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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 22:19 GMT
'Reality check' call for reviews
By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Anyone with even a passing interest in political events will have noticed a lot of excitement among the parties about Scotland's constitutional future.
(L to R) Nicol Stephen, Annabel Goldie, Sir Kenneth Calman and Wendy Alexander walking outside the Scottish Parliament
The pro-Union parties said the commision was the way forward

The case for independence, more powers for the Scottish Parliament, fewer powers for the Scottish Parliament etc ... has reached fever pitch, now that the two rival camps probing these meaty issues are well and truly set up.

These are the Scottish Government's "national conversation" and the Scottish Parliament-endorsed constitutional commission, launched 10 years after Scots voted for devolution.

So what are they offering - and what does it matter to the public-at-large?

First out of the trap was the national conversation.

Launched by First Minister Alex Salmond as the SNP was celebrating 100 days in power, the white paper set out the full range of constitutional options to be debated.

He used its launch to express his preference for independence but said he was open-minded on an alternative.

Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats said the document was purely about independence and building support for a referendum, however it was "dressed up".

Members of the public have been invited to send their views into the national conversation website - and they have done so in their thousands.

Scottish Parliament building
The constitutional commission was voted into being by MSPs

The constitutional commission has also promised to listen to voices from around Scotland and the UK, and backers claim it will succeed where the national conversation is flawed.

The concept, put forward by Labour, received the green light after it was backed by MSPs in a parliamentary vote.

Backed by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs, not the SNP.

The three Unionist (anti-independence) parties say the commission offers what the majority of people in Scotland want, discussion over beefed-up powers at Holyrood - not independence.

They also say that, unlike the national conversation, the Holyrood vote gave a proper mandate to the constitutional commission.

The SNP says its mandate for the national conversation came from the fact it won the Scottish election.

And the constitutional commission, to be funded by the Scottish Parliament and UK government, has not been without its internal problems.

Its chairman, the senior academic Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, insists it is an independent body which will not be pressurised by outside forces, ie Downing Street.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had earlier referred to it as a "review", now recognises it as a commission.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond said he had an open mind when it came to reform

And Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, who wants to consider handing devolved powers back to Westminster, has clashed with her Lib Dem opposite number Nicol Stephen, who does not.

So to which constitutional review should the public turn?

On the one hand there is the pro-independence Scottish Government version and, on the other, the parliament-endorsed commission, spearheaded by the pro-Union parties which will not consider independence.

Perhaps the last word should go to Holyrood's sole independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

She says both these ventures need a reality check, that, rather than talking about powers, they should be asking the public what they want, and then translate the responses into how that can be achieved.

Perhaps the parties will heed the lone voice who claims to speak for all.



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