The recent 35 page coalition document presented by David Cameron and Nick Clegg held many interesting prospects for Scotland, not least of which was the suggestion that the Calman proposals would finally be implemented – or at least this alliances interpretation of them.
The new PM’s movement on the fossil fuel levy was well received, although it is yet to be confirmed that the money will indeed be released. It is unlikely that we will see any further concessions from the new Westminster government over Olympic spending consequentials and accelerated funding for capital projects.
So, you win some you lose some is the Scottish theme of the agreement.
However, amidst the heavily trailed announcements, disagreements and reviews there was one little gem that escaped almost everyone’s notice.
The document contained the following pledge:
“We will give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue.”
Now, this is an interesting point of principle from the Conservatives and Lib Dems. They have basically conceded that the electorate have a democratic right to demand a referendum on issues they deem important and where there is sufficient ‘local’ support for such a popular vote.
The problem? Well, both parties have repeatedly refused to accede to the express wish of the Scottish electorate for a referendum on the very issue that dominates the Scottish body politic – a referendum on Scottish independence.
Good enough for a local issue but not it seems for a national one - not that is, if it is Scottish.
This is precisely the discriminatory situation that exists - the Scottish electorate are overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum on constitutional reform but are being ignored. In contrast the new Westminster alliance has acknowledged the demands from Wales and pledged to grant the Welsh just such a referendum.
The alliance document states that they will:
“introduce a referendum on further Welsh devolution.”
In fact it isn’t just local issues and Welsh devolution that have resulted in a selective breakout of ‘referenditis’. Europe and the UK voting system are also areas earmarked for popular consultation.
On electoral reform the alliance have announced that:
“We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies.”
On the European Union they say:
“We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that treaty”
So, a veritable referendum ‘free for all’, or should that be 'free for some'?
It isn’t just a point of principle though, remember that the so called ‘Calman proposals’ planned by this alliance will be their own interpretation of the said commissions’ proposals – neither the Lib Dems nor the Tories actually fought the election on any cleary defined constitutional changes. It could be argued that their vote share in Scotland provides no mandate whatsoever for such cobbled together changes without the express approval of the Scottish people.
As the SNP ready themselves for the referendum bill to be put before the Holyrood parliament later this year then Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should be mindful of the looming 2011 election campaign as they vote.
Should the Unionists vote down the bill, which will be against the wishes of the Scottish people, then this new ‘democratic deficit’ will surely be exploited by the SNP.
That, coupled with the ‘referendum apartheid’ from the Westminster alliance, would be quite a stick to hand the SNP as we enter the period of campaigning for the 2011 Holyrood elections.