This article originally appeared here on Liberal Democrat Voice.
Siobhan Mathers, Scottish Liberal Democrat activist, former (and, I hope, future) parliamentary candidate and policy convener argues in today’s Sunday Times (£) that it’s time that Scotland got a full home rule settlement. She sets out what she means by that:
I will use the fiscal definition that Scotland under home rule should raise what it spends — self-sufficiency — and the sovereignty-focused philosophical definition of Steel: “The principle of home rule is different from devolution. Under home rule, sovereignty lies with the Scottish people and we decide when it is sensible to give powers to the centre on issues like foreign affairs and defence.”
She says that there is no point waiting for the UK to sort out a federal structure for itself because it’s just not going to happen any time soon and that it’s in Scotland’s “enlightened self interest” to pursue full home rule to see off the demand for independence:
It strikes me as an act of misguided altruism to wait for the constitutional laggards, our bedfellows in the UK. Yes, it would be nice to help sort everyone else’s problems in how they relate to the constitutional parents in London, but it is not a priority for many.
During an air emergency, passengers are advised to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. I would argue that Scotland’s relationship with Westminster is at such an emergency point and we need to pursue enlightened self-interest by focusing on our own problems first.
She goes on to say that home rule needs a rebranding. I personally don’t think that people really understand what it means and until it’s explained to them in very practical terms, they won’t be necessarily very interested. Constitutional talk has been too dull and dry and has allowed supporters of independence to paint that option as the only one which offers any hope.
The other thing worth mentioning is that nobody has yet used the powers given to Scotland in 1998 to the max. In fact, John Swinney pretty much gave away the power during the SNP’s first term in office. Since then, the Scotland Act 2012 has given further tax raising powers and the forthcoming Scotland Bill adds more. Yet there’s no sign of anyone actually being creative about using them. The SNP have no interest in so doing because it doesn’t help their pro-independence argument to show that we can do well as part of the UK. It’s far easier for them to make the case that everything is evil Westminster’s fault. It’s not, though. They have presided over catastrophic failings in health, education and policing in Scotland while underspending on their budget. That makes no sense.
I would like to see the Scottish Liberal Democrats devise a strategy for using the powers the Parliament has to deliver an ambitious programme to improve public services and make Scotland fairer. We can afford to be bold and radical. Some might argue that we can’t afford not to be. Willie Rennie is making good progress in developing the narrative that we need, as outlined in his latest broadcast:
Liberalism, at its heart, is about fairness, is about looking to the long term. Looking beyond our shores, to help other people in other parts of the world and pushing power right back down into communities so it can reflect the wide and varied country that we live in.
That is the essence of liberal democracy.
My message to people in Scotland is this:
If you want to get up and get on. To care for the people next door, across the world or in the future. If you want that combination of economic discipline and social justice. If you’re an aspirational Scot with a social conscience, then back the Liberal Democrats.
It would be a great shame if this election was about the constitution and not about the shambolic way the SNP is running so many of our vital public services. They can’t be allowed to avoid scrutiny of their record in government and it’s not good enough for them to blame Westminster for things that they control. However, being in any way defensive or not open to the idea of further powers would be a mistake. We should be relaxed about the prospect while advancing our own radical agenda for using the ones we have. If the SNP can’t do it, then we should tell them to, well, move over darlings, because we can.