Former Director of the Scotland Office Alun Evans urges the UK Government to consider ‘Home Rule for Scotland’

16 Sep 2015

A year after the Scottish independence referendum, former Director of the Scotland Office Alun Evans, now Chief Executive of the British Academy, set out his personal view today on what the United Kingdom could do to avert a second referendum that could result in Scottish independence.

In a lecture at the British Academy titled ‘Getting ahead of the curve: How to stop playing catch up on Scotland’, he argued that the best way to save the union would be for the United Kingdom to make a “big, bold and generous offer to the people of Scotland” and offer Home Rule within the United Kingdom.

Alun Evans spent almost three years from 2012 – 2015 working at the Scotland Office. He helped to negotiate the Edinburgh agreement of 2012 and witnessed the run up to the referendum and its aftermath at close quarters.

He outlined the history of the UK’s relationship with Scotland, drawing in particular on the independence movement and the SNP’s evolution from a fringe party to one that gained 50% of the votes and over 90% of the MPs in Scotland at the 2015 General Election. From his close personal experience watching the run up to the referendum, he said it appeared that the SNP and the “Yes” campaign were calling all of the shots, with supporters of the union consistently behind the curve, playing a game of catch up with the independence bandwagon.

In his recommendations for a bold way forward, Evans urged the UK Government to make an offer of ‘Home Rule for Scotland’, echoing the words of Charles Stuart Parnell and the Irish nationalism of the late 1880s.

On the current situation and possible ways forward, Evans said:

“The time for incrementalism is over.  Playing catch up with the SNP has not worked and probably will not work.  The time is ripe now to get ahead of the curve and so help to secure the union.  I would argue that the time has come for the United Kingdom to make a big, bold and generous offer to the people of Scotland.”

This offer to Scotland would include:

  • Full devolution of tax and spend to the Scottish Parliament and Government, except for reserved areas

  • Full responsibility for domestic policy and spending

  • Full responsibility for energy policy and activity on and off shore

  • Agreement on certain shared responsibilities within the UK

  • A framework of the continuance of the UK as a constitutional monarchy

  • A shared economic area with monetary policy set by the UK central bank’s monetary policy committee on which Scotland’s views should be represented

  • Defence and the overall conduct of foreign policy to be run by the United Kingdom but with full consultation

He also suggested that such an offer would need to come within the context of three conditions:

Economic: This arrangement would, by definition, spell the end of the Barnett formula as it applied to Scotland – needing a new and fairer formula to apply to Wales and Northern Ireland.

Political:  Giving a far greater degree of independence within the United Kingdom to Scotland – Home Rule – should have a quid pro quo in terms of reduced political power for Scotland within the Westminster parliament. The best, and fairest, answer to the “West Lothian Question” is that Home Rule should coincide with a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs in return for home rule. That would imply a cut of perhaps 50% in the number of Scottish MPs, all with commensurately larger constituencies.

Constitutional: This issue has to be put to bed for a generation, not for a year or for five years.  There may be something to be learned from the experience of Canada with Quebec. After their second referendum in 1995 - when the separatist movement failed to gain independence by only 1%- the federal Government of Canada reached out to Quebec and sold the benefits of remaining within Canada much more strongly and passionately to the extent that the pressure for separatism has subsided.

Evans concluded his lecture with the advice that those in the United Kingdom who believe in Scotland remaining a part of the United Kingdom need to identify and celebrate those things which bind the union together, such as the welfare state, economic stability and the BBC.

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