September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Parasitic wasps, further devolution and the Smith Commission

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 26 September 2014

There is a species of parasitic wasp called Glyptapanteles, found in Central and South America, which is able to manipulate caterpillars into doing its bidding. The female wasp lays eggs inside the caterpillar, which continues to function normally for about two weeks, until larvae burst out through its skin. Up to 80 of them.

At this point the caterpillar doesn’t actually die. In fact it then stands guard over the offspring of the wasp that stung it as they spin their pupae and turn into adults.

The caterpillar stops eating, instead spending its remaining days defending the baby wasps from predators. It is only when they fly away as adults that it eventually dies. No one is really sure how the wasp does it. 

But if parasites like Glyptapanteles are manipulators – there are plenty examples of cooperation too.

Sea anemones for example hitch lifts on the back of hermit crabs. They are best buddies – they go everywhere together. The anemone picks up the crumbs of food the crab drops and in return the crab gets protection from octopus and other predators, with the anemone using its stings to keep them at bay.

From bees and flowers, to cleaner fish feeding off sharks, or Nigel Farage feeding off human insecurities – complex relationships make the world go round.

And following the referendum, these relationships are more relevant than ever.

The main forces in UK politics have been invited to work together as part of the Smith Commission on further devolution. The Lib Dems were also invited.

And it will be interesting to see how the process moves along.

Because while previously in similar cross party exercises the SNP was accused of holding back negotiations for more powers, Nicola Sturgeon, set to take over the leadership, has stated that she will work for more devolution.

Announcing her candidacy for leader she said: “If I am elected to lead, I pledge today that the SNP and the Scottish Government will be full, active, genuine and constructive participants in that process of change, wherever it happens - in Holyrood, in meeting rooms and, most importantly of all, in discussions across Scotland.”

But there is still a sense that things may not run smoothly. In fact one of the Lib Dem members of the Smith Commission – Michael Moore MP – has already questioning the process.

Speaking at the Holyrood Breakfast Briefing yesterday Moore said: “I am struck by the fact that the English question is to get a full Cabinet sub-committee with William Hague and all the resources of the state put at its disposal, whereas Lord Smith of Kelvin – whose abilities I rate extraordinarily highly – gets two civil servants and a few weeks to do his job.”

Meanwhile former FM Henry McLeish described the idea of two weeks being enough time to consult with civil society as ‘a nonsense.’ Jim Sillars went further, warning the delegates that ‘there isn’t a hope in hell of further powers coming in this parliament.’

The parties will need to work together. The problem is that unlike the hermit crab and the anemone, the parties’ interests do not align. It is all a bit more predatory.

And while public pressure will demand that they are seen to make progress, their individual interests will pull them apart.

The SNP – which has said it will not call for another referendum until circumstances change – is likely to want more than the powers the other parties offer.

The party may find common ground with the Lib Dem plan for a federal system but the same cannot be said for the Conservatives, while Labour’s plans are further away still.

And the difficulty for the Better Together parties is that following the referendum, and a surge in membership, the SNP is now in a win-win situation.

If Scotland does not get more powers – as the public demands – then they will vote SNP. If Scotland does get more power, then the party gets a big chunk of what it wanted all along, with the likely prospect of more to come anyway.

So these guys are no hermit crabs. In fact it looks as though, having laid the basis for independence, the SNP can now relax as one way or another further powers will be delivered eventually.

Meanwhile those in Westminster may be feeling a bit stung, with their actions helping to guarantee the future of the SNP whatever happens.

Liam Kirkaldy