“Holyrood has full control of the Scottish NHS…”
– anyone in the No campaign
Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: to have full control of anything is to have available all relevant powers associated with whatever it is you’re talking about, which in this instance, is the Scottish NHS.
The Scottish Government, of whatever political flavour it happens to be – and by extension, the people of Scotland – never has all of the available powers over any aspect of governance, and for a couple of reasons.
The first is the simple fact that the Scottish Government has no control over how much of a budget it is given by Westminster.
In the event of the scrapping or amending of the Barnett Formula to the detriment of the Scottish budget, there is no right of reply. There is no meeting of ministers from both governments to discuss the whys and wherefores. The block grant is simply delivered to the Scottish Government, like pocket money.
Even with the still very limited tax powers proposed by the various unionist parties, that’s not full control. There is nothing in their proposals to guarantee any set level of grant, and with voters in England expressing their dislike of the ‘vast sums’ Scotland gets (although less than we contribute), how long would it be before the remaining block grant was tightened? Probably as long as the time it takes to get to the next election – ie, a year and a half.
If the government of Scotland cannot have full control of the revenues generated, how can it possibly have full control of all the things dependent on that funding?
The second, and to me, more fundamental reason, is the ever present danger that Westminster can, at any time, pull back powers from Holyrood.
As with the referendum legislation itself, Holyrood is only effectively borrowing powers from Westminster. What sort of national legislating body has to rely on the goodwill of another to do its job?
Let’s flip this around – although not in a Darlingesque manner.
The No camp have made much of the Scottish Governments proposed currency union, stating that such an arrangement would leave Scotland with, at best, only a small say on interest rates.
Actually, that’s giving them too much credit – they usually neglect to mention that our government would have any say at all, when there would clearly be Scottish input in some form, most likely on the board of governed at the BoE.
So, neglecting to mention that last part, they criticise this idea, claiming that it can’t possibly mean ‘the best of both worlds’. “That’s not independent enough!”, they holler, as if they’d be supportive of any other option anyway!
So not having fully independent control of interest rates wouldn’t be independent enough, but not having real full control of any unreserved matter is? Hmm…
Not having the ability to raise/lower/amend/scrap/introduce taxes, and indeed not having the ability to legislate for anything without the constant possibility that another government or parliament could suddenly remove that ability… that’s good enough?
That’s the position that Holyrood is in every day: it doesn’t have any control at all over reserved matters, and it only has partial, borrowed control of all of the non-reserved matters.
For a parliament and government to work to the best of their ability, and with the responsibility that should come with representing the people of a nation, the buck must stop not with another parliament or set of ministers, not with a house of unelected and unaccountable ‘peers’, but with them themselves and, most importantly, the electorate who put them there in the first place. The sovereignty of the people must be of paramount importance.
This, to my mind, is one of the major flaws of devolution, even ‘though I would never choose a return to the pre-1999 system.
The Tories propose making Holyrood more accountable and responsible by giving over a handful of tax powers. No, that’s just superficial crap – it does not address the fact that Holyrood will still be ‘below’ Westminster, and still not fully accountable solely to the people of Scotland.
The Scottish NHS is not, by any means, fully controlled by Holyrood. And nor are any of the other areas it has ‘control’ over.
It is the duty manager of the shop to Westminster’s board of directors. And that’s not good enough for either the parliament or the people. And that’s why it must be Yes.