Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another fine mess....

Who would want to be a Tory or Lib Dem in Scotland these days? Not only does our redoubtable First Minister appear to be positively steaming ahead in opinion polls, but now poor Nicol S and Annabel G find that they’ve been mugged by the inability of Wendy ‘Shreek’ Alexander to deliver her much-lauded Constitutional Commission. How so?

Dream sequence: let Scotland’s unionist parties take the wind out of Ecky’s burgeoning nationalist sails by announcing the setting up of a new Constitutional Commission which will consider what further powers (including over taxation) should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. And let that project invoke memories of the Constitutional Convention of the 1980s where a united Scotland stood firm in its determination to take on an unpopular Tory administration in London. Rekindling that spirit of national defiance against Thatchers’ “over-centralisation” of UK Government will effectively kill Salmond’s National Conversation for the “over-separation” (i.e independence) of Scotland’s Government. That will see off his so-called national conversation once and for all…

Horrid reality: not only are Wendy’s well-trailed ambitions for further devolution of powers subject to extensive criticism by the UK-wing of her own party, but the Constitutional Commission project is taken over by the UK Government and managed by a senior civil servant whose professional coordinates lie somewhere between the UK Ministry of Justice and the Scotland Office. It quickly becomes crystal clear that not only is bailiff Brown really in charge of this Commission, but he is ready to leave no one in any doubt that he is in charge!

The fine mess: Nicol and Annabel stick with this ill-fated Commission venture and find they are captured by the UK Labour Government. Self evidently Brown’s terms of reference for the remit of the Commission differ fundamentally from Wendy’s and, all the more so, from the terms that Nicol and Annabel thought they’d signed up to with such inelegant haste back in November. As rulers do, the bailiff has ruled. But he’s ruled out key reforms that Scotland’s unionist parties had persuaded themselves ('cause Wendy said so) had been ruled in! One can’t really imagine that being instructed the bailiff as to the conclusions this Commission will not be permitted to reach ahead of any meeting taking place is a situation that either Nicol or Annabel (or their UK masters) is likely to enjoy. But walk away from Wendy’s Commission on the grounds that you’ve been misinformed on its remit and scope, and the inability and incompetence of Scotland’s unionist parties collectively to discuss further any serious constitutional reform is laid bare for all to see. Upshot – not only is the constitutional debate handed back to the SNP – to be engaged through its still active national conversation – but the SNP Government emerges as the only political party capable of engaging this debate.

And all this begins with an idea from Wendy who, we are constantly assured, has a brain the size of a small planet.