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The Debate Over Scotland Isn't Over

The UK won the Scottish referendum debate, but at the cost of some promises that it may come to regret. When David Cameron announced he would devolve more powers to Scotland if it stayed in the UK, many of his backbenchers were horrified and hinted that there could be a party revolt over the pledge. Over at the FT, John Kay offers further reasons why more devolution may not work—and may not appease Scotland for long either:

Commitments by the UK’s main unionist parties to give extended powers to the Scottish government and parliament, free of detail and hurriedly advanced in the campaign’s late stages, are likely to be a bust. The division created in 1997 between devolved responsibilities and those reserved for the UK government was not arbitrary. The easily devolved powers were devolved. Others remained at Westminster because introducing separate regimes of, say, pension provision in a small island with a mobile population is horribly complicated. […]

The UK Treasury, by contrast, will resist – and not without reason – ceding genuine control over tax policy or fiscal judgments. The result in practice is likely to be a package that decentralises a few peripheral aspects of welfare and tax policy, such as attendance allowance, and imposes yet another complex formula that appears to give the Scottish parliament greater control over income tax without really doing so.

Moreover, Key notes that many of the anti-Unionist talking points spouted during the referendum campaign centered on actions that Scotland already had “the power, but not to the money” to take—such as assuming control over the Scottish health system, which had already been formally devolved. Furthermore, the “West Lothian” question driving the Tory disgust at Cameron remains unsolved: why should Scotland have a say in English fiscal policy but not vice versa?

It’s still early, and much depends on how much hay the Tories and UKIP are able and willing to make out of Cameron’s promises. But at least for now, it doesn’t look like the debate over Scotland’s powers and autonomy is over. Key’s piece is a good primer on the issues; we recommend you read the whole thing.

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