By Alexander Duncan
As a Brit born and raised in Scotland, I take resolve from the fact that it looks like Scotland will vote to remain part of the UK but I am dismayed at our party’s promise of more devolved powers in return for such a vote. I am perturbed that this will only increase the likelihood of a future separation.
An oddity of the referendum is that the most popular option isn’t on the ballot; ‘Devo Max’ is widely polled as the Scottish people’s favourite outcome. An ever bigger curiosity is how popular this option has become when it hasn’t been defined. There is no strict consensus on which powers would be devolved, just more.
With this being the case, it is easy to understand why a party would want to endorse the most popular option. The problem is, the more differences we create between the way things are run in Scotland & the rest of the UK, the weaker our case is for a mutual government. The strongest case for not splitting up our country is that we have a shared culture and way of life. With every devolved power, Westminster becomes less the government for all British citizens and more the English overlords holding the purse strings.
That is not to say there can’t be change: it would be tyrannical and against our party’s beliefs to deny people more control over their own affairs. But right now there are only 3 options: the status quo, full independence or some undefined comfort in between.
Instead of being trapped between blocking all change and gradual devolution, the Conservatives should be seizing the initiative and offering the public another choice that actually reinforces the Union. Better minds can think of superior solutions, but one idea would be to devolve relevant powers straight to local councils.
Different issues obviously need different levels of government. How Devon decides to deal with social housing is of no import to Dundee, equally there is little use in organising the defence of only part of the Isles. But how many decisions need to be made at the regional level, how many issues affect Scotland and only Scotland and does a whole level of government need to be funded just to deal with these issues? Besides nationalistic pride, why must there be entirely different education systems in Scotland and the rest of the UK, are Scottish and English students inherently different?
It is the Conservative’s natural habitat to be campaigning for more efficient and local government, so we should relish an opportunity to give people more local influence and create a standard method of democracy across the whole UK.
Of course this is just one idea and I would implore Conservatives to discuss amongst themselves alternatives as we must not let Scotland’s role in the UK be narrowly defined as a process of powers going from one Westminster to Holyrood till independence is achieved with only the times scale up for debate. To preserve the Union, the Conservatives need to propose a change that ensures people feel represented yet doesn’t institutionalize the difference between how Scotland and the rest of the UK is run.