Wednesday, 29 October 2014

To the Smith Commission, with love from Catalonia

Dear Members of the Smith Commission

I live in Catalonia, one of millions of Scots living abroad.

Scots abroad are the ambassadors of Scotland. We talk about Scotland to neighbours, friends and colleagues. We support Scotland in debates about anything from football to fisheries. We promote Scotland, Scottish products and places. We welcome Scots to our homes, and help Scots in need.

We could not vote in the Referendum, but by goodness we care about the place we still call "home."

1          Current Situation in Scotland; Issues

1.1        Power, and Responsibility

There is little that links the people of Scotland to those in power in the UK.

Scottish affairs occupy very little of Westminster's time and appear to be of little interest. This lack of interest comes from the top: Prime Minister Cameron was absent from Parliament for debates on 6th May 2014: Wales Bill/Scotland Wales symmetry, 25 Mar 2014: Disenfranchisement debate, 29 Nov 2012: Scotland and the union, 15/3/2011: Scotland Bill and 7/3/2011: Scotland Bill. Between 2004 and 2010 he mentioned Scotland in the Commons an average of just three times per year, including two years in which he never spoke about Scotland at all (source: Hansard).

Local Government and local democracy is in a poor condition in Scotland. The abolition of the Parish Councils, the County Councils, and the District and Regional Councils has pushed democracy further and further from the people. Politics in Scotland feels (excluding the brief moment of sovereignty that was the Referendum) like a very distant place.

1.2        Poverty

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation showed us what we already knew - there is deep, widespread poverty in Scotland. People who live in Ferguslie Park, Possil Park or other deprived areas of Scotland are three times as likely to be unemployed and if they are unemployed, almost five times as likely to be sick and unemployed as folk living in the least deprived areas of Scotland.

Poverty needs local solutions, and the UK Government in Westminster has shown itself to be unable to deal with Scotland's poverty.

1.3        Peace Dividend

The Westminster Government has followed its US allies into a succession of wars, principally in the Middle East. It maintains and is about to renew its Trident nuclear missile system, based close to Glasgow. The cost of these adventures is awful in human lives. It is also economically destructive. The Trident Commission Final Report, July 2014, states that the cost of replacing Trident is "£2.9bn in 2012 figures, or 9.4% of the defence budget" over 20 years.

Scotland’s share of £2.9 billion per annum over twenty years (the Trident Commission predicts that the actual cash cost will rise to a maximum £4bn per annum) is money that could be going to education, health or the alleviation of poverty.


1.4        Oil, Gas, Renewables

The Scottish Parliament does not control licensing for oil extraction in the North Sea...nor for fracking under the Scottish Central Belt. The Scottish government does not control the tax revenues arising from these activities, meaning that it cannot use licensing and taxation to manage extraction, nor can the people of Scotland benefit in any way other than the direct or indirect employment these industries create. This is a situation very similar to the extraction of raw materials in the Global South, where nations are left in poverty despite the extraction of valuable mineral wealth.

1.5        Representation Overseas

Scotland is poorly represented overseas. We had direct experience of this here in Spain during the weeks before the Referendum when a group of Scots in Spain had to ask the British Ambassador in Madrid, Simon J Manley CMG, to cease tweeting comments against the Yes campaign. He replied that he "articulated Her Majesty's Government's views on this subject." [Source, letter from Simon J Manley, 24 June 2014]. He did not articulate the views of many in Scotland.

The distinctly Scottish voice on foreign affairs, including the Scottish orientation toward the Nordic states and the EU, and the Scottish thinking on a range of topics from energy to migration are not adequately represented by the UK’s Ambassadors.

1.6        EU and international

Catalonia and Scotland have much in common, including a positive view of the benefits of EU membership. This positive view is not shared by many in England and there is now the real possibility that Westminster could remove Scotland from membership of the EU, against its democratically stated will.

1.7        Migration

"We are all immigrants", the first line of The Scots - a Genetic Journey (, reminds us that Scotland has immigration needs that are not shared by England. We have more universities per head than any other country in the world. Access to these wonderful universities is being hampered by the UK-wide single policy on immigration. Scotland has land that it could share and an ageing population that needs balancing with younger people; we have space, and the need, for more immigration.

2          Principles

2.1        Rebuild democracy in Scotland

People in Scotland should feel that they have a say in how their local area, their region and their nation is run. Those in power locally, regionally and nationally should know (not just morally, but constitutionally, and legally) that they are responsible to their electors
Only the powers that absolutely have to remain at Westminster should do so – the principle of subsidiarity. Westminster should retain powers over foreign affairs and defence, within the provisos below. All other powers - including all forms of taxation and State income generation, and all forms of expenditure - should be devolved to the Scottish people and their Parliament.

2.2        Poverty

Scotland’s government should have a constitutional requirement to reduce poverty. A simple threshold would suffice – for example, to reduce poverty to the levels experienced in a basket of Nordic states.

2.3        Defence

Scotland's defence needs are simpler and cheaper than those of England, with a focus on inshore patrols and no need for an A-bomb deterrent. Scotland should enter a military alliance with England and Wales, with an agreed level of participation by Scottish regiments, air force and navy units, and an agreed budget. Scottish taxpayers would not have to support Westminster's defence programme, and as a symbol of this new alliance, Westminster should remove its Trident missile system from Scotland.

2.4        Natural Resources
Scotland's wealth of natural resources should be used to benefit the people who live there. Oil and gas licensing including licensing for fracking, and all oil/gas taxation revenues should be managed in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament, with a proportion representing the English geographic share of oilfields in North Sea waters being paid to the Exchequer in London. Tax revenues from hydro, wind, tidal, biomass and other renewable energy systems should also be received and managed by the Scottish Parliament. The levels of tax and subsidy should be set by the Scottish Parliament.

2.5        Foreign affairs

Scotland's viewpoint is different from that of England or Wales. The UK should have formal structures through which Scotland's views on foreign affairs are expressed, including a Scottish Foreign Affairs committee in the UK Parliament, and a substantial, influential Scottish Foreign Affairs office within the FO.

Scottish High Commissions - a form of Embassy - should be established in countries with large Scottish communities and in countries such as India with large migrant populations in Scotland. Their role would be to promote Scottish trade and exports, promote Scottish interests in the country and region, and to provide a hub for migrant families in Scotland and migrant Scots abroad. Scottish High Commissions should be established in the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Belgium (Brussels, EU), Spain, United Arab Emirates, India, Pakistan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

2.6        EU membership

The Commission could consider a settlement that allowed Scotland to remain in the EU even if England chose to leave. The relationship between the Channel Islands and England provides a constitutional model; one nation outside the EU, the other inside, and both linked together by the Crown.

2.7        Migration

Scotland's distinct needs should be reflected in different policies. Specific categories of permitted immigrant to Scotland should be created so that students and young economic migrants from outside the EU could live in Scotland. This is similar to the situation in Canada where individual territories set immigration policies relevant to their needs, within an agreed national framework.

3          Devolving powers and responsibilities

Devolving powers and responsibilities to Scotland would recover democracy there, and that in turn would mean a stronger society, a stronger civil society, and a greater degree of social cohesion. These are social goods with an economic value that will repay the investment in time and money required to build them.

The necessary first steps are in the fields of taxation and revenue generation, meaning that all taxation revenues from oil and gas, as well as income taxes, land and corporation taxes, and sales taxes would flow to a Scottish Exchequer. With this flow of funds Scotland could afford to build a stronger democracy and to tackle the many causes of poverty.

4          Conclusion

With power over all forms of taxation and the economy, with a peace dividend arising from a new arrangement for defence, and with a powerful say in foreign affairs, Scotland could thrive. Without these powers it remains, as now, at the whim of a Parliament focused on other issues, other places, and other battles.

Thank you for considering this submission.

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