Editorial: Bringing the decisions back where they belong

5th September 1997 at 01:00
The extraordinary outpouring of emotion following the death of Diana, Princess + of Wales, would have diverted attention from the devolution referendum campaign+ this week even if good sense had not made politicians respond immediately to + the public mood and cancel campaigning. Following the princess's funeral + tomorrow, what chance is there of the debate regaining momentum and of people + focusing attention on the decision put to them next Thursday?Time is too short,+ Tam Dalyell complains in company with some media commentators. It is true + that national leaders who were due to spend time in Scotland this week will now+ have any visits crammed in to three days, but that is no reason for claiming + that the electorate cannot make up its mind on the principle of a parliament + and on its tax-varying powers. We do not need Tony Blair and William Hague to + help us think. The general election campaign was criticised for being too long.+ The referendum campaign deals with issues debated by Scots for decades even + although southern commentators wake up to the arguments only occasionally. It + can hardly be argued that voters are unaware of the arguments for handing over + education to a Scottish legislature, or that the notion of a "tartan tax" is + novel. The referendum campaign is in many ways a rerun of issues raised during + the election, at least by the Conservatives and the SNP. (Labour and the + Liberal Democrats concentrated in April on education and health believing that + these were of greatest significance to voters.)Next Thursday will determine the+ importance people give to constitutional change. When asked by pollsters + whether they want a parliament, most say yes, but when asked to rank it among + issues vital to them it sinks well down the list. Therefore the risk remains of+ apathy at the ballot box, though paradoxically the lull in campaigning may + counter that. Voters will not have become so tired of a propaganda barrage and + of televised debates as in other circumstances.Optimistically, they will + return to first principles. The complaints of Sir Bruce Pattullo and a handful + of other business leaders are irrelevant to voters as well as to their own + businesses. It has been pointed out that the effects of unpredictable ups and + downs in mortgage rate charged by the Bank of Scotland and other lenders are + far greater than the extra income tax even if levied at the maximum by a + Scottish government. Far more important is bringing decision-making back to + Scotland. That is the crux of the debate. It is clearest cut in education, long+ administratively devolved but still entrusted to the whim of a majority of + non-Scottish MPs without knowledge or interest. It is time for boldness and a + fresh start.

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