Proposal to devolve all powers over broadcasting to the Scottish Parliament, and to establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service (submission to the Smith Commission)

1. The principles underpinning this proposal
This proposal is informed by three main considerations. First, it is consistent with the goal of reinforcing democratic accountability for the governance of Scotland. A national, publicly-funded broadcasting service needs to be genuinely accountable to the people of Scotland, and work in the interest of creating a better society. Second, a Scottish television and internet broadcasting will function as a stimulus to artistic and economic growth in Scotland, by supporting creative industries and by enabling the population as a whole, and sections of that population, to engage in dialogue around critical aspects of social life, in ways that will contribute to a sustainable and just future. It is only through full and inclusive national dialogue that meaningful long-term planning can take place. Third, the existence of a locally-accountable broadcasting service is necessary in order to maintain cultural traditions in the face of trends toward the globalization of cultural life. This is particularly important in an English-speaking country. In other small countries (Norway, Denmark, Slovakia) it is possible to maintain cultural identity on the basis of shared language.
2. Assessment of the current situation
At the present time, the BBC is a UK-wide body, with a regional branch office in Scotland. There is broad agreement in Scotland that BBC Scotland does not adequately serve the interests of the Scottish people. Given the history and structure of the BBC, its alignment with the UK establishment, and the basic fact that over 90% of its output needs to meet the needs of people who live in other parts of the UK, it would not be possible to reform the BBC in a manner that would satisfy the requirements of the people of Scotland.
3. The potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
Scotland would gain a vital institution that would take a lead role in the renewal of Scottish society. The UK as a whole would have access to Scottish programmes that offered a different perspective on matters of shared interest. Creative industries in the UK as a whole would gain by the establishment of a new creative hub. One of the major advantages to Scotland would be that a new national broadcasting service could be designed in a way that was responsive to current technological and social developments. For example, during the referendum it became apparent that it was possible for a wide range of individuals and groups to make broadcast-quality documentaries that played a significant role in the national debate. It would be possible for a new national broadcaster to devote at least one channel to hosting such programmes, including payment of fees to programme-makers. Another area in which an innovative approach would pay dividends would be in the area of more effective and accessible archiving of programmes. At the present time, public dialogue is inhibited by the fact that many excellent informational programmes are hidden from view within a short time following transmission. There is a need for a internet-based TV ‘library’ that is open to all, along similar lines to book libraries. A Scottish broadcasting service could also form creative and productive links with similar services in other small countries with similar social values and traditions – for instance Nordic countries, Canada, New Zealand, and island communities. Such initiatives would unlikely to be given priority within the current structure of the BBC.
4. The potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There would be a risk that the reduced funding received by the BBC would compromise its capacity to make high quality programmes. However, the cut in overall funding of 9% (equivalent to the Scottish proportion of the overall UK population) is not dissimilar to recent cuts in BBC departmental funding arising from other factors, and should be manageable.
5. The extent to which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
The short-term transition costs of this proposal would be outweighed by longer-term gains, as each part of the UK developed broadcasting services that were appropriate to their particular goals and values.
6. The interdependencies between this proposal and other key issues
Minimal.
7. Practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal
None.
8. The financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal
There would be transition costs, but these would not be substantial.

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Proposal to devolve all tax-raising and spending authority to the Scottish Parliament (submission to the Smith Commission)

1. The principles underpinning this proposal
This proposal is informed by two main considerations. First, it is consistent with the goal of reinforcing democratic accountability for the governance of Scotland. It is only when decisions around taxation and economic policy are made close to the people of Scotland, and in consultation with groups and organisations in Scotland, that the creative and productive potential of the Scottish population will be fully released, in ways that reflect national values and collective choices. Second, this proposal is intended as a means of ensuring the coherence of decision-making in Scotland. At the present time, some powers within this category are devolved, while others are retained to the London parliament.
2. Assessment of the current situation
At the present time, some of these decisions are made in London, while other decisions are made in Edinburgh. The Scottish government, over the past few years, has shown itself to be able to make budgetary decisions in a mature and considered manner, that has received broad support from across the population. The clear preferences of the majority of the Scottish people, in relation to taxation and spending, are different from those expressed in other parts of the UK. The current situation is therefore unstable and likely to inhibit the kind of consensual long-term planning that is necessary for the achievement of equality and prosperity.
3. The potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There are many constructive ideas circulating within Scottish society at the present time, regarding tangible ways in which the tax system, and spending patterns, could be altered in order to achieve equality and prosperity. Devolving these powers would therefore have considerable benefits to Scotland. The proposal would also enhance collaboration and harmony and other parts of the UK, because it would become clear to citizens in other parts of the UK that Scotland was not receiving hidden subsidies. The proposal would enable other parts of the UK to pursue micro-economic policies that were suitable to their local conditions.
4. The potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There main risk would be if Scotland and the rest of the UK were to develop divergent policies that resulted in destructive competition or possibilities for fraud. Effective means of cross-legislature co-ordination would need to be in place (see paragraph 7 below).
5. The extent to which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
The short-term transition costs of these changes would be outweighed by longer-term gains, as each part of the UK developed policies that were appropriate to their particular goals and values, and enabled their specific areas of growth potential to be fulfilled.
6. The interdependencies between this proposal and other key issues
This proposal refers to the widest possible range of powers – only foreign and defence policy, and macro-economic policy would be excluded. The Scottish Parliament would have control of welfare and social services provision, oil and other energy revenues, and broadcasting.
7. Practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal
There would not be any legal barriers, since these powers are all currently under the control of the UK parliament, who can pass new laws as necessary. There would need to be a sufficient level of alignment between the taxation and spending policies of Scotland and the rest of the UK. This would require the establishment of a formal mechanism, perhaps similar in some respects to the inter-governmental mechanisms within the Eurozone, which involve regular meetings at Finance Minister and senior civil service level, and peer review of budgets. There would also need to be some Scottish representation on the Bank of England monetary policy committee. Each of these measures would have the advantage of increasing transparency and public engagement in relation to policy-making in the UK as a whole.
8. The financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal
There would be transition costs. At the present time it is not possible to determine what these costs would be. However, the question of the level of transition costs did not emerge during the 2014 referendum as a major issue.

Asking Smith

My apologies to those who have been following this blog. I have not written anything for at least three weeks. Mainly this has been to do with demands of the day job. But also, like many people I suppose, I have had a difficult time coming to terms with the loss. I keep coming back to the idea that we could be living in different times, and have a different type of energy, if the vote had gone the other way.

I have found a focus for myself in composing submissions to the Smith Commission. The first of these is in the following blog post. Writing it was an odd experience. I tried to keep to the guidelines that were laid out by the Commission. Whatever I send in will be ignored anyway, but at least I won’t give them the excuse that it can be dismissed because it does not confirm to the guidelines. As you can see, I kept it quite short, and restricted myself to getting the main points across. Partly this was because any attempt to fulfil their guidelines in detail would have required an immense amount of documentation and detail. I am assuming that they don’t want that, because there is no indication that they are intending to employ expert assessors to evaluate the credibility of technical arguments and evidence.

Actually, writing that Smith Commission proposal made me feel sick. I had this underlying sense of being a little boy asking for something from elders and betters. Its not really a dialogue. There was a sense of buying a lottery ticket. I never buy lottery tickets.

I need to keep going with this project and see how I feel after I have got into my stride. Its not much, but at least if the Smith Commission receives thousands of serious submissions from ordinary citizens, that in itself is saying something.