On 27th of November, the Smith Commission Agreement saw the light of day. Is it a radical view of the future of the Scottish Parliament or a pig in a poke? Well, I suppose, the answer depends on your start point and like most government reports the devil is in the detail. At the press conference it was clear that no-one was completely satisfied with the outcome and it was with varying degrees of gritted teeth in evidence, that the politicians made their brief remarks. The report also highlights where there are several “additional Issues” to be ironed out; it was ever thus.
Reaction elsewhere has been strangely convoluted; David Cameron was “very pleased” with the report claiming it “will make our United Kingdom Stronger” but made some noises around removing Scottish MPs from the budget vote. The First Minister called it an “opening offer”, the STUC confesses to be “underwhelmed” by the report while Patrick Harvie MSP tweeted “it will be clear to voters that Labour in particular has blocked a stronger deal”. The Labour leadership seemed content to leave to Jim Murphy to comment and the Lib Dem Leader hinted that he may be minded to support the Conservatives in limiting Scottish PMs voting rights.
In the press, the Daily Record headlined “The Vow Delivered”, the Scotsman hit a new record for filling its columns with very little. The Herald headline leads on the First Minsters’ reaction while the Daily Mail web, in true form has more about the tragic death of Phillip Hughes and the fate of the Memorial Ceramic Poppies than the report. Trending on the Daily Express Web at this point was Phil Hughes, December Weather forecast and EU demands, nothing new there. You will find a plethora of responses here.
So where does that leave the rest of us? In particular those energised by the debate to become involved, many for the first time, where will they go now? I am sure the Westminster Parliament and Government hoped that the Smith report would kick the independence question into the long grass much as they thought that devolution would in 1998. However this looks less and less likely. The report is not a blueprint for Gordon Browns’ near federalism and many feel it falls short of the “Vow”.
The report fudges issues surrounding cross border discussions, EU representation and in paragraph 41 the Scottish Govt is given a formal consultation role in renewable and strategic policy. There are other formal consultation roles envisaged, for example in broadcasting, postal services and transport but I would suggest these are as much window dressing as tools for change.
There is a bumpy road ahead and with two elections to come in the next eighteen months the argument is not over yet and it may be that this report will go the way of the Calman Report and be deemed inadequate by the Scottish Electorate.