After ten years of devolution, two competing reviews have been set-up to try and map out the political future of Scotland.After ten years of devolution, two competing reviews have been set-up to try and map out the political future of Scotland.
The SNP government originally announced their intention to hold a ‘national conversation ’ in August 2007, to explore what options should be included in a referendum to decide Scotland’s constitutional future. The second phase of the national conversation, engaging the civic institutions of Scotland, was launched in March 2008.
The conversation will consider three options:
Continuing with the current constitutional settlement with no or minimal change.
Extending devolved power in Scotland in areas identified during the National Conversation.
Taking the steps to allow Scotland to become a fully independent country.
The exact format of the proposed referendum has yet to be decided upon, however the suggestion by First Minister Alex Salmond that the Single Transferable Vote system could be used has caused a great deal of consternation amongst opposition parties. Under this system, in which voters rank each constitutional option in order of preference, independence could be achieved with a minority of voters choosing independence as their first option.
It seems unlikely that the Scottish government would be able to gather enough support in parliament to hold the referendum as the Liberal Democrats, Tories and Labour parties have declared that they will not support any vote in which independence is an option.
The stance of the unionist parties has drawn criticism from some unlikely sources, most notably the former Scottish Labour leader, Henry McLeish. He has stated that, "We need an open and inclusive conversation to discuss our future, one in which all the positive options are included - the current devolution settlement, more powers, independence and also a form of federalism.”
On March 25th, the unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament announced the creation of a rival constitutional review that will examine the current set-up and make proposals to improve devolution, whilst maintaining Scotland’s place within the union. Unsurprisingly, independence will not be considered and it is unclear whether or not powers could be transferred back from Holyrood to Westminster following the review.
The review will be headed by the government's former chief medical officer both in Scotland and England, Sir Kenneth Calman. The first meeting will be in April 2008, with an interim report expected in November of this year. No other members of the commission have been announced at this time, but it is likely that they will be drawn from the three unionist parties.
Sir Kenneth has described the commission as "a genuine opportunity to take stock of what the settlement has achieved to date and the challenges it may yet have to address in the years to come.
When the findings of the review are published, they will be ‘considered’ by parties in both the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments. As part of this process, it is also expected that the UK Chancellor, Alistair Darling, will produce a paper on the funding of the devolved parliaments. It is likely that this will see a move away from the block grant towards a system where taxes raised in Scotland are spent without having to go through the UK treasury first.
Following the announcement of the review, a spokesperson for Alex Salmond made it clear that the SNP were disappointed with the limited scope of the commission: “The review excludes the option of independence, which is extraordinary, and has no clear means of reaching agreement, or allowing the people into the process."