Friday, 9 May 2008

The NeverWendum

The end of another long week in Scottish politics. To think that just seven days ago we had no idea that the leader of the Labour party (Scotland Branch) wanted to run her party right off a cliff nor that the leader of the Labour party (London Branch) would be waving tattie-bye to his protege as she sailed off up that infamous creek sans paddle.
In the midst of the "bring it on, gimme a quickie (referendum, that is), hang on I'll do it myself (still on the referendum), och no, I'll challenge you to do and I'll support it, well I might decide not to support it depending on what you do when you do it, hang on, you mean I can't do it at all and Gordon doesn't support me? Godammit!" frenzy, there are a few wee points that really should be noted.

Firstly, the Glenn Campbell interview on Sunday:

Glenn Campbell: Do you agree with Ken Calman that his proposals for revising devolution may or may not need to be tested in a referendum, that it depends how radical it is?

Wendy Alexander MSP: Yes.

Glenn Campbell: And what would be your point, what would you regard the point at which a referendum was required? How radical would the proposal need to be?

Wendy Alexander MSP: Well I think we have to wait and see what he comes up with.

With thanks to This is Alba for the transcript.

So there you have it - she wants a referendum on independence now and another one on Calman when he reports - the NeverWendum. I can't for the life of me imagine why we'd want a plebiscite on greater devolution after we've declared a yes verdict from an independence referendum, but Wendy says it's so and Wendy is an honourable woman.

So Wendy says yes, Gordon says no, Annabel Goldie says "Well, goodness me, can't she hold a simple line?", Nicol Stephen says "What's going on?" and Michael Forsyth comes sweeping in from right field to say "Yeah, baby, do it now" while Chunky Dunky McNeil solemnly intones the verdict of the Labour party group "Well, we're no gonna vote against it any more. At least I think that's the current position, but I did leave the room three minutes ago, so it may have changed by now." It appears to be utter chaos, but Wendy tells us she knows what she is doing, and Wendy is an honourable woman.

Meanwhile, Big Brother winner and member of the Calman Commission and Labour's Literacy Commission, John Loughton, said on BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland
"What I want to hear from the opposition party, what is the fundamental duty of a opposition party, is to propose a clear, consistent and key message in providing solutions or alternatives to proposals from government"
"Sadly I think that's not happened through various changes in stance from the Labour party just now."
What? How dare he? Doesn't he know that Wendy is the leader of the opposition and Wendy is an honourable woman?
Then we're on to Iain McMillan (CBI, Scotland Branch) calling for an early referendum - and he sits on the Calman Commission as well! What kind of a CBI Director is in favour of spending more public money on an extra referendum? Unless, of course, he disagrees with his chairman about the need for a public vote. That would mean he was disagreeing with the Wendibles, though, and surely he wouldn't do that because she is an honourable woman?

Finally, for now, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body finally discussed Calman on the 16th of April and agreed to provide a clerk and 'other limited services in kind' to the Commission. Tricia Marwick MSP quite rightly ensured that her dissent was recorded.

Quite rightly? Let me take you through this -

On the 6th December last year, Parliament passed this motion:
That the Parliament, recognising mainstream public opinion in Scotland, supports the establishment of an independently chaired commission to review devolution in Scotland; encourages UK Parliamentarians and parties to support this commission also and proposes that the remit of this commission should be:
"To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom",
and further instructs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to allocate appropriate resources and funding for this review.
The resolution of Parliament, then, was to allocate resources for a Scottish Parliament review of its own powers, chaired by an independent person. Whether Calman can be described as independent is open to question, what isn't open to question is that this is not the review sought by resolution of Parliament.

In the report to the SPCB, it is made clear that this Commission is a creature of London:
3. The Presiding Officer received a letter from Jim Gallagher on behalf of the UK Government on 25 March (copy already circulated to SPCB members) informing him that Professor Sir Kenneth Calman has been appointed to chair the Commission. Further announcements are expected in the near future on the other members of the Commission. I met Sir Kenneth and Jim Gallagher last week to discuss how the Commission was intending to operate. This report to the SPCB draws on those discussions.
4. Sir Kenneth has agreed that the Secretariat support for the Commission will be based in the offices of the Scotland Office in Melville Crescent, Edinburgh. The UK Government is in the process of appointing someone to head the Secretariat. This appointment is expected to be confirmed within the next week or so.
9. It is proposed that a Clerk Team Leader be seconded to the Commission Secretariat, initially until the end of 2008. The situation will be reviewed at the end of this period. The Clerk will work with the Secretary appointed by the UK Government to provide the range of support required by the Commission.
13. It is not possible to quantify the resource implications at this stage beyond the salary of the proposed clerk secondment – circa £50,000. Once the full Commission membership has been established and Sir Kenneth has had longer to consider how he envisages it operating, we should be in a better position to estimate the likely costs. It should be noted that we expect these largely to be existing staff time and overhead costs such as accommodation for events, but it is possible that the Commission may request a budget, for example, for research. I will, of course, report back to the Corporate Body as soon as I have more concrete information.
So there you bubble it - irresponsible spending of our money - money that Parliament should be using on its own running costs. Of course, if there is to be that NeverWendum on this as Her Wendiness suggests, a wee look at the timescale should be instructive:
7. I understand that the Commission will aim to produce an interim report before the end of 2008, with final completion of its work by around the Summer of 2009.
That should mean a referendum round about ... 2010?

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