Reform Scotland

‘Looking on the plus side, devo-max is dead’ – Scotsman

This article by Tavish Scott appeared in the Scotsman.

WORKING with people from other parties is the stuff of politics.

In the United States it is called bipartisan politics, as Democrats and Republicans cross the floor on a joint initiative. There are rather more than two political parties in the US at the moment, as the Republican nomination process proves, but the principle of working together crosses the Atlantic.

I enjoy the company of Alex Fergusson, a Tory, and Labour’s Duncan McNeil. Duncan epitomises what’s good about his party. He passionately wants to help the working man and woman. Alex has shown as the parliament’s Presiding Officer an ability to bring the warring factions together and to at least reduce the flowing blood. So that is why a genuinely cross-party approach to Scotland’s future holds many attractions for me. Enhancing Scotland’s parliament will take cross-party work rather than girning at London.

But what Devo Plus, which the three of us support, can achieve is a Scottish Parliament where politicians cannot bottle the responsibility over how to pay for free personal care or a new Forth crossing. Political manifestos would matter in a Scottish general election for the first time, because they would have to state what level of tax parties wanted to levy and why. Scottish politics would grow up.

That is the kind of debate Scotland has not had in 12 years and it is why we have become a personality-dominated political system with only one figure who counts in the eyes of most Scots. Scotland needs this change.

I enjoyed the verbal jousting with the press as the Devo Plus case was made. The best moment was when Fergusson was asked whether he still believed in the “line in the sand” remark attributed to his leader – that is Ruth Davidson, not the PM. I paraphrase, but Fergusson responded by suggesting that line was one of a meandering nature. That was no attack on any Tory, more a reasoned observation which illustrates that constitutional politics is never set in stone, because as we change so the world around us changes.

Those arguing for a strengthened Scotland within the UK now need to put policy flesh and financial muscle on the proposals. Then the case needs to be won across the UK. Alistair Darling is an ex-chancellor and a lucid, reasonable voice and he helps. But the infamous “quad” of the UK coalition – David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander – is key to unlocking real reform.

The one certainty of Devo Plus is devo-max is dead. No-one wants it. The Nationalists want independence. Reform Scotland’s Ben Thomson put it to bed this week when observing that if devo-max was the system, and a UK government decided to re-invade the Falklands and the then Scottish Government disagreed and withdrew its element of the defence budget, there would be a constitutional crisis.

Devo-max epitomises blame and argument. It is an option no longer on the table.

• Tavish Scott is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland