2007 - 2022

First thoughts on the Smith Commission (that’s your future, by the way)

BxFASuzCMAAjyXyThe agenda for the Smith Commission is being set by the melange of untested vows and promises mandated by the No vote in the referendum. But the underlying question for the commission, of which all of the options for control over this or that percentage of Income Tax from Holyrood are nuances, is this.
“From where does power derive its mandate”? Do you devolve power down from the crown, or up from the people?

That was ACTUALLY what the question was on September 18th, constitutionally. The answer SEEMS clear. hence the apparent unthinking and terribly British assumed authority and mandate for Lord Smith and the Unco Guid.

However, in terms of people’s actual experience, on both sides, we were sovereign for 15 hours…(as Jim Sillars put it) and we still, I think, feel that way…again, on both sides. Even if it was our sovereign decision not to opt for sovereignty, we still feel sovereign…I think. Am I wrong?
That we still feel that our future is up to us.

My question to the Smith Commission, then, as they watch a wrangle between policy wonks (each of whom will want a “win” for “their guy” ) about angels on the heads of pins, and then seek the approval of Westminster and Holyrood…is how do they resolve the basic contradiction which undermines their exercise?

My question for the Political parties, now that they have once again been handed total top down power, apparently, is how do you hold this together? How do you give this monarchical exercise popular legitimacy?

A referendum on the legislation? That would do it? Surely not! For one thing, even if the Unionists were optimistic about the deal, that would transfer sovereignty definitively to the people, and the whole point of the exercise was to avoid doing that.
(This is the deep reason why devo max wasn’t on the ballot paper. There is all the difference in the world between a demand from below mandated by a vote of 75% and a “gift” from above)

Even more, another referendum “here” would mean a referendum “there” – that would be irresistible – and God knows we don’t want democracy spreading across the whole island, do we? Give the whole of the UK a veto on the “gift” of Devo Max!


So. Just as the “English votes” for English laws” debate fundamentally undermines the principles of Union, so the top down committee to decide Scotland’s future decides no such thing. It is yet another titled, bureaucratic caricature of the unsustainable present.

This is not to say that the (former) Yes campaign shouldn’t engage with it in good faith. They should. But it won’t last. And no matter what the temptations and provocations to walk out or boycott it, the “Team Yes” negotiators should always remember that they still have the future as a hole card. What this means is that no matter what the provocation to “walk out”…our staying with the process is a win…if it is going to fall apart, let no one ve able to accuse us of knocking it down.

As a final thought, the negotiations of the Smith Commission are , strangely, a shadow of the negotiations that “might have been” after a Yes vote.

(The “low powered vampires” of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula have just flashed into my head…and I’m going to leave them there.)

The same considerations ultimately underlie these negotiations now as would have underlain talks after a Yes vote. The same considerations ultimately underlay the treaty of Union in the first place.

Back in 1707, what Scotland got from the Union was access to markets. What England got was security…for the Hanoverian succession and Scotland’s potential as a “back door” to European invasion.

All the challenges and upsets since, from 1745 to the 45% have ultimately been about and around the same considerations.

Both our tactical choices as voters and campaigners for the elections in 2015 and our attitude to the contingent plans of lord Smith and company which will need approval by the post-election Westminster parliament whatever else they will need) should be informed by the same larger political realities.

The greatest reality is that Scotland has already changed forever, and this is going to be reflected somehow in the political sphere in the elections next year and the year after…and it is almost certainly premature and presumptuous of anyone, even me, to predict exactly how that will pan out, let alone what constitutional reflection there will need to be of a political reality that hasn’t happened yet.

It may be that the most important thing for all of us to do, including his Lordship and the convened commission, is to sit back for a minute and reflect on the deeper historical realities that have not changed as well as the ones that have. To take a properly long view of realities that will continue to apply to ANY set of political outcomes or any constitutional arrangements. London and Europe, for example, will still be there..and we will still be here…and a lot of the things we need from each other we will still need under any circumstances or arrangements.

This is a much longer game than any political party on its own is equipped for. That’s why they need us to stay engaged as much as we need them to be as near to honest as they can be.

I am not suggesting that Lord Whoosiz of Whatsit and his two civil servants are going to get anywhere close to a mandated, comprehensive, stable settlement of “the Scottish Question”…let alone the “English question”.

But for the wider Yes movement, excluded as we are from the Unco Guid and their deliberations, I would suggest that we treat these talks primarily as a rehearsal for the real thing. A lot of interesting stuff will come up…and we will need to be talking about it. That’s our role in the new Scotland, after all.

And history will ultimately judge between us – as to whether the immediate and next to immediate results of the referendum were of anything like equal significance to the fact and experience of it.

That same history, I would suggest, has already precluded anything like the status quo, and anything less than a complete constitutional change being tenable or stable for long. And while we may be less than confident in that reality being recognised and coped with by his Lordship and the assembled wisdom of Scotland’s politeratti, we do know that reality wins eventually.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply to kate Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Geel says:

    And here’s me thinkin thit the Daily Record, Broon and some Lord ran Scotland tae.

  2. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    I think you’re right we are at the start of another process. That process is to build up for another Independence referendum. However, it requires, in my opinion the promotion of Devo Max first.

    Westminster will never allow it. That has to be proven to the Scottish people. With the additional cuts coming the impotence of The Scottish Parliament I believe, will become more clear.

  3. Phil says:

    Well, power derives its mandate from whomever wields it. Eg., in 1066 William brought with him after his victory over the resident populations, power. That power gave him rights. He could thenceforth set the pattern and enforce obedience. Now after the 18th, as we are not on that winning side it is not a good feeling.

    After ‘Arbroath’ we said and still say power / sovereignty resides in the people. But without wielding power we, the people, are missing out. That is what we missed out seizing on the 18th.

    So, is it The Crown, or The People? The evidence looks like The Crown with all its Westminster trappings.

    That is what 55% said.

    Now SmithCom. At every turn he needs to be in no doubt that the Scottish People want slices of power. Not trinkets.

    Eg., on GMS this morning Richard Lockead made a very good job of tying events at sea to this mis-located power by asking Why was this shipment of radioactive waste by sea made at this time of the year, during a storm? The answer, of course, is that this power resides in London.

    SmithCom needs to know that at every turn mis-located power must be re-located at Holyrood.

  4. Chris says:

    Whilt a supporter of independence, I agree that wholehearted participation with the Smith Commission is essential to maximise the powers available to the people of Scotland. It is by the good governance of Scotland by the Scottish Governments (of all hues) that we stood on the cusp of independence and by having more powers we will be able to demonstrate to the Scottish people the benefits of controlling our own affiars. I would hope in the future that successful use of the additional powers will convince more Scots to support Independence but acknowledge that super devo max/ fiscal autonomy/ federalism might be the “settled will” of Scotland.

  5. Agree SG must get involved honestly while of course pressing for as much as possible. One thing I suggest they do is press for any revenues and responsibilities be simply identified as a %age of Scotlands Total revenue/spend GERS as a starting point?) This makes it easy for all to know what is being offered in two clear figures. If either is <50% it clearly does not meet the minimum of promises made and any mismatch between the two is also clearly apparent. What I do not want is wittering about 70% of this and 50% of that and 80 % of something else in isolation….that, I suggest, will be deliberate obfuscation.

  6. Patrick Hogg says:

    Are you Yes yet? The Yes Scotland movement is dynamic and it is still growing. Yes, let’s engage with Smithco and the Unco Guid. Let’s see what the best deal we can get out of them for Scotland, for the real interests of the people of Scotland. Simple. They will spin nothing as everything. They lie. That’s what some politicians do. More and more Scots are seeing through these old paradigm patterns of pathetic behaviour and political posturing. Every power of positive change is a stepping stone towards full Independence and they all know that. Scotland is pregnant with progressive ideas. Okay, so we have had one large contraction and it was painful, but a few more PUSHES and there will be the birth of a new modern nation state of Scotland. There are Labour pains, but we will get rid of them at the GE of 7th May. If we obtain a majority of Pro-Independence seats on 7th May, then let us bide our time and see what package of powers they plan to delove. Let them run their course. If they fall well short of the promised Vow, we use the majority of MP’s for immediate UDI. (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) The real dynamic lies with US in the Yes Movement. Let us use that democratic power wisely and carefully while we wait and watch this process run its course.Time to get focused and ready if they fail to deliver.

  7. cynical lowlander says:

    What happens if the Smith Commission comes up with fudge. After all, there are more Unionist members on the commission (taking their orders from London) than there are people who have Scotland’s interests at heart.

    So when they come up with nout, or worse – a bad deal trumpeted by the London press and biased BBC as a truly significant transfer of powers, what can we do?

    1. David Younger says:

      Make your representation to the Smith Commission before 31st October. Make your feelings known. You must do this, so must I, so must everyone including no voters. We will not get a good deal, but this should not be the politicians’ decision – it is ours. If we do not accept any deal that is put to us, Westminster is not just taking on a few Indy parties in Scotland – it is taking on the country. This is important.

  8. Fred says:

    We must push for the so-called Supreme Court to be binned as far as Scotland is concerned. No more of the Lord Hope’s, and oor ain fish guts for oor ain seagulls! 🙂

  9. tartanfever says:

    I’ll happily predict the Commission’s outcome. It will be a slightly beefed up Scotland Act with some flexibility on Income Tax and a couple of other irrelevant bits and bobs. Thats it.

    The game afoot just now is the ‘delay tactic’. Westminster will drag this process out, mire it in constitutional red tape, tell us that considerations have to be taken for the other home nations etc etc – which they are doing at present. Blame will be placed on the SNP for ‘complicating matters’ by the media.

    This all in the hope that time will see the Yes movement diminish. The longer it drags out – the less it will become reported – the more people will forget it and get on with their lives.

    It’s a tactic thats been used time and again to good effect throughout the British establishment, most recently in the phone hacking trial of Rebekah Brooks. She’s accused of phone hacking, she is then arrested and questioned and the CPS decide their is a case to be answered and she’s charged. During this time, the British public are up in arms about the treatment of Milly Dowler’s family and others.

    After this initial rush of events, it then takes two years for the trial to happen. 2 years ! Why ? If you decide to charge someone, then you have evidence or witnesses, it does not take two years to build and present a case. But during that two years the public have moved on. New events come to take over (like the Referendum or the Olympics) and people’s attention is diverted.

    When the trial does happen, the public reaction is generally pretty muted when we hear that she’s got off. End of story. It’s old news.

    Think about other examples:

    The Chilcot Inquiry – thats never been fully published, and frankly, not likely to.

    The Levenson Inquiry – dragged out, media slanted against, watered down the Levenson himself says parts of it can’t be legislated for because the Inquiry findings are now out of date.

    Time is the killer of popular movements, and it’s the main card being played against us now.

    1. ruagaire says:

      good one tartanfever

  10. We rise up and riot. Now I fully appreciate that that is the least desirable route but I personally am sick of all this ‘what if’ and ‘but that’. The ruling government has lost all credibility and is only hanging on by the skin of its teeth because it still has 6months of life left. Could do a lot in 6months, like undoing most of the damage that was done in the last 40 odd years. Yes things can change overnight. They just have to admit that they haven’t been running things right for the people, tell big businesses to fight for themselves and take the chance to jump out of the mould they’ve been stuck in for hundreds of years and allow Scots to rule themselves. We will work with them as long as they stop behaving like the spoilt brats they all are. Not one of them have ever been forced to eat out of bins or queue up in food lines. ‘Toe the party line or you’re out’ days are well and truly over…..thankfully

  11. kate says:

    The SNP can access the resources of the scottish parliament, local branch memberships & new/old media to make its case and response. London based politicians & media will probably be less interested in Scottish politics post indy ref and any Scottish govt message to the public may be heard louder .The First Minister will most likely return to being seen as more like the Scottish Prime Minister.

    Other Yes groups, such as Greens, have branches in England & Wales & rising memberships that could spread debate outside Scotland. Welsh & Northern Irish nationalists have a stake in Scottish devo/indy success. Various kinds of activist based networking in solidarity with Scotland could come into play – esp anti austerity campaigners, welfare and health, human rights, peace movement activists. Insofar as Scottish govt tries to stand between the UK govt and some of its harshest policies re human rights, welfare rights, education, health privatisation there is the potential to gather support in rUK for defence of Scottish govt policies via devo. Particularly if Peoples Assemblies take off, and if they have union representation.

    If SNP gets a large majority in Scottish parliament & good rep in Westminister it may depend what SNP are willing to do, based on their impression of public support. If Smith appears to break the Vow, SNP could say either correct it or they will put Smith proposals before the electorate for approval, amongst other things.
    In the parliamentary context SNP should have a few ideas about what could be done – journos could start asking them about the parliamentary options, and people considering their own preferred course of action in the face of possible outcomes.

    SNP’s options and those of left and feminist organizations will be partly guided by what the public wants to do, what it accepts as sufficient or flatly refuses to accept.

    Traditionally populations refuse to accept govt decisions on major matters through strikes, especially general worker & student strikes. Apart from the SNP, the unions and students could be very important. I gather these forces are not usually hand in glove but labour has had some high profile losses to SNP. People may not want to hold a general strike, but they could.

    The new media will face their first big test re reaching new audiences with counter narratives to MSM post Smith.

  12. Brian says:

    The SNP should buy time on the BBC to provide regular reports on the progress of the Smith Commission.

  13. Folks, the Smith Commission isn’t just taking submissions from government and political parties, it is also taking them from groups that participated in the referendum and from individuals. So instead of deriding it in lengthy comments, get stuck and and submit your thoughts. If thousands of us do that then it should provide them with something to think about. If we are ignored, then we have more ammunition against Westminster. But if we sit, wringing our hands and moaning, then we will definitely achieve nothing.

    Start making a case for a federal solution – its advantages for Scotland…and for England. It’s actually quite fun. My submission is written, but is being tweaked and checked. And this morning I added some lovely and apposite quotes from Clegg on Channel 4 News last night.

    “Westminster is now dangerously…dangerously out of step with modern Britain.”

    “…we can’t carry on with this clapped-out way of doing politics at Westminster.”

    Fits in very well at the start of my submission.

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      Here’s a quote from the loathsome Clegg you might want to use:

      “In a modern democracy, it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply.”

      When he said the words I’ve quoted, in the House of Commons, on 18/5/2011, he was referring to the House of Lords, but he could have been speaking about any legislative body in the world.

  14. Ok not a riot then, but how about a full scale turn up to peacefully hand in a generalised answer and possible petition from every interested group in the rest of the UK to show actual consolidation.

  15. yerkitbreeks says:

    My submission ( as an individual ) to the Smith Commission :


    I am responding to your call for submissions from members of the public ( as opposed to those from an organisation ).

    Anecdotally I would suggest I am reflecting the views of many Scots when I say discussions might take Europe as a starting point. In particular what is now the expanding EU had its origins after WW2 in the need to avoid the wars which had so decimated Europe. Citizenship and Human Rights were its core principles and remain so today. For a scholarly review by Douglas Scott may I direct you to the paper attached below. We take for granted initiatives in Europe such as the preservation of minority languages. I recall as a schoolboy being told to avoid “slang” if words such as dreich arose, which presumably emanated from the increasing dominance of southern Anglified speech in education, and which would seem to have been the corollary of the European initiative.

    Against this background, and the perceived europhilia in Scotland, should be recognised the phobic moves in England for a referendum for the UK to leave the EU, and also potentially the abolition of European Human Rights legislation. This correctly reflects how the Westminster Government sees itself on the World stage, what with a seat on the UN Security Council, hosting ( American ) nuclear weapons and so forth. This could not be further from what a small nation of five million up here wishes to achieve. However, should your deliberations lead to a significant political change within these islands, I concede that in that particular area it is likely that defence will remain with the larger entity.

    Westminster wants more say, more veto, and more changes to its liking in Europe but you should expect resistance to the third point within its own jurisdiction. However as a Unitary State the United Kingdom is most certainly on the rocks.

    Since with this system one central government controls everything, in reality in the UK there is no sharing of real power between its Nations. As an example of this please reflect on the ( recently rescinded ) UKIP policy to abolish the Scottish Parliament. This would have been perfectly feasible legally with UKIP reinstating something such as the effete Scottish Grand Committee, a glorified talking shop. Everyone up here is only too aware of the gross democratic deficit where a Conservative led Government boasts only one Tory MP in Scotland, but we can do nothing at all about it. Essentially policies are foist on an unwilling population, the poll and bedroom taxes being two bad recent examples, but there have been many over the years. For an historical perspective see “The Claim of Scotland” by H J Paton ( 1968 ).

    So what to do ? Ideally something between a Confederal and Federal system might apply. At present although a Constitutional Monarchy in theory, you will be only too aware of the plutocratic nature of Westminster – centred power, and over the last 30 years the unfettered rise of neoliberalism allowing a London ” elite ” free reign. Since this elite rules business, wealth, politics and the media, expect some extreme reactions to any moves by you to lessen its influence. These as you will acknowledge were evident during the recent Referendum. The resultant feeling of alienation is not reserved to the Scots, and although I abhor Mr David Cameron’s attempt to muddy the water, eventually for the Cornish, Northumbrians and so forth, the North – South divide needs to be addressed.

    From this you will deduce I am not hopeful that Mr George Osborne’s forthcoming statement on the issue will be encouraging.

    Please accept this short contribution as a constructive addition to aid deliberations.

    Yours faithfully,

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      I will be sending them my thoughts. The more the merrier…or the greater the gravitational pull of independent minds…

      1. I visited the Smith Commission website. It includes a set of guidelines for making submissions. While I support the views outlined above by yerkitbreeks, her/his statement does not match the template set out by Smith, and would presumably be disregarded. The Smith guidelines seem to be asking for tightly argued proposals around specific powers. It would be useful if fellow BC readers with experience of making such submissions could offer advice on how to formulate proposals that have the maximum chance of making an impact.

      2. yerkitbreeks says:

        I would be dismayed if my contribution was “disregarded” since the implication in ” have your say ” is that a non-structured offering would be acceptable from members of the public and it is in this spirit I contributed.

        Indeed having written many grant applications in the past, I could have been much more long winded but given the resources of the politicians, professionals and “civic Scotland” it should be their prerogative and I trust they are up to the job.

        We shall see as Smith has promised to publish the submissions in due course.

      3. Shuggy says:


        This from the guidelines site:

        “With that in mind, we have produced the following guidelines to help ensure that the content of submissions received best assists us in meeting our terms of reference. The Commission would like to emphasise that these have been produced for guidance only – all submissions will be considered. However, submissions that answer the following key questions, where relevant, are likely to be most helpful to the Commission in its work.”

        The Commission CANNOT disregard your submission, though it helps if you arrange your points as suggested in the guidelines – makes it easier to read/digest – which is what you want.

  16. Peter Arnott says:

    The Smith Commission are taking submissions from the public from Monday till the end of the month. They are calling it “Have your Say”….


    The slightly creepy and patronising Facebook resonance aside, here’s the website link as it stands currently (Tuesday 8th) : https://www.smith-commission.scot/news/say-submitting-ideas-views-proposals-commission-03-october-2014/

  17. Orzel says:

    Power is not devolved up from the people. Since the source of power is the people then it devolves its power down and authorises other agencies (e.g. the Parliament) to exercise some control over us. Though they have some control over us their power is still given to them form a higher source i.e ‘the people’. In that sense both the ‘crown’ and ‘people’ are top down

  18. David Allan says:

    The Smith Commission have failed at the first hurdle , 5 Political parties , 2 Pro 3 Against. THE SSP an integral part of the YES Campaign has not been invited to participate , what an insult to a Scottish Political Party , the fact that presently they have no MSP’s is irrelevent they represent a growing membership of Scottish Socialists, their exclusion from the commissions talks is for me an indicator of the direction of travel.
    I am unaware of any protest on the part of either the Greens or SNP .I do hope they have challenged this decision on behalf of YES Campaigners and supporters of the Scottish Socialist Party. How are we to believe that our representatations will be considered when the SSP can’t get a seat at the table. Not a promising start.

    Do any of us actually truly believe that anything remotely close to devo max is going to happen – There are going to be some that can look forward to burnt feet!

  19. Andrew Skea says:

    I was excited by the headline to see what options the Smith Commission might look at, and the pros and cons of these options. Instead a long moan full of piffle and waffle.

    Further debate on whether we are sovereign or not is just diverting attention from the real issues.
    Obviously we are sovereign otherwise we would not have had the referendum, and the result of the referendum makes no difference – we are still sovereign – we can elect governments, and boot them out again at the next election, and we can elect a government to call another referendum if we fancy going through it again.

  20. Peter Arnott says:

    I would urge everyone to have a look at this: http://blog.journeyman.cc/2014/10/draft-submission-to-smith-commission.html?m=1

    Very clear argument from principle. Which is the job of non-politicians right now.

  21. BigDaveC says:

    If only I (as an Etonian Blue Tory) could have thought of using this Indyref to sign a – behind the the scenes deal obv. – that would give you a deal to keep the oil and your own revenue (and some other stuff you wanted) , without making it look like we Tories were getting rid of you. Maybe if we could come up with a divisive plan (i dunno something like English votes for English laws or summit) that Labour hated and made it look – at the end of the day that – that they had split the Union. That way me and my buddies would rule supreme in England and I only had to lose one MP. Say you guys got to repeal Article 3 of ‘Act of Union with England’ (cos it turns out it was a reserve of Scottish legal system). Oh and if we got to strike a deal on the eventual defense and foreign office stuff that made us Tories look like heroes – well that would just put a shine on the whole deal. Just a thot 😉 xx

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.