Devolution

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Many people have interpreted Gordon Brown’s comments prior to the referendum, as well as the so called “Vow” made in the Daily Record, as some commitment so “Devo Max”. My submission to The Smith Commission on further devolution for Scotland assumes that we are indeed aiming for the maximum level of devolution possible, and asks where this must fall short of the common understanding of Devo Max.

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The main focus of the Smith Commission is to decide which powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Yet, in practice, these powers are held by the Scottish Government and devolved to, or shared with, a large number of governmental, non-governmental and quasi-non-governmental bodies. As a result, no one is quite sure who is responsible for decisions made in the name of the Scottish Parliament.

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The United Kingdom has set up federal systems across the world but has been reluctant to embrace the principle itself, whether in relation to its constituent nations or to Europe. In the latter context, indeed, it has remained the ‘f-word’. Now almost everyone is talking about federalism as a new way of approaching the Scottish issue, a third way between devolution and independence, and as a device for fitting the United Kingdom together as a whole. As usual, when so many people agree on an idea, however, they do not agree on its meaning.

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Opinion polls have consistently suggested strong support for the Scottish parliament to have powers over social security. Over the next 6 weeks, the Smith commission now has an opportunity to consider, as part of its broader process, whether agreement can be reached over welfare devolution.

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