Saturday, 2 May 2009

First Ministers' Forum

According to the Herald today, three First Ministers think Holyrood needs changing.

The story has the air of a holiday weekend filler with not much detail of where, when and under what prompting the various quotes were gathered, but it is on the front page, so the Herald might actually be taking it seriously.

Jack McConnel says that the financial powers should be revisited and, he implies, increased. Henry McLeish says we should look at a "federal" system. Alex Salmond looks forward to independence.

The first and last are no surprise. Tax raising powers that never get used have always been a conundrum that needs to be addressed. Which is not to say that there is an easy and obvious solution. And Alex Salmond promoting independence, well that's always been his public position.

But Henry McLeish goes further, expressing a view in favour of federalism. He says..

"We have to have an alternative narrative to independence, and I believe federalism addresses the question of what to do about an England that looks increasingly out of kilter with the rest of the UK. ....Why should sovereignty rest solely at Westminster? Why should diversity be a problem? Why should different self-identities be a problem?"

I have to say I don't agree with his premise that "We need an alternative narrative to independence". We have an alternative narrative. It's called Devolution, and Henry McLeish was a great supporter of it when he was FM.

As for his staement that"...England .... looks increasingly out of kilter with the rest of the UK". Where is the evidence for that?

When you anlayse the statement further, you see that it's full of weasel words. For example: "looks", well is it or is it not? "increasingly", increasingly over what? "out of kilter", what exactly does "out of kilter" mean? And who says "diversity" is a problem? Or "different identities", whatever that means? You would have to be fairly foolish to opt for any major change on the basis of that analysis.

Federalism has been a Lib Dem aim for some time, and they and Henry would have to explain what exactly is meant by "federalism" in this context, but it will take stronger arguments than that to be convince anyone that a federal solution would be any better than the current set up.

E.g. under a federal set-up, would the UK have bailed out RBS and HBOS, as they have just done? Or would a federal UK leave these matters to a federal Scotland? Under a federal system would we co-operate more closely or less closely on health matters such as the swine flu pandemic?

It's not clear who is flying a kite here, the Herald or Henry McLeish, but somebody is.

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