The Scottish Green Party, which is committed to making popular democracy a reality at the national, regional and local level, believes that there should, in time, be a second referendum on Scottish independence – and following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of a new bill to potentially bring one about, it’s worth considering some of the ways in which the current devolution deal is constraining democracy in Scotland.
Just this September, for instance, the UK government announced the closure of Dungavel immigration detention centre, and a proposed replacement. Since then, we’ve also seen damning criticisms of the standard of treatment asylum seekers in Scotland are receiving at the hands of privatised services. Labour MSPs have been demanding change, but the barriers don’t lie in Holyrood. The UK government won’t even allow Scottish Ministers to take responsibility for asylum seekers’ health, housing and education, all of which should already be devolved. Despite commitments for a review in the Smith Commission, nothing has changed. We do indeed need a humane and respectful asylum system, most urgently the ending of indefinite detention. But we need to get beyond the limits of devolution to make it happen.
Tax avoidance has been coming up as well, with proposals from myself and Green colleagues as well as from other parties. If we want to actually gather the revenue that’s owed by big business, we need the powers to do it. We also need the ability to cooperate with other countries to abandon the ethos of tax competition which gives tax dodgers their opportunities – it’s the UK government which has been blocking this action. Once again, the limits of devolution are getting in the way of more radical action.
From energy policy to poverty reduction, and from fair employment to macroeconomics, this pattern repeats itself. Two years after our first independence referendum, the Better Together parties might not have the self-awareness to see it, but they are all now straining at the limits of devolution and advocating policies that ultimately require independence, especially in light of Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU.
None of this is an excuse for not “getting on with the day job”. We do need far more creative use of the powers we do have, but a bold approach to the day job will demonstrate how confining those limits are, and will only strengthen the case for breaking beyond them.
This article is adapted from one that appeared in The National.