Smith Commission

Last Friday was the deadline for submission by the five political parties to the Smith Commission, charged with trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is the aftermath of the Independence Referendum. 

I have made an attempt to summarise the five submissions as a Google Doc so people can see the areas of concensus and dissent for themselves.  It's not perfect but I hope it helps and if it is useful  please do copy freely.  

I also have made my own submission and copy this below for your information.  If anything I say is useful, please do plagiarise freely.

The deadline for submissions is 31st October.   Email submissions to

Submission to Smith Commission

I have read the Command Paper and the submissions of the SNP Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party with interest.  I sympathise with anyone attempting to deal with these conflicting submissions particularly where positions are entrenched by self-interest. 

I am also concerned that the timescales adversely impact opportunities for public engagement (as opposed to mere consultation).  I understand that the Electoral Reform Society and others in civic society are making representations to you on this subject and seeking ways forward.  Constitutional Convention concepts are useful and may be helpful to you if the political parties prove intransigent. 

The Party positions

The three Westminster parties have used their several Commissions as their submissions to the Smith Commission which I feel fails to reflect the realities of

  1. A relatively narrow 45%/55% vote in the Independence Referendum;
  2. Promises made by the Westminster parties promising substantial new powers/DevoMax/Home rule and even the dreaded word federalism.  The party leaders did not distance themselves from even the most extreme of these statements; and
  3. Poll information on range of powers people feel should be controlled at Holyrood including the long running Social Attitudes Survey data. 

There is real mood for change and those aspirations are long standing and deeply felt.  Significant new powers, up to DevoMax (to use an ill defined shorthand) is the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’.

In this context, it is disappointing the Labour and Conservatives have not proposed any changes to their Commission proposals of earlier in the year.   The LibDems have made more substantive proposals and considered how the wider implications across the UK could be managed via federalism.  This produces more of a process towards DevoMax that might release some logjams.
The SNP Scottish Government has asked for the ‘next best thing’ to independence, with foreign affairs and defence, monetary policy and citizenship and borders reserved to Westminster.  They do not seek any influence on monetary policy.

The Scottish Green Party has made an attempt at DevoMax, importantly highlighting the important of a written constitution and joint/partnership arrangements between the two layers of government for some issues.  They do seek influence over monetary policy and seek representation on management board level of the Treasury, Bank of England and HMRC.

Both SNP and Green proposals seems to be roughly in line with public opinion as ascertained by recent polls and the on a longer timescale by Professor Curtices’ Social Attitudes Survey.

While the Commission is under excessive time pressure to come up with concrete proposals with wide agreement, I would suggest that some of the pressures can be managed by phasing proposals over a period and setting out a road map as to how the UK constitutional pressure can be managed, while meeting the aspirations of Scotland to proceed as quickly as possible.  The danger in such process is any delays : the timetable would need clearly to beat at the pace of a Scottish not a Westminster drum. 

A declaration that any part of the UK could, in principle, take to itself similar powers and matching responsibilities may allay some tensions and would be attractive to many outside Scotland – although it is not for Scotland to dictate the form of government in other areas of the UK.  But if the UK is to follow that route, the inevitable consequence will be the surrender of powers to devolved bodies and the lessening of the current over-wheening power of Westminster.  That will be uncomfortable for Westminster politicians but their comfort is not part of your remit.


There appears to be a broad consensus towards entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament and the development and formalisation of mechanisms for joint working/joint policy making/ policy co-ordination.    I can only see this as a written constitution for Scotland.  But we will always have the conflict between the concepts of ‘sovereignty lying with the people’ and ‘the crown in parliament’.

It is hard to argue against the submissions by the Greens and the SNP seeking for powers over Scottish elections and governmental arrangements but the proposals from the Greens towards managing additional powers via public participation and internal devolution within Scotland are attractive and act as a counterweight to the criticism that Holyrood would be a ‘wee Westminster’.

The submissions by the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats provide a solid foundation for agreement here.


Money is the root of all evil and is a crucial part of this debate.  Spending powers are inextricably linked to tax raising powers.  Subject to any arrangements to provide some sharing to resources to address the inequalities that do exist across the UK, the aim must be to allow the Scottish Parliament to fundamentally raise enough revenue to meet its spending requirements and tailor those taxes to meet Scottish policy aims and specific Scottish concerns. 

Too few powers and insufficient flexibility to apply those powers make limited taxation powers a poisoned chalice.  But as Scotland will be bound to the UK currency and monetary policy, agreements are needed.  The SNP seem to be happy to continue with no real say – and thereby scant responsibility.   Greens and, via federalism LibDems, are more willing to engage.   

But, with formal management arrangements and perhaps ultimately federalism, the Green/LibDem axis here have a vision to move forward in a way that is coherent and consistent.


The SNP argue that all the main spending areas except defence and foreign affairs should be devolved.  The Greens see similar vision but would add pensions to that list.

The main argument is around welfare.  The economic, social and housing state of Scotland is different from especially southern England and therefore the appropriate policies vary.  Just as there seems to be wide acceptance that the city-regions of England should gain more powers of their economic futures, there should be wide acceptance that Scotland should determine its own future.  Labour’s attempt to salami slice powers in this area seem muddled. 

In this instance, I commend the SNP and Green submissions.

Other Issues

Within this heading I include all the issues mentioned by the submissions that do, of themselves, entail major spending implications.   Where any of the submission have made the case for devolving powers, then you should accept this. 

In particular
  • It seems perverse for Labour to argue against the devolution of powers relating to Health.  I would hope that the Scottish Parliament would seek to retain the excellent services of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.  The Scottish Parliament has shown itself attuned to these emerging realities.
  • As a peripheral area within the UK and with a much lower population density (outside the Central Belt), Scotland’s transport needs differ from the UKs.  The SNPs submission on powers relating to Transport should be supported. perfectly capable of considering sensitive and complex issues.  
  • As is illustrated by the current fuss over Leader’s debates for the UK General Election 2015, it is clear that current arrangements for broadcasting do not represent the legitimate concerns of the constituent parts of the UK.  I therefore commend the suggestions of the SNP and Greens: we need a more plural view of broadcasting to reflect the realities as the differences between Britain and England sharpen.   Consider: the Westminster remit for Health only applies to England and therefore (UK) Leader’s debates should avoid this issue.   Repeat for all devolved matters and we get a very complex situation that would be better served by plurality with much more emphasis on the nations and regions and less on a London/Westminster centric model.  The Greens suggestions are closely attuned to the emerging realities.
  • Employment and Employability issues bring a welcome consensus between LibDems, the SNP and the Greens.  These issues so closely relate to the local economic circumstances and elements of economic development and welfare, that they need to be seen as a coherent package with the Scottish Parliament. 

I reserve the right to make a further submission(s), particular if the Conservatives and Labour revisit their timid proposals in the light of the new political realities, and of course will seek to comment on any proposals you make.

Meanwhile I wish you success in hammering out a proposal that meets the legitimate aspirations of the majority of the Scottish people.

Debra Storr
(contact details removed) 


Serious about active travel?

The difference between stated aims and delivery by government's fascinates me.   We have great statements about promoting Active Travel (walking and cycling to normal people but you need a new buzz phrase).  Now the benefits of this are huge - health from the activity itself and the increase in social interactions - economic from increased use of the local shops - environmental from the reduced CO2 emissions and reduced congestion on roads. 

But then we have the latest Scottish Government budget.  I'm going to focus on Chapter 9

There are three budget lines that relate to Active Travel:

  • Sustainable and Active Travel (SAT)
  • Cycling, Walking and Safer Routes (CWSR)
  • Future Travel Fund (FTF)
But we can not be sure that these monies are all spent on cycling and walking. 

'The budget for Sustainable and Active Travel delivers support for the promotion of more sustainable travel choices, including support for the actions in the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland as well as work to promote sustainable transport to organisations and in communities, e.g. the development of a network of car clubs across Scotland. It includes funding for the core Fastlink scheme in Glasgow (£20 million in 2013-14 and £10 million in 2014-15).'

Cycling Walking and Safer Routes is money given to local authorities.  They choose how much to spend on such and how much goes directly into cycling and walking and how much is used, under the guise of safer routes for e.g. 20mph limit in urban areas.  Some local authorities all money to this fund - but for many this is the only walking and cycling budget. 

'The Future Transport Fund will reduce the impact of transport on our environment, reducing congestion and supporting better public transport, active travel and low carbon vehicles. This investment provides a platform for increasing support thereafter for a range of sustainable transport initiatives, including cycling infrastructure and freight modal shift.'

So it takes a bit of effort working outwhat is the real figure for walking and cycling.

 (figure in £ millions)                             2013-14  2014-15 Draft   2015-16 Plan
Sustrainable and Active Travel              35           29                      15
Cycling Walking and Safer Routes         5.6           8.2                    8
Future Travel Fund                                 7.7          18.7                 20.2
                                      Total                 48.3         55.9                43.2
but there are some things in this mix that have nothing do do with walking and cycling
Fastlink Bus route, Glasgow                  20           10                      0
Electric car charging points                      5             5                     5
Car clubs                                                  2              2                     2
                                     Total                 27             17                    7
so available might be:
Real figure for walking and cycling   21.3        38.9               36.2

For a country of 5.3m people and with a £2 billion (£2,000,000,000) transport budget, this is paltry - especially with an aspiration for 10% journeys to be by bike by 2020.