relative powers of centre and constituent nations, including this issue.  It would also help us to resolve outstanding constitutional issues on House of Lords etc. and give us the debate on our own terms instead of a navel-gazing debate about the extent of Scotland’s independence in an interdependent UK (which will remain so whatever happens).

2.  The structure of local govt in  Scotland is wrong. Because of the obsession with Independence we have put off the major structural reform that is required to unpick the legacy of the Forsyth reforms in 1996.  There is no way that 32 local authorities can give the strategic level support needed to services such as education and there is a massive postcode lottery as a result – lacking sufficient professional expertise and strategic capacity, they often replace quality professional public service with bureaucratic control.  We should align health, social work, education an housing around 10 elected bodies, allowing strategic synergy and quality in these human services.  Further local authorities to deal with planning, the local environment, civic matters and so on should be based on much smaller identifiable ‘settlement’ areas (cities to small rural towns and their local hinterland – analagous to the old police burghs).

3.  As regards further devolution of powers to the Scottish parliament, I would like to see us make better more creative use of the powers we have for example as noted above under question 2.  The overall structure of powers between Westminster and the four constitutional partners of the UK should be decided by an elected federal convention seeking a UK consensus, which would be liberal centrist, on a new constitution.

4.  I believe that aspects of welfare provision, in particular benefits, should be devolved, to be aligned with the other human services in each of the 10 local jurisdictions of the newly elected strategic local authorities.  This would allow more useful professional collaboration to support welfare needs locally and offer opportunities to reduce the massive dislocations in public service that result from different services being differently accountable.  At the least, devolution of welfare should be on the agenda of the federal constitutional convention.

5.  A number of aspects of the current Scottish parliament arrangements work very well.  Pre-legislative consultation, committee systems etc.   I have no additional comments to make on this.

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