Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blair's inter-governmental mendacity

Try as he might, and he continues to so do, Tony Blair just can't get around the simple fact that he erred in not informing Scotland's First Minister of the talks with Libya before concluding the Memorandum of Understanding. Getting the devolution project up and running was one of the very first acts of the in-coming Labour Government in May, 1997. Indeed the first weekend of that administration saw a group of civil servants gathering at the behest of the then Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, to begin working on possible post-devolution arrangements for managing relations between UK Government and the soon-to-be-devolved administrations. One of the key principles elaborated then, and which informed the discussion all the way through to 1999 when the inter-governmental concordats were published, was that of "no surprises". In other words if the UK Government was about to embark on a new initiative on a reserved matter which would touch on a devolved competence, the UK Government was bound to give the Scottish (devolved) administration prior notice - it must not come as a surprise. Undeniably this Memorandum came as a surprise to FM Salmond. It is entirely typical of Blair that he now seeks to spin his way out of the trouble his high-handedness has brought him. But of course the former Scottish government must take some share of the blame in this. George (Lord) Foulkes spilled the beans when he opined that all this carfuffle could have been avoided by a simple call from FM Salmond to Downing St once he'd got wind of the Libyan Memorandum. One is left with the deep suspicion (nay, certainty) that such retrospective briefing (rather than genuine prior notification and discussion) had become an all-pervasive feature of inter-governmental relations during the McConnell era. If that is the case, then Jack-the-knife must accept his share of the blame for this muddle by failing to require UK Government to honour what is a central tenet of devolution. On the bright side, I guess the current tenants of Bute House must daily wait expectantly for the postman to arrive to see what presents Tony has sent them this time...

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