Is Devo-Max just independence for wimps?

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By Kenneth McNeil
 
It is one of the big questions to be resolved before the referendum, one question or two?
 
It is still too early to know if a second question on devo max, or however you wish to describe it, will appear on the ballot but there are credible groups emerging who may be able to reach an agreement on the second question and propose it to the Scottish Government for inclusion.

By Kenneth McNeil
 
It is one of the big questions to be resolved before the referendum, one question or two?
 
It is still too early to know if a second question on devo max, or however you wish to describe it, will appear on the ballot but there are credible groups emerging who may be able to reach an agreement on the second question and propose it to the Scottish Government for inclusion.

But who really wants it and should they want it?

It is widely regarded as a fall-back position for the SNP.  That is logical.  If devo max emerges as the chosen option the SNP can claim, rightly, that they have greatly increased the powers of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament.  It keeps the question of full independence alive.

Some believe that the SNP is playing the devo max card in the belief that it won’t be deliverable and they can claim that they tried to meet the aspirations of the Scottish people but were thwarted. They can place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Unionist parties and the UK government.

Maybe so.

In theory the Labour Party and the Lib Dems should be rushing to back devo max.  There are those in the Labour Party who actually believe in greatly enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament and others who see it more politically as a way for Labour to get back on the front foot and have a positive message to put to the people.

For the Lib Dems greater powers is apparently party policy and the Steel commission recommended enhanced powers years ago.

The problem for both parties is that they can’t countenance anything that might make it look like they agree in any measure with the SNP.

Do we want it and should we?

Do we want it?  Doug Daniels has an excellent and thought provoking article on the subject on Bella Caledonia. 

Should we want it?  Devo max is still to be defined but most would agree that the ingredients are full fiscal autonomy, we raise all our own taxes and are responsible for our expenditure, and we are responsible for all areas of policy bar defence, foreign policy and perhaps social security.

For the supporters of DM this greatly increases our autonomy but leaves us the comfort blanket of the UK or still holding on to mum’s apron strings.  Is that really what we want?  Does that not betray a lack of confidence, a continued dependency culture, a fear of leaving our comfort zone?

Harsh? Maybe, maybe not.  Think about it, why would you leave these important policy areas in the control of Westminster?

Defence
The Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, most Scottish MSPs and MPs and the Scottish people are all against the Trident nuclear weapons system and having it parked on the Clyde.  Why leave that with Westminster?

Should you trust Westminster on defence anyway?   They have scrapped our early warning and spy in the sky Nimrod fleet and shut RAF Kinloss, they are shutting RAF Leuchars so we have no fighter/interceptor capability in Scotland and they are building aircraft carriers that will be floating football pitches for at least a decade until aircraft are ready to sail on them.

Foreign policy
We often disagree with UK foreign policy.  Iraq of course is the most powerful recent example.  An independent Scotland would not have participated in Blair’s folly and sent our servicemen and women to die in the vain search for WMD. 

Is a Scottish Government or parliament likely to find much common ground with the grandiose and pretentious policies of a faded colonial power that doesn’t know it is past its sell by date?

Social policy
Scotland has long been at odds with UK social policy.  It is probably one of the main areas where the Scots differ from their southern neighbours and where the difference in party voting patterns is emphasised.

The current reforms proposed by the UK Government are not popular in Scotland, though to be fair there is widespread opposition in England too.  So why would you favour devo max rather than independence and taking control of all these areas?

There are a couple of considerations to be sure.  There is the currency question.  With DM there is no argument about staying in Sterling.  But the reality is that the UK government can’t stop an independent Scotland using sterling or tying their own currency value to it.

EU membership is the other main bone of contention.  We have no definitive answer from the EU on this question, but everything suggests that Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be considered successor nations or at worst new members.  The EU is not going to stand in the way of our membership.

Unionist scaremongering about countries like Spain vetoing our membership because of their Basque/Catalan concerns are just that, scaremongering.  Apart from it being a dumb move for Spain both domestically and internationally, EU opinion is that a veto does not apply in this situation.

Some believe, as I do, that we should review our relationship with Europe in an independent Scotland but in the quite likely event of a Tory majority in 2015 it is possible a rampant right wing may force a referendum on EU membership.   Recent polls in England show a lot of support for this.    A devo maxed Scotland could find itself out of the EU whether it likes it or not.

So when you think about it what advantage has DM got over independence? 

The other big question which has not been addressed in any detail yet is, is it deliverable?

A vote for independence is definitive, it will happen.  You can line up a thousand judges to say it is illegal and it won’t make a whit of difference.  The will of the people, the right to self-determination, international law and the UN charter won’t be thwarted.

But does a vote for enhanced powers carry the same authority and what about the practical difficulties?

With DM we are still a devolved administration within the UK and it is the UK Parliament that holds the powers and it is the UK Parliament that decides what powers to devolve.

I’ve seen it suggested that we should seek an agreement with the UK Government to hold a single question referendum on the basis that if it is a no vote there should be another referendum on devo max.

Would the UK accept that?  Would you trust them to keep their word if they did?

A year after the referendum the UK general election could sweep a right wing Tory party, cock a hoop at seeing off the SNP, into power.  What chance of DM then?

There are practical difficulties too.  It will be a role reversal in financial terms.  Scotland raises all its own taxes and pays the UK for the services the UK provides.

So what happens when the Scottish Government says here’s the cash to pay for defence but we’re not contributing to Trident.  Or we don’t agree with your Social Security cuts so we are going to hold back funds to pay extra benefits ourselves.

Devo max leaves a lot of areas of uncertainty and ground for future disputes between the governments.

Is devo max a real alternative to independence, a don’t scare the horses political ploy or a crutch for a continuing Scottish cringe.

Devo max, independence for wimps?  You decide.