The Scotland Bill Debate (House of Commons, 15 June 2015)

by Elias Blum

I watched about three hours of the debate in the House of Commons on the Scotland Bill. This is the bill that is supposed to ‘deliver the vow’, although the bill as presented to the House by the Government seems to fall far short of even the Smith Commission’s watered-down proposals.

Overall, I thought the quality of the debate was higher than usual, with some thoughtful and well-delivered speeches by Edward Leigh MP (Cons), John Redwood MP (Cons), Angus Robertson MP (SNP), Stewart Hosie MP (SNP), and Graham Allen MP (Lab).

Edward Leigh seems to understand what ‘Home Rule with Full Fiscal Autonomy’ means. Stewart Hosie’s contribution showed that Full Fiscal Autonomy is viable, small and short term deficits not withstanding, and put the naysayers in their place.

Perhaps Angus Robertson doesn’t fully understand how to use ‘manner and form’ provisions to entrench statutes in the absence of a written constitution, but he got closer than most, and his proposal to guarantee the permanence of the Scottish Parliament had real merit; combined with super-majority rules, proposed by Smith, for the exercise of certain legislative powers over electoral rules by the Scottish Parliament, it would have gone some way, at least, towards the creation of a proper constitutional framework that would have guaranteed Scottish democracy. Some serious and thorough-going proposals were made that, if they had been adopted, would have made me give the UK the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, there was lots of encouraging talk about a Constitutional Convention for the UK – one that would go beyond just the territorial dimension to address other institutional matters such as electoral reform, reform of the second chamber, local democracy, and human rights. There are people on all sides of the House, from all parties, who are stumbling into the light.

Most of the beneficial amendments to the bill, however, were resolutely voted down. Clearly, while some of the more pragmatic Tory backbenchers know the game is up, the Government is opposed to the sort of radical surgery that could have saved the UK’s life.