Supporting Social Cohesion and Communities in Scotland
Dear Lord Smith and the Smith Commission,
That Scotland be granted substantial control of its own taxation and spending in general terms is not overly controversial, but in particular the settlement needs to include control of energy policy and revenues. To be explicit this must include responsibility for the regulation, licencing, royalties and tariffs for mineral and other natural resource exploitation in Scottish territory, whether on or off-shore. The ability thus to manage extraction, investment and subsidy is essential to ensure the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy is done in a way which also transitions the communities currently invested in oil and gas or similarly unsustainable industries. This must be done more thoughtfully and humanely than it was by Westminster during the transition from coal and steel related industries during the 1980’s
A universal interest in this issue arises in the prevention of catastrophic climate change. This affects all of us inside or outside of the UK or Europe, but the economic and social disaster provoked if Scotland fails to invest the remaining oil and gas revenues in adapting it’s energy and related engineering sectors to new technologies is a distinctly Scottish concern. The global necessity to divest from fossil fuels could massively and disproportionally impact Scotland if mis-managed. The necessary re-investment in renewables needs to be done more rapidly and with greater priority and leadership than it has been tackled by the UK so far, or is likely to be in the context of the UK’s more diverse economy and differing needs. The transition needs to be managed by the people, communities, institutions and businesses which have the expertise and knowledge to do so, and most importantly with the involvement and consent of those whose families must live most closely with the consequences. If mis-managed from Holyrood it will be a disaster. If mis-managed from Westminster then the social upheaval and unrest would almost certainly break the union, probably with an acrimony and at a cost that would serve neither side; of the debate or the border.
Further to this principle of supporting social cohesion and communities; regulation, planning and licencing of all energy production or generation facilities, including fracking and particularly nuclear, needs to be with Holyrood. The potential trans-generational impact of nuclear deployment, whether energy or weapons related, cannot be overstated, and has been demonstrated with great tragedy several times, most recently in Fukushima. The political union with Westminster is only 300 years old, the consequences of accident or attack on a nuclear facility could be felt for many times that period, once again, massively and disproportionately in the areas where those facilities are placed. The Scottish people absolutely have the right to determine whether they wish to continue living with risks of such enormously destructive consequence.
On the matter of fiscal policy in general, again uncontroversially, complete fiscal autonomy is neither likely, practical nor desirable to most in the UK as an outcome: To avoid lingering uncertainty, some binding agreement or formula must be negotiated regarding ownership and management of Sterling, the role of the Bank of England, and the liability for associated national debts. To provide stability this needs to be a binding agreement that shares sovereignty over the currency independently of current political unions, or constitutional arrangements both within the UK or with the EU. The destabilising and divisive effect of the currency question on the independence debate and the damaging consequences on both sides of the border of continued doubt in global markets, cannot be denied. It can, and should, be settled, and further politicisation and damaging speculation thus avoided by the commission. Such action would greatly benefit the entire UK and all users of Sterling, regardless of whatever political or constitutional uncertainties may remain unresolved or for how long.
Further to the currency question is the more general question of our relationship with Europe. The ideal solution would be the formal recognition of Scotland’s position in and by the E.U. as substantially guaranteed, regardless of it’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK . Whilst EU assent to this may be beyond the power or scope of the Commission to deliver, at the very least, the Scottish Parliament must be granted right of veto both to any adoption of the Euro by the UK, or the removal of Scotland from the EU. Major constitutional changes such as these cannot be imposed by English or UK majority where they are contrary to the will of the Scottish people. Expressed alternatively: If in any referendum on further participation with the EU, there were a difference in outcomes between the nations, then any prosecution of those separate outcomes would each have to be unilateral. The English, Welsh and Irish peoples have as much right to self-determination as the Scots, and this too should be explicitly recognised in the settlement even if English political reform, as with E.U. reform, lies beyond the commissions ability to guarantee.
To save much drafting and time, and to assuage any reasonable interpretation of the settlement as falling short of the undertakings given by UK party leaders in the days preceding the referendum; most of these fair and reasonable democratic requirements could be achieved in one line of text if the Scottish government were to be recognised as rightful executor of all powers invested in the Crown, for all territories North of the agreed boundary. Derogation from that basic position would devolve whatever powers must be ceded to Westminster for the sake of the Union, including, if necessary, lend/lease arrangements pertaining to defence establishments regarded as of overriding strategic necessity to the UK. Such arrangements could potentially, as with Sterling, remain binding for a term long enough to promote stability and security regardless of any future proposals or changes to the existing constitutional arrangements, but short enough not to preclude the expression or execution of a public desire for radical change.
Whilst my role managing the media archives of Greenpeace International perhaps lends me an unusual perspective on some of these issues I must make it clear that other than where indicated otherwise, these are my personal views and not necessarily those of Greenpeace International. You may contact me directly if you wish any further detail.