After a lifetime in the business world, Lord Smith of Kelvin is bound to have come across his fair share of chancers.
However, I do wonder if he realises what he has taken on in agreeing to hold the coats in the war between Scotland’s political parties over what “extensive” extra powers should be devolved to the Holyrood parliament, as per that “vow” dreamed up by the Daily Record newspaper and signed by the leaders of the three Westminster Unionist leaders.
Before he even gets as far as working out what those powers should be he will have to work out what the word “extensive” means.
And while I admire his optimism in praising the Scottish National Party for what he says is its commitment to be part of this process in evaluating what these new powers might be and “to take it very seriously and in a spirit of compromise,” I have also no doubt that what the Nats see as compromise might be very different from how everyone else defines the word.
It is good that the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader-in-waiting and campaign director, respectively, appear – at least if words mean anything – to have accepted that their side lost in the referendum.
That, for a start puts them at odds with Alex Salmond who can’t seem to make head nor tail of what happened on Sept 18 and as a result is behaving more strangely with each day that passes.
However, what Lord Smith will have to get to grips with as he begins his negotiations with the parties’ representatives is that the Nats appear to think that in losing the referendum vote their 1.6e_STnSmillion supporters are entitled to much more than the over 2 million who trumped them. They sincerely believe that their 44.7 per cent share of the vote is worth more than the 55.3 per cent on the other side of the argument.
It’s as if Rommel had said: “Ok, we lost at El Alamein but can we still have Cairo and the Suez Canal?” Or if Napoleon asked: “I know I got thumped at Waterloo but do I still have to go to St Helena?” Or, in an example that the Nats might understand, might Bonnie Prince Charlie have accepted a hammering at Culloden yet continued to ask: “But can I still be king?”
The maxim of “to the victor the spoils” seems not so much to have been ignored as stood on its head in the post-referendum jockeying for position. Many on the winning No side seem to be lashing themselves as if a margin of almost 11 per cent wasn’t good enough. It was and is.
What is, of course, queering the pitch in all of this is that “vow” which featured on the front page of the Daily Record two days before the vote.
Signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg it has taken on the mantle of something approaching Magna Carta in popular – and especially Nat – mythology. I even heard my old friend Pete Wishart describe it as a “solemn vow” the other day on the radio.
It was nothing of the sort; it was a promise to deliver “extensive” extra powers to the Scottish Parliament. Nothing more. It wasn’t signed in blood; I doubt if there’s a copy in a glass case in the British Museum; in fact if there’s a copy anywhere it’s probably gathering dust in the Record editor’s bottom drawer.
And the fact that Lord Smith is chairing a commission on those powers proves, surely conclusively, that this promise will be delivered.
Apart from anything else I don’t think for a moment that the noble lord would have accepted this commission if he thought it was a sham.
But what the Nats have sought to do is claim that, even before the negotiations have begun, the dastardly Unionists are ready to rat on the deal.
I accept that their cause was assisted by a stupid early statement from Prime Minister David Cameron to the effect that more powers for Holyrood would be linked to moves to prevent Scottish MPs voting on English-only legislation in the Commons. That, quite rightly, caused howls of protest and although there is no doubt that this boil will have to be lanced and that a way will have to be found to allow the English to run their own domestic affairs without interference from north of the Border, the two issues have now been separated.
William Hague, the Leader of the Commons and Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary, have both said as much and have effectively and decisively rejected the PM’s early linkage.
There will be new powers for Scotland but they will not be contingent on a deal over English votes for English laws. However, most importantly of all “Evel”, as its now called, will be no part of Lord Smith’s remit – so can we please have a bit less hysteria from the Nats on that score.
We should all wish Lord Smith well in his endeavours, whether or not we’re fans of giving Holyrood any more powers when it doesn’t use the ones it’s got properly.
After all, how many of you out there would sit round a table and try to get some sense out of the present crop of Scottish politicians?
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