So now that all the energy and fever around last week has started to subside, we in the 45 now find ourselves in the envious position of just being to sit back and see how things unfold.
I believe that the ground underneath WM currently feels a bit fluid, and is likely to become more so over the coming weeks.
Following the last-minute vow that was laid down before the Scottish people to devolve more powers, it is quite simply now time to deliver on this pledge. The timetable that was published has already been broken, but that comes as no surprise to many of us who simply did not believe what they were being told. I fear that “told you so” will from the basis for a lot of conversations between Yes and No supporters. I don’t mean that to sound divisive – I don’t believe that many people will be smug if/when they say those 3 words, but genuinely frustrated that the Yes message of hope and aspiration didn’t manage to get beyond the powerhouse of the BBC and MSM.
When David Cameron announced on Friday morning the intention to tie the question of further devolution to more control for WM over English affairs, this was met with much consternation from the 45. After all, this wasn’t part of the deal. But as Darth Vader infamously said in The Empire Strikes Back to Lando Calrissian – “I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it any further”. This is the position we now find ourselves in – without any immediate advantage or bargaining power, we have to accept whatever is put on the table, in the short term anyway.
It comes as no surprise that David Cameron’s plan is designed to put Labour at an immediate disadvantage. Give Cameron and his advisers their due, they have absolutely played Labour on this one – they allowed them to front the BT campaign (meaning a lot of Scotland would potentially turn against them as they have done), and if Labour doesn’t agree to their proposal, then the Conservatives can put the blame firmly at Labour’s door when the planned Scottish powers don’t materialise, for them failing to co-operate.
Milliband knows that to agree to such a proposal would be political suicide – Labour would lose any meaningful power in WM for a long time, as they generally rely on their Scottish candidates to help them push through any legislation. Whether they will have much Scottish representation in the future is another story, but I suspect Labour is largely finished in Scotland in its current form. Either way, Milliband is likely face a challenge to his leadership in some form.
Labour have come out in the last couple of days to confirm they will cap child benefit rises at 1%, impacting again the most vulnerable members of society, leaving them facing a cut in this benefit in real terms. Although they have proposed an increase to the minimum wage to £8, there has been little substance behind this on how they will support businesses to be able to afford such a hike. Businesses generally operate on a fixed labour cost – hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours. It’s primary school maths to understand if the hourly rate increases, the number of hours worked will have to decrease. This change could lead to companies either reducing hours, adopting more zero hour contracts, or simply not replacing people when they leave. Don’t get me wrong, I believe people should be paid a wage they can live on (not just survive), so there needs to be something else from a legislative point of view to support the introduction of a higher rate – reductions in corporation tax or business rates are 2 easy suggestions. Labour have also come out to say they are the ones to “save the NHS from privatisation” – I find this one quite odd, because up until 10pm on Thursday 18th September, NHS privatisation was just nationalist scaremongering, wasn’t it? So Labour is losing more credibility in Scotland with every tweet or press release they send out.
Cameron cannot afford to change tack now that he appears to have thrown a bone to his backbenchers. If he does, he too will likely face a leadership challenge – after all, Boris appears keen to crack on.
So very quickly the two sides appear to have reached a stalemate, and the coming days are going to be a case of ‘who blinks first’. Neither Cameron or Milliband are particularly strong leaders, and neither of them can afford to lose face with their respective parties. A total deadlock is fantastic news for Scotland – it will likely anger a lot of No voters and mean a 2nd referendum is definitely on the cards. Something else neither of them can afford.
So pull up a chair and grab the popcorn – this is going to be good!