Isabel Hardman

Indyref: The promise, and its problems

Indyref: The promise, and its problems
Text settings

The three Westminster leaders have made their promise. On the front page of the Daily Record, they all sign up to a vow that includes new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the continuation of the Barnett formula, and a promise that the Scottish Parliament will have the last word on health spending, and on keeping the NHS in public hands.


Since Gordon Brown unveiled the timetable for this vow last Monday, the parties have needed to repeat their pledges as often as possible so that as many voters pick them up before polling day, and so that they really appear to mean it. But here are a number of problems with the vow.

1. Promise-breaking politicians make another promise, Scotland shrugs.

Why would you believe the Westminster politicians you're fed up with anyway? Even Unionists such as Bob Geldof, speaking last night in Trafalgar Square, say 'we're all fucking fed up with Westminster'. Nicola Sturgeon found it pretty easy to respond to this pledge, pointing to Nick Clegg's head on the Record front page and reminding voters of another iconic pledge he signed…

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) September 16, 2014

2. The promises are coming a bit late.

It doesn't matter how many front pages you sign next to your new promise to Scottish voters, you've still only unveiled this offer in the last two weeks. If you had it planned for ages, then why wait until the point that it's so late you appear desperate? Or if you've only cobbled together this promise in the last few weeks, then is it really a good idea? Better Together had been pressuring the Westminster parties for a good long while to get on with the devo-more promise, but Gordon Brown only produced the timetable last Monday.

3. The promises have nothing to do with the identity debate.

This argument is a bit flawed, as it assumes that the leaders are only talking about devo-more, when actually, they're talking about everything from powers to the kitchen sink. But their weakest point remains countering the pernicious myth spread by the SNP that Scots are somehow so different to the inhabitants of the rest of the UK that their country should be ruled separately. It's pernicious because those spreading it encourage Scottish voters to believe that they have morally superior values to the English (read this on why meritocratic Scotland is a myth), and that kind of flattery is very appealing: we all like to be told and to believe that we have the moral high ground.

4. England feels done over, yet again.

Nigel Farage has already said David Cameron has been 'moronic' to make these promises. Now you can just see his response to that Daily Record front page, where three party leaders in an era of four party politics get together to screw over the English, as he might put it.

On Newsnight yesterday, the Prime Minister brushed away questions about an English Parliament, saying:

'I don't think we're remotely at that stage. I think what needs to happen this week is for people in Scotland to know that if they vote No, they're voting for more change, voting for more devolution.'

By all means throw the kitchen sink at the referendum this week, but if he is fortunate enough to see a 'No' vote on Thursday, then he'd better jolly well have a plan for England. He should be well aware by now that his MPs are preparing to kick off about this, but he should also be aware that voters will be able to kick off about it too, in just a few months' time at the General Election.

Here is that vow in full:

The people of Scotland want to know that all three main parties will deliver change for Scotland.

We are agreed that:

The Scottish Parliament is permanent and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered by the process and to the timetable agreed and announced by our three parties, starting on 19th September.

And it is our hope that the people of Scotland will be engaged directly as each party works to improve the way we are governed in the UK in the years ahead.

We agree that the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across all four nations to secure the defence, prosperity and welfare of every citizen.

And because of the continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources, and the powers of the Scottish Parliament to raise revenue, we can state categorically that the final say on how much is spent on the NHS will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

We believe that the arguments that so powerfully make the case for staying together in the UK should underpin our future as a country. We will honour those principles and values not only before the referendum but after.

People want to see change. A No vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is author of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians.

Topics in this articleSocietyuk politics