James Forsyth

Major proposals on the future of Scotland

Major proposals on the future of Scotland
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There have long been suspicions in Westminster that David Cameron uses John Major as an out rider, the last Tory Prime Minister advances an idea that allows the current one to gauge opinion on it. Certainly, Major and Cameron are close. Remember how Major was used by Cameron in the days following the indecisive general election result.

So there’ll be suspicions that Major is out riding for Cameron with his speech, covered in the Sunday Telegraph, arguing that the Scottish Parliament and Executive should be handed powers over everything apart from foreign, defence and economic policy. In exchange for this, the Scots would accept a reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster.

From the quotes published in the Sunday Telegraph, it is not quite clear if Major is advocating full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. But, given that he is suggesting the current block grant settlement be abolished in exchange for the Scots having more tax-raising powers, he is clearly proposing something pretty close to that.

Quite a lot of Conservatives, including several close to the leadership, are drawn to the idea of the Scots having fiscal autonomy but fewer seats in the Commons. They see it as a way of preserving the union, while increasing the prospects of Tory governments at Westminster. They also argue that only if Scotland is in charge of raising the money it spends, will the centre-right have a hope of reviving there.

But set against this is the view that fiscal autonomy may well lead to independence in a generation, in the same way that devolution has led Scotland to this current place. There’s a reason that the SNP has welcomed Major’s speech.

One other line from the report on Major’s speech also stands out. The Sunday Telegraph says that ‘Sir John also advocated appointing a proportion of MPs to ensure there were people in the Commons with expertise outside politics.’ This is a deeply undemocratic idea. An appointed House of Lords with limited powers is one thing, but an appointed element in the House of Commons is quite another.