The argument on powers

The nation-state is dead, Scotland on Sunday argues in today’s editorial; the real issue now is about powers.   The choice lies, as they see it, between a position where an independent Scotland  cedes powers in a negotiation with other authorities, and one where a devolved Scotland gradually gains greater powers through devolution from the United Kingdom.

The powers currently on offer fall short, however, of the devo-max that  many people in Scotland want to see.  They fall short even of the powers that a local authority would have had a century ago.  Local authorities have lost, in the last 70-80 years, powers over social assistance, police, fire, hospitals, water, energy, public transport, and much besides – they may have some residual powers over housing, for example, but nothing like what they used to have.  One of the key powers they’ve lost, though we hardly noticed it going, is the power to borrow on the markets by issuing bonds; another is the power to create jobs.    Scotland, and much of England, need powers to regenerate local economies, to make jobs, to develop infrastructure and to build.  It’s not on offer.

I don’t see this changing with a ‘no’ vote.  The problem lies, like many problems in the UK, with the Treasury, which would have to let go, and with the neo-liberal dogma that holds to the idea, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, that government can’t create jobs and that public borrowing is always bad.  It’s not going to happen.

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