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A Force For Good

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Build Up the Scottish Office Again

February 7, 2019

 

The Scottish Office is now called the UK Government Scotland. Prior to devolution, it was based at the massive and imposing St Andrew's House in Edinburgh (pictured - now used as offices for the SNP/Green coalition administration). It is now a mere shadow of its former self, down-sized to a modest building at the corner of Melville Crescent.

 

The Scottish Office represents the British Parliament in Scotland. Diminish the Scottish Office and you diminish the idea of everything which the British Parliament represents in Scotland.

 

That is, you diminish the idea of Scotland having, and sharing, a wider British political structure.

 

Here is a way to make it relevant again, and with it, the fact of Scotland's wider British political structure.

 

But first...

 

DEFINITIONS

'Devolution' means the transfer of either, all, or a combination of, administrative, legislative or executive power to institutions which are part of a larger State.

           

'Administrative' means the process of operating and managing laws and affairs.     

 

'Legislative' means the process of making new laws.

 

'Executive' means the process of enforcing the laws.

           

Administrative Devolution is defined as the transfer of powers to operate and manage those laws and affairs which are regulated by the centre.

 

It does not confer any right to make new laws, although it may include the power to enforce the existing laws.

 

Legislative Devolution is the transfer of powers to create new laws, and may include the power to enforce these new laws. Legislative Devolution is what we have had in Scotland since 1999.

           

Scotland has had Administrative Devolution since 1885 when the post of 'Secretary for Scotland', and the Scottish Office, were both created.

           

From 1892 the Secretary for Scotland sat in Cabinet, but the position was not officially recognised as a full member of the Cabinet until the Secretary for Scotland post was upgraded to 'Secretary of State for Scotland' in 1926.

           

Administrative Devolution is what Scotland had right up until 1999.

           

It works and it can work extremely well.

 

It was Administrative Devolution which created virtually the entire infrastructure of Scotland which we know today.

           

In effect, what happened was that the British Parliament would pass a law for Scotland, and it would be left to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Office, the civil servants and the Local Councils, and local businesses, working together, to get on with the job – whether that was building entire New Towns, Power Stations, Roads, Bridges, or administering Hospitals, Police, Education and so on.

           

It was all built and managed without the need for Legislative Devolution.

 

We didn't need 129 MSPs to do any of it, or interfere in order to mess it up.

 

All we needed was one Secretary of State for Scotland to say "Let it be Done!", and the civil servants in St Andrew's House would work with Local Councils and businesses to make it happen.

 

For example, the first section of the M8 opened in 1965, and the Glasgow inner city section was built between 1968 and 1972. The massive Kingston Bridge, pictured, which carries the M8 over the Clyde and through the city was opened on 26 June 1970 by the Queen Mother.

 

All of this was done during the Labour administration of Wilson (from 1964) and the Conservative administration of Heath (from 1970).

 

Five entire new Towns (!) were built in Scotland between 1946 and 1966. Massive energy plants were constructed, including the Cruachan Dam built inside an actual mountain, in 1965! The Glasgow Subway system was opened in 1896 for goodness sake!

 

Since the much-vaunted devolution of 1999, we've had one bridge and some short strips of motorway!

 

The truth is that Legislative Devolution is not necessary if your only requirement is "to get things done".

 

The Administrative Devolution which Scotland had prior to 1999, helped to keep the UK together as a Unitary State.

 

However, it did not satisfy the Nationalists.

 

They wanted the power to make new laws, based largely upon their concept of the Scots and Scotland as a different, distinct and separate people and country from the rest of the United Kingdom.

 

Hence the advent of Legislative Devolution...which is largely about appeasing Scottish Nationalism.

           

Post-1999, after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has had, and continues to acquire, a large amount of Legislative Devolution.

           

This form of devolution is intended to appeal to those for whom being able to operate and manage laws and affairs set at the British centre, is not enough.

           

It is intended to appeal to those whose primary political motivation derives from a sense of themselves, and Scotland, as different, distinct and separate from the rest of the UK.

           

Those of us who do not see ourselves in this way, are concerned about the direction that these people – aided and abetted by the various Scotland Acts of the British Parliament – are taking us.

 

HERE IS WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

The Scotland Acts (1998, 2012, 2016) have created a massive new raft of Legislative Devolution, intended to appeal to the Scottish nationalist politics of difference, identity and separateness, and which in its present form will continue to imperil the stability of the overall Unitary British State.

           

This would be bad at any time; but at this time, these new powers have been gifted directly into the hands of a nationalist-dominated parliament. This is dangerous because such a parliament will continue to use such powers in its on-going attempt to break away from the central British State.

           

A Force For Good has always advocated that if there is any devolving to be done then there are areas where powers should not be devolved directly to Holyrood, but rather retained by the British Parliament, via the Scottish Office, and Administratively Devolved directly to the Local Councils.

           

This means the relationship is directly between the Scottish Office and the Local Councils, thus bypassing Holyrood.

           

Imagine it this way: If we think of the British Parliament as 'A', Holyrood as 'B', and Local Councils as 'C', then Administrative Devolution is a relationship between A and C.

           

However, Legislative Devolution is a relationship between A to B, and then from B it becomes a relationship between B and C, and this can allow B to exclude A from any further deliberations.

 

THE BENEFITS: BETTER DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATION and CONSTITUTIONAL BALANCE of POWERS

Imagine if Holyrood was in charge of all the powers exercised by the Local Councils. We would risk living effectively in a One Party State.

           

Nationalist control will be extended right down to the local level.

           

For example, imagine if the Local Council is SNP-controlled, and answers directly to SNP-controlled Holyrood. This means we have absolute SNP domination right down to the grass roots.

 

It means all those people (the majority) who voted for parties other than the SNP have nowhere to turn.

           

However, if the SNP-controlled Local Council has to answer to the Scottish Office, and can be over-ruled by the Scottish Office, then at least the electorate is not so vulnerable to SNP domination.

           

It means that democracy is better served for everyone.

           

For example, the people who voted SNP can have their Local Council.

           

And the people who did not vote SNP know that, at least, the Scottish Office is looking out for them.

           

Thus the pro-UK element of the electorate is able to rely on another centre of political power to combat the worst excesses of the SNP.

           

And in the case where the Council is controlled by a different party than is in control at Holyrood – say it is a Labour or Tory or coalition-controlled Local Council – and if it has a disagreement with the SNP-controlled Holyrood, then it will be able to fall back on the Scottish Office for support.

           

It will not be at the mercy of an SNP-controlled Holyrood.

           

So in both cases – whether the Council is SNP-controlled, or otherwise controlled – there is better democratic representation, and a more effective constitutional balance of powers when Councils are administratively under the Scottish Office rather than legislatively under Holyrood.

           

The result is that the electorate is better served democratically, and better protected constitutionally, and the possibility of Scotland becoming a One Party State will more likely be avoided.

 

IT PUTS the SCOTTISH OFFICE, and the BRITISH PARLIAMENT, BACK at THE HEART of SCOTTISH POLITICAL LIFE

All of this has the benefit of building up the Scottish Office, and making it relevant again. That can only be a very good thing for all those of us who believe in the UK.

 

It is a powerful way to reaffirm the role and relevance of the British Parliament at the heart of Scotland.

           

Some Nationalists might object and say that strengthening the Scottish Office is 'undemocratic' because the UK Government of the day may only have a minority of MPs in Scotland. They will claim this means the Scottish Office has 'no mandate' in Scotland.

           

This misunderstands the legitimacy and mandate of the Scottish Office. Its legitimacy and mandate does not derive from the Government of the day.

           

Its legitimacy and mandate is derived from the fact of the Union which Scots continue to support; and from the fact of the British Parliament, whose legitimacy and mandate is derived from all the MPs who sit in it, whose legitimacy and mandate in turn is derived from all the people who vote for them to sit in it!

   

TO SUMMARISE:

1. A British Government, which believes in the United Kingdom, and which intends to avoid the complete nationalist domination of Scottish political life, needs to build up the power of the Scottish Office again; the "UK Government in Scotland".

 

Building up the Scottish Office helps to put the British Parliament back at the heart of Scottish political life and local affairs again. It helps to make the British voice heard as an active political participant.

 

It helps to re-establish the centrality and importance of the wider British Context; and helps to make the rest of the United Kingdom relevant once more in Scotland.

           

2. Devolving appropriate areas administratively, rather than legislatively, is the way to do it. It is crucial, though, that the administrative power remains with the Scottish Office and not Holyrood!

           

3. This creates better democratic representation for everyone – including all those who do not vote SNP – and a better constitutional balance of powers between Local Councils, Holyrood and the British Parliament.

 

FURTHER READING from AFFG

The above was excerpted and edited from the article on our Legacy Site

"How to Do Devolution Properly" 24-8-15.

 

Also see:

"One UK: The British Union from 30 First Principles" 24-6-15.

 

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