What independence can do, and what it can't

The debate on Newsnight Scotland yesterday was intended to deal with the perspective of women about independence. One of the questioners asked what independence could do about gender-related violence. Now, regardless of where one stands on the independence debate, and regardless of how important the issue is, this is not a field where either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ has much to offer. I think we can say with reasonable certainty where all the parties in Scotland stand on violence against women: they are against it. And with equal certainty, we can say what difference new constitutional powers would make: none, because it will not create any powers that are not available to Parliament now.  If the issue could be legislated away, there’s nothing in the current constitutional arrangements that would have stopped it.

The Scottish Parliament already has competence in a range of fields – the legal system, education and health. If independence was to make any difference, it would be in fields that are currently ‘reserved’ under the Scotland Act.   I’m not a constitutional specialist, and this may need correction and amendment, but here is a quick list.

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


It seems to make sense to say that the discussion of prospects for independence ought to be focusing on the second column, and that issues which fall outside it are part of a different debate.

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