Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Devolution, the smoking ban and the Scottish elections

Scottish UKIP's manifesto (p. 5), published on Monday 4 April, declares against the smoking ban. It is the only Scottish party that has made this commitment. (That surprised you!)

UKIP's central plank of policy is of course independence from Europe, which they base both on cost grounds and on the number of laws and directives that come from Europe, effectively limiting the ability of governments to listen to their electorates. They also remind us that the European Commission, which writes the European laws that are then voted on by MEPs, is a non-elected body. A policy document on tobacco and smoking from 2009 gives an idea of the scope of its ambition: no member country can expect to be entitled to a contrary view.

The Scottish establishment currently doesn't have a contrary view: Labour, the SNP and the LibDems vie to convince the electorate that they care about it by letting doctors and health lobbyists dictate health policy, and the Westminster Coalition has also presented a dismal lack of contrast to what came before it.  The major parties across the UK, and the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland, all essentially support the smoking ban and associated laws such as the tobacco display ban – whatever they said when in opposition. Whether nannies or nudgers, they speak and the population is expected to improve its behaviour. But from left, right and centre come dissident voices.

Personally I feel that the smoking ban is anathema to anyone with an ounce of political principle, regardless of their political position. To Conservatives, priding themselves on a sense of responsibility and respect for business integrity, the ban makes no sense: it deprives both businesses and customers of any sense of responsibility for their actions. To liberals, who used to stand for tolerance and a mixed economy, it makes no sense either as it ties the hands of business behind its back and is profoundly illiberal. To Labour, whose mission is to protect the 'working man', the smoking ban has been a complete disaster as it has deprived communities of their social centres and of much of the sense of civic pride remaining to them after the industrial losses of the Thatcher era. Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties have risked alienating large swathes of their passionate and loyal supporters by following the anti-smoking agenda.

From the Left (does this have anything to do with Labour any more?) we have a refreshingly libertarian perspective that condemns the enormous taxes imposed on tobacco (with links to further posts at the foot). The same blog attacked last summer's proposal to ban tobacco from all NHS Grampian sites and punish any staff carrying it about their person while at work or at any time if in uniform (a proposal that has since been scrapped as unworkable):
Excuse me, but when did these skilled employees become human billboards? Clearly the board do not think it sufficient for these public servants to merely offer up their time and their hard work to help care for the sick. No, they must submit their personal lifestyle choices to the cause of Grampian’s latest health drive.
Indeed NHS Grampian appears not be particularly au fait with contemporary employment practices. Since serfdom went out of fashion, the basic premise has been that while workers sell their labour power, they do not hand ownership of themselves and their bodies to their superiors. Nonetheless the Grampian board appears to want sovereignty over what their employees breath (sic) in, regardless of whether they are at work.
Prior to last May there was no shortage of Labour-knockers claiming that the smoking ban was a communist/Stalinist plot, so finding voices on the left who rejected authoritarianism and Nannying was cheering.

Less surprising is sites such as Liberal Vision, which offer a better view of liberalism, or ConservativeHome (tobacco-related posts picked by way of illustration), which allows Conservative supporters to wonder what the hell happened since last May. I'm not aware of many rebels to the tobacco orthodoxy within the ranks of Scottish or Welsh Nationalists but perhaps the political establishments here and in Wales are too small to allow loud dissenters to be comfortable?

All parties include people who resent the extremes of anti-tobacco policy. UKIP has brought the smoking ban issue to the table and made a manifesto issue out of it, also reported here and in the BBC link at the top of the story.

UKIP also addresses devolution: they want to use the Scottish Parliament building to accommodate Scottish Westminster MPs and do away with MSPs, and assembly members in the other devolved regions. My understanding is that Members of Parliament would deal with specific ('devolved') policy areas in their respective regions, and with 'reserved' matters as a single group in Westminster. Whether you like this idea or not, my feeling is that the present devolved government is a dog's dinner, with too many government departments in too many places.

Why in a tiny country like Scotland is domestic policy decided by one legislative body and foreign and defence policy (and other reserved matters) decided by a completely different legislative body? UKIP's proposals also mean that Scottish MPs would no longer have any vote on 'uniquely' English issues, avoiding the anomaly known as the 'West Lothian Question', so they won't be able to blame the Scots when things go wrong!

I'm trying to be politically non-partisan (I have two votes, after all). I tried to push the devolution issue on UKIP's story today in the Scotsman but no one has really tried to argue the merits of the devolved system as it currently runs. One or two people have made clear their suspicion of UKIP, but not helped to convince me there is a merit to devolution as we know it. My question when voting would be, do you want want to resolve this mess that is devolution? If anyone from any party wants to convince me that there is merit in devolution they are welcome to have a go. (They're not going to persuade me that there is merit in the smoking ban.)


Anonymous said...

This is the attitude taken by some of the Scottish Politicians.


no' deid yet said...

Totally agree regarding the devolution issue.
However I can't seem to bring myself to vote UKIP, will vote Socialist, if anything.
As to the smoking ban, with the Scottish elections coming up, if you hate the ban as much as I do, why not spoil your ballot paper by writing across it something like 'I HATE THE SMOKING BAN'. The Scottish Parliament is a homogenous collection of self servers anyhow and no matter how you vote it will do no more than give somebody a job doing nothing since it's ultimately a diddy team.
Vote Freedom To Choose Scotland!