Scottish autonomy: I was only asking

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by Dave Taylor

What a distance Scots have travelled towards independence in just a few short years!  Predictably, the BBC played down the significance of their TNS-BMRB poll, although Isabel Fraser did briefly point out that the so called Devo-max option went far beyond the proposals in the Scotland Bill.

The 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey paved the way by asking specific questions about where Scots thought control over taxation and welfare should lie, Holyrood, was the response; and where defence and foreign affairs should be decided, Westminster, they said.

Professor John Curtice summarised the results of that as: “Only when it comes to defence and foreign affairs do most people in Scotland draw the line at giving power and responsibility to Holyrood.”  However, most polls on the constitutional question have had a vague “middle option” loosely phrased as “more powers for the Scottish Parliament”, which might have meant “Devo-max”, or might have meant the Scotland Bill.

The poll for the BBC is the first to have spelt out what significantly “more powers”, short of independence, would mean:

“Transfer more powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, including tax and welfare but excluding defence and foreign affairs”

That’s worth looking at more closely.

The current reserved powers [1] include all kinds of things, but nothing as massive in domestic affairs as the raising of all taxes in Scotland, and the remaining aspects of the welfare state.

If two thirds of Scots want these matters to be handled by Scotland, separately from the rest of the UK, then there is little doubt that the lesser domestic issues such as the Supreme Court lording it over Scots Law, broadcasting, or the registration and funding of political parties, will not be matters for Westminster either.

All those who also want defence and foreign affairs returned to the Scottish Parliament, also want everything wanted by those who are not yet ready to embrace independence. So while there is no unanimity among Scots (Would we want there to be? We’re a thrawn bunch), 68% of Scots are united in wanting the effective destruction of the British state in all matters of domestic governance.

So who are these Scots? Are they divided in their views by age, gender, class, or geography?  Not much.

Taking the independence and “Devo-max” groups together the demographic breakdowns show a remarkable similarity.  We’ll ignore the don’t knows, a number of whom may well be temporary residents in Scotland and who don’t see it as their affair.

The lowest level of support among any identified group is 57%.  That’s us geriatrics aged 65 or more, followed by the C1s at 61%.

Social class AB, those in the Lothians, and those aged 55-64 are next least supportive with ‘only’ 63% in support of ending the domestic British state.

The 16-24 age group (interesting that TNS polled the 16-17 year olds) is at 65%, with those in East & South Scotland polling 66% in favour.

68% of both males and females support an autonomous Scotland, as do those living in the West (though 75% of Glaswegians do).

72% of those in the North prefer autonomy, as do those aged 25-34 – with their slightly older compatriots in the 35-44 age group at 73%.

With 74% of the DEs and 75% of the C2s in support, that leaves pride of place to the 35-44 year olds.  78% of them see the future as involving only, at most, a semi-detached relationship with Westminster.

The support for Scottish autonomy is overwhelming.  However, as we all know, Scots cannot force Westminster to reconstruct the UK constitution in the way that we want it.  They can refuse to play.

That was the situation with Slovakia.  The limited polling that was available prior to the Velvet Divorce with Czechia (that’s now the official “one word” name for the Czech Republic) indicated roughly a third for independence, a third for enhanced autonomy, and a third for the status quo.  While the Czechoslovak Government (different from the Czech Government – they weren’t as silly as the UK in having one Parliament which simultaneously legislated for Czechoslovakia and Czechia) tried to mediate, the Czechs simply didn’t want to accommodate Slovak demands.

However, only 36% of Czechs wanted the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.  Many wanted an “ever closer union”.

That’s not much different from the current view in England, according to the poll for the BBC.

Of those expressing an opinion in England, 51% want the status quo to continue. 31% would prefer that we buggered off, while only 18% would favour accommodating the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Scots.

The critical question for the third of Scots who would like to keep the ties with rUK in terms of defence and foreign affairs is: “What next, if Westminster isn’t prepared to negotiate to give you what you want?”  Do they say: “OK then, I was only asking.  I’ll dae whit I’m telt.” or “Independence it is then.”

On the answer to that question lies the future of our country.