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Creeping Jesus

The first decent contribution I've seen in the debate.

No flags. No jingo.

Devo Max: Danger ahead

by Professor John Foster
Communist Party Britain - International Secretary

When it comes to the limited additional powers enshrined in the Scotland Bill and the alternative SNP proposal that would grant full fiscal powers to the country, the bigger picture is important.

Financial overexpansion is being resolved across the world by the concentration of capital on an unprecedented scale and a political drive to shift the balance of power decisively against labour.

The biggest potential loser in this struggle is democracy - in its proper sense of rule by the people - and the ability to exercise some form of collective control over the power of capital and its market forces.

This attack on democracy can be seen today across the EU and in Britain, and this is the context within which to judge current pressure for constitutional change in Scotland.

It is important to recall that the modern movement for a Scottish parliament was initiated to assert precisely such a class understanding of democracy.

The first Scottish Assembly met in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh 40 years ago in the winter of 1972. Its demand was a Scottish parliament that would politically consolidate the industrial power exerted by the shipyard workers of the Upper Clyde and the miners of Fife and Lanarkshire.

Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Jimmy Jack foresaw a Scottish parliament as a "workers' parliament."

It would give the people of Scotland the economic powers required to defend employment and industry and, as a workers' parliament, it would strengthen the power of working people across Britain.

On these terms neither of the two current alternatives - the Scotland Bill or the SNP alternative of full fiscal autonomy, known as Devo Max - takes us very far.

Full fiscal autonomy has some immediate attractions. It would provide the power to tax capital. It would also give control of national insurance and welfare, allowing Scotland to escape from the current Con-Dem attempt to reintroduce the Poor Law.

Yet its tax powers would struggle to meet existing levels of expenditure even with control of oil and gas revenues, especially as these resources will run down over the next 10 years.

Worse still, its model for growth relies on cutting taxes on capital in order to attract it from other parts of Britain and Europe. In terms of the touchstone of democracy it would deepen dependence on big business and weaken class cohesion across Britain.

The Calman Commission proposals on devolution, as embodied in the Scotland Bill, provide some borrowing powers to permit investment in infrastructure and job creation, but these are only at the margin.

Their powers to tax are limited to personal income and would be broadly neutral in terms of stimulating economic growth.

Neither proposal assists the political dynamics required to redevelop labour movement cohesion across Britain, although the Scotland Bill would do less direct damage. Nor does either proposal measure up to the challenges currently facing the trade union and labour movement.

On the economic front these challenges hardly need repeating.

There is the assault on the public sector and public sector trade unionism, the main remaining bastion of organised labour. There is the impact of falling living standards on the service sector, and industrially there is the drastic loss of ownership to external companies - increasingly private equity speculators focused on short-term profits.

Politically the main challenge is perhaps less easily recognised, indeed almost perversely ignored, but it is exactly the same as that being battled by workers elsewhere in Europe - the EU neoliberal prohibition on any interference with market forces.

On paper, the Scottish Parliament already possesses significant powers to promote economic development and to intervene industrially.

There is nothing in existing legislation to stop it establishing publicly owned initiatives in transport or renewable energy, but these prohibitions exist within the provisions of the EU single market to which Britain is committed.

Paradoxically, if Alex Salmond - the arch proponent of "independence in Europe" - wants more real powers for the Scottish Parliament, he would be far better engaged campaigning against the EU single market, the Stability and Growth Pact, and whatever new treaty amendments will emerge this year.

This brings us back to the main issue. This year is likely to see a constitutional crisis.

The Scottish Parliament will reject the Scotland Bill, and the Scottish government will prepare the way for a referendum that will focus on what the SNP calls full fiscal autonomy.

The potentially divisive character of this proposal will then pose a direct challenge to the trade union movement and all those committed to the original perspectives for a Scottish parliament.

What should be the response? It cannot be defensive unionism. That would be no less a betrayal of the original intent.

We need to look instead to the two principles that inspired the movement of the 1970s and '80s.

One was the power to defend Scotland's economy to compensate for its small size, its exposure to destabilising market forces and especially market failure - namely the principle of social ownership.

The second was the financial power to do so based on the social democratic principle of income redistribution.

The Barnett formula - the strategy of adapting public expenditure in Scotland according to that of the rest of the union - was developed at the time of the first referendum on Scottish devolution. As noted previously, it is not perfect.

It was effectively an attempt to manage a geographical allocation of expenditure based on the earlier and far more interventionist practice of post-war governments. It now needs to be recalculated on the basis of existing social need.

But it has one great merit - it recognises that wealth is very unevenly distributed and that the concentration of finance and company headquarters in south-east England can only be tackled at the British level.

And if there are to be the additional resources to make a reality of the second principle, that of social ownership, geographical redistribution needs to be complemented by a return to that other form of redistribution - a properly progressive taxation system that can attack the grotesque maldistribution of income that makes Britain one of the most unequal states in Europe.

This might not suit the millionaires who fund the SNP, but the call for adequate funding for Wales, Scotland and the English regions would be a unifying campaigning demand for working people across Britain, especially if it was linked to rescuing local economies through social ownership and a practical fightback against cuts and closures.

It was the great Scottish-born socialist James Connolly who argued that the freedom of the Irish people would not be achieved by the hoisting of a green flag over Dublin Castle.

Ownership would still remain in the hands of a minute capitalist elite. Ireland's working people had to take possession politically and collectively.

Securing this principle for the Scottish Parliament will, as above, mean an active contest with the neoliberal principles of the EU.

However, it is a battle we cannot shirk if we are to resecure the enthusiasm and optimism that mobilised working people to demand a Scottish parliament 40 years ago in Edinburgh's Usher Hall.
— with Thomas Morrison and Cailean MacAulay.

Jim Sillar's take on the same subject.

"Why is the SNP so keen to accept pressure for a second referendum question on devo-max?

It’s all about 2016. There isn’t an SNP mandate for a second question, yet Nicola Sturgeon invokes “democracy and fairness” umpteen times to justify its inclusion. But where exactly is the democratic test? As for fairness, it excludes a large number of people who would be profoundly affected by it, but who are not considered as having the right to vote – the English, especially in Geordie land.

Here, is what I suspect is the real scenario, unspoken and unacknowledged by the SNP in public. Alex Salmond’s consultation produces organisations demanding devo-max, the have-yourcake- and eat-it second question. Nicola’s mantra is then applied, and it goes on the ballot paper. Independence loses to devo-max and the SNP bows to the sovereign will of the people (like good democrats) and becomes the people’s champion of devo-max, in time to place a demand for it up front in the 2016 manifesto.

A defeat on independence will, far from scuppering the party’s chances in 2016, allow it to go to the maximum in its devolution demands, outstripping anything the unionists can offer because they will still be restrained by how far their senior English/UK parties are prepared to go. There are no restraints upon the SNP and, as the champions of what the people want, they will be returned to government with a mandate – this time not for independence, but devo-max.

Far fetched? Not so. The SNP MSPs, and the membership, has tasted power and likes it. None more so than its First Minister. A cold weekend of surgery work in Gordon instead of tea with the Emir of Qatar is not a happy prospect.

Defeat in a single-question referendum would be a grievous blow. Alex Salmond would be a man much reduced. The certainty of a repeat majority victory in 2016 would no longer be there. A fallback position, one from which the SNP could bounce back, and which can form its future platform and reason for existing, is a necessity.

This might seem rather pessimistic on what will happen in the main question on independence. The fact is, that having put independence on the back burner for so many years, the SNP has not built up the hard detailed case for that policy nor, therefore, has it engaged in an educational discussion with the people, backed by a robust campaign. Indeed, the referendum planted deep in the 2011 manifesto was another “back burner” device to keep it out of the election debate. Can you remember the SNP’s election broadcasts punting the virtues of independence? I thought not.

That neglect has been manifest these past weeks as Alex Salmond has winged it on two issues – defence and currency. Naming the Scottish regiments was a mistake. What if they don’t want to come north? How many non- Scots are in the regiments? Has anyone asked them? Where are their family and social anchors, which are determined by marriage and children’s education? Could be the anchor is in England.

Did anyone ask before the regiments were told where SNP said they were going?

As for the Bank of England being lender of last resort, it is absurd. Scattered through the years are countless complaints from SNP MPs and other leaders about the malign influence of the Bank of England on the Scottish economy.

George Osborne doesn’t own sterling, but he is not compelled to enter into a treaty with a foreign country in which his central bank becomes a financial bail-out instrument for the Scottish foreigner. If Whitehall agrees to the Salmond proposal, there will have to be a treaty to determine the rules of the new sterling currency union; and an independent Scotland will not be the stronger side of the negotiations because, as Osborne would point out, the alternative to agreeing the treaty terms dictated by Westminster would be the euro.

Finally, let us look dispassionately on this issue of a second devo-max question.

While the people in Scotland can decide on independence, that is not the case with any further form of devolution.

Devo-max-in-our-hands-alone, is an illusion gripping Scottish minds. Take, for example, the demand made by the SNP that Scotland be given power to set the rate of company taxation. That would have an immediate negative effect on the northern regions of England. Who would invest there if, just over the border the rate was, say, halved? Also the quid pro quo of further devolution is a further reduction in the numbers of Scottish MPs at Westminster. How do you think English Labour views its prospects of government with a continued loss of Scottish Labour MPs? There are other examples of the UK dimension in devolution which, let us be clear, is a settlement within the United Kingdom in accordance with what the United Kingdom parts agree.

If there is to be a devo-max question, for it to be capable of being delivered, there must be a Westminster government white paper and a written guarantee that if the Scots vote for the version set out, it will be delivered by the only parliament than can do so – Westminster. I don’t think, given the perceived threat to Geordie land, there is much chance of that.

The fevered brows of the devo-max brigade should cool down. Time too for the SNP to put aside what would be a fraudulent claim to implement devo-max, and produce policies on the detailed issues that will determine the result when the historic day arrives. Lack of preparation is allowing the unionists to set the agenda, with the SNP forced to respond to probing questions and attacks upon its economic competence and honesty. While devo-max remains in the SNP’s narrative, it sends a damaging ambiguous signal about its absolute confidence in the case for independence."

It rather echoes what I've been saying about the possibility of a referendum not being held because Gauleiter Salmond is scared shitless he'll lose.

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