The Guarantors of Devolution

Midvale School for the Gifted

Part of the problem with a Yes vote is that we’d still have to be working with people who campaigned for a No vote. Barring extenuating circumstances, Danny Alexander would still be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alistair Carmichael would still be Secretary of State for Scotland; Alistair Darling would still be the MP for Edinburgh South West. All 53 New Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative Members of Parliament would still be doing their job for at least half a year into the interregnum period before independence. And today’s debate alone should show exactly why this is a big problem.

A big song and dance was made about their commitment to more devolution, to fighting for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. But does that hold up? I’ve gone through each one of the 59 MPs’ voting records to see if they actually have practised what they preached. Since 2010, there have been 13 votes in the House of Commons relating to devolving more powers to Holyrood, all in relation to the Scotland Act 2012. You’d think, then, that for most of these Parties of Devolution, the majority of those 13 votes would be votes in favour of granting more powers, right? You’d think that the Liberal Democrats, as the Party of Federalism, would have a stronger record than One Nation Labour? You’d think that New Labour, The Party Which Brought You The Scottish Parliament In The First Place (and who’ll never let you forget it), would generally vote in favour of more devolution?

At the risk of belabouring the point, the result is no surprise whatsoever to anyone who’s actually paid attention to the parties over the past few years.

This is a work in process, and I don’t doubt there are probably more than a few mistakes. Hopefully not too many. As such, I’ll happily make amendments to any errors I’ve made.

I’ve already found some very interesting things. Since the last UK General Election, there have been thirteen votes on the matter of further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

These were as follows:

  • A motion to reject a second reading of the Scotland Bill (strong majority)
  • Clause 1 – requiring Scottish Ministers to order returning officers to start counting votes for elections to the Scottish Parliament within four hours of polls closing (minority)
  • Clause 11 – devolving powers to Scotland to regulate those air weapons deemed so dangerous they need to be licensed or prohibited in the same way as a firearm (strong minority)
  • Clause 12 – return the responsibility for making laws in relation to certain elements of insolvency to from Scotland to the UK Parliament (strong majority)
  • Clause 13 – return responsibility for regulating health professionals in Scotland to UK Parliament (strong minority)
  • Clause 24 –  devolving power to the Scottish Parliament to tax quarrying and mining (strong minority)
  • Clause 32 – requiring Scottish Ministers to have regard to any code of practice agreed between them and the UK Treasury when borrowing money (minority)
  • New Clause 3 –  devolving the powers relating to Scottish elements of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to the Scottish Government (strong minority)
  • New Clause 9 – devolving responsibility for railway services which start and finish in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament (strong minority)
  • New Clause 10 –  making the Crown Estate accountable to the Scottish Government and to devolve powers related to the Crown Estate to Scotland (strong minority)
  • New Clause 11 –  devolving powers related to timescales, time zones and British Summer Time, to Scotland (strong minority)
  • New Clause 19 –  devolving powers relating food content and labeling to Scotland (strong minority)
  • Chapter 5 –  allowing the Scottish Parliament to tax the profits of companies (strong minority)

Now, the phrasing of the Public Whip’s summary of the motions can be somewhat complex. Case in point, the first one is counted as a motion in favour of devolution to Scotland – but look at the reasons for a second reading:

MPs were considering a motion in relation to the Scotland Bill[1]:

  • That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The amendment rejected in this vote was:

  • to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
  • That this House, while recognising the need to further enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament, nevertheless believes that the measures the Scotland Bill seeks to devolve are inadequate to meet the ambitions of the Scottish Government for the people of Scotland
  • considers the measures relating to air weapons, road safety and drink driving to be incomplete
  • regrets that the Calman Commission’s recommendations to devolve the aggregates levy and air passenger duty, and to devolve responsibility for the marine environment to match the Scottish Parliament’s responsibility for fisheries, as well as its proposal for a Scottish role in welfare benefits, have all been abandoned
  • regards the proposals for the Crown Estates Commission as inadequate; deplores the proposals in the Bill to re-reserve already devolved responsibilities
  • concludes that the tax varying provisions would embed a long-term deflationary bias in Scotland’s budget and that the proposed borrowing powers remaining subject to HM Treasury controls and limits render them insufficiently flexible; and
  • therefore considers the Bill as a whole to be unacceptable.

As such, the motion for the second reading is almost certainly a result of the SNP considering the Bill to be inadequate. Therefore, all the SNP votes for the second reading here were considered votes against the Scotland Bill, and therefore against “Devolution for Scotland” at Public Whip- even if the SNP’s intent was the exact opposite.

Therefore, as far as I understand it:

  • A vote for a second reading is a vote in favour of proposed amendments & future proposals to increase devolution; a vote against is a vote in favour of retaining the level of devolution proposed by the bill (both are for devolution, but the former is arguably in favour of more devolution than the latter, at least as much as it can be considered an argument against devolution entirely)
  • A vote for Clause 1 (requiring Scottish ministers to order officers to start counting without four hours of polls closing) is just voting for more busywork for Scottish ministers which responsible ministers should be doing anyway, and is not truly a power so much as a responsibility
  • A vote for Clause 11 (devolving regulation of air weapons) is a vote to devolve more powers to Scotland; a vote against is a vote against devolving said powers
  • A vote for Clause 12 (return the responsibility for making laws in relation to certain elements of insolvency to from Scotland to the UK Parliament) is a vote against devolution; a vote against is a vote to retain already devolved powers
  • A vote for Clause 13 (return responsibility for regulating health professionals in Scotland to UK Parliament) is a vote against devolution; a vote against is a vote to retain already devolved powers
  • A vote for Clause 24 (devolving tax powers over quarrying and mining) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution
  • A vote for Clause 32 (Scottish Ministers code of practice with the UK Treasury when borrowing money) is neither here nor there, but arguably increases accountability
  • A vote for New Clause 3 (devolving Maritime and Coastguard Agency) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution
  • A vote for New Clause 9 (devolving railway services which start and finish in Scotland) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution – though an argument could be made that the use of the term “responsibility” suggests that this  is just voting for more busywork for Scottish ministers, and is not truly a power
  • A vote for New Clause 10 (devolving the Crown Estate & accountability) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution
  • A vote for New Clause 11 (devolving powers related to timescales, time zones and British Summer Time) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution
  • A vote for New Clause 19 (devolving powers relating food content and labeling) is neither here nor there on account of existing European laws; it could be just voting for more busywork for Scottish ministers, and is not truly a power so much as a responsibility
  • A vote for Chapter 5 (allowing the Scottish Parliament to tax the profits of companies) is a vote for devolution; a vote against is a vote against devolution

Again, I’m not a politician, so if I’ve misread the intent or reasoning, I’d be happy to be corrected.

So what does that all mean?

IMPORTANT NOTE: I have made the decision to exclude David Cairns’ vote from the list. The primary reason for this project is to hold current MPs to account over their voting record in regards to devolution. As Mr Cairns died in 2011, and Iain McKenzie’s election came after all the votes in this term, it hardly seems fair to hold Mr Cairns to account when he cannot respond – and in any case, is not a position to make any further votes on devolution. By the same token, Mr McKenzie can hardly be expected to defend his predecessor’s decisions as if they were his own. Therefore, keep in mind that only 58 MPs are being discussed here, with David Cairns’ excluded.

Of the 58 Scottish MPs who are currently in office, only six voted in favour of:

  • A second reading of the Scotland Bill (6 for, 26 against, 26 absent)
  • Clause 11: Devolving powers over air weapons to Scotland (6 for, 35 against, 17 absent)
  • Clause 24: Devolving tax powers over quarrying and mining (6 for, 7 against, 45 absent)
  • Clause 32: Applying a ministerial code of conduct regarding borrowing (6 for, 30 against, 22 absent)
  • New Clause 3: Devolving the Coastguard and Maritime Agencies (6 for, 32 against, 20 absent)
  • New Clause 10: Devolving the accountability of the Crown Estate (6 for, 37 against, 15 absent)
  • New Clause 11: Devolving time powers (6 for, 35 against, 17 absent)
  • Chapter 5: Devolving the ability to tax company profits (6 for, 29 against, 23 absent)

More amazingly, all but six MPs voted in favour of:

  • Clause 12: Returning Insolvency powers to Westminster (34 for, 6 against, 18 absent)
  • Clause 13: Returning regulations health to Westminster (28 for, 6 against, 24 absent)

So not only did Scottish MPs overwhelmingly vote against measures which would devolve power to Scotland, but they also overwhelmingly voted against keeping powers which were already devolved to the Scottish Parliament – thus, they actively voted to take away powers from the Scottish Parliament.

Still, look on the bright side: 30 other MPs voted with the SNP on the meaningless busywork of Clause 1, and at least 4 other MPs voted in favour of devolving responsibility over railways (32 for, 10 against, 16 absent). The strangest case was the Food content vote, which saw every SNP MP vote against it, yet also 7 other MPs, including the lone Conservative (31 for, 13 against, 14 absent). However, a perusal of the debate on the clause illuminates exactly why it was entirely reasonable to vote against it – which makes the New Labour MPs’ vote in favour of the clause even more baffling.

Indeed, looking at the breakdown of votes by party reveals an even starker picture:

Second Reading
For: 6 SNP
Against: 15 NL, 10 LD, 1 C
Absent: 25 NL, 1 LD

Poll Count Clause
For: 31 NL, 5 SNP
Against: 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 3 LD, 1 SNP

Devolving Air Weapons
For: 6 SNP
Against: 26 NL, 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 14 NL, 3 LD

Retaining Insolvency Powers at Holyrood
For: 6 SNP
Against: 25 NL, 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 15 NL, 3 LD

Retaining Health Professional Regulation at Holyrood
For: 6 SNP
Against: 20 NL, 7 LD, 1 C
Absent: 20 NL, 4 LD

Devolving Quarrying & Mining Tax Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 40 NL, 5 LD

Ministerial Code of Practise
For: 24 NL, 6 SNP
Against: 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 16 NL, 6 LD

Devolving Maritime & Coastguard Agency
For: 6 SNP
Against: 26 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 14 NL, 6 LD

Devolving Railway Responsibilities
For: 26 NL, 6 SNP
Against: 5 LD, 4 NL, 1 C
Absent: 10 NL, 6 LD

Devolving Crown Estates
For: 6 SNP
Against: 31 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 6 LD

Devolving Time Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 29 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 11 NL, 6 LD

Devolving Food Content & Labelling
For: 13 NL
Against: 18 NL, 6 SNP, 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 5 LD

Devolving Company Profits Tax Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 22 NL, 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 18 NL, 5 LD

So from this, we can see a few things:

  • 8 MPs voted on every motion, 6 MPs voted on 12 of 13, 6 MPs voted on 10 of 13
  • 3 MPs didn’t vote on a single motion; 2 MPs voted on only 1 of 13; 6 MPs voted one 2 of 13
  • The 1 Conservative MP, 5 of 6 SNP MPs, 3 of 11 Liberal Democrats, and 4 of 40 New Labour MPs voted on every motion – that’s 100% of Conservatives, 83% of SNP, 27% of Liberal Democrats, and a dismal 10% of New Labour
  • The SNP voted unanimously in favour of devolution in at least 11 of 13 votes (arguably 12 given the nature of the second reading)
  • The SNP were the only MPs to vote in favour of devolution in at least 8 votes (arguably 9, again, given the second reading)
  • Every SNP and Liberal Democrat voted the same way on all 13 occasions; New Labour split on 2 occasions
  • New Labour voted against the SNP on 9 occasions, and with them on 4 occasions, 1 of which had a minority siding with the SNP
  • New Labour voted against the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on 3 occasions, and with them on 9 occasions
  • New Labour unanimously voted against devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament on at least 6 occasions (arguably 7 if the second reading is considered)
  • New Labour voted against devolving the Crown Estate to Scotland, yet later made the case for exactly that in their Devolution Commission from March 2014*
  • New Labour even voted unanimously in favour of returning powers from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster on 2 occasions
  • 45 MPs – including every single New Labour MP – didn’t bother to vote on the devolution of tax powers on quarrying & mining

Keep in mind that we’re talking about people like Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Jim Murphy, Anas Sarwar, and many others who have maintained that they will fight to deliver more powers to the Scottish people – we have it as a matter of record that, in several votes, they did not, in fact, fight to deliver powers. In fact, half the time, they voted against further devolution.

How can we possibly believe them when they say they will push for more powers with the Smith Commission and beyond? Then again, even their manifesto, “Powers for a Purpose,” belied the truth of New Labour’s complete lack of interest in meaningful devolution:

For the United Kingdom to be an effective union, it is critical that certain core matters remain reserved to the UK Parliament. Those which are not should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Essential reserved matters include:

  • Financial and economic matters – including monetary policy, the currency, regulation, debt management and employment law. Without these, we cannot have a single economy.
  • Foreign affairs (including international development) and defence, both of which are central to what defines a nation state.
  • The core of the Welfare State – pensions and the majority of cash benefits. These allow the social solidarity that helps bind the UK together.
  • The constitution.

Other issues which the Commission has reviewed and concluded should remain reserved are:

  • Immigration.
  • Drugs, drug trafficking and related laws.
  • Betting, gaming and lotteries.
  • Broadcasting.
  • The civil service.
  • Abortion and analogous issues.

Our interim report considered whether there was scope for devolution of air passenger duty, subject particularly to EU rules. We received a number of considered representations, and continue to note that departures from Highlands and Islands airports are already exempt from this tax. Given the pressure to reduce this tax from airlines and others and the risk of tax competition which would be created, we are not now convinced that devolution should be progressed until further consideration is given to the environmental impact and how else this tax might be reformed.

We concluded that, for a variety of good reasons, VAT, national insurance contributions, corporation tax, alcohol, tobacco and fuel duties, climate change levy, insurance premium tax, vehicle excise duty, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and tax on oil receipts should remain reserved. However we do support, in principle, a derogation to allow a lower rate of fuel duty to be charged in remote rural areas of the Highlands and Islands.

As we made clear in our interim report, the Barnett formula should remain as the funding mechanism for public services in Scotland. Under our proposal, as is the case under the Scotland Act, the Barnett grant will be reduced to take account of the fact that the Scottish Parliament will have a revenue stream of its own. As a result the Scottish Parliament will be funded partly by grant calculated under the Barnett formula and partly by its own resources – principally Scottish income tax payers.

You’d think they’d take the time to perhaps consider being more ambitious in their proposal to the Smith Commission. Nope – just the same, more or less. Even after The Vow, even after it was made clear that a substantial minority of No voters voted in the interests of seeing substantially more powers, even after they saw a comfortable majority go to a knife-edge in the final weeks. It’s bad enough that they vote against the interests of the people of Scotland, but the incompetence?

These people are a danger to the democratic process, and they have to be stopped.

Yet something even more problematic is the one that the independence campaign has been harping on from the start: that a few dozen Scottish MPs are as nothing compared to the hundreds of English MPs:

Second Reading
For: 5 (5+1 Scot)
Against: 252 (226 rUK, 26 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Poll Count Clause
For: 298 (261 rUK, 5+1 Scot)
Against: 206 (197 rUK, 9 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Air Weapons
For: 8 (3+1 rUK, 5+1 Scot)
Against: 392 (357 rUK, 35 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Retaining Insolvency Powers at Holyrood
For: 8 (3+1 rUK, 5+1 Scot)
Against: 357 (323 rUK, 34 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Retaining Health Professional Regulation at Holyrood
For: 8 (3+1 rUK, 5+1 Scot)
Against: 340 (312 rUK, 28 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Quarrying & Mining Tax Powers
For: 8 (3+1 rUK, 5+1 Scot)
Against: 292 (285 rUK, 7 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Ministerial Code of Practise
For: 7 (3 rUK, 4+2 Scot)
Against: 393 (363 rUK, 30 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Maritime & Coastguard Agency
For: 9 (5 rUK, 4+2 Scot)
Against: 479 (447 rUK, 32 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Railway Responsibilities
For: 172 (140 rUK, 32 Scot)
Against: 293 (283 rUK, 10 Scot)
SCOTS MAJORITY OUTVOTED BY RUK

Devolving Crown Estates
For: 8 (4 ruk, 4+2 Scot)
Against: 448 (417 rUK, 37 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Time Powers
For: 6 (2 rUK, 4+2 Scot)
Against: 439 (405 rUK, 35 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Food Content & Labelling
For: 136 (123 rUK, 13 Scot)
Against: 311 (280 rUK, 31 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Devolving Company Profits Tax Powers
For: 9 (3 rUK, 6 Scot)
Against: 382 (353 rUK, 29 Scot)
NO CHANGE

Even if every single Scottish MP voted in favour of more devolution, it wouldn’t have gone through. One might wonder what the point would be of having Scottish MPs at all.

What Do We Do?

I’ve put together a list – a list of all the MPs which must be unseated if we want to have even a chance at gaining the powers we need. I hope that this post can prove that it isn’t about “punishing” New Labour, or even pushing for UDI under the SNP – it’s about getting rid of people who have proven their reluctance or inability to fight for more powers, and replace them with people who will. Naturally, not all the current members will stand for re-election in 2015, but for the purposes of this project, I will assume that they will indeed continue on to another term.

I’ve used Thomas’ marvellous post on Arc of Prosperity as a basis here, to highlight just how important it is to get rid of some of these worthless wastes of time. It goes from Formidable, to Challenging, to Tough, to Average, to Easy. I’ve then appended “Beginner” for the seats currently taken by SNP members, to continue the videogame  parlance. In addition, I’ve added in a few other wee bits and pieces that might be relevant – expenses claims, quotable quotes, controversies, and other votes that might be relevant to Scots.

I should point out that, while I may not be able to stop myself from being extremely critical of a great many of our representatives, there are indeed some MPs who are not on the level of a Sarwar or Murphy or Alexander (either of them): indeed, some MPs are actually pretty decent people, by all accounts. But the fact of the matter is that we, the people of Scotland, voted these MPs to Westminster with the aim that they represent us and our interests: the vast majority have failed in that respect, to varying degrees. You can be the nicest, most generous, most charitable person in the world, but it’s all for naught if you use your power to stifle the needs of your own constituents.

*Admittedly, this is something I can’t make hide nor hair of, so I’m unsure if New Labour actually are contradicting themselves, or if this is actually two completely different issues.

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18 thoughts on “The Guarantors of Devolution

  1. duncfmac says:

    Oh god this has thoroughly depressed me Al. I mean it’s a good piece of work and all but it basically confirms what we pretty much knew- we are FUCKED- sorry about the language! The system cannot be beaten in the way it’s currently set up. We are constantly lied to and or mislead. There are certain individuals that show a ruthless disregard for every democratic
    Principle and are clearly only involved for their own personal gain. One other thing that occurs to me is that I do not have one ounce of doubt that these people as part of this system would not think twice about rigging a vote. Since the ref I have sunk deeper and deeper into depression. I have lost faith in humanity and while I readily acknowledge many live in worse conditions, I seriously doubt we will ever find a way out of the governance of these crooks, thieves and liars.

    • alharron says:

      To quote someone I saw on Twitter: “if you can’t change the system, destroy the system.” Don’t lose faith yet: 45% of Scottish voters are hardly going to vote the opposite way if there was a referendum tomorrow. Can we say the same of the 55%, after all we’ve seen?

      I don’t doubt they’ll keep trying to oppress us, but consider: they’d already been trying to do this for centuries. They tried renaming Scotland “North Britain”; they tried deporting the mostly-Gaelic population; they tried bribes and threats and lies. Yet we still got 45%. The fight will be harder, but there still is a fight.

  2. Jimbo says:

    This is a great piece of work and the author is to be commended.

    Sadly, what it points out to us is, the Westminster establishment have the system stitched up to suit their own ends. It also reinforces that the only way for us to buck the system is to send a majority on non-Unionist MPs to Westminster.

    • alharron says:

      Thank you, Jimbo. I do certainly think it’s very worthwhile to send in non-Unionist MPs: with the best will in the world to the 6 SNP MPs, it’s easy to ignore such a small group. It’d be much harder to oppose 20 or more.

  3. If the system cannot be beaten then it must be destroyed. It will be useful to look into ways that make its destruction possible, but eradication of unionist parties in Scotland must be a good start.

  4. Shuggy says:

    This is great work. I think perhaps Clause 24 takes on an even greater significance, given the recent announcement about the granting of fracking licenses. Is it too big a stretch to suspect a more sinister reason for the high absentee level on this particular vote?

    Some time ago I had decided to collect ‘items of interest’ regarding MPs for campaign material – the kind of info one could easily put on a t-shirt, flyer or poster, for instance. I haven’t progressed very far yet (time constraints) but it’s clear there are such rich seams to be mined – most of them pretty open cast, to be honest – providing a wealth of information.

    Do you have a link to your list or is it still a work in progress?

    • alharron says:

      Absolutely, Shuggy, I think there was definitely a “plan” in a lot of the votes. The state of the Scottish coastguard in the last 5 years (i.e. that there practically IS no Scottish coastguard) is also very worrying.

      I do have a list, which I shall be publishing shortly!

  5. Angry Weegie says:

    I look forward to identifying those who voted against Scottish powers and those who just couldn’t be bothered to turn up. It will be interesting to quiz your constituency MP on their justification, to see what stories they can come up with. Of course, in most cases, questions will just be ignored. After all, we’re just constituents (aka voting fodder).

  6. ronnie cowan says:

    They want you to get depressed and walk away. They want a silent majority. They don’t want us to stay in their face and campaign harder and smarter. So it’s your choice. Me? I shall do everything I can within the YESNP to return pro independence MPs to Westminster in May 2015. Its not as much fun as waving flags and singing songs but delivering the message on the doorstep has brought us this far and will take us further.

  7. robert mcdonald says:

    Excellent piece of work and much appreciated. It seems to me that the Lib Dems are against absolutely ANY devolution of ANY powers at all.

  8. […] I embark upon a more in-depth appraisal of each Scottish MP’s record since 2010, I thought it expedient to simply list every vote they made in regards to further devolution to […]

  9. wwilmawatts says:

    Al, have you seen the Facebook group Yes Alliance? They really could use your help. Please could you get in touch, you know my email address. Wilma

  10. […] Files, showing exactly what we Yes voters regrettably expected – SNP devolution proposals thwarted by a mixture of massive Conservative opposition and New Labour abstention. It cannot be spun as […]

  11. […] And, as has been proven time and time again, English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) MPs have shown absolutely zero reluctance when it comes to voting on what I think any reasonable individual would consider […]

  12. […] Sometimes, being a Yes supporter can make you feel like Cassandra. Of course the UK Government wouldn’t give us Devo-Max. Of course they’d vote down every amendment to the Scotland Bill. Of course the UK […]

  13. […] up with.” There are some other things I’m “sick to death of.” Things like vows being broken. Things like our sovereignty being dismissed out of hand. Things like our people failing, suffering […]

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