Smith’s Principle Failings


For those that care to remember, one week in on 22 October 2014,  Lord Smith of Kelvin’s Commission agreed a set of principles to guide its work toward a conclusion. Whilst the true test of the Commission’s report will be against the passage of political events, its ongoing relevance assessed against its ability to affect meaningful change from within the constraints of the current establishment, there is an opportunity to gauge whether the report stands as a success solely against its own declared intents.

(1) form a substantial and cohesive package of powers, enabling the delivery of outcomes that are meaningful to the people of Scotland.
FAIL: even the use of the word ‘package‘ seems a little strong, let alone the bolt on adjectives: ‘substantial and cohesive‘. At best this is a rattle bag of initiatives, tinkering away at the fringes of the devolution debate, its proposals are in no way greater than the sum of the constituent parts. There is no underpinning logic, no central driven concept, no overarching framework, no foundation vision, to inform the assemblage. Its a policy pick and mix, without reference to Scottish culture or history, or to the current needs of the Scottish people. In this context, how can meaningful outcomes be enabled.
(2) strengthen the Scottish devolution settlement and the Scottish Parliament within the UK (including the Parliament’s levels of financial accountability).
FAIL: The accountability for roadsigns is undeniably strengthened. Meanwhile, on another planet, the words devolution and settlement do not easily collocate. There is a sliding scale from subjugation through to independence, finding and fixing a point that can withstand the vicissitudes of the historical narrative is a significant challenge. Placing two words next to each other in the hope that their confluence can add meaning does not provide an answer of any particular significance.
(3) aim to bring about a durable but responsive democratic constitutional settlement, which maintains Scotland’s place in the UK and enhances mutual cooperation and partnership working.
FAIL: Who, pray, is to be responsive to whom, and by what mechanism?
(4) not be conditional on the conclusion of other political negotiations elsewhere in the UK.
FAIL: The Report cannot be enacted into meaningful legislation before the 2015 General Election. Its proposals will be subject to the machinations of the Westminster political machine as the UK parties jocky for advantage through the pre-election campaign and into post election brokering. How is it possible to claim that the Report can stand apart from this process. It will be a bargaining chip, an item of trade, to be sliced and diced and haggled and parred, its constituent parts devalued, de-contextualized, demeaned. If there is a vestige, a ghost of coherence in the Report, there will be none remaining once its true conditionality has been tested in the fire.
(5) not cause detriment to the UK as a whole nor to any of its constituent parts.
FAIL: Even before the ink was dry, the foundations of the UK state sunk a little further into the sand. Pick any aspect of latent nationalism within the current confines of the UK, and this report has fueled the fire.
(6) cause neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government to gain or lose financially simply as a consequence of devolving a specific power.
FAIL: The Report appears artfully constructed to enable no loss to the UK Government as a consequence of a policy decision on the part of the Scottish Government. All else has the clarity and consistency of mud.
(7) be implementable; be compatible with Scotland’s and the UK’s international obligations, including EU law; and be agreed with a broad understanding of the potential associated costs.
FAIL: The proof will be, by necessity, in the pudding. But that the wheels are already coming off the bandwagon, will do doubt be found to be significant.
Lord Smith of Kelvin, even measured against your own terms, you have failed. Scotland condemns you to the footnotes of the future history of an independent Scottish Republic.