This wasn’t originally going to be the third in this series, but I felt the need to put it out there now, so here it is – Myth #3: The majority of Scots want Devolution Max.
I know what you’re thinking – “all the opinion polls say it’s the most popular option” – but it isn’t; not really, anyway, and that’s why it’s a myth. Present people with two options out of the blue, and they’ll go for the one that is closest to the status quo. Present them with three, and they’ll go for the one in the middle. Staunch unionists vote to stay in the union, just as staunch nationalists vote for independence. Everyone else, who doesn’t think that strongly either way, plumps for the middle option. I’m deliberately calling it “the middle option” rather than “devo max”, because it isn’t devo max they’re voting for. How could it? We don’t know what it is yet. Perhaps we never will. But it sounds nice and cuddly, so that’s why people go for it – a bit of change, but not too much.
So is this me laying down my guns (well, laptop) already? No chance. Independence will win, because we have more passion than those who wish for the status quo, but also because there will be no third option on the referendum. We won’t know this for sure until later though, and this is the genius of the SNP’s campaign. Yes, they’re leaving the door open to people to get an intermediate option on the paper, but it’s also ensuring that the debate doesn’t get polarised too soon between independence versus the union. We would still win if this was the case, but it would be more difficult. However, the next few months (maybe a year or so?) will see civic Scotland debating not if we want change, but how much change we want. The idea of being responsible for both revenue and expenditure, and whatever else devo max will entail, will be planted in the minds of people, and as anyone who has watched Inception as many times as me knows, once that idea is planted in your head, it’s impossible to get out. Therefore, by the time devo max is ruled out of appearing on the referendum, people will be in the mood for change, and there will be only one option offering that – independence.
Now, this isn’t as Machiavellian as it sounds. I’m not saying the SNP are going to go “aha! We were lying all along about putting devo max on the paper!” But as has already been quite well established – and I’m amazed it isn’t pointed out more often – the SNP does not have the authority to deliver devo max. Devo max can only be delivered by the government in Westminster, so the Scottish Government can hold a referendum, get a vote for Devo Max, and then get told to “do one” by Westminster (in which case the SNP will win an even bigger majority in the 2016 election, hold a straight yes/no referendum quickly, and get a resounding “yes” vote, thus delaying independence by a mere two years). This is why the option can only be put on the referendum with the backing of one of the other three parties. But none of them are prepared to do so because they fear a) it is another step on the road to independence and b) Scottish MPs will have so little Scottish matters to vote on that they’ll have to go part-time to avoid the West Lothian question becoming unanswerable within the union. So instead they will ignore it completely, thinking it is the only way to save the union (as well as their jobs and future peerages), completely oblivious to the fact that the union is already dead – it’s just on a life support machine and nationalists, cruel beings that we are, just want to stop putting off the inevitable and pull the plug, for everyone’s sake.
This is even supposing a coherent vision of devo max comes out of the consultation process. Once people start debating what should and shouldn’t be handled by the Scottish Government, it’s going to be pretty difficult to think of anything that should be left at Westminster:
“Yeah, but what about Trident? Whatever the result of the referendum, the removal of Trident from Scottish waters has to be one of the outcomes.”
“Pensions and benefits?”
“But look at what the Tory-Lib Dem coalition are doing to them, and Labour have just confirmed that they won’t reverse any of their changes. If there’s one thing we need to control, it’s our welfare system.”
“Dunno like, Salmond and co have done a far better job of representing Scotland on the world stage than Cameron recently. What about the EU? Can we really afford to leave that in Tory hands?”
“But we can’t devolve that, it would require full independence to get control of that. Hmmm…. Actually, this is looking remarkably like full independence anyway…”
“What about the DVLA?”
(Cue collective *facepalm* from everyone round the negotiating table.)
So the polls that indicate devo max is the most popular choice do not really mean people want devo max – it just means they want some sort of change, they’re just not sure what yet. They know the status quo no longer works, but they’re not sure how to replace it and devo max sounds like a safe alternative. But we have a two and a half year campaign in front of us, a campaign that will finally banish the ridiculous myths being highlighted in Bella (and elsewhere), and with them, banishing the fear of the unknown. We’re already seeing it with unionists backtracking on so many things already (“You can’t have the pound!” “Yes we can.” “Well okay, we can’t actually stop you, but, but, but…”), and it’s only a week and a half since the apostrophe-deficient #itsstarting hashtag turned into the apostrophe-deficient #itsstarted hashtag. In 2014, the “unknown” will be the chances of the UK economy ever recovering, whereas the future under independence will look like a veritable sure thing, to the extent that people will quite literally bet their house on it.
And with this bet, everyone’s a winner.