‘Let’s call it Devo Max’

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Those were the words of Jackie Bird on September 9th, a mere 9 days before the independence referendum.
 
One day earlier Gordon Brown had surprised everyone by promising even more powers than was previously on offer should Scots vote No.  The former Labour leader described the prize as ‘Home Rule’ and announced a timetable within which legislation would be drawn up.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Those were the words of Jackie Bird on September 9th, a mere 9 days before the independence referendum.
 
One day earlier Gordon Brown had surprised everyone by promising even more powers than was previously on offer should Scots vote No.  The former Labour leader described the prize as ‘Home Rule’ and announced a timetable within which legislation would be drawn up.

The Better Together campaign was in turmoil and that weekend had just witnessed a shock new poll which put Yes ahead by 2 points – 51% to 49%.  Better Together’s own private polling, according to BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg, had put Yes further ahead on 53%.

The polling was enough to spook the No campaign, and a panicked Gordon Brown upped their offer.

When Jackie Bird then promoted the idea that Scots were now being offered Devo Max, Alistair Darling was only too happy to accept the Reporting Scotland presenter’s description of the new powers.  Darling then went on to tell viewers to the early evening news programme that legislation would be in place by November.

A pledge made in panic has now become an albatross around the neck of the three Unionist parties.

Alex Salmond was the first to signal the intention of the SNP to pursue Westminster over the Home Rule pledge.  The person widely expected to replace him as First Minister repeated the intent with language that left her opponents in no doubt that Scotland will not tolerate anything less than full honouring of the Brown/Darling pledge.

Yesterday, in her formal speech where she publicly announced her candidacy for the soon to be vacated role of leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Through Gordon Brown’s speaking we were told – with the authority of each of the parties in the Better Together campaign – The promise was clear and it was unmistakeable.

“This package would be ‘Home Rule’ and something near to federalism

“Well, let me say this to Westminster on behalf of Scotland – it had better be.

“If the UK parties move forward in that spirit, they will have, in me, a willing partner for progress.

“If not, they will pay a heavy political price – not because I say so but because the people of Scotland will make it so.”

Whether we call it, as Jackie Bird did, Devo Max or as Gordon Brown did Home Rule, one thing is now certain, the three Unionist parties are now suffering from one almighty post-indyref hangover and it will last until May next year when the UK general election takes place.

The SNP has been quick out of the traps and are already ensuring voters who voted No in the hope of more powers, do not forget what extra powers were pledged.

These are the voters Labour is trying to win back in Scotland, having lost them to the Yes Alliance parties.  But how will these voters react if, by the time of the UK general election, there is no sign of Home Rule or Devo Max?

It’s a major concern for the British Labour party who must wonder who really won the referendum as tens of thousands rush to join the SNP, Scottish Greens and the SSP.

Of course these former Labour voters will have to be educated as to the definition of Home Rule, or as it has come to be known in recent years … Devo Max, if the Yes Alliance parties are to ensure they do not return to the British Labour fold.

Jackie Bird of course knows what Devo Max is as does Alistair Darling, it has been defined for at least four years when the BBC covered the issue and commissioned a poll aimed at gauging electoral support.  Indeed a BBC programme on the subject highlighted the survey and also featured a pre-Better Together Alistair Darling warning that English voters would be none too happy.

Whether Bird, or her BBC Scotland colleagues, pursue Unionist politicians over the Devo Max/Home Rule pledge they themselves promoted, in the lead up to the next general election remains to be seen.  Make no mistake though, the Yes Alliance will and the issue looks set to be a defining one, perhaps eclipsing the NHS, in the run-up to May 2015.

Some independence supporters have expressed disquiet that the independence movement’s biggest political force should be openly calling for the pledge of Home Rule to be honoured.  We want full independence, they cry.

They fail to understand that should Home Rule be granted, then the leap to independence becomes a mere step.

Should the Home Rule pledge be ditched, then as Nicola Sturgeon says, the Unionist troika “will pay a heavy political price” and a second referendum may await.