The Great Debate – Let’s ditch this Federal diversion

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By Alex Robertson

There is something not quite right about the current independence debate.  As things stand, the range of options being discussed seems to boil down to three in number, accepting that the status quo is not an option, which I think it isn’t.

First is Devo Max, where all but defence, foreign affairs and some form of macro-economic policy is devolved to Edinburgh.

By Alex Robertson

There is something not quite right about the current independence debate.  As things stand, the range of options being discussed seems to boil down to three in number, accepting that the status quo is not an option, which I think it isn’t.

First is Devo Max, where all but defence, foreign affairs and some form of macro-economic policy is devolved to Edinburgh.  Second is some kind of Confederal structure, although the difference between that and Devo Max is pretty blurred.  Third is straightforward independence, where Scotland is a sovereign State, and has total control over all its affairs.

Discussion rages and roams over these three basic options, even though Whitehall/Westminster accepts only debate over the full independence option, and leaves the space between that and the status quo almost totally obscure.

The truth, it seems to me, is that Whitehall/Westminster is just not really interested in any federal or confederal system.  The appetite for constitutional reform is simply not there.  If it were, then some of the big beasts of Westminster would be talking about it.

Instead, it seems, the general strategy is to denigrate the idea of independence, scare and smear the proponents and supporters of full independence and face the issue down, thereby hoping to destroy for one or more generations the whole irksome matter.

Despite the Tories having being mauled to death by the Nats, and Labourites facing a similar fate in the near future, the Whitehall/Westminster mindset is that Scottish independence is a passing fad, a phase, that, if resisted and faced down, will pass and fade away, leaving them to get on with the status quo ante.

Talk of Devo max, confederalism and all its variants, actually suits Westminster quite well – anything to divide and rule the Nats.  But nobody in the Whitehall/Westminster village either wants or is seriously talking about it; it quite simply is not on offer.

Squaring the aspirations of nationhood, the hunger for sovereignty that is almost palpable in Scotland right now, with the realities of living as a sovereign country in a highly inter-related world, even continent, is not that difficult. 

Somehow the debate has got bogged down, bouncing between two ruts in the road.  Yet in the absence of any appetite whatsoever for a ‘drains-up’ on the constitution, I think what the Salmond government is trying to edge towards is a perfectly satisfactory solution.

Let’s start with Scotland having full sovereign control of its affairs, full independence.  Then let the Scottish government source the services it needs from its neighbours.

A Defence treaty arrangement involving Ireland, Scotland, and England … and the Nordic nations too if that is useful.  The same goes for foreign affairs – there is no reason why Scotland cannot negotiate Embassy space/representation with other countries.

In these ways, Scotland can achieve its goal of being inclusive, form collaborative deals with others, and yet retain full control of the decisions which deals to go for, and which not to. 

There is an “internal market” to be explored and exploited, to mutual advantage with partners, and Scotland wins all round.