Whatever your view over the Smith Commission outputs – a higgledy-piggledy list of all those powers which in reality are more heavy responsibilities than opportunities – the real test is going to be the longer-term outcome of instant gratification politics.
From the hurried Vow steamrollered on the UK party leaders by GOrDon Brown, came forth an abridged Constitutional Convention which re-proclaimed the unwritten rule: power devolved is power retained. Pot noodle constitutional change: it’s fast, cheap, fills a hunger, but is not necessarily of nutritional value.
The Unionists of Scotland may be rejoicing in the streets of Hawick tonight and Independistas everywhere are eventually coming to terms that the Referendum has been well and truly lost, but this is all typical short-termist views of our political reality. A battle lost but a war still to win.
I have no doubt, the Scottish Government and YES campaigners will continue to bemoan the failure to deliver anything close to Federalism, Devo Max or Home Rule, but I’m not sure ordinary Scots will appreciate the nuances between fiscal autonomy and further devolved powers. This, along with Jim Murphy’s Scottish Labour leadership, could be the starting point of a return to normal politics. Or will it?
In the short to medium term, from an exclusively Scottish perspective, the dawning that income tax and disability benefits are poisoned chalices is likely to hit home. Expectations must surely now rise that the SNP in government will correct the Coalition’s cuts to disability benefits, increase the top levels of taxation, cut Air Passenger Duty and… well your guess is as good as mine. There isn’t really a lot of wiggle room to redesign tax and benefits in this package without major upset to some people. Perhaps more bands of taxes starting at 10p rising to 50p might make the system more progressive and marginally increase the tax take from middle and upper classes. Just as UK parties rarely increase income tax, it will take incremental changes for increases in income tax to be popular in Scotland too.
A much more likely scenario is likely to happen before even Revenue Scotland – the tax inspectors in kilts – can send you your first Tax bill. Whilst the third Scotland Act is progressed through Westminster, English Votes for English Laws, primarily though not restricted to EVEL Tories (did Cameron seriously not think through this mnemonic), will dominate the UK metro-centric media. EVEL Tories will set out a clear proposition to English voters: you can only trust us to address the sense of English injustice at Scots having their cake, eating it, and then demanding more.
Already the clamber for devolution to English cities is gathering pace. Wales wants what Scotland has. Northern Ireland wants it all just so it can fail to agree on what to actually do with new powers. EVEL Tories are, of course, helping the SNP in this process. With more devolution to Scotland and less for Scottish MPs to vote on, the big question becomes, what exactly is a Scottish Labour MP for? Returning a Scottish Labour MP won’t stop the privatisation of the English NHS. And as most of them voted to invade Iraq, they are not exactly blessed with ethical foreign policy experience.
I now take the view that the break up of Britain is going to be guaranteed by the Unionists themselves. Independence supporters should hold tight. Make use of the powers in whatever way we can and prepare for the implosion of the Mother of all Parliaments.