Scotland Does Not Have The Facts on Independence, Poll Reveals

SNP Must “Open the Books”, Says Brown

A clear majority of Scots do not believe the SNP has given them enough facts about independence in order to make a fully informed choice on whether to leave the Union, a new poll by Our Scottish Future reveals today.  

Nearly 60% said they did not have enough information at their disposal on independence, the poll shows. 

And when asked about the key issues that will be affected by Scotland’s departure from the United Kingdom such as the English border, Scotland’s security arrangements, tax, currency, EU membership, and UK negotiations, fewer than a third of Scots say they feel confident about knowing what would likely happen.  

Today, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown declares that the SNP must “open the books” and warns that the SNP Government cannot be both judge and jury when setting out the case for an independent nation.  

Instead, he argues that the SNP should be prepared to open its case up to public scrutiny through parliamentary hearings.  

Today’s poll – taken over the same weekend that people voted on May 6th – also assessed people’s priorities in the wake of the election.  

Delivering a second referendum on independence was ranked 5th for SNP voters – below NHS catch up, reducing COVID, protecting and generating jobs and eliminating poverty.  

Among “middle Scotland” – the 40% of voters identified by Our Scottish Future who are open minded on the question of independence and the Union – preparing for a second referendum was bottom on the list of priorities.  

On the facts of independence, the poll asked people: “Do you believe that campaigners for independence have given enough information about what Scotland would be like if it became independent (eg: on currency, taxation, legal rights, EU membership, the border) for you to make a fully informed choice at a future referendum?  

A total of 58% said No. Only 30% said Yes. The remaining 12% said they did not know. Among those strongly in favour of independence, 66% said they had enough facts, but 24% said they did not. But of “middle Scotland” voters, 60% said they did not feel they had enough information.  

Mr Brown says today that the SNP should commit to public hearings in both the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments, so that MSPs and MPs are able to call experts on currency, finance, borders, and the EU, to get the facts on the table.  

“Middle Scotland’s support for the SNP and for independence is conditional – and they are now asking the SNP for honesty, for openness and for getting the facts on the table. It is time for the SNP to open the books.”  

“When even a quarter of committed independence supporters agree we don’t know enough to make an informed choice on independence, surely the onus is on the SNP to come clean?”  

“I believe that it is time for the SNP to agree to hold public hearings on what independence means for everything from the pound to the pension.”  

“Whether they are Yes, No, or undecided, people deserve to know the truth – from maintaining the Union, to reforming and renewing it, to leaving it altogether.”  

The poll also asked voters to set out their top three priorities going forward. “NHS catch up” was the most popular, followed by “reduce COVID/vaccines”, “protect and generate jobs”, “education catch up” and “reopen economy”. 

“Prepare for a second independence referendum” was 8th on the list. Among middle Scotland, it was bottom, and even among SNP voters, it came in fifth.  

1,000 Scots were polled by Stack Data Strategy between the 7th and 8th of May 2021. Responses were weighted to census figures on age, gender, education level, and recorded 2021 vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections .

Scots Back Cooperation Not Conflict

An in-depth poll conducted by Our Scottish Future over the election weekend has revealed that Scots back more cooperation between the UK and Scottish Governments – and do not want them to prioritize preparations for another referendum. 

The poll – conducted as 48% of Scots voted SNP – found that a far higher number – 73 % – wanted better cooperation between Scotland and the rest of the UK. 

Given 11 key priorities for action, such as the vaccination programme, NHS spending, and an education plan for young people, Scots ranked “preparing for a second referendum” in 8th place. 

The most popular choice was “ensuring that NHS Scotland catches up with appointments and procedures that they were unable to do during COVID.” 

The poll also showed that two-thirds of Scots agree that the best way to make the case for the Union is “to encourage better cooperation with Scottish institutions and be more inclusive of Scottish views.” 

Trying to show how the UK Government was better than the Scottish Government was backed by fewer than a half, by contrast. 

The findings come as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announces he is to lead a fresh campaign over the coming months to promote a “patriotic, progressive and principled case for Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom.” 

New ‘Cooperation Commissions’ on health, the economy, child poverty, and the environment will be set up to examine how best the Union can provide ‘added value’ to the key challenges the country faces over the coming years. 

Mr Brown also set out a fresh call for the UK Government to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the Union to examine the reforms needed to the UK to provide a better alternative to both the status quo and independence. 

Mr Brown says today that Our Scottish Future will become a new campaign with the aim of putting “the patriotic, progressive and principled case for Scotland’s future within the UK.” 

Writing in today’s Scotsman he says: “Today our think tank Scottish Future will transform itself into a campaigning movement and invite people to join us in putting the positive, progressive, and patriotic case for Scotland in Britain. Instead of focusing on powers the Parliament does not have we will focus on how we use the powers the Parliament does have to tackle poverty, unemployment, health inequalities, and climate change. Our Commissions on the economy, healthcare, climate change, and poverty will look at how cooperation can work to Scotland’s benefit by using all the resources of the UK.  And we will argue for a reformed UK with a more inclusive centre, a forum that brings the leaders of the nations and regions together and for them to be local focal points of economic initiative.” 

He adds: “And if the Prime Minister really is to be “minister for the union” rather than ‘minister for Unionists’ then he needs to do more than call a meeting with the leaders of Wales and Scotland. He can do so by making two big policy changes. He should order a constitutional review – Sir Keir Starmer has already done – of the whole future of the United Kingdom, specifically asking it to investigate alternatives to nationalism and the status quo. And he should concentrate on furthering cooperation in those areas where all the resources of the UK can be mobilized in support of the NHS, the fight for jobs, and the war on poverty and on climate change. He must now realise he has to change if the United Kingdom is to stay in being.”

Polling questions as follows:  

To what extent do you agree with the following statements on the relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments? 

The Scottish and UK Governments cooperate well today: Disagree 54%. Agree 23% 

I want the UK and Scottish Governments to cooperate better in areas that affect my life: Disagree 7%. Agree 73% 

A more productive and collaborative relationship between the Scottish and UK Governments would be good for Scotland: Disagree 9%. Agree 68% 

There needs to be greater alignment of policy and messaging on key issues such as COVID between the two governments: Disagree 11%. Agree 66% 

The best way for the UK Government to make a case for the Union would be to encourage better cooperation with Scottish institutions and be more inclusive of Scottish views: Disagree 11%. Agree 64% 

The best way for the UK Government to make a case for the Union would be to demonstrate how it is better than the Scottish Government: Disagree 26%. Agree 46% 

The poll also reveals overwhelming support for more cooperation between the UK and Scottish Governments on the economic recovery, the NHS, climate change, the drugs crisis, education, poverty, transport, and crime. Full details can be found here.

Gordon Brown: “Time to Open The Books on Options For Scotland”

Scots want the facts. The status quo, a reformed UK, and independence should all be exposed to expert, parliamentary, and public scrutiny

Speak to Scots these days about the big constitutional questions facing our country, and there is one big thing all of us do agree on: we don’t have the facts. 

Whether people are No, Yes, or Undecided on independence and the Union, almost everybody says they need more information. They are burnt by the experience of the 2014 referendum and the Brexit vote. Wild promises on the side of a bus, false claims on lurid posters and fake news on the internet have made them more sceptical than ever.  

With our economics of our world now so different from pre-Covid certainties, that demand for facts and evidence is now more pressing than ever. It would be a travesty of democracy if the most important question – the very existence of the United Kingdom – is to be subject to such minimal scrutiny before any irreversible decision is made. 

Yet despite everything we have gone through over the last few years, and despite entire forests having been levelled to report on the complex politics of Scotland, scrutiny of the economic and social consequences of the constitutional options we have on offer is scant.

When it comes to the costs or benefits of independence, the detail is missing entirely. Instead, there is a huge information gap. In the exact same way that the Vote Leave campaign deliberately decided not to set out any detail on the reality of post-Brexit Britain, so there is now an eerie nationalist silence on what independence really means. Key questions lie unanswered: what is the plan for our currency if and when we dump the UK pound?  Given our deficit is now the largest in Europe, far higher than set out in the SNP’s now out- of- date Wilson report, how can they deliver on their promises on pension health and welfare ? What happens to our border with England and to our trade? The SNP says leaving the EU, which accounts for 15% of our exports, was a disaster: if that is the case, what is the loss of jobs if we leave the UK which accounts for nearly 60 per cent ?  

But it isn’t just the nationalists: we also need deep dive scrutiny of the status quo too and into what Boris Johnson’s’ so- called ‘muscular unionism’means for a post-Brexit, post-Covid Scotland. This should include the implications  of his Internal Market  Bill, his Shared Prosperity Fund  and his view that devolution is  a ‘disaster’.

We also need to examine the merits of change within the UK that is now the subject of investigation by a Labour Party Commission on the Constitution and which I am happy to see put to the test.

In the post Covid world we must expose all these options to the sunlight of scrutiny, and I suggest three key platforms for doing so. 

We need a trial of the evidence with independent think tanks, research organisations and academic institutions encouraged to assess the claims made by all parties and subject them to close examination.  

This is not just a demand to ‘open the books’: it is a call to subject all the arguments and claims about the future government of Scotland to an open process of investigation.

Secondly, and crucially, I believe we should also agree a trial by parliamentary scrutiny. We should ask our parliamentary democracy to step up to its task of ensuring proper transparency and accountability , and to hold to account those who govern us. All the options open to us -independence, the status quo and reform within the UK-  should be subject to parliamentary hearings, looking at all the evidence.  

The Scottish Parliament and the two Houses of Parliament in the UK- the House of Commons and the House of Lords- should each set up investigative committees made up of senior MSPs and MPs from all sides. These select committees should call and interrogate witnesses on the impact of all options on the currency, economics, the EU, pensions, welfare,  climate change and defence and security and then report on  their analysis of the facts.

Parliamentary hearings can pave the way for the third test: an open examination by the public – with new Citizens Assemblies convened and given the chance to test, stretch and dissect the evidence in front of them. Here we can learn lessons not only from the recent experience of a Citizens Assemblies in Scotland but from Ireland where a Citizens Assembly helped the country negotiate potentially its most divisive debates ever -on legalising abortion- without the bitterness many predicted.  A representative group of 100 – half initially pro-abortion, half against – came together and talked the issues through, exploring differences, asking questions of experts and interacting with each other on their fears and hopes. Remarkably, but encouragingly, people of devout faith and resolute feminists found common ground. I’d support a series of such assemblies right around the country, and if we can free ourselves from the rancor of past debates, a similar outcome might be possible in Scotland. 

Quite simply, Scots deserve the facts, not fiction scrawled on a bus, or slogans that twist the facts.

And in that spirit, I am happy for any ideas I have to be put to the test, and interrogated, challenged, and subjected to the grilling of politicians and the public. Let us now see if both no-change Conservatives and no-compromise Nationalists are as happy to see their own proposals scrutinised in the same detail and put to the sword.

So let us put forward our ideas. Let us put them to the test in our parliaments.  Let us expose them to the light of public scrutiny and see whether they blossom in the open air, or wilt under the sun.

This article originally appeared in The Times under the title “We Must Fill the Independence Information Gap”.

UK Wide Cooperation Ensures “Best Is Yet To Come” In North Sea

The future of the Scotland’s vital North Sea industry can be supported by the UK’s “collective strength and resource”, a new report by a leading energy expert concludes today.  

Written by Nick Butler, the founding chair of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, the report – entitled “Co-Op 26: how cooperation can spur Scotland’s green revolution” – argues that “the best is yet to come” for Scotland’s energy sector if it can seize huge new opportunities and transition from oil and gas to renewables.  

It argues that Scotland’s prospects are best achieved by remaining an active and influential player within the UK. “As part of the UK Scotland has a voice. Alone, that voice would carry no weight,” he says.

He concludes: “The necessary transformation in the energy market in UK and across the world will be rich in jobs. For Scotland there is the opportunity of playing a major role in creating the technical and industrial base which will support that transformation. If that opportunity can be grasped, however good the last half century has been, the best is yet to come.” 

A leading energy expert, who has advised both Norway’s state energy company and the UK Government, Mr Butler is a regular contributor to the Financial Times on energy issues, having spent nearly three decades working for BP.

The paper focusses on several of the key areas for potential growth in the new “green market” economy. 

In the report, Mr Butler says there is “no reason” why Scotland and the UK cannot become a global leader in decommissioning work, as rigs are dismantled over the coming years. He argues that with development to the UK grid, Scotland could export more renewable electricity to the wider UK market, and to Europe via a new North Sea grid.  The report also concludes that Scotland is “well placed” to take advantage of the development of hydrogen and carbon capture into the 2030s. 

The report concludes that all these measures are best achieved by being part of a wider pan-UK plan. On the potential impact of independence, he adds: “At a time when public policy is understandably focused on maximising employment an unhappy divorce is likely to encourage any Government in London to focus its own spending and investment on its own citizens. The trade in electricity for instance from Scotland to England and the rest of the UK could easily be substituted by other sources.” 

On the forthcoming COP 26 conference in Glasgow, he adds: “For Scotland, COP26 offer the chance not just to provide hotel rooms and hospitality but also long-term leadership. Such steps of course can only be taken if Scotland is part of the United Kingdom with full access to Britain’s collective strengths and resources. To those who say the UK Government’s policies are too vague and inadequate the answer to lead the process of developing them, providing answers and ideas.”

Professor Jim Gallagher, chairman of Our Scottish Future said: “Nick Butler is an acknowledged energy expert and, in this paper, he shows how Scotland can leverage its membership of the UK to accelerate the essential transition to green energy and create jobs when doing so.  A new kind of North Sea revolution.” 



Nick Butler is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and the founding Chairman of the Kings Policy Institute. He chairs Promus Associates, The Sure Chill Company and Ridgeway Information Ltd. From 2007 to 2009 he was Chairman of the Cambridge Centre for Energy Studies. He was a special adviser to the former British prime minister Gordon Brown from 2009 to 2010. He served as a non executive Director of Cambridge Econometrics from 2010 to 2018. He was appointed in 2018 to the expert panel of advisers for The Faraday Institution, which works on the development of batteries and energy storage. Having served as a Member of the Strategic Advisory Council of the Norwegian state company Equinor (formerly Statoil) he is currently editor of the Energy Agenda for the Norwegian based energy organisation ONS. 

Why Boris Johnson needs to learn from the EU’s mistakes to bring the UK back together

Not a vote has yet been cast in the Scottish Parliament elections, scheduled for May 5th. So confident that a nationalist majority is already in the bag, however, the pro-independence campaign is already planning life after victory. An 11-point plan has been published on how to take forward a referendum. We are told that the as yet un-won majority the SNP expects to win will be evidence of Scotland’s desire to leave the United Kingdom. It shows – or will do, once it happens – that Scots want another referendum immediately. The SNP contend will be a democratic outrage if a British Prime Minister refuses to agree to one.

The polls suggest the SNP is not wrong to be confident; a pro-independence majority is what impartial observers currently expect too based on current polls. But is the pre-emptive reading of the outcome correct? In this uncertain world, the truth is that the picture in Scotland is less clear-cut than the SNP tries to claim. Of course many pro-independence Scots believe a 2nd referendum cannot come soon enough. They see the Union is a dead marriage. They therefore want a vote to confirm divorce immediately. Yet other, less certain independence voters are not so gung-ho. Some feel that the SNP should stick by its promise that the 2014 was once in a generation. Others, like former SNP MP Jim Sillars, do not think it’s a good idea to have a referendum any time soon, not when there’s a pandemic on. Many worry about the economic uncertainty and the social division that independence would bring with it, in addition to everything else. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid the sense that many are open to waiting a little, to let the dust settled, and see if something else might turn up. As one lady said in November: “I think we need time to heal. I think we should wait to see if there is changes to Westminster. We gave our word (on once in a generation) and said we will wait. Although I’m a Yes voter, if there are changes in Westminster surely that’s good for us.”

So as we head towards the elections, the question turns to how the UK Government should speak to these wary, sceptical voters. The Prime Minister has already made it clear he does not intend to support a 2nd referendum. If the SNP does indeed win a majority in the elections with a pledge to hold a referendum it will, as sure as night follows day, make political hay with that. So what should Ministers do to reach out to those voters in Scotland who are hoping for some kind of middle way?

A good cautionary tale from the recent past here might be the process that eventually led to Britain’s departure from the EU. Our decision to leave the EU was never pre-ordained; it was the result of a series of mis-steps by Remain-supporting politicians, and the European Union, which both failed to respond to the growing desire for real and radical change. The most obvious example came in 2015 when David Cameron undertook to seek a better deal for Britain and then put that to the referendum. As we all know, that renegotiation with the EU fell short of what was required. It failed the “smell test” back at home, convincing Boris Johnson and others to campaign for Leave. Mr Cameron’s offer looked phoney. Millions of British voters agreed, and the Brexit result followed.

This cautionary tale should be heeded with regard to Scotland too. Over the last two decades, Scots voters have been offered several renegotiated deals within the UK, from the delivery of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 to the extra powers provided in two more Scotland Acts since. These have been sold as a way to “kill nationalism” for good. But just as Mr Cameron’s tweaks to the UK’s relationship with the EU failed to convince people to remain in the EU, so the deals in Scotland haven’t stopped the appeal of departure from the UK too.

There are plenty of good reasons for pushing more power out of Westminster to the more outlying part of the UK beyond the M25  and, in my view, it’s a process that should continue.  But the clear evidence of the last two decades is that stopping the appeal of Scottish independence is not one of them. Just as with the Britain’s relations with the EU, the reform that’s required is deeper. Scots (and many others across the UK) are looking for evidence of real and genuine change from the institution that lies at the heart of the problem: not the distant and unresponsive European Union in this case, but the distant and unresponsive Westminster machine, and a political culture which – despite devolution – still centralises power, seizes too much control for itself, and dodges accountability, making many people in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK) feel powerless, disrespected and ignored.

Unionists may not want to admit it, but this deal currently fails the same “smell test” to many Scots (as well as many people across the UK too) as Mr Cameron’s EU deal did six years ago. Little wonder their response to it, to coin a phrase, is “No, No, No”. It follows that if all the UK Government does in response is to shout ever louder about the benefits of the United Kingdom and warn Scots about the costs of leaving the British single market, then they risk repeating the exact same errors made by the UK establishment who fought for Remain. And if all they do is diminish “Leave” voters in Scotland, then they should not be surprised when such people dig in their heels and stick up two fingers. There’s a great irony in all of this. In this battle, it’s Boris Johnson’s misfortune to be playing the role of the pro-Remain establishment. He is cast by the SNP as Jean-Claude Junker, or Jacque Delors. He, more than anyone else alive in British politics, should be aware of the perils of being cast in such a part when there are skilful political campaigners on the opposite side waiting to take merciless advantage.

None of this is say that the UK Government should not set out the risks of Scotland leaving the UK; of course, it should. It should also, of course, seek to demonstrate the very real benefits of the Union to Scotland – benefits which have been so vividly demonstrated in recent weeks by the government’s vaccination programme. Only that more is required than a reheat of Remain style tactics from 2016. To continue the EU analogy, Mr Johnson needs to learn from Mr Cameron five years ago. As former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set out in detail, we need to be prepared on behalf of the entire nation to reflect and look again at how we “do” Britain. We need to see a sign that the UK political establishment “gets it” – that it understands peoples’ sense of alienation from the UK and wants to remedy that. That’s unlikely to be through a formal federal system which, given the UK’s uniquely complex nature, won’t work, but by creating better inter-governmental structures, reforming outdated institutions, and switching Whitehall on to life outside SW1.

Many Scots, in my experience, would welcome a more nuanced conversation about Scotland and the United Kingdom than the Black and White, Yes v No framing of the debate as engineered by the SNP. They saw Manchester mayor Andy Burnham protesting about the centre of power last year and noticed he expressed many of their own frustrations. They accept therefore that this is a more complex picture than the SNP would like to suggest. The UK Government should “lean in” to the SNP’s diagnosis of the United Kingdom. It should commit to going out to listen to voters in Scotland – and elsewhere in the UK – about what they want. In this regard, as well as learning lessons from Mr Cameron’s failed attempts five years ago, Mr Johnson might want to borrow ideas from the SNP as well. Back in 2007, when it was still trying to turn the fringe notion of independence into a mainstream concept, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon began what they described as a “National Conversation” – an attempt to consult people across Scotland prior to the publication of a white paper on a proposed referendum. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of their book, with a new UK wide National Conversation to be held this year. It would acknowledge how the last few years have caused upheaval and uncertainty for many communities and created division across the United Kingdom. It would seek to involve all political parties, including the SNP, in setting it up – indeed Sir Keir Starmer and Mr Brown are already pressing ahead. As with Citizens Assemblies in Ireland, it might try to gain an understanding of that division and to discover the kind of change they want in the years ahead. In order to acknowledge the depth of the problem, it should accept that nothing is off the table, including – in time – the possibility of another Scottish referendum.

Such a UK wide conversation would send a clear message that the UK Government is responding to what is a UK wide problem, felt most deeply perhaps in Scotland, but certainly not exclusively. It would ask how, and whether, Britain can go forward, together. Many of us across the UK are looking to see whether our country is prepared to change. We’re looking to see whether Britain is a still a country that can hold such a conversation.

As we begin 2021, Scotland is a nation questioning whether it needs to become a state. The answer may lie in whether the UK state can show it’s still a nation. That starts not with phoney change, but by accepting the need for real and lasting reform. When Eurosceptics began their campaign for a new relationship with the EU, they settled on a slogan: “Change or Go”. Their point was clear and principled: either we had proper reform of the EU, or it was time to accept that Britain had to leave. The change offered was piecemeal, so we decided to go. The same message applies now to Scotland and the UK. We need to change our own Union, or else Scotland may decide it’s time to go too. No matter what happens in the Holyrood elections this year, that’s the choice on offer.

This article appeared originally as part of Policy Exchange’s new series on the Future of the Union.

An offer of false promises isn’t good enough for Scotland’s future

Early on the morning of May 6, 2011, David Cameron lit the touchpaper that has led to nearly a decade of constitutional upheaval for Scotland. He signalled acceptance on the part of the coalition government that the majority won by the SNP in the Scottish parliamentary elections held the day before was effectively a mandate for a referendum on independence for Scotland.

He, like many others, believed that a decisive outcome to that referendum would settle the question for a generation. Little did he anticipate that his other ill-starred referendum venture would re-ignite the constitutional question and ten years later leave Scotland still staring into an uncertain future.

That uncertainty is not going to disappear any time soon. The SNP might so succumb to internecine conflict that the party loses its chance of a majority in this May’s elections. The UK government might come up with such a compelling offer to the people of Scotland as to reconcile a fair majority to a continued future within the United Kingdom. One outcome is perhaps more probable than the other, but neither can be relied upon.

This leaves all who crave some sort of stability in an unsatisfactory place, not least the world of business as it grapples with the fallout of the pandemic and seeks to get to grips with the additional burdens that come with the UK’s new trading relationship with the EU.

Many will be tempted to wish a plague on all political houses in the hope that uncertainty will go away. It won’t. The times are uncertain because too many of us, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK and much further afield, are out of temper with the world as we find it. Politics is a mirror in which we see our own discontents.

Politicians will of course play hard to their own advantage, even if that means equivocating on the consequences of the position they advocate. We saw that in spades on Brexit and we have seen it constantly in the debate on independence. We are asked to buy not only the ideological belief but faith too that in its realisation will come all sorts of improbable benefits.

Is it too much to expect of politicians that they have the honesty to build on the value of their core proposition, be it leaving the EU or independence for Scotland, without larding it with false promises? Almost certainly it is, which leaves it to the rest of us to be sceptical of their promises and plan as best we can for an uncertain future.

Philip Rycroft was the lead civil servant in Whitehall responsible for constitutional and devolution issues between 2012 and 2019.

Let’s stop the devolution blame game and work on a British way forward

Earlier this week, Henry Hill delivered a robust critique of what he termed Scotland’s “devolutionaries” – of whom I’m one, I suppose. I work for the thinktank Our Scottish Future, which wants to see reforms of the UK to encourage greater co-operation across the country. These ideas were spelled out a few days ago by the think-tank’s founder, Gordon Brown. It’s fair to say Henry took a rather dim view.

Henry ended his piece by calling for ‘devocrats’ to admit our faults. The famous comments made by George Robertson 25 years ago, that “devolution would kill nationalism stone dead” hangs around their necks. Wouldn’t it show some humility if we finally accepted they had been flat out wrong?

OK, Henry, I’ll admit it – the devocrats were flat-out wrong.

That devolution has provided the SNP with a platform from which to push their vision of an independent Scotland is a simple point of fact. Michael Forsyth and Tam Dalyell were right. Alex Salmond was right, correctly seeing how a Scottish Parliament would provide the SNP with the platform it needed, and lacked on the green benches of Westminster. Devophiles can, I suppose, argue the counter-factual and talk up a world in which a Scottish Parliament wasn’t created, to claim that would have led to more support for secession. But nobody knows. All we do know is that devolution was introduced, has given the SNP a huge leg-up, and taken them from the margins of Scottish politics to its front and centre.

So if devolution was only ever meant to be an experiment in “killing nationalism” then let’s all agree it has conclusively failed. But, of course, it wasn’t. I was not around in the 80s and 90s when the campaign for devolution was running hard, but veterans from that time point out it was never pursued as a way to head off nationalism. Rather devolution was seen as a way, across partisans of all parties (including a significant number of Tories) to – as one campaigner puts it – “remedy the position whereby government played a part in public life never imagined in 1707, yet Scotland continued to have its own law but not its own legislature”.

Politics, of course, played a part, specifically, the desire on the left to provide against Thatcherism, but there was a principle here. It was that a nation like Scotland, while remaining part of the British family, should be able to take markedly different decisions from Westminster, and have some democratic accountability around them. The Parliament was created to fill that hole.

This it has done. And that enshrining principle of autonomous Scottish decision making and greater democratic accountability is one that voters in Scotland overwhelmingly support. Despite rocky beginnings, people in Scotland have consistently declared their approval for devolution. Scots like it still, and are proud of the parliament they voted for.

If democracy is about making people feel in touch with their decision-makers, and giving them a sense of accountability, then devolution has been a success.  Of course, the policy agenda should be bolder – and our thinktank is planning to set out our own priorities for action over the coming weeks. But that lack of ambition isn’t devolution’s fault, it’s down to the conservatism of Scotland’s political establishment.

So rather than bemoan devolution as if the Union is already a dead duck, I’d argue that the delivery and the development of the Scottish Parliament is something Unionists should be proud of. It has demonstrated we are a nation keen to reflect our multi-national character. It suggests we’re a country still trying to push power down and out to communities across the country.

The appeal of nationalism in Scotland – and the growing restlessness of regional leaders in England and in Wales – now means we need to see more work done to coordinate and manage that effort. We need to improve the governing infrastructure of the UK. We need to improve the relationship between the centre and the new devolved nations and regions, with new institutions.

This isn’t another “concession” to the Scots by “appeasers”, as we keep being told. Nor is it about handing more powers to the Scottish Government, as has been done in the past. It’s simply a suggestion we build a better, more responsive, system than the one we have right now.

In his piece, Henry argues that it’s a fool’s errand to seek to improve this system when you’re faced with a nationalist administration which only acts in bad faith. I couldn’t disagree more. Only working with devolved administrations you agree with strikes me as a pretty shallow form of Unionism. It’s precisely by seeking to work better with your opponents in Edinburgh or Cardiff that the government of the UK demonstrates its good faith in the Union, and its commitment to making it work.

Nor is it just a matter of constitutional good practice. Better working arrangements on, for example, vaccine delivery and testing matters to me and my family in Glasgow a great deal just now.

The United Kingdom should be proud of the devolved institutions it has created across the nation over the last 25 years. We should always be seeking to improve the way our country is run, with better mechanisms to promote cooperation, more structured ways to resolve disputes, and a more inclusive political system. None of us has a monopoly of wisdom on how this might be achieved, hence the reason a Commission on the Union should be convened.

The blame game is a backward-looking and ultimately futile sport. Let’s instead imagine a new British way forward.

Gordon Brown: “Let’s Unite Around a British Way Forward”

Battered by Covid, threatened by nationalism and uncertain what the promise of a post- Brexit ‘Global Britain’ adds up to, the United Kingdom must urgently rediscover what holds it together and sort out what is driving us apart.

The status quo is not working and the world’s most successful experiment in multinational living is under greater threat than at any time in 300 years.   

Months of Covid – and bitter disputes between No 10 and the regions and nations over lockdowns, furloughs and business and employment support – have brought to the surface tensions and grievances that have been simmering for years. 

The complaint is that Whitehall does not fully understand the country it is supposed to govern. 

Elected leaders in our nations and regions protest that their local knowledge has been ignored and only rarely are they ever consulted.

We are all fighting the same virus and the same recession, but instead of the different tiers of government pulling together, relations are now so fraught that the public doesn’t believe them when they say they are determined to cooperate. According to a recent poll, only 4 in 10 Scots think that Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon want to work constructively with each other.

And it is indeed Scotland where dissatisfaction is so deep that it threatens the end of the United Kingdom. For the first time, a majority of Scots now feel, according to recent polls , that Scotland and the rest of the UK are moving inexorably in opposite directions and, nearly half of all scots who have a view believe – against all the evidence – that Scotland would be better off economically independent, and they feel that the Union undermines Scotland’s distinctive identity.

While the crisis is deepest in Scotland, it is far from alone. Regional Metro Mayors – from Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, to Sheffield, Bristol and London – are demanding more powers from what they see as an insensitive, out of touch and over-centralised centre. And in Wales it is not nationalists but the pro-Union First Minister Mark Drakeford who is leading calls for change.

But it’s not leaders’ opinions that should worry us most but the drift in public opinion. ‘Whoever in London thought of that?” is a common refrain, reflecting the frustration of people in outlying communities who feel they are the forgotten men and women, virtually invisible to Whitehall. Too often they feel they are treated like second class citizens. Little surprise that the annual Edelman UK Trust barometer has reported a dramatic overall collapse in public trust in both British political leaders and Britain’s institutions.

 Their demand ‘to take back control’ has not, it seems, been assuaged by Brexit nor, in England, by David Cameron’s introduction of English votes for English Laws. 

A succession of constitutional reviews since the 1970s have tended to focus on one set of remedies to the exclusion of most others: more powers for devolved administrations.  This has invariably led to allegations from opponents that all this means is transferring powers from one set of politicians to another and creating new bureaucracies to replace the old.  

A more rounded, thought-through approach is now essential. The Union’s future depends not just on a fair and workable post-Brexit delineation of powers but on rebuilding relationships that are currently broken and renewing our social fabric so that it nurtures   them. This means dealing with social and economic inequalities as recognised in the promise to ‘level up’ – and empowering our northern cities  and regions to once again become vibrant centres of economic imitative in their own right And it requires joint working between the centre and the rest; a new inclusiveness at the heart of government; and a clarity about the purposes of the United Kingdom itself.  

I believe the choice is now between a reformed state and a failed state. So Boris Johnson should announce that when COVID is finally under control, he will set up the Commission on democracy  his election manifesto promised and state that it will review the way the whole  United Kingdom is governed.

The commission will discover that all the Institutions designed to promote collaboration across the U.K, like the Joint Ministerial Committees, and the Council of the Isles have fallen into disuse, the latest victims of a policy of ‘devolve and forget. They will find that the United Kingdom urgently needs a Forum of the Nations and Regions that brings them and Boris Johnson together on a regular basis.

No country can have national integration without political inclusion, and the commission might start by learning from the experience of countries like Australia, Canada, Germany and America where, partly because of British influence in times past,   second chambers are senates of their regions,  and minorities   who can easily be outvoted are guaranteed a stronger voice. 

But such a Commission cannot be yet another case of an elite reviewing an elite, so the Prime Minister should complement the commission’s work by convening Citizens’ Assemblies in each region and nation so that he can listen to what the public are saying. 

Of course Scottish, Welsh, Irish and – perhaps – English nationalists will tell you that nationhood must automatically mean statehood in spite of the evidence of successful multinational states  all round the world , but perhaps for too long we have left unstated the shared purpose – and values – that  bind the UK together, and we have said  too little about what we have in common: our shared beliefs in tolerance, liberty, civic responsibility and fairness, and our conviction that all benefit when we pool and share risks and resources across the country. 

Yes, we can appeal to history, tradition, culture and the longevity  of our institutions, but it is through a focus on the everyday benefits of cooperation and reciprocity, represented  by, for  example, the National Health Service and our Armed Forces, and the sentiments that inspire them – solidarity and empathy, that we demonstrate the real glue that today brings four distinctive nations and many diverse regions together.

I believe that when faced with the choice, the vast majority across Britain will favour empathy over enmity, solidarity over separation, cooperation over conflict, and reciprocity over the resentments – often more imagined than real – that are sadly what drives us- versus- them political nationalisms.

Indeed, it is because the United Kingdom and its institutions can be rebuilt on the solid rock of shared values that today’s troubled and fractured Union can become a modern reformed UK with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. This is the prize that awaits a Prime Minister who chooses to act. Whether it is this Prime Minister, only time will tell.

Scotland’s Testing Programme “Worst Record In UK”

More than two-thirds of Scotland’s Coronavirus cases are being missed by the country’s testing programme – the worst record of all four UK home nations, a new study reveals today.

Examining the last six weeks of 2020, the report finds that, according to Office of National Statistics data, a daily average of 43,379 Scots had the virus.

Yet, in that same time frame, the Our Scottish Future study shows that Scotland’s test and tracing programme was only picking up a rolling average of 13,650 cases – just 32% of the total.

It suggest the majority of cases – affecting 30,000 Scots – were not found, meaning that the virus was left to spread within the community undetected.

Testing and tracing is the crucial “third leg” of the response to the pandemic, along with the vaccine and social distancing measures. Notwithstanding the vaccination programme, it will be vital over the coming weeks and months in assisting services to open up.  

Scotland’s performance compares to figures in Wales and Northern Ireland where the “detection rate” was more than twice as high, at 70% and 81% of total cases respectively. The figure in England is also low, at just 41%. 

The report finds that Scotland’s tracking and tracing programme is working relatively well compared to other UK nations. But it concludes that the failure to detect two-thirds of cases means it is having virtually zero impact on reducing the R number and preventing the spread of the disease.

Leading virologist Professor Hugh Pennington declares today that this failure means that – despite the prospect of a vaccine – Scotland is “fighting the virus with both arms tied behind our back”.

Prof Pennington and Our Scottish Future are now calling for testing to be offered far more proactively, particularly in schools to allow them to re-open as planned next month. Only a third of Scotland’s testing capacity is being used, according to the study, meaning there is ample scope for more tests to be completed.

The paper blames Scotland’s low detection rate and the failure to use spare capacity on the fragmented and hard-to-access delivery system which sees responsibility and capacity divided between different local health boards, the Scottish Government, and the UK Government. It urges all stakeholders to agree a fresh plan to deliver far more testing.

 The paper concludes: “Comparing positive tests results to the infection rate estimated by the ONS surveillance survey implies that an average of 68% cases since November have not been identified through testing – meaning that the vast majority of cases have not been contact-traced. Scotland is the worst performer in the UK on this metric.”

It adds: “Scotland’s Test & Protect operation is having no impact on the fight against COVID. Its low detection rate puts a ‘cap’ on the effectiveness of the rest of the Test & Protect operation. So long as detection rate is 30-40%, Scotland will be unable to meaningfully inhibit the spread of the virus through track & trace.”

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended the low testing numbers, insisting that the figure was “demand led”.

However, the OSF paper argues that, rather than waiting for people to come forward, the UK and Scottish Governments should be doing far more to increase the demand for testing, with more focussed communication of the need to get tested, more sites that can provide better accessibility, improved “at home” testing services using lateral flow devices, and more targeted requests to test for those who have been identified as being potentially part of a chain of infection.

It also backs asymptomatic testing in schools so they can re-open as planned from February 1st.

Commenting today, Professor Pennington says: “It’s no wonder the virus is winning because, as this report shows, we are not seeking it out, and we are not finding it as often as we should do.”

He added: “Unless you go out to find the cases in the community, then we are working with both hands tied behind our back. We need proper investigation of outbreaks and I despair that this is not being done at all well. Until we get testing and tracing right, then the virus will continue to spread.”


The “detection rate” used in the OSF study takes the average daily number of infections in Scotland between November 22nd and January 2nd, as assessed by the Office of National Statistics – 43,379 a day.

It then calculates the trailing two-week average of positive cases actually detected by NHS Scotland and UK Government services from samples collected over that same time-frame – 13,649. Two weeks is used as this is the length of time people are typically estimated to be infected with the virus. Please see attached:

The full Our Scottish Future report on testing

The six week timeframe from November 22nd to January 2nd was chosen by the think-tank in order to ensure a reliable and up-to-date figure

For any further information please contact

Scottish Vaccine Plan “Behind the Curve”, Warns Report

Paper backs more coordination between Scottish and UK Governments

The majority of Scots could be vaccinated by summer next year but only if the Scottish Government radically steps up its preparations, a new report says today.

Published by the think-tank Our Scottish Future, the paper warns that the government is “behind the curve” in its preparations to roll out 4 million vaccinations to Scots over the coming months.

It calls for consistent communication across the UK so that mixed messages do not undermine trust in the vaccine programme.

The report calls for the Scottish Government to boost support for health boards charged with rolling out the vaccine, to recruit more staff to help fulfil the job, and to coordinate its plans more closely with the UK Government.

It also backs the appointment of a specific Scottish Vaccines Minister to oversee the roll out of the programme and work hand in glove with their UK counterpart.

Without extra action, it warns that the problems seen with the Winter Flu vaccination programme will be a “precursor” for the far bigger challenges presented by Covid.

The paper was written by OSF researchers following interviews with key health experts in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is based on the published proposals already outlined by the Scottish Government.

It comes with the first vaccinations set to begin this week. The Scottish Government has previously pledged to vaccinate 1 million people by January, although it is not yet clear whether this remains an achievable target given vaccine supply and capacity.  

The OSF report says the Scottish Government must learn the lessons from failures in the “test and protect” programme 

Its main conclusions are:

* It is not implausible, and planning should have certainly started, to be able to vaccinate the majority of the Scottish population by late spring / summer 2021 

* However, the Scottish Government’s national framework is “lacking in detail, planning and adequate forward thinking.” Specifically, there is “no real plan” on how to prioritise and engage with the 1.9 million Scots in the so-called ‘third wave’ of the programme – under 65s who are not engaged in frontline health or care.

* Both the Scottish and UK Governments need to coordinate messaging better to boost trust in and compliance with the programme.

* More support staff need to be recruited to support the 2000 vaccinators being identified to carry out the programme

The report says: “Health Boards will require substantial support from the Scottish Government to avoid the same problems that occurred with the flu vaccine, in a roll out 4 times the size, requiring multiple doses. Faster and more efficient vaccination will inevitably save lives, making this process all the more critical. Additional resources, best practice sharing, guidance and technology will be required to ensure the 2020 flu vaccination was a dress rehearsal, not a precursor.”

It concludes: “So far, the Scottish government looks to be behind the curve against strategic and operational requirements, known about for months. Coordination mistakes – ‘devolve and forget’ from Whitehall – combined with a separate communications agenda could lead to further confusion and poor delivery. Issues seen throughout the pandemic could be replicated if the Scottish Government devolve responsibility to health boards without sufficient support.”

Describing the next month as “critical” if plans are to be put in place, the report’s recommendations call for: 

* Deeper coordination between the UK and Scottish governments as the vaccine is rolled out

* A common plan for communicating the benefits of the vaccine to the public at large

* Specific task forces to be established in Scotland to maximise vaccine uptake in traditionally harder to reach communities that have been most negatively impacted by the virus

* Greater resources to be given to Scottish Health Boards to operationalise the roll-out

* Investment to set up of an effective centralised booking and data management platform

*  The appointment of a new Vaccine Minister. 

The paper concludes: “We are at a critical juncture in the fight against the COVID pandemic, but on a path towards a vaccine that can help to turn the tide. Vaccinating Scotland remains an unprecedented challenge. However, there is still a valuable month left to put the right strategy, resources and operations in place to maximise the speed at which the vaccine can be dispensed. This paper therefore argues that greater urgency is required to plan the vaccine rollout, and likely implications, than is being seen today.”

Professor Jim Gallagher, chairman of Our Scottish Future added: “Scotland’s governments have struggled to deal with the Covid crisis. The medical and economic toll Scotland has paid has been among the worst in Europe.

“But the UK government’s highly successful vaccination strategy – for once, genuinely world-beating – presents an opportunity to turn the corner. Now it’s up to the Scottish Government to vaccinate Scotland, and they need a much fuller strategy, clear communications and an operational plan for a logistical programme unprecedented in its complexity where speed is of the essence. A Scottish Vaccines Minister needs to take unequivocal responsibility for delivery. Scotland cannot afford for this to fail.”

“We have to learn the lessons from the way Scotland struggled with rolling out adequate volumes of testing, and with the most recent flu vaccinations. Above all, we need a consistent, UK wide messages to persuade people that vaccination is necessary and safe.”

Commenting on the paper, Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University added: “This authoritative and detailed analysis demonstrates the urgent need for Scotland and the UK to collaborate to the full now that the roll out of life-saving vaccines is imminent.”

The paper was written by Evie Robertson, who has previously worked with the World Health Organisation and with Academic Health Solutions. In writing this report, she sought evidence from senior public health figures in Scotland.

A full copy of the report is available here.