The No campaign seems to be rapidly descending into farce as the prospect of a Yes vote induces more and more panic from our Unionist and BritNat friends. The latest was the uncoordinated re-entry into the fray of Messrs Brown and Campbell. Both in their different ways highlighted the need to reform the UK and for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers and responsibilities. Both were as per usual pretty vague about what new powers should be transferred to Edinburgh. I don’t want to waste more time on dissecting the contents of the two speeches as others have done an admirable job of this already – Wings Over Scotland in particular, here and here.
What I do want to highlight is that these two outbursts, they hardly qualify as thoughtful contributions, are further evidence of the state of panic and disarray that seems to have engulfed the No campaign. For both speeches have precisely zero relation to political reality. You just have to compare how the No campaign has approached this issue of further devolution with its response to a proposed currency union. There the biggest of guns at Westminster, Osborne, Alexander and Balls, were trotted out to parrot the same line – there will be no currency union. None of the party spokepersons from Scotland were involved in this. Since a currency union requires the consent of Westminster only politicians representing the main parties at Westminster could issue a statement for or against a currency union. But equally, only Westminster can deliver the necessary legislation to secure further devolution. So it follows that only politicians representing the main parties at Westminster can issue any kind of credible commitment to further devolution. Two failed former leaders do not count. Only Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband have the necessary authority to make a commitment on behalf of their parties at Westminster. And as with their stand on a currency union, it would have to be a joint commitment, and not just a vague promise to do something. It would need to be a joint commitment to deliver specific additional powers. Now of course nothing like this is going to happen. It won’t happen before September 2014. It won’t happen before the 2015 UK election. It simply will not happen.
It will not happen because none of the UK parties are remotely interested in further devolution. Their underlings in Scotland can rant on to their hearts content, but their masters in Westminster control the votes. It is also fascinating to see all this sudden interest in further devolution emerge as we get closer to the date of the referendum. After all the LibDems are partners in the current coalition government at Westminster. If they were serious about further devolution, why have they not made this a key condition of the coalition agreement. At the very least the LibDems could have set out their proposals and secured the approval of all their current MPs and all their prospective candidates, not just in Scotland, but throughout the UK. But nothing of the sort has happened. Not the sign of a party that takes this as a serious issue.
It is if anything even worse for Labour. As someone mischievously tweeted, If only Gordon Brown had been Prime Minster! Why has this stalwart of centralisation when in power in London, suddenly become a convert to further devolution? Why did Labour when Gordon Brown was chancellor and then Prime Minster do nothing, absolutely nothing.
It is worth noting that neither Gordon Brown nor Ming Campbell used the Better Together platform for their speeches. Though both were speaking about the same topic, there does not appear to have been any prior coordination, no attempt to emphasize any similarities or commonalities between the two proposals. It all seems to be just further confirmation of the disarray in the No campaign.