There was a large rally on Thursday night – the Scottish Liberal Democrats held their last reunion before the referendum. It is impossible for anyone to listen to the passion expressed there and doubt that the prospect of further powers for Scotland is anything other than legitimate and guaranteed. Jim Wallace, Malcolm Bruce, Alistair Carmichael, David Steel – these are people inspired by the legacy of Jo Grimond and his call for ‘home rule all round’. And with a ‘No’ vote, those powers are finally within our grasp. As Willie Rennie said – everyone’s a federalist now.
If anything, that’s what the polls did – the other two parties support devolution but they’ve been pushed closer to a federal position. There is a common belief in further powers, and it cannot really be classed as a political ploy when the Lib Dems, Labour, and the Conservatives have had their reports on devolution out for several months.
The fact of the matter is – the ‘Yes’ campaign does not have a monopoly on hope, or change, or freedom, or fairness. New powers over tax and welfare allow us to have different priorities in Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom – even more so than we already have – while maintaining the security and prosperity of the Union. A parliament cannot continue to exist on the sole basis of monetary payments from another parliament – and with these new powers, we can make decisions about how to raise money, not just how to spend it.
All political parties in the Scottish Parliament want what’s best for our country – nobody wants to see Scotland fail. There is just strong disagreement about how we could best prosper. That’s why it’s wrong for some ‘Yes’ supporters to insinuate that a ‘No’ vote could result in backsliding on powers. It’s perfectly realistic to believe that the Scottish Parliament will be a permanently enshrined legislative body with the power to both tax and spend, as well as holding some welfare powers. If the nationalists didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t have passed a Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Act through Parliament last month. The powers already coming from the Scotland Act 2012 provide for a new rate of Scottish income tax, as well as devolution of stamp duty and landfill tax, as well as borrowing powers. Anyone who thinks there will be no new powers at all is being economical with the truth.
The Scotland that would be best for us all is one where local communities have far more power over their lives, and this is a neglected vision in the debate. Centralisation in London and centralisation in Edinburgh are equally negative options, and voting to swap one for the other does not mean that our local communities will suddenly be better represented merely as they are closer to the seat of power. More powers are coming, and the vision of a free, fair, prosperous and reformed Scotland is within our grasp with a ‘No’ vote. It can be a positive, patriotic and passionate decision to vote ‘No’. Next year, at Burns Night, many Scots will raise a glass to the declaration of further devolution.