Federalism: Best future for Scotland

This past week saw more powers for the Scottish Parliament hit the headlines, following the intervention of two highly experienced politicians in the debate over Scottish independence.

A consensus on what those powers could be came to light after Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, and Sir Menzies Campbell, former UK leader of the Liberal Democrats, issued separate calls for the Scottish Parliament to be given extensive new powers as an alternative to independence.

While Gordon Brown was speaking in Glasgow, over in Edinburgh Sir Menzies Campbell was publishing a new report on the Liberal Democrats’ proposals for devolution.

Both statements saw the endorsing of proposals for the UK’s constitution to be rewritten to give Holyrood permanent legal standing and both politicians argued that a timetable for action by the pro-UK parties following a no vote was essential.

Liberal Democrats have advocated the case for Scottish home rule for well over a century now and in 2012 we edged closer towards that settlement.

As Secretary of State for Scotland, I oversaw the passing of the Scotland Act in 2012, which saw the most significant transfer of financial powers from London to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom.

The Scotland Act cemented the Scottish Parliament as a major aspect of Scottish social and political life. It was supported by Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives.

The Scotland Act establishes a new Scottish rate of Income Tax from 2016, as well as borrowing powers worth up to £2.7 billion. Therefore, as a result of the Scotland Act, Holyrood now has responsibility for a vast array of tax and borrowing powers, as well as current competences including health, education, justice and local government.

I have been a supporter of home rule and a Scottish Parliament all of my political life. Home rule for Scotland within a reformed, federal United Kingdom has long been the constitutional aim of Liberals and Liberal Democrats. Now, the constitutional debate in Scotland is arriving at an important staging post.

The future shape of Scotland, and the very existence of the United Kingdom, is at stake in the forthcoming referendum.

The Liberal Democrats want to trigger reform across the United Kingdom to deliver a completely new relationship within the United Kingdom. We want a new system of government that allows for the expression of different national identities within one system, but combines with it the additional influence and strength which comes from co-operation and common purpose.

Being a Borderer, a Scot and British, I think that this kind of federated system best suits the majority of people living on the border, who do not want to compromise their current multi-layered identity.

The Liberal Democrats will use Sir Menzies’ plans to continue to lead the debate, to build a consensus and secure a mandate for reform at the next general election.