In 2009, the Commission for Scottish Devolution (the Calman Commission) suggested the devolution of certain powers regarding the Crown Estate:
RECOMMENDATION 5.8: The Secretary of State for Scotland should, in consultation with Scottish Ministers, more actively
exercise his powers of direction under the Crown Estate Act 1961 and, having consulted Scottish Ministers, should give
consideration to whether such direction is required immediately.
RECOMMENDATION 5.9: The appointment of a Scottish Crown Estate Commissioner should be made following formal consultation with Scottish Ministers.
The Calman Commission’s proposals were watered down to practically nothing by the time it was enshrined in the Scotland Act 2012. But let’s not fret: it has emerged that the Smith Commission also suggests partial devolution of Crown Estates. Maybe this time it’ll stick! But the Calman Commission, like the Smith Commission, was just consultative. It wasn’t law, just suggestion. It has to go through the UK government before it can become law. That’s where the problems start.
In 2011, MPs voted on making the crown estates more accountable to Scotland by taking powers from the Secretary of State and giving them to Scottish ministers:
- Crown Estate
- ‘(1) In Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, paragraphs 2(3) and 3(3)(a) are omitted.
- (2) The Crown Estate is to be treated as a cross-border public authority for the purposes of sections 88 to 90 of the 1998 Act.
- (3) In section 1(4) of the Crown Estate Act 1961, for “Secretary of State” wherever it appears, substitute “Scottish Ministers”.’.
In other words, these paragraphs would be cut from the 1998 Act:
2 (3): Sub-paragraph (1) does not affect the reservation by paragraph 1 of honours and dignities or the functions of the Lord Lyon King of Arms so far as relating to the granting of arms; but this sub-paragraph does not apply to the Lord Lyon King of Arms in his judicial capacity.
3 (3)Sub-paragraph (1) does not affect the reservation by paragraph 1 of—
(a)the hereditary revenues of the Crown, other than revenues from bona vacantia, ultimus haeres and treasure trove,
And the following paragraphs would change from this:
(4) The Commissioners shall comply with such directions as to the discharge of their functions under this Act as may be given to them in writing by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Secretary of State in giving directions to the Commissioners under this subsection shall have regard to subsection (3) above, and before giving any such direction shall consult the Commissioners.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State shall act jointly in giving directions under this subsection, except that in matters not relating to Scotland the Chancellor of the Exchequer may act without the Secretary of State and in matters relating exclusively to Scotland the Secretary of State may act without the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
(4) The Commissioners shall comply with such directions as to the discharge of their functions under this Act as may be given to them in writing by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Scottish Ministers, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Scottish Ministers in giving directions to the Commissioners under this subsection shall have regard to subsection (3) above, and before giving any such direction shall consult the Commissioners.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Scottish Ministers shall act jointly in giving directions under this subsection, except that in matters not relating to Scotland the Chancellor of the Exchequer may act without Scottish Ministers and in matters relating exclusively to Scotland Scottish Ministers may act without the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The debate on this motion can be read here, and I highly recommend it for the absolutely amazing “mystical union” comments from Jacob Rees-Mogg.
But what’s important is the vote. How did Scottish MPs vote on this issue, then?
For: 6 SNP
Against: 31 New Labour, 5 Liberal Democrat, 1 Conservative
Absent: 9 New Labour, 6 Liberal Democrat
Since neither Alistair Darling nor Gordon Brown bothered their erses to vote on this issue, and it seems neither will be in the House of Commons come May 2015 anyway, their votes are largely irrelevant. Iain McKenzie, of course, was not in government at the time of the Scotland Bill, so we can only speculate as to how he would’ve voted – and given he’s only rebelled twice out of literally hundreds of votes, it seems he’d follow party policy on that. Katy Clark, Margaret Curran, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy, Sandra Osborne, Michael McCann, and Anas Sarwar are all still in the running for 2015, but like Darling & Brown, they didn’t bother to vote on this issue.
This leaves 31 New Labour MPs out of 40 who voted against devolving accountability of the Crown Estates to Scottish Ministers in 2011. We have a clear precedence of a commission suggesting a power, and Scottish New Labour MPs who are still in government voting against it – just as we are already seeing Ed Balls protest at the possible devolution of Air Passenger Duty, on the ground that it would “undermine the Union” in some ridiculous fashion.
No voters, help me out here: can you tell me exactly why we should expect Scottish New Labour MPs to vote to devolve powers relating to the Crown Estates in 2015 (at the very soonest) when the very same MPs already voted against it a mere three years ago? If we cannot trust in Scottish New Labour MPs to vote for devolution of Crown Estates after it being recommended in two reports within five years, then how in God’s name can we trust them to vote for any significant devolution?
It’s often said the burden of proof in the referendum was on the Scottish government to prove that independence was possible. Well, I’d say the burden of proof has shifted. New Labour have to prove themselves – and given the precedent, it’s going to take a lot of proving. I don’t think they’re up to it. Only one Scottish party at Westminster has proven that it will vote for more powers. That is why only one Scottish party at Westminster deserves to be there.