More on Scotland and devo max

I propose the following basic elements in a new constructive policy on Scotland for the Labour Party:

1. Scottish independence, just as much as devo max, will (or would) require the collaboration of the Westminster government, with whom its terms and practical application would have to be negotiated. It’s a myth that Scotland could simply take independence on its own terms without the government of the rest of the UK (“rUK”) having a major say in, for example, the division of assets and liabilities as between the two countries.

2. It is very much in the interests of all concerned, independentistas and unionists alike, that when the Scots come to vote in the autumn of 2014, they have a reasonably detailed knowledge of the implications of both independence and devo max.  Work should begin without delay on negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster, ideally on an all-party basis, to find as much common ground as possible about what either independence or devo max would entail. Any agreement on the implications of a vote for either would necessarily be provisional, with final decisions on all the issues deferred until the result of the referendum is known. If broad provisional agreement between all concerned could not be reached by the time of the referendum, both sides would need to publish an account of the negotiations, so that voters in the referendum would have a reasonably clear idea of the positions of the two governments and other parties, and the nature of the issues that would need to be resolved if the result turned out to be a majority for either independence or devo max.

3. The referendum is most unlikely to result in a majority vote for the status quo. As between independence and devo max, those who wish to avert the disintegration of the United Kingdom have a strong interest in encouraging a vote for devo max. The best hope of securing that result lies in a decision by the UK Labour Party, including the Scottish Labour Party, to give full support to devo max and to collaborate with the SNP and other Scottish supporters of devo max in working out which additional powers a Labour government at Westminster would agree to devolve to Scotland in the event of the referendum confirming majority support for devo max. If the Conservative and Lib Dem parties could also be persuaded to support devo max, so much the better. But at least Labour should do so, whatever the other parties decide. Labour, after all, is the father of devolution and should recognise its merits – or at worst accept that devo max would be the least damaging outcome of the referendum.

4. Both independence and devo max would have huge implications for rUK (the rest of the UK). The unionist parties should begin now to develop their policies for dealing with either a UK without Scotland, or a UK in which Scotland would be to all intents and purposes fully internally self-governing. In the latter case, full self-government for Scotland would inevitably prompt demands for the same status for England (which would require the creation of a separate parliament and government for England) and for Wales and Northern Ireland. This would take several years to achieve. The result would be the creation of a federation of the four UK nations, with all the institutional and legal safeguards required by a federal system. Such a radical change in the relationships between the four nations, and between the nations and the federal centre at Westminster, could well inaugurate a revival of the politics and constitution of Britain, to the benefit of everyone. Scottish independence, on the other hand, could well spell disaster for rUK. It is questionable whether the three remaining UK nations could form a viable federation, even if, as seems unlikely, the secession of Scotland were to prompt a desire for one.

5. There is not the slightest reason to suppose that devo max for Scotland would signal the beginning of the end for the UK. Scottish devo max would not be likely to turn out to be a stepping stone to full independence: quite the reverse. The full internal self-government enjoyed by, for example, California or New South Wales is not regarded in either state as a preliminary to independence from the rest of the United States or Australia. Indeed, the opposite is the case. The completion of the devolution project in Scotland could well pave the way to the completion of devolution in rUK and the establishment of a durable, democratic federal system, as suggested in (4) above.

6. Devo max for Scotland would not mean that Scotland’s MPs at Westminster would only be able to vote on foreign affairs issues. The Westminster parliament, already a quasi-federal organ, would have roughly the same powers in respect of Scotland as the federal government of the United States has in relation to California or Massachusetts. No one regards these powers and responsibilities as trivial.

[The writer and commentator Gerry Hassan has posted an interesting and thought-provoking article about the Scottish Question in the Open Democracy website forum, provocatively entitled ‘Historic day for the UK:  Salmond consults Scotland but can’t civilise Paxman‘. This has prompted a number of equally interesting responses, some of which however reflect surprising misconceptions. This post first appeared, with some minor editorial changes, as my own comment on Mr Hassan’s article and on some of the responses to it.]

17 Responses

  1. i albion says:

    In or out ! nothing else if the Scots want  “freedom” Devo max is a no no.
    It is called having their cake and eating  all the rest! 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. Accusing the Scots of wanting to have their cake and eat it is just a sour way of acknowledging that some Scots very sensibly want the best of both worlds. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? If devo max for the Scots enables them to enjoy the benefits of internal self-government without endless meddling and nanying from Westminster, combined with the benefits of remaining within the UK, why on earth should they not have it? If the English were to be prodded by this into asking why we can’t enjoy the same double benefits, we might at last see some progress.

  2. Pete Kercher says:

    You make a serious and intelligent set of proposals, Brian, which, as you well know, is exactly why they are likely to be ignored. After all, we can’t have the masses getting the idea that they can indulge in calm, mature decision-making, can we? No, far better to fill them to the gills with Big Brother and other such TV trash and them egg them on to vote in utter ignorance, on the basis of spurious emotional concerns. Such, I fear, is the method of crowd control that has been given the misnomer of democracy in our modern societies. And such, I fear, is likely to be the basis of most voting in Scotland’s referendum.

    To change tack a little: it happens that I am currently reading Virtual History, edited by Niall Ferguson, which contains an interesting essay by Alvin Jackson investigating various very serious counterfactual hypotheses for the process of the parting of the ways between the 26 counties of the Irish Free State and the (rest of the) UK from 1912 to the mid-20s. While there are obviously major differences (a thankful absence of religious issues and of a vociferous Unionist movement and a strong Nationalist movement, neither of which immune to the lure of violent direct action), there are however some interesting analogies, including the very real hypothesis, already mooted one hundred years ago, that Irish Home Rule could well have been the first step towards a federalisation of the UK. Would it not be wise to study how things unfolded in that case, at least so as to understand how dynamics can influence and even take over developments, often unexpectedly?

    One comment to your point 3). I have no doubt that the Labour Party is indeed the father of devolution in practice, having introduced it, but as I recall from long ago, the topic was anathema to centralist Tories and Labour alike at a time when it was loudly championed by the Liberal Party under Jeremy Thorpe. How times change!

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Pete. I’m a shade less sceptical than you about the capacity of our democracy for managing constructive change, but equally pessimistic about the chances of any of my proposals being adopted by the Labour party or any other part of the political establishment. Very few of our political leaders south of the border seems able to look beyond tomorrow’s Daily Mail editorial, still less beyong the next election. But we have to believe that in the end something may be achieved if we keep on plugging away at the issues and their potential solutions.

    I agree that we should be looking at the only near-precedent, the secession from the UK of most of Ireland. Despite the major differences, there may well be lessons to be learned from that experience. We should also be looking at successful democratic federations around the world — the US, Canada, Australia, Germany — and the constitutional status of (e.g.) the Channel Isles, the Isle of Man, and the remaining UK dependencies which enjoy varying kinds of internal self-government while retaining their organic link with the rest of the UK, to see what we can learn from them. The need really is for a Royal Commission to do the research on all these analogues and to draw suggested conclusions from them. But with 24-hour news channels and two-minute news clips and raucous tabloids demanding instant sensations to feed their headlines, we suffer from a kind of national attention deficit disorder and can’t wait while patient research reminds us of the lessons of the past and the experience of other coun tries in the present, both positive and negative. We shall have to make our own mistakes all over again, and wind up inventing the wheel — if we’re lucky.

  3. Aberdeen Angus says:

    @i albion

    You are quite wrong. Under devo max, The Barnett formula would go and Scotland would be required to raise all the taxation that it spends itself. It would restore the negative feedback loop between spending and taxation thus making the Scottish government accountable for the money it spends. What’s not to like about that? 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. Your comment seems a little confused. If you read my post more carefully, you’ll see that I favour devo max, I don’t condemn it. You confidently predict what devo max will involve, but until the details of additional devolution to Scotland have been worked out and negotiated between the parties and governments, it’s impossible to say what the fiscal implications would be. It’s likely to wind up as Calman Plus. If Barnett goes and is replaced by a transfer payment based on need, with North Sea oil revenues continuing to accrue to the UK as a whole, there’ll be plenty of scope for the economists to argue about whether either Scotland or the rest of the UK will be better or worse off. No-one is in any position to make that calculation now, even if he or she is blessed with the gift of prophesy and able to forecast future oil price movements. I envy you your confidence in declaring me “quite wrong”. I note, without complaint, that you post your comment under a pseudonym, as is your right.

  4. Junius says:

    While I can see the positives for Scotland for a Devo Max outcome – I cannot see any positives for the English. 

    There will be no politicians at Westminster determined to get the best outcome for the people of England in negotiations – there are of course no English MP’s;  only British ones.  Under those circumstance while ‘I Albion’ puts it a little starkly, he does have a point.  Without a clear spokesperson for the other nation in the original union (England) the option can only be In or Out –  If the Scots decide the answer is OUT then, and only then can the British MP’s at Westminster negotiate with the Scots as an Independent nation with the remainder of the British State.

    An English Parliament is the only solution if they decide the want to stay IN; Equal devolution in a federated system is the only fair and just outcome –  and the argument that it would be too expensive and create too many extra politicians falls on its face when you consider that the ones doing the arguing are also the biggest proponents of regionalisation – how many layers will that add and at what cost? 

    Somehow Brian, I don’t think you do my idea of ‘fair and just’! 

    Brian writes: I’m afraid I can’t identify with much of this. Why must there be ‘positives for the English’? This is a matter of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK: it’s for the Scots to decide their future, and if they decide to quit, that’s obviously their right, and ‘positives for the English’ are neither here nor there. As for your assertion that “there are of course no English MP’s; only British ones”, that seems an excellent example of the curious use in certain circles of the term “of course” to lend a spurious cogency to an obvious untruth (“America is of course a police state”, where “of course” equates to “not”). There are as a matter of indisputable fact a large number of English MPs, of course; they are elected to a United Kingdom parliament, not an English one, and their first duty is to the United Kingdom, not to England. For MPs representing English constituencies to seek advantage (“positives”) for the English at the expense of the freedom of the Scots to determine their own destiny would be worse than petty and blinkered: it would be a gross dereliction of their duty to their country as a whole, including Scotland.

    Anyway, this issue ought not to be seen as some kind of zero sum game in which any change that’s good for the Scots is by definition bad for the English (and the Welsh and Northern Irish). If our political leaders and elected representatives can see beyond the end of their noses, they will be searching for solutions that will be ‘positive’ for all parts of the UK. The completion of devolution for Scotland would meet that criterion very precisely, although you’d never know it to hear what D Cameron, N Clegg and E Miliband say about it.

    I’m sorry if you “don’t think [I] do [your] idea of ‘fair and just'”, but despite re-reading your parting shot several times, I still have no idea what you mean. How do you do an idea? Perhaps in the way that Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair famously didn’t “do God”?

  5. Pete Kercher says:

    I am glad that you are less sceptical than me, Brian: somebody has to be! That said, however, your quip about the next day’s Daily Mail editorial does tend to reinforce my point!

    I do believe that Ireland is a special case that can teach us more about the present Scottish situation than others such as Australia, Canada or Germany. These latter were created ex novo as federations between equal partners, while the UK, as ever, I’m afraid, appears to be incapable of doing things in any even remotely tidy, organised or sensible manner, preferring to retrench behind tradition and attempt to stave off the onward march of time, thereby losing bits as it goes. A couple of images come to mind: one is Canute and the tides, another a baglady (personifying England and the Little Englander mentality) desperately grabbing at her ragged appurtenances as they are gradually detached by the elements of nature.

    As native, though long an outsider to the UK, often bemused by its arcane methods and mindsets, I am fascinated by the case argued by Junius and find it to be an example of the English tendency to prefer to stave off history. To a dispassionate reader from abroad (I have no axe to grind either way and am actually very fond of Britain with all its quaint mediaeval foibles), here is what it boils down to:

    We English have not managed to get our act together to create a viable dialogue partner for you Scots (i.e. a Parliament of our own). As a result, we cannot allow you to have the choice of what might possibly be your best option (devo max). The only way WE (England) can get what we need (i.e. our own Parliament), is if YOU (Scotland) kindly turn down your own best interests (devo max) to do us a favour (after all you owe it to us!), because “An English Parliament is the only solution if they decide they want to stay IN”.

    I’m sure there is some logic in that somewhere, but if so, it is of a kind that seems to assume implicitly (and maybe subconsciously) that the rest of the world – and that now includes Scotland, as it prepares to loosen the apron strings – is essentially there to do England’s bidding.

    Truly, it is hardly surprising if there is a build-up of resentment north of the border!

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Pete. It’s a nicely idiosyncratic and therefore helpfully suggestive way of looking at it. But I’m not sure that I accept your image of a gradual inevitable process of English shrinkage as more and more bits fall off — first the United States, then the Dominions, then India, and so on through Kenya and Fiji and all the many others, until now Scotland gracefully (or otherwise) peels off as well, leaving only Northern Ireland, pretty tenuously attached anyway; Wales; the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man; to be followed according to this determinist view by Cornwall, north-east England, the midlands…? Whatever the Scots decide they want, they must certainly have — they can’t be kept in the Union against their will, nor can they be denied the right to take responsibility for governing themselves within a quasi-federal or fully federal UK if they opt for that. But there’s no need to regard either of those outcomes as part of an irresistible process; our aim must surely be to accept whichever result the Scots choose and to take advantage of it to create a more democratic and more durable and more constructive relationship between the various peoples of the British Isles, whatever their precise constitutional status.

  6. Tim Weakley says:

    Pete Kercher: Canute wanted to demonstrate to his flattering courtiers that his jurisdiction didn’t extend to the tides.  That is, if it happened at all.

  7. Pete Kercher says:

    Precisely, Tim Weakley: he wanted to demonstrate that certain things, such as the laws of nature that govern the tides, cannot be controlled by fiat. That also applies, by analogy, to attempts to stave off the passage of time. As Brian has pointed out, England’s Unionist parties are simply grasping at emotional straws and refusing to realise that this is 2012, not 1707, when Scotland’s decision-makers could be bullied, cajoled and bribed into doing London’s bidding. Times change and politicians ought to try to keep up, or at least show willing.

  8. Pete Kercher says:

    Brian, I’m sure you recognise the hand of the advocatus diaboli in my extreme scenario. In actual fact I share your opinions in this regard and really hope that the Scots will be allowed to choose what they perceive to be best for them, triggering a truly federal arrangement in the UK as a whole. But I believe that worst-case scenarios need to be painted, as I fear that England’s politicians are otherwise treading a rather arrogant (and notably stupid) path of unnecessary antagonism. For once, history can teach us some lessons in this respect, so I find myself wondering why so many supposedly responsible decision-makers persist in being so crassly amateurish… yet again! When will they learn that the world is a tad more serious than playing games on the fields of Eton?

    Would that England had more level-headed people like you!

  9. Junius says:

    I do not like the way in which you tend to sneer at those that do not agree with you, it is not a pleasant trait, but one I am finding increasingly prevalent in the present debate.  I suspect that I am old enough to be you mother, so kindly mind your manners.

    And Pete … research the term’Little Englander’ will you before you try to use it a pejorative-  and I have to say that I absolutely adore the ‘ragged appurtenances as they are gradually detached by the elements of nature’ … but then I am a fan of turgid Victorian melodrama.
    The topic was Devo Max – and while I can see that there are positive outcomes for the Scots in that decision my question still stands what positive outcomes are there for the English; If the Scots choose the Independence option that is indeed their choice; and the only thing to discuss would be the terms of the divorce , It may in those terms there may be issues that are not in the best interest of the people of England so why would they be of no importance?
    Regarding the Westminster Members, you made my argument but seemed to miss the point.  The MP’s sitting in English seats do so as British MP’s, even though they sit as representatives of the English people in those constituencies; which is why there is of course no English MP’s, merely British Ones;  I can see no indication that any of them would place the interests of their constituents above that of the state; (and please don’t quote Burke at me, it is tiresomely taken out of context).
    Further you state “For MPs representing English constituencies to seek advantage (“positives”) for the English at the expense of the freedom of the Scots to determine their own destiny would be worse than petty and blinkered: it would be a gross dereliction of their duty to their country as a whole, including Scotland.”
    Since I said that the only time the positives, advantages or even ‘rights’ of the English should be of importance would be if the Scots chose to remain within the union with greater powers – Devo Max – your emotion charged rhetoric is unnecessary. 

    You seem very passionate about the right of the Scots to determine their own future, but far less so about that same right for the English … in what way have the people of England forfeited those basic rights pertaining to self-government and fair representation?
    What is good for the Scots need not be bad for the English – but I have no faith in the present set of politicians not to sacrifice what is best for the English in order to retain the Scots. If it is good for the Scots to have a separate devolved Government; why would it not be good for the English to have a devolved government?  Why is it considered unobjectionable for England to be the only country without a national government?  What justification can you provide for the fact that all other parts of the UK – all with their own national assemblies – legislate for England?  Why are you not outraged that politicians who cannot be held accountable are able to impose on England, legislation which has been roundly defeated in their own parliament?
    And as for the colloquialism ‘you don’t do ‘fair and just’’, well language is always changing so I’ll translate courtesy of my grandchildren; it means you don’t understand or agree with the idea I put forward as a ‘fair and just’ solution to the anomalies of the present constitutional arrangement.

    I think you forget that regardless of just how well you regard your superior intellect, it will be the common lot at the ballot box that will drive this debate … Orwell would recognise the irony of it all.
    By the way, It appeared that Tony Blair did indeed ‘Do God’ – so he was a liar as well as a fool.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, ‘Junius’. But you really shouldn’t interpret disagreement with your arguments, or exposure of their defects, or evidence that you have misunderstood what others are saying, as ‘sneering’. Those who post in the blogosphere original material or comments on the material posted by others must expect to encounter disagreement and correction occasionally, as I do and as other bloggers do — and you may notice that I do it under my own name. Nor should you accuse those who disagree with you of showing a lack of respect: if I didn’t respect your points of view, I wouldn’t bother to respond to them. As for the respect due to your grand old age, I can only say that if you’re really old enough to be my mother, you must be well over 100 years old (unless you started very young!), in which case I congratulate you.

    On the substance of your further comment, I need only point out that so far from denying the right of England to its own parliament and government, and to enjoy the benefits of devolution just as the Scots now do, and to claim the right to devo max for the English whether or not the Scots opt for it and get it — I have actually campaigned on this blog and elsewhere, including in many national newspapers, for the completion of the devolution project in all four UK nations, including England, and including a parliament and government for England. I have also made it clear in this post as well as earlier posts that either independence for Scotland or devo max would entail a detailed negotiation of the terms of the change in which the government of the rest of the UK (‘rUK’) and indeed all the rUK political parties would have a vital role in ensuring that the move to independence or to devo max would be carried out in a way that would protect and advance the rights and interests of the whole United Kingdom — both Scotland and rUK. I have consistently advocated devo max for Scotland if that’s what the Scots want, not only because they are entitled to it if they want it, but also in the hope that it would prompt demands for devo max for England and the other two nations of rUK. Devo max for all four nations would mean a federal United Kingdom, for which I have been arguing for years. I suggest, respectfully of course, that before going into print again here you might care to re-read my post and my many earlier posts on the subject. Otherwise you risk wasting your own time and effort throwing darts at propositions that no-one here is actually advancing — and then, inevitably, missing!

  10. Pete Kercher says:

    Thanks for the tip, Junius. Restricting my research (rather lazily, I admit) to Wikipedia, I found this:
    “Little Englander is an epithet applied in criticisms of English people who are regarded as “xenophobic” and/or overly nationalistic and are often accused of being “ignorant” and “boorish”. It is applied to opponents of globalism; for instance those who are against membership of the European Union. English people who mistakenly refer to the whole of the UK or Britain as “England”, or who routinely fail to give the opinions of non-English British citizens any importance, may also be called “Little Englanders”.”
    That of course is the usage I made of the term. But the article then goes on like this:
    “Historically, and more accurately, the term indicated an anti-imperialist political stance dating from the time of the Second Boer War (1899–1902). The term then designated people who were against the British Empire and for “England” to extend no further than the borders of the United Kingdom. For example, Arthur Ponsonby wrote of the Liberal Party leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s reputation for his opposition to the Boer War: “The impression one got of him from the Press in those days was… that he was an unpatriotic Little Englander”.[1] It has come to recently describe people who wish to break up the United Kingdom and for England to be an independent nation.”
    Which tends to put a different nuance on it.
    Either way, I have to say, the accent is nevertheless on being somewhat inward-looking, thus making my usage of it not 100% off target.
    By the way, if you favour a national Parliament or Assembly for England, to match those of Scotland, Wales and NI, then I think you will find that you are on the same wavelength as Brian, who argues consistently for a full federal arrangement for the UK. I myself have been supporting this approach for a mere 40-odd years. Of course, if you are old enough to be Brian’s mother, I admit that 40 years may seem like a blink of the eye…

  11. Geoff, England says:

    Re: Pete Kercher.  “[You] find [yourself] wondering why so many supposedly responsible decision-makers persist in being so crassly amateurish…yet again!”  I’m sure you’ve heard the maxim that professional politicians make for amateur politics.  I agree with you totally that England (and the Union in general) could use a few more sensible and level-headed people like Mr Barder.  That way, we’d have some fairness, not to mention legislation that has been thought through carefully, rather than having drawn up on the back of the proverbial envelope. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for these very kind remarks, Geoff and Pete. What else can I say?

  12. Brian says:

    This blog post has been re-published by the website LabourList where it has evoked over 30 comments, including my responses to those which raise legitimate doubts and questions. The blog post and the comments on it amount almost to a seminar on Scotland’s future, mainly through English eyes. Ephems readers interested in this post may be moved to add their own comments and questions over at LabourList: please do visit

  13. D.I.D. says:

    Agree with what you say in principle, but I would want to wait and see what the determined substance of “devo-max” turns out to be before casting all eggs into this one basket.

    For a federal arrangement to work and remain cohesive in the long term there has to be a minimum of power at the centre, even in the most decentralized systems. If Salmond manages to negotiate a “devo-max” arrangement that involves no tax revenue to Westminster and control of all affairs aside from foreign affairs and defense (as is the model for most British Overseas Territories, or “independence-minus”) then any attempt to negotiate a long-lasting federal arrangement would necessitate bringing some powers back to Westminster, which would of course be a non-starter and would likely fan the flames of dissolution among not only Scots but the English, North Irish, and Welsh as well. Extreme decentralization to Holyrood could also make the Westminster establishment dig in its heels even further and become more recalcitrant to the thought of giving England the same degree of devolution for fear that it will be left with next to no power.
    In my admittedly amateur opinion, the best mid-term compromise would be to offer Holyrood the underpinnings of essential autonomy, such as broad taxation capabilities (and the attatched responsibilities, as Aberdeen Angus mentioned) and virtually any issue of local or national significance as the “devo-max” scheme, while at the same time allowing room for either the granting of additional powers when the negotiations for a federal constitution begin or a new status quo federalism that would satisfy public opinion, nationalist and unionist alike in all of the UK’s Home Nations. 

    There is no doubt that Alex Salmond is a shrewd operator, and that his major political goal is the independence of Scotland. While like any good democrat worth his salt he will not refuse the clearly expressed wishes of his fellow Scots, he could very well be setting the stage for a ‘back door’ exit from the Union if he gets “independence-minus” versus “devolution-max”. If he is allowed to bring “independence-minus” instead of “devolution-max” to Holyrood, this could doom the federal plan from the get go because once England receives her grant of autonomy on par with Scotland’s, N Ireland’s and Wales’, this will leave Westminster with effectively nothing and thus no way to build public loyalty to the project of the greater union. The last thing the federalists should want – and the best thing that the SNP will want – is a situation where they will be asking to recentralize power. That, I fear, would be the final nail. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this interesting comment. The trouble is that at present no political party in Britain supports or even contemplates as possible a federated UK as the long-term goal; certainly no-one in the Westminster village is thinking about the formulation or the outcome of the Scottish referendum in the context of how it might affect an eventual federation. The risk at present is not that devo max will entail devolving such extensive new powers to Holyrood that some will have to be clawed back when a federation is established: on the contrary, the risk is that Westminster will only agree to such limited further devolution that a disgusted and disillusioned Scottish electorate will give up on England and the UK, and vote for full independence. And that would mean goodbye to any thought of federation on any terms. You can’t go wrong by overstating the propensity for short-sighted bone-headedness on the part of our UK political leaders. Perhaps we should try to persuade Alex Salmond to defect to England.

  14. Pete Kercher says:

    With respect, D.I.D., I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, in the attempt to ensure that the stable door is bolted before said horse bolts (metaphors are mixed intentionally). Unless I’ve misunderstood everything here, no simple referendum question can specify the detailed points of exactly what devo max might be, if and when the time comes. At most, this debate now is about wheter there can be such an option as a third way. Though your points are not unfounded, I believe they belong to the sphere of the negotiation that has to come after what can, after all, only be an exploratory referendum.

  15. D.I.D. says:

    It may be indeed an exploratory referendum Pete, but it would untenable for the powers that be to ignore its outcome and act contrary to it.

    From what I am reading – and of course feel free to correct me if I am mistaken – it seems that the chances of devo-max appearing on the referendum ballet are very high. Even if it is a two-choice ballot, it seems to me that the choices are likely going to be “more powers” or “independence” rather than “independence” or “status quo”. As Brian has stated, it is actually in the interests of both unionists and separatists/sovereigntists to have “status quo” taken off the ballot altogether because it is so unpopular.
    I’m merely stating that before the referendum occurs, both Westminster and Holyrood should have a consensus on what exactly devo-max is, because Salmond will of course come demanding maximum possible autonomy (independence-minus) in the event on an overwhelming “yes” vote for more autonomy and he would then be in the advantegeous position to argue that any reservations made by Westminster would be “contrary to the expressed wishes of Scotland”. Although you are correct that the fine details of a devo-max agreement cannot be put into a referendum question, the two governments should have an idea on what that is if simply to avoid writing Salmond a blank cheque. It is for the sake of the later negotiations that Scots know approximately what it is they are voting for, if devo-max is one of the options available on the ballot.

  16. Pete Kercher says:

    Yes, I agree, it would make sense to have at least an idea. And the stronger the case/demand for some form of devo max, I suspect the stronger will be the need for that to be defined, at least in its basic outlines.
    I think the sensible scenaro would be to define it in terms recognisable from other countries, as Brian has suggested. Gwermany would be the most obvious analogy, as its postwar organisation and economy have rather more in common with a potential federal UK than the USA or Canada, but I’m afraid that British insularity and leftover wartime prejudices would utomaticlaly rule that option out.
    If the UK level is to maintain responsibility for foreign affairs, defence and other macro areas that belong best at federal level, then it will require a substantial amount of taxation and retain considerable power. Again, the German model is more suitable than the USA for this.
    Whatever is chosen, though, I agree with you, D.I.D., that the growing case for abandoning the status quo calls for more definition of the alternatives, even before a consultative vote and even though it can only indicate which is the way that Scottish voters would like to see things move forward.

  17. Brian says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that ‘the status quo’ should be left off the referendum ballot paper.  On the reasonable assumption that by the time of the referendum the current Scotland Bill, transferring further devolved powers to Scotland, will have become law and will thus have become the ‘status quo’ when the referendum takes place, I envisage that there will be two questions on the ballot paper. Question 1 will be a straight choice between yes and no to independence. Question 2 will offer a choice between the status quo and Devo Max in the event of a majority vote against independence in question 1. It will be made clear that the votes on question 2 will not be counted if there is a majority in favour of independence in the votes on question 1.

    For the votes to be at all meaningful, the fullest possible implications of both independence and Devo Max will need to have been worked out and published following negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments, even if it proves impossible to reach full agreement on all aspects of both options before the referendum. Any points of disagreement should be published before the referendum, with a description of the points of view of both sides. Otherwise the Scottish people will be forced to buy a pig in a poke and it will be impossible to be sure that the results of the referendum are an accurate expression of the wishes of the Scottish electorate.