So the Wendy Commission is to become the Gordon Commission. It should come as no surprise that the PM has been trying to fix the suppposedly independent constitutional commission even before it has convened. Indeed, if he gets his way it wouldn’t be called a commission at all, but a “working party”. What the PM envisages is an exercise in defending the status quo rather than giving Scotland maximum say in her own affairs.
Each Scottish member of the Brown review would be marked by one Westminster politician – to ensure that it doesn’t get any crazy ideas – and there will be three “independents” – and I’m sure the PM has ideas about who they should be. Perhaps members of the Electoral Commission could lend a hand. Wendy Alexander’s role in all this can be gauged by the fact that she wasn’t even present at this pretty crucial Downing St confab between the Scottish Secretary, the Chancellor, the Lord Chancellor (?) and the PM.
This is the way Gordon Brown has always operated. He hasn’t been called the Godfather of Scottish politics for nothing. Scotland is his backyard, and he expects to be in control of everything that happens in it. A tremendous effort was mounted to save Wendy Alexander in the donations affair, precisely because she is a loyal Brownite who can be relied upon to keep the Scottish party on the right lines in these dangerous nationalist times.
Now he is seeking to control a committee which has been created by a vote of the Scottish parliament, and which is supposed to be financed by the Scottish Parliament. Well, I think the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives should be very careful before they buy into this exercise. And I can’t for the life of me see the justification for financing it out of Holyrood funds if it is reduced to the status of a UK government review. If this is just another of PMs fifty odd reviews, then why shouldn’t he pay for it?
This is clearly not any kind of legitimate descendant of the Scottish Constitutional Convention of 1989, the cross party body which originally campaigned for Scottish home rule. Could you imagine Margaret Thatcher, the Prime MInister of the time, gathering her inner cabinet to discuss how to manage that particular commission? It was no government working party.
The Wendy commission will have no legitimacy in Scottish eyes if it is seen do be driven by the Westminster political establishment. And we know Gordon Brown’s attitudes from his remarks during the Scottish Election campaign. The PM said that there should be no further powers of any significance handed to the Scottish parliament. Des Browne, the Scottish Secretary, went further and announced that devolution was not as Donald Dewar called it, “a process not an event”. Indeed, he said that Donald Dewar had never used the phrase.
Now, Wendy Alexander is sincere in her desire to amend and improve Scotland’s constitutional condition. To make Scotland “walk taller in the UK rather than walking out of it”. She has a long history of support for constitutional reform dating from the days of Scottish Labour Action in the 1980s. Nevertheless, she is up against a formidable force for constitutional conservatism here.
But the party with most to lose is the Liberal Democrats, since they will be outnumbered two to one by unionists from Labour and the Conservatives. Liberal Democrat hopes that they will be able to get the federalist Steel Report proposals implemented looks increasingly naive. The LibDems should demand the body should be a full commission with independent status and a non political chair. That it should take evidence from all sections of the constitutional argument, and, if it proposes significant change, that this should be put to the Scottish people in a referendum. And if Brown doesn’t accept that, they should have nothing to do with it.