Devo Plus proposals “reinforce need for clarity” from anti-independence parties

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By a Newsnet reporter

A cross-party campaign has been launched in a bid at persuading Unionist opposition parties to adopt what is termed “Devo Plus” as an alternative to full independence.

The campaign, developed by the think tank Reform Scotland is headed by former Lib Dem MSP Jeremy Purvis and has backing from former Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, the Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson, as well as Labour’s Duncan McNeil.

The Devo Plus proposal is a watered down form of “Devo Max”, which is endorsed by members of Civic Scotland which includes Trade Unions, third sector bodies and former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish.

Devo Max would see all powers devolved to Holyrood, with the exception of defence and foreign affairs which would be left to Westminster.

However Devo Plus would also leave VAT, National Insurance, pensions and TV licensing in Westminster’s hands, like Devo Max, would allow Scotland a “geographical share” of oil revenues, although it is not clear whether Devo Plus would give Scotland control of the lucrative oil exploration licences.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the proposals, Jeremy Purvis hinted that the group would resist attempts to have the Devo Plus plan included on the ballot as an additional question in the independence referendum.

The anti-independence parties have argued that Scotland’s status within the Union can only be properly debated once the question of independence is off the table, the Devo Max group have confirmed that they will not push to have their option included on the referendum ballot.

Group member and former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alex Fergusson said:  “We believe very strongly that there’s an absolute requirement to have a single question on the ballot paper.”

Mr Fergusson’s support for the Devo Plus proposal puts him at odds with the Conservatives’ Scottish leader Ruth Davidson who described the Scotland Bill as a “line in the sand”.  The Bill has been widely condemned by experts as inadequate potentially damaging to Scotland’s economy.

The Lib Dems’ Tavish Scott also ruled out putting a question on Devo Plus to the voters of Scotland, saying that offers to put a devo plus option on the ballot paper were “a nationalist distraction”.   He added:  “I believe we should put the question of Scotland separating from the rest of the UK to the people of Scotland in a straight yes/no question.”

Critics have questioned this stance, and have accused the group of merely repeating David Cameron’s offer of “jam tomorrow”.  Writing in the Guardian, political commentator and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch said:  “If devo plus is such a handsome little lad, why don’t his many dads want an early appearance on the referendum ballot paper?  Why not equal treatment (and scrutiny) for every democratic option?”

The Devo Plus proposals are not officially supported by any of the anti-independence parties, and highlight the incoherence and inconsistency in the positions adopted by Unionist politicians.

A spokesman for Alex Salmond’s office responded to the launch of the Devo Plus proposals saying: “Scotland is in a process of independence, and we welcome this contribution to the debate on the need for substantial economic, financial and social powers for the Scottish Parliament.

“The devo plus launch reinforces the need for clarity, in place of the current confusion, about what ‘No’ in the referendum from the Tories and other anti-independence parties actually means.

“This information needs to be in the public domain well before the referendum.”