On Thursday 18th June 2015 the Centre for Scottish Public Policy held an evening in conversation with writer and broadcaster David Torrance.
You can read this story in multimedia format on Storify here.
Known as former First Minister Alex Salmond's 'un-appointed biographer', Torrance has published numerous books on Scotland's politics and constitutional debate, including Salmond: Against the Odds (2010), Battle for Britain: Scotland and the Independence Referendum (2013), and Nicola Sturgeon: A Political Life (2015). His most recent major press article was in The Guardian's 'Long Read', examining the roots of the SNP's political success.
The event took place in the convivial atmosphere of Henderson’s at St. John’s in Edinburgh, with a diverse audience attending. Those who came along were able to ask David about his analysis of political developments and the current constitutional debate in Scotland, as well as giving their own views and thoughts on the topics raised.
Those attending were welcomed by Professor Richard Kerley, Chair of the CSPP, who introduced David Torrance as a “consistently interesting, stimulating and incredibly well informed commentator on events in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom”.
Audience members asked a variety of questions on Scottish and UK public affairs, with the debate addressing Scotland’s constitutional future; the perceived crisis of Scottish unionism; the role of the SNP on the UK political stage; citizen engagement in the wake of the independence referendum; the functioning of the Scottish Parliament; the EU referendum, and many other issues.
On Scotland’s future, Torrance gave the opinion that the current Scotland Bill represents a “piecemeal, reactionary devolution offer”. Instead he said that for the longer term a “coherent constitutional settlement covering the whole of the UK” would be required as part of a “federal agenda”.
The author added that this could involve a written, federal constitution where the status of the UK’s devolved bodies was guaranteed in law. However, Torrance commented, “No one can pretend that a federal recasting of the UK would be easy or straightforward; it would be very difficult. But, on balance, it would be a lot better than the status quo, which is much messier in terms of a lopsided distribution of power, particularly within England”.
Torrance added that such a move to a federal UK would require addressing the distribution of power within England and reforming institutions such as the House of Lords. He continued by explaining that in Scotland and Wales the direction of travel toward federalism was much clearer, with the political discourse focused on gaining greater powers. However given the different debate on federalism within England, “stitching it all together into one settlement” would be challenge.
Audience members gave their views on this and the other issues mentioned in the conversation. A participant also asked David Torrance for his perspective of the possible political direction of travel in Scotland over the next decade, and whether Scottish independence is inevitable.
Torrance responded that while he could see the SNP’s political ascendency continuing, in his view the party would only hold another independence referendum if a Yes win was probable, with polls showing consistently high levels of support for independence. However, it is not clear when this would happen.
To conclude the evening, Richard Kerley thanked David Torrance and audience members for the interesting and wide-ranging discussion. Participants also gave David a warm applause.
The evening was the third “in conversation with” event the CSPP has held this year, the details of which you can read on our previous events page. Please check our upcoming events page or sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date about our upcoming activities and events.