The independence referendum: into the final straight

We have just over a month to go before the referendum, and the standard of debate continues to be dismally low.  The much-heralded televised debate went over old ground without telling us much.  On the ‘Yes’ side, the central weakness has been a refusal to acknowledge that many issues are subject to negotiation, so they cannot possibly be sealed up in advance.  All Alex Salmond had to say was: “We will have to negotiate terms; I will try to do the best I can for Scotland, but I can’t promise that we’ll get the best outcome on every issue.”  He wouldn’t go that far.  On the ‘No’ side, there has been a salvo of thoroughly silly arguments about why Scotland can’t be independent.  The central question, as Alastair Darling acknowledged quite clearly before he lost his rag, is not whether Scotland can be independent, but whether it should be.

Last year, I tried to sketch out the fields in which independence might make a difference.  Here’s the table again.

Areas where the Scottish Parliament already has authority to act Currently reserved areas where independence would give the Scottish Parliament the authority to act Currently reserved areas where the primary competence would remain with the EU
  • Health
  • Social care
  • Housing (subject to limitations on finance)
  • Planning
  • Environment
  • Education
  • Policing
  • Emergency services
  • Criminal justice
  • Civil law
  • Family law
  • Local government (subject to limitations on finance and competence)
  • Culture and heritage
  • The constitution
  • Economic policy
    • Taxation and fiscal policy
    • Monetary policy
  • Public expenditure
    • Aspects of local government and housing finance*
  • Benefits*
  • International relations
    • Foreign policy
    • Defence
    • Overseas aid
  • Immigration and nationality
  • Access to information
  • Business
    •   Insolvency
    •    Employee protection
    •    Minimum wages
  • Consumer protection
    •    Gambling
  • Energy
  • Transport*
  • Broadcasting

* – devolved in Northern Ireland but not in Scotland

  • Trade
  • Financial services and markets
  • Fisheries
  • Competition law
  • Intellectual property

The White Paper on Scotland’s Future, itself a PR mistake – why was it not presented as a consultation document, and opened to discussion? – touches on a couple of issues, but it can’t give firm answers.  In the last year, we’ve heard a little about the constitution, a lot about monetary policy, something about defence, and occasional snippets about benefits.  The areas which are currently devolved in Northern Ireland (benefits, transport and residual aspects of local government) are prime candidates for further devolution; but it does seem puzzling that Scotland, which has its own legal system and agencies for enforcement, should not have its own rules for employment and consumer protection.   On most of the issues in the central column, however, I’m still completely in the dark.

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