On 23rd April, the Libdem Cabinet Minister Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland, came to a public meeting in Dunfermline to answer unselected questions about the separation referendum which were posed by a mixed audience. He was introduced and supported by our local MP, Thomas Doherty.
Alistair (AC), who was brought up on a sheep farm on Islay, and went to the local school, emphasised how different the electronic world which his children are part of is from his own upbringing. Now there is instant access and communication with other people and information from all parts of the world, and we have to recognise that there’s no easy way back to the systems and cultures of the past.
Following his introductory remarks, the first question he faced was about what increased devolution powers could be guaranteed if Scotland voted ‘no’. AC confirmed that in the event of a ‘no’ vote, then the ongoing process of devolution will be continued, though the exact nature of the further changes will depend upon the next Government of the UK. He emphasised that the Scottish government already had complete control over important functions including education and the NHS, in both cases demonstrating that we can sustain very different systems in Scotland although we’re part of the UK. In practice, the SNP have chosen not to use all the powers the Scottish Government has already got on taxation. When challenged by SNP members of the audience, he had to confirm that when the already agreed new powers on income tax are implemented, the Barnet Formula will continue to be used and honoured, so that any additional new money collected through additional new taxes imposed by any future Scottish Government will not be clawed back through reductions in the block grant which Scotland receives every year.
Defence jobs are important to this area, and questioned about the future of Rosyth, AC confirmed that if Scotland remains part of the UK, there will be naval ship maintenance contracts for Rosyth which are visible for about the next 50 years – the expected life of the aircraft carriers currently being built. If Scotland votes to separate, then this work, as well as that for the shipyards of the Clyde, will all head south.