Devolution has failed in Scotland. Nothing that follows will be of use to you if you remain in denial of this fact.
Facing up to a quarter-century of needless, self-inflicted constitutional harm is the admission price to any credible conversation about how to go about fixing the problem. Devolution, sold with the assurance that ‘the Union will be strengthened and the threat of separatism removed’, has weakened the Union and armed the separatists.
All historic errors have their guilty men and devolution has an unholy trinity. Labour loves legends, especially those felled on the cusp of greatness, and Donald Dewar — MP at 28, architect of devolution, inaugural First Minister, dead at 63 — ticks all the boxes. The devolution industry mythologised the ‘Father of the Nation’: true enough he had great vision, wit and debating nous, but he was also a wrecker, a constitutional vandal, and an arrogant empire-builder who did more to advance the cause of Scottish nationalism than any leader of the SNP.
Dewar was only able to do this because Tony Blair allowed him to. Blair did not concede devolution: a Scottish parliament or assembly was pledged in manifestos taken to the country by Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, James Callaghan, and Harold Wilson. You need to go back to 1970 to find a Labour manifesto explicitly rejecting ‘separatism and also any separate legislative assembly’. But Blair’s leadership hinged on upending cherished Labour dogma and yet this particular dogma he convinced himself was part of his modernisation agenda. Blair was, in my view, one of our great prime ministers but with devolution he made a catastrophic error of judgement that did the country immeasurable harm.
It was Cameron who enhanced Holyrood’s income tax powers (twice), devolved stamp duty and allowed Scottish ministers to borrow; Cameron who devolved the Crown Estate, key aspects of welfare and social security, and abortion; who handed over control of air passenger duty, the rail franchise, and the British Transport Police. It was Cameron who conceded an independence referendum, after which he proclaimed: ‘There can be no disputes, no re-runs — we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.’ And that was the last we heard of independence.