The idea of subsidiarity, which I referred to yesterday, is worth spending a little more time on. In Catholic social teaching, the principle means that “it is likewise unjust and a gravely harmful disturbance of right order to turn over to a greater society of higher rank functions and services which can be performed by lesser bodies on a lower plane”. In the European Union, that has been translated to mean that “decisions are taken as close as possible to the citizen”.
The principle is decentralist, especially as it’s applied in German federal law, and that seems to support the moves to devolution. There’s no reason, however, why subsidiarity should stop at Holyrood. Two weeks ago, The Economist‘s political correspondent ‘Bagehot’ wrote a blistering attack on the centralising tendencies of the Scottish National Party:
“Even as the SNP preaches freedom, devolution and pluralism in Britain, within Scotland it hoards power, stamping on regional differences, tightening the state’s control and marginalising critics. … Where councils once held sway, SNP ministers oversee hospitals, police departments, regional development agencies, fire services and even local tax levels.”
He might have added that social work and social care are also about to be absorbed into central government.
The proposal to incorporate the principle of subsidiarity comes from Labour MP Graham Allen. It may not get very far, because the Scotland Office has given no comfort at all to opposition amendments, but it looks like a firework in the bran tub.