I blogged last month on the status of the discussions between the parties, and their competing proposals. By the close of the consultation period on 31 October, the Commission had received 407 submissions from organisations and groups, and over 18,000 members of the public. Any readers wanting to read all of those before the report is issued had better get started…
In a fortuitously timed development, an article I wrote on this very topic has just appeared in this month’s edition of The In-House Lawyer. I wrote the piece just a couple of weeks after the referendum – it notes that it was written prior to the SNP revealing its ‘devo-max’ proposals – so I’m pleased to see that it holds up pretty well (if I do say so myself). In particular, Lord Smith has since confirmed that his remit does not include changes to the way the Scottish Parliament operates, or to the allocation of powers between local and Scottish government (though he will have the ability to cover issues outside his official remit in the introduction to his report, if he thinks fit). He has also confirmed that his task is indeed to facilitate an agreement between the various parties, rather than forming his own set of recommendations for further devolution.
The substance of what Lord Smith produces might therefore be less interesting than the political spinning that will immediately follow, and in particular whether the Scottish Government / SNP will be supportive of what is produced (the Herald reports (£) that Labour think not). Lord Smith has indicated that he expects the pro-Union parties, at least, to treat the process as conclusive and to not depart from it in their manifestoes or in the eventual legislation. However, assuming the SNP (and Greens) will not be content to settle for the ‘consensus’ position, the Unionist parties will surely be sorely tempted to try to ‘outbid’ each other on additional powers when the general election campaigning begins in earnest next year.
There may nevertheless be some surprises in the substance of ‘Smith’, with reports indicating that the pro-Union parties may have given more ground than might have been expected at the outset (though it appears the proposal for full devolution of income tax remains a source of debate within Labour).
Stay tuned to the Public Law Blog for updates on what Lord Smith produces, and what it might mean for Scotland’s constitutional future.
On November 24, 2014