Max Headroom

The Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem parties’ joint strategy is clear as all of them want a single question referendum. In or out, yes or no. A binary choice for Scots with no middle way of devo-max to distract them.

The SNP want to keep that devo-max option open. What they say is that they don’t want to write its definition but they are happy for someone else to do that and to have devo-max as an option on the ballot paper.

Since as far as the polls are concerned devo-max is the preferred option for Scots it seems a strange inversion of the positions one would expect from the unionist and nationalist sides. The unionist parties don’t want to include a unionist option on the ballot paper which is apparently preferred by Scots to independence and the SNP who want independence are fighting to keep that slot open for someone to write in a devo-max option. What is going on?

The explanation is probably along these lines.

For devo-max to be a viable option on the ballot paper and not just a wish list item it has to be endorsed by either Labour or the Tories or both. (With the Lib-Dems in there somewhere). It probably has to have a Labour endorsement at minimum for it to have any chance to succeed as most Scots will regard a Tory endorsement alone as a poisoned chalice.

To endorse the devo-max option means that Labour, (or the Tories or the Lib-Dems or all), have to ensure that the legislative, executive and financial powers attached to devo-max are both defined and acceptable to the Westminster parliament because that’s the place that devo-max will be passed into legislation. Only Westminster as the UK parliament can enact legislation to create devo-max for Scotland.

That means work for those putting together a devo-max solution which can then be presented as a bill to parliament. It means work to define what devo-max will entail in terms of legislative, executive and financial powers. It means work to get a commitment from MP’s in the party creating the devo-max bill to vote for it, it means more work talking to the other parties in Westminster to get their agreement to get it through parliament as it will be a contentious measure, it means work talking to the Treasury, to the Civil Service and to HMRC in order to work out how to deliver devo-max within the existing departments and bureaucracies and at the heart of it all none of the three unionist UK parties wants devo-max for Scotland.

Devo-max is not a solution that any of the three UK parties would even contemplate if it was not for the SNP and they have all decided that rather than put in a lot of work to move towards a system of government which they don’t want for Scotland and which may make it easier for Scotland to leave the Union at some time in the future they will instead go for the risky hail-mary pass of a binary in/out referendum in the hope the SNP lose and that the threat of independence for Scotland is removed once and for all from the UK.

So where are the SNP in this. The SNP are certain that devo-max isn’t going to be an option on the ballot paper in an independence referendum because it has no unionist support and therefore will get no endorsement from Labour, the Tories or the Lib-Dems but it does not want to switch off the devo-max option without a fight. As the apparently preferred option of the Scots electorate the SNP want devo-max to disappear from the ballot paper because devo-max has failed to get an endorsement from any of the three unionist parties not because it has been removed from the ballot paper by agreement. That way they have clean hands when devo-max bites the dust and it also shows that none of the three unionist parties have any devo-max on offer and that the only option for change left on the ballot paper is independence.

“Civic Scotland”, in the shape of Canon Kenyon Wright and the STUC has now come out in favour of devo-max but the idea that, “Civic Scotland”, is going to define devo-max is as deluded as Nick Clegg’s idea that he’s a devolutionist not a unionist.

This is where I find myself in odd waters because I find myself agreeing with Willie Rennie who believes that devo-max is a matter for the entire UK. He even goes as far as saying that it should be put to a UK wide referendum.

Under devo-max Scotland will still be a region within the UK and for Scotland to try and unilaterally decide how it’s going to arrange its finances, resources and legislative and executive powers without the agreement of the rest of the UK is simply not viable. It’s like sharing a flat and declaring that you’re going to stay in your room and keep the television there. Your other flatmates will point out that if you want to stay in their flat then you have to share and share-alike as they do. If you want to keep the television for yourself then you should find your own flat.

Which brings me to my final point. In the improbable case that devo-max ever makes it to the stage where it is presented as a bill in Westminster then the boundaries of devo-max for Scotland will be defined in England and not by Scots, civic or otherwise. This is simple parliamentary arithmetic. To pass a devo-max bill through Westminster it will need the support of a large number of English based MP’s.

If England defines devo-max then it is clear that the boundaries which will be imposed on devo-max by the English based MP’s will be much more restrictive than the boundaries Scotland applies to its definition of devo-max. The English based MP’s will examine the impact that the proposals for devo-max will have on their own constituents and constituencies and therefore the boundaries of devo-max will be defined by these MP’s to ensure that there is a minimal economic and social impact on their own electorate. They will ensure that nothing which is given to Scotland will have any detrimental effect on England either economically or otherwise.

So in the unlikely case of devo-max ever being defined in a form which will pass through Westminster what would be a consequence of at least one of these tighter boundaries?

Simple really. At the very minimum, devo-max means we don’t get the oil.

Comments (92)

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  1. Devo Max puts Westminster in charge – and Scotland doesn’t get her own oil

  2. Commenter says:

    Yes, any vote for devo max is basically Scots saying “we’d like this please”. Any renegotiation of how the UK works is then up to Westminster. We shouldn’t kid ourselves otherwise. Devolution only happened because Labour got power, and it was expected to help them, or at least not harm them.

  3. EricF says:

    A succinct explanation of why, even if every person in Scotland wanted what’s most commonly understood as the “devo-max” position (control over all policy except for defence and foreign affairs), we couldn’t actually get it within the union. We’ll only actually get the full powers of “devo-max” with independence.

  4. Alex Buchan says:

    Well for something that’s going nowhere it seems to have got up a lot of people’s backs here at Bella Caledonia, as we’ve now had three articles on it all saying the same thing in quick succession. Also seems funny that the Scottish Government don’t want to be seen to be killing it off, but we somehow are falling over ourselves to kill it off, funny that. Do you think all this hot air is therefore helpful to the Scottish Government and their strategy for winning the referendum? It will certainly cheer the three unionist parties to read all this.

    1. Soixante-neuf says:

      I’m not sure how explaining to them in forensic detail exactly how they have been snookered, checkmated and painted into the proverbial corner will cheer them all that much.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        So they secretly want a third option? I see very clever.

    2. Doug Daniel says:

      It’s not that strange that we’ve had three articles on the third option. Call it collective consciousness or a meme or whatever, but clearly there have been a set of circumstances that have got several people’s minds flowing in the same direction. Besides, it’s not like all three are identical – Pat’s was about the “Indy Lite” idea that Jim Sillars proposed last year (which is not necessarily what people think constitutes “devo max”), mine was about how I don’t believe people really want devo max at all as there is no defined idea of what it constitutes, and Doug’s one here is explaining the detail of why devo max is not wanted by the unionist parties and why it is just completely undeliverable anyway. Maybe there’s a bit of crossover, but I think all three articles are worth reading (especially mine, natch…)

      As for “killing it off”, that’s not what we’re doing. It’s by far the most complicated of the three possible options for the referendum, so we need to be sure people are aware of what it actually is and how it can(‘t) be delivered. The Scottish Government is saying “if you can define it, we will include it”, and this is all part of trying to help people get their head around the idea. It’s constructive criticism, which seems at odds with the idea of trying to kill it off – we’re not trying to snuff out debate, we’re adding to it.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        What debate? Certainly there hasn’t been any debate in the comments on your article, just a bunch of guys congratulating you. It’s pretty much the same in the other two articles. That tells me all I need to know. All three articles come at it from different angles, but all say the same thing: there is no alternative to independence.

        The Scottish public’s response? Well you can imagine. “No alternative you say. We’ll we’re quite canny so we’ll just wait and see whether that’s the case or not, because quite frankly we’ve got more to worry about just now just keeping our heads above water.”

        Devo max is a distraction and an easy target which is why it’s being picked on. It’s a kind of collective nationalist bonding exercise. It reminds me of my days on the Trotskyist Left, endless debates about why this or that was a sell-out but no real idea how to make a real impact on the world.

        The real issue is wining the real debate with our fellow Scots on the currency, on a Scottish defence strategy, on why independence won’t be too risky etc, etc.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          H Alex, I take your point about the need to make a positive case and confront thorny issues. I also agree that the real task is not agreeing amongst ‘ourselves’ it is persuading others – primarily about the economic realities. That’s a debate we’re committed to having and facilitating, and it’s one your welcome to contribute to…

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Bella I’m glad to hear it and it can’t come soon enough. Take my brother. He’s supported independence all this adult life, and I met him on Monday. Now he has to think about it as a practical proposal he’s having second thoughts. The recent exchanges over the currency make him think that the SNP’s position is just not credible. Now he always votes SNP and was disposed to support independence, but the SNPs arguments were just not cutting it with him, others who aren’t disposed to support the SNP or independence will have even less of a reason to give the arguments on the currency a fair hearing, and once an idea is lodged it takes more effort to get people to listen. The debate has already started and complacency on our part is a greater obstacle than the no campaign.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          No complacency here. The currency debate iss – in my opinion – complicated by the fact that no-one knows how far or how rapid the wider financial system meltdown will take place. We dont know if the euro will exist or if the pound will be seen as a safe-haven. In this context we can have debates about scenarios but I think the economic collapse has a long way to go.

          By the way, just to reiterate, no-one running Bella is a member of any party, we support transforming Scotland and independence as a key part of this, not any one political party.

      3. Indy says:

        What most people want, in my opinion, is quite simple They want Scotland to be self-governing, to manage its own economy and finances, speak for itself on the international stage, and to decide its own priorities. But they also want to see a continuing partnership and cooperation with the rest of the UK. They do not want to “Break up Britain.” The spectrum of people who want this encompasses people who could be pigeonholed as unionists as well as people who could be pigeonholed as nationalists. All the debate around devo max/indy lite is politicians and commentators trying to come up with a legalistic definition of what it means. The more the debate goes on however the more obvious it will become that this new relationship is just indepednence. That’s what it means. Part of that argument has to be about our side – the pro-indepndence side – demonstrating that we are not anti-English, that we are seeking a new form of
        partnershp with the rest of the UK. We don’t want to dig a trench along the border etc. It is annoying that we have to do this but that is the ground our opponents will attack us on so we have to neutralise those arguments.

    3. DougtheDug says:

      Hi Alex, I wrote this article at the same time as Doug Daniel but MIke decided that he’d put it up on the site anyway. Great Doug’s think alike is the best way to put it.

      It won’t cheer the Unionist parties to read this but it won’t make them down either. Cameron, Clegg and Milliband know that their parties are not going to define and endorse devo-max on the ballot paper and they know that they’re not going to endorse anyone else’s definition either. The SNP know this, the Unionist parties know the SNP know this and the SNP know the Unionist parties know the SNP know this.

      The second devo-max question is just a dance until the music stops in the hope one side or the other gain an advantage when devo-max finally gets the bullet.

      I didn’t write this for the political parties who already know the score, I wrote this for the people who still think that devo-max, where Scotland gains a large amount of financial, legislative and executive power within the Union, is a viable future scenario for devolution and that its boundaries can be defined in Scotland.

      If devo-max is the maximum amount of power that London is willing to devolve then It would not be far wrong to say that Scotland is already at devo-max with Calman being the dead cat bounce of devo-max hitting the floor.

      The current strategy of the three unionist parties is to say to the electorate, vote no and there will be devo-max just around the corner which will be borne in on the back of unicorns when you turn independence down. It could be more concisely written as, “Vote no you gullible suckers”.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        Interesting. If the unionists know that SNP knows that they know that everybody knows that there isn’t going to be a third option, then why didn’t Cameron say “Go on then let’s see this third option.” What’s Cameron got to be worried about? According to you, nothing. Why would he play this game as you put it if he knows its just a game?

      2. DougtheDug says:

        Hi Alex, the game is one of pin the tail on the donkey.

        Cameron, (and Milliband and Clegg), want to imply that because the SNP has no devo-max option that it’s their incompetence that has somehow resulted in a single question referendum. The implication being that devo-max is best handled by the unionist side. They know their is no SNP devo-max proposal.

        The SNP want to show willing to put the devo-max option on the ballot paper but its failure to show up will be because Cameron, (and Milliband and Clegg), have nothing in the locker when it comes to a devo-max proposal for Scotland.

        In your reply to Doug Daniel above you’re quite correct that the real issue is wining the real debate with our fellow Scots on the currency, on a Scottish defence strategy, on why independence won’t be too risky etc, etc. but the strategy for the unionist camp in this campaign will be that a no vote is essentially a vote for devo-max as they will implement it in the future in a united UK.

        What the nationalist side has to do as well as win the debate on independence is to show that devo-max is just a chimera not only now but also in the future and that a no vote is a vote for the status quo and not for some unspecified jam tomorrow devo-max scenario.

      3. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Doug
        Taking your points one by one:

        “Cameron, (and Milliband and Clegg), want to imply that because the SNP has no devo-max option that it’s their incompetence that has somehow resulted in a single question referendum. The implication being that devo-max is best handled by the unionist side. They know their is no SNP devo-max proposal.”

        Either you haven’t expressed this very well or I’m missing something. Cameron, Lamont, Rennie, and Davidson have gone on record as calling for a single question, they are all identified in the public’s mind, and in the press, and TV, as associated with a one question referendum. There’s no way they could plausibly wash their hand of that, so your first point is just plain silly.

        “The SNP want to show willing to put the devo-max option on the ballot paper but its failure to show up will be because Cameron, (and Milliband and Clegg), have nothing in the locker when it comes to a devo-max proposal for Scotland”
        This is you spinning it according to your overall understanding of the ‘game’ this is not how it’s perceived. The universal perception is that the three unionist parties don’t want to be associated with the referendum so won’t play ball. Lobby correspondent at Westminster are all saying that the UK government sees it as a SNP rouse because the SNP are not confident that they can win a straight vote.

        “the strategy for the unionist camp in this campaign will be that a no vote is essentially a vote for devo-max as they will implement it in the future in a united UK.”

        They might try and do this, especially the LibDems, but it will be relatively easy to ridicule such a move, because of the way that they’ve blocked a devo max question. They would have needed to state this well in advance of the campaign for it to have much plausibility.

        “What the nationalist side has to do as well as win the debate on independence is to show that devo-max is just a chimera not only now but also in the future and that a no vote is a vote for the status quo and not for some unspecified jam tomorrow devo-max scenario.”

        If your right that devo max is not going to be on the ballot paper then this will make doing that more difficult. If it is on the ballot then it will not be endorsed by the others and so it will be easier to achieve this objective. Your reply to James on the result of a yes vote for devo max was fascinating because you implied that Alex Salmond (who will be hailed as a great tactician in such an outcome) would just sit back and let Westminster dictate terms (whereas normally your implying that he’s ahead of the game)

        All that your original article and your reply to me proves is that you’ve got a worked out theory (though not always consistent). We all have our theories about what is going to happen. Some people will find yours plausible, others won’t. We all have to live with the fact that none of us really knows, and debate would be more fraternal if we all worked on that basis (unless you’re prepared to names sources for your intelligence).

      4. DougtheDug says:

        Hi Alex,

        Nick Clegg has already come out with a statement that all the SNP have to offer is independence or nothing but that the unionists can offer more devolution. Essentially vote no for more devolution.

        Answering questions following a speech on the economy in London, Mr Clegg said: “I believe the choice is not between independence or nothing, it is between independence and continued devolution. It is really important that the Scottish people shouldn’t be bamboozled by Alex Salmond into thinking it is either independence or absolutely nothing. It is not. It is either independence or a positive vision of a stronger Scotland within a stronger United Kingdom.”

        My answer to James was to illustrate the danger and consequences of unilaterally putting devo-max on the ballot paper. The problem as always with a devo-max option that is not endorsed by Westminster is that the SNP has no power to enforce it. The decision to accept or reject it and timescale for the decision are entirely Westminster’s.

      5. Alex Buchan says:

        Nick Glegg cant escape the accusation that if he was so keen about more powers he shouldn’t have been so negative about including his option in the referendum. Nick Glegg like everyone else, including Alex salmond, will be subjest to lots of seaching questions about why he is being inconsistent. The tree unionist pparties are all now associated with having blocked a vote on more powers.

  5. Indy says:

    I think all of this is over-complexifying things. Start from the basis that we need to win a majority of votes – and not just 51 per cent, we want a decisive result. Then look at where public opinion is now and where we need to persuade people to go further. Public opinion now is roughly that people want Scotland to be largely self-governing but they also want to maintain some kind of partnership, some cooperation with the rest of the UK. They don’t want to “break up Britain”. That is a reasonable position – I don’t want to break up Britain either, this independence thing is not about resolving a conflict between Scotland and England, it is about creating a more equal and therefore a more healthy relationship between our two countries. Our task over the next 2.5 years is to get Scots to see independence in that way. Then we will win.

  6. EricF says:

    As I understand it, the SNP have “invited” others who support a position of enhanced devolution short of independence to put forward a definite proposal, and what’s more, they’ve generously given them a couple more years in which to do it! Something may come out of the “Civic Scotland” initiative that’s being mentioned, or not. The point with devo-max, though, surely, is its not enough to come up with a set of proposals – these proposals have to be thoroughly worked out with the UK government beforehand before they can be taken seriously as something actually with any prospect of being implemented. For Labour this would mean engaging in detailed and successful negotiations with the Tory-Dems starting, probably, now. If there’s no realistic prospect of it being implemented then its not a realistic position to hold. If Labour or the Libs try to fight the referendum campaign on the basis of “Vote No and we’ll come up with something”, that will be an entirely dishonest position. I don’t know how many people would be persuaded to vote no as a result, but holding on to a vague “devo-max” position (or even a vague “status quo” position) runs against all the calls for clarity that the SNP’s opponents are otherwise clamouring for.

  7. John Souter says:

    The Osborne plug in the dyke of the UKs financial quandary is not going to hold to 2014.

    By then his austerity measures which, for the moment are filed under the heading ‘Good Housekeeping’ will be seen for what they are, namely a juggling of finances in order to keep the City and it’s debt of six times the GDP of the UK solvent.

    However it’s necessary to realise, these austerity measures are not intended as a belt tightening exercise towards a relaxation once the problem is (if ever) overcome. The intention is they’re here to stay and as such they will effect any proposal along the lines of Devo Max between Scotland and Westminster. Just as the proposed privatisation of the NHS in England could, by creative accounting be used as an argument on supposed savings through privatisation being used to decrease the grant Scotland gets under the present formula.

    The points raised by the Dug and accompanying comments all have relevance but in my opinion the factor that will override them all will be the anger of the common herd having to accept the pain in order to protect the wealth of the wealthy.

    I have no idea how that anger will be expressed by the people of England. Scotland has an option that makes it easier to define.

  8. MacNaughton says:

    Alex Buchan – your comments are interesting, and chime with my own feelings .

    I agree with you that the tone over the last few weeks in general (reading blogs and the press from afar it should be said) seems to have become very complacent, and most importantly, there seems to be a lack of well-argued and challenging pieces in favour of indpendence. I don’t buy this idea that it will just happen. Gerry Hanson made a smiliar point not long ago.

    For my own point of view, looking on at this from afar, I see far too much hostility to England and Englishness by a number of posters, especially since the tension mounted over the date. One such post on Bella the oher day talked of Scotland separating “from England”, as opoposed to the United Kingom….i

    There is nothing more toxic for the case of Scottish indpendence than an anti-English line of thinking, no surer way of losing the support of the people who will decide the result of the referendum than resorting to some of the arguments I have on these pages over the last couple of weeks, above an below the line.

    All that “best wee country in the world” , “everybody loves us abroad”, stuff is the kind of keich which no one can take seriously after a certain age.

    There are even some people putting forward spurious notions of an inherent Scottish superiority to England and not being called up on it:the thin edge of a very big wedge. Personally, that’s a way of thinking which puts me off my dinner.

    Meanwhile, my bet is that a very considerable number of people don’t even know the history of the Act of Union., don’t realise that the Union of Crowns and Parliament are two different things, and as for Europe, all I can hear is the sound of silence.

    By the far the best piece of writing I have seen in recent is Neil Ascheron’s piece in The Obsrevor on Sunday which nobody seems to have challenged, unless I am mistaken.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit harsh, but I believe it is more important to be critical at this time than complacent…

  9. EricF says:

    Hi McNaughton

    I completely agree with you that independence isn’t just “gonna happen”, and I can’t think of anybody I know who does. There are a lot of posters that do kind of buy into the “we’re on our way”; “another nail in the unionists’ coffin” and all that stuff, which is maybe what you mean.

    I struggle, however, to find much of this “anti-English” stuff which I’m constantly told is a feature of forums, “cybernattery” and associated demons. Could you give some examples, and where you have come across them? Maybe I don’t read those blogs, but I’d like to know what’s being said. That “best wee country in the world” keich was the product of Jack McConnell’s Labour administration, as I recall, and yes, it was a complete embarrassment.

    1. MacNaughton says:

      EricF – thanks for the reply.

      I’m referring to posts such as Lilliput Nation by Cliare Galloway here the other day for example. I don’t agree with Claire’s touchy-feely way of thinking about Scotland.

      Alan Bisset’s piece, for its part, is an eloquent example of the emotional case for independence, of which there has never been a shortage of in the bars all up and down the land, but with the greatest respect, the emotional case for indpendence would win by a landslide tomorrow, and that has been the case since 1707.

      What we need to see is a coherent and reasoned case put forward, and that is more challenging. By its nature it has to be broad and positive, and needs some details on key questions for the debate to start.

      No doubt it will come in time.

      1. EricF says:

        Yes. I did read Claire’s piece and quite liked it, though I see the “North good – South bad” aspect which does chime in with your criticism. I think though she was making a wider reference to a society with certain values and a potential dynamic which it fails to express politically because of a lack of confidence in itself which has grown over the centuries – in contrast to Italy and other independent states (which may well have old city-states that used to be independent lacking confidence in themselves now….I wouldn’t know!)

        I liked Alan Bisset’s piece very much and would have it on my wall, only I’ve a wee boy about the place and there’s the odd naughty word in it.

        Agree totally on the need for proper debate. Maybe when the SG’s consultation kicks off (on the not-at-all emotional date of January 25th). Still actually waiting for the emotional case for the Union to get started – Cameron flying up in a Spitfire, possibly?

    2. Indy says:

      In fairness I don’t think any of those posters are actually in the SNP. For myself and other SNP members I know we are in no doubt of the scale of the challenge, Apart from anything else, the task of chapping every door in our respective constituencies is going to occupy every weekend and at least 2 weeknights over the next 2.5 years! When you have a workload of that magnitude I assure you complacency is not really an option. But it is by speaking to electors face to face that you can really get the sense that people are really ready to move on and I do have that sense, as does everyone else in the SNP I speak to. People want to be persuaded.

  10. James Coleman says:

    I disagree with your analyses. The ‘converted’ on here have to realise that A YES vote on Independence is by no means guaranteed and that a NO vote would be such a catastrophe for Scotland that full fiscal authority FFA must be on the ballot as a fall back position. There are over two years to go before the referendum and a broad outline of what FFA/Devo Max would comprise could be worked out fairly easily by the Scottish Civil Service and/or others. And yes the oil wouldn’t be Scotland’s, as the latter would still be part of the UK. But FFA would mean a fairer distribution of the oil benefits to Scotland.
    The Isle of Man, Channel Isles, Catalonia in Spain, et al have FFA so it would not be as difficult to engineer as some think. And it doesn’t matter if union supporters and Westminster agree beforehand. If they agree or disagree they can campaign for FFA and NO or NO, while the SNP can campaign for YES. Others in Scotland who support FFA can campaign for that. If a YES vote for Independence is achieved FFA would be academic. If a NO vote for Independence and a YES for FFA were the result then Westminster would have to start negotiating seriously about FFA otherwise the SNP could campaign in the 2016 or later Scottish Parliament elections to be given a mandate for Independence using a ‘perfidious Albion’ ticket.
    So it is no wonder that Westminster would like only a simple YES/NO question. A NO vote in that case would kill the Independence issue at Westminster for a generation. However I cannot understand Scottish Labour’s objections to FFA (what politician in their right mind is going to refuse more powers) except to believe that the larger UK Labour Party values MPs’ careers at Westminster and the Labour Party above the will of the Scottish people.

    1. DougtheDug says:


      There are over two years to go before the referendum and a broad outline of what FFA/Devo Max would comprise could be worked out fairly easily by the Scottish Civil Service and/or others.

      It’s not up to the Civil Service to work out what FFA or Devo-Max means because that is not a matter for the Civil Service.

      Since Labour, the Tories and the LIb-Dems don’t want it then either “Civic Scotland” or the SNP will need to spend time and money working out a definition of devo-max. If the SNP write it then what they will have done is written the independence killer themselves with a concomitant diversion of time, attention and money from the independence campaign. The SNP can’t write one option and then campaign for another. It can only come from “Civic Scotland”.

      So devo-max from “Civic Scotland” goes on the ballot paper with no endorsement from any Westminster party and wins. What happens next?

      The most likely scenario is that Westminster will institute a commision to look at devo-max as it is an issue which affects the entire UK and it will be broadly supportive so the SNP can’t use it as a campaign issue in 2016.
      In the wake of the referendum defeat the SNP will have to hope that they can get back in with a majority in the next parliament and even if they can they can’t call another referendum anyway because Westminster is looking at the option chosen in the last one.

      Westminster will drag the devo-max commission out over several years and at least one Westminster parliamentary session, bring in legislation which gives Westminster the only power to call a referendum in the UK in order to stop the SNP ever holding their own again and then create some form of Calman2.0 which bears very little relationship to what was on the ballot paper in order to make it fair to the rest of the UK.

      Devo-max on the ballot paper is not a good idea, especially without a promise from the Westminster parties to implement it if it is chosen.

      1. Albalha says:

        This makes sense to me so a naive question, why do you think people who say they represent civic Scotland are so keen on it? Surely not party politics given so many of us supporting independence are not party affiliated.

      2. DougtheDug says:


        To be honest “Civic Scotland” appears to consist of Canon Kenyon Wright with the STUC waiting in the wings.

        I doubt that there will ever be anything approaching a definition of devo-max appearing out of it.

      3. James Coleman says:

        You have more or less just repeated your earlier points in the main article which I disagree with. And again you put far too many obstacles in the way of FFA being on the ballot based on your own views about how things could or could not be done and on surmise and ifs and buts.
        None of us really know what is in the minds of the actual politicians involved. But I’m quite certain that a NO to Independence on a YES/NO vote only will be disastrous.

      4. Indy says:

        That’s not strictly true because Devo Max will be included in the consultation and there will then be an analysis of it which is carried out by civil servants. I think we can all foresee the barriers that would be highlighted by that but it needs to be thrashed out – not because the SNP wants it but on behalf of those, such as the STUC and SCVO, who want to put forwrard that option. They have a right to have that considered.

  11. Albalha says:

    I realise I’m probably labouring the point but are the Reform Scotland people and supporters on the sidelines? They do seem to have put a lot of effort into crafting a posiiton, I raise it because those who have not really thought about the issues could end up in ghastly state of constitutional confusion.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      That’s a fair point, and Alex Salmond will look as if he’s been cynical if he doesn’t fight very hard now to get it on the ballot. Doug has shifted his position, he first said it couldn’t be on the ballot unless it’s the policy of one of the Westminster parties and has all been signed off by the coalition and all been worked out in fine detail. Later, in reply to James, he conceded this wasn’t necessary, but said in that case it would be useless. The implication here is that if we’re honest none of us really knows.

      1. Indy says:

        Alex has never said that he wants it on the ballot paper. What the SG has said is that they are willing to put it on the ballot paper if there is widespread support and if it is a feasible option. That is what will be determined through the consultation. My personal feeling is that the SG is probably genuinely undecided about it. It does not seem likely that there is a workable model of Devo Max but on the other hand who knows what may come out of the discussions in the next 6 months or so? It can’t be absolutely ruled out and the denate needs to take place.

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        What’s most important politically is the impression you give and you allow to be perpetuated in the press without attempting to deny it. There is a therefore a difference between your detailed position and the impression you give. Publically only the second counts. It is Alex Salmond who raised the issue of a third option in an interview with Glen Campbell just after the election and it is Alex Salmond who has repeated the point about a third option. If others had raised it and the SNP government had merely responded with the balanced position you are outlining, that would have been one thing, but to raise and allow it to take off and to be even associated with it as your “consolation prize” then to allow it to be dropped as part of a deal with Westminster could definitely come across as cynical.

    2. DougtheDug says:


      Reform Scotland are a Think Tank and don’t believe in devo-max if that means everything going to Scotland except defence and foreign affairs.

      They believe in Devo Plus which means Scotland getting control of the taxes it needs to fund most of its spending. 64% to be precise. Not much else in terms of legislative and executive power.

      1. Albalha says:

        Helpful thanks but I can see unecessary confusion for voters so hopefully all will become clear in the coming months.

      2. Albalha says:

        As an aside just watching Alex Massie on Newsnight Scotland mixing devo-max with devo-plus but also calling on the Scottish Tories to campaign for such a question, aye time will tell.

    3. DougtheDug says:


      There’s nothing to stop the SNP putting devo-max on the ballot paper as they control the number of questions on the paper.

      However unless it’s endorsed by Labour or a combination of other parties there’s not any point

      In fact an undendorsed devo-max option would be even more dangerous to independence than a devo-max proposal endorsed by the Westminster parties because it wouldn’t be another step closer to independence as it would never be implemented.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        That’s a very legalistic kind of response. You’re the one that’s always talking about different peoples underlying tactics, people are never constrained in the way you now want to portray things to suit your argument. If there was a choice between a no vote in a one question referendum, and a yes vote to a devo max proposal not backed by a party, I don’t believe the second option would be worse than the first, and the unionist parties know that. They obviously don’t want a yes vote for independence, so, if your right, a vote for devo max would make that more difficult, so you’d expect the unionist parties to be relaxed about it, or even encourage it, but nothing could be further from the truth.

        The problem with your post is that it runs contrary to what almost all other commentators are saying, so it’s got a conspiracy theory quality to it, so you shouldn’t be surprised if people are sceptical. I don’t claim to know whether devo max will be on the ballot and I can see other reasons why Alex Salmond would be pursuing this approach, for instance if a straight yes- no vote fails he’s in a stronger position afterwards because he can credibly say that he has always been open to the pursuit of maximum powers within the union. So devo max could be in or out, and he could have lots of different reasons for taking the line that he has.

        My main problem with your approach to politics is that it’s not how things are in the real world. We wouldn’t be where we are today if civic Scotland hadn’t organised, and if the Constitutional Convention hadn’t happened, or if the Labour Party hadn’t legislated the Scottish parliament into existence. You’re the type who would have been denouncing all of this as a diversion, and arguing that only SNP initiated activity could free Scotland etc. You remind me of those people in the far left who are in love with the vanguard idea of a dedicated band bringing about revolution. But revolution only ever comes when the conditions are right, and no amount of campaigning however well done can bring about a revolution, if the conditions aren’t ripe. Independence is not like an election to Westminster or to Holyrood, independence is a revolution in the affairs of a country.

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        Doug, I seemed to be getting a bit personal there, I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t make assumptions about what your views would be on things. I was trying a bit too hard to illustrate what I see as our fundamental difference in outlook.

      3. DougtheDug says:

        HI Alex,
        Perhaps my view that devo-max as an option on the ballot paper is worthless without any endorsement by any Wesminster party is not totally mainstream but Leslie Riddoch has the same view if you look at Sunday Politics Scotland at 1:08:25 from the start of the program.

        You’re right that the Constitutional Convention wasn’t a political party but a Scottish civic group and it did write the definition for the current devolution settlement but the Labour party was a full member of the Convention and agreed with that definition.

        The 1997 referendum was run by Labour on the question of a devolved settlement which was endorsed and effectively written by Labour and therefore the question of whether the devolution proposal would get support in Westminster never arose.

      4. Alex Buchan says:

        Doug, I want to commend you for putting up will all the flack I’ve been directing at you. I should have apologised more fully for that in my last post. I accept that everyone who posts on Bella (at least these days) wants the same thing; we all want an Independent Scotland. The stakes in the referendum are very high. I find it easy to get nervous about the prospect of, not only not seeing independence during my lifetime, but seeing it recede after a NO vote, not a good feeling!

        The thing that gives me most hope is Alex Salmond’s statement that “we will stay close to where the people are”. As a political philosophy for national liberation, nothing could be more effective. You have to carry the public with you, and if the public are not going with you, you have to be prepared to accept that, without losing sight of your principled long-term goal.

        Compare that with Sillars’ “90 minute nationalist jibe”. The two ideas are polar opposite. Salmond’s position respects the public’s right to take as long as it needs to come to accept that independence feels like the right choice, Sillars’ attitude shows no respect for the public’s views. Salmond’s approach, if he sticks to it, will win the day.

        Scotland needs to be taken patiently through a process which culminates in it coming to embrace independence as the best choice. This could happen in the next 1000 days or it could take longer, but the SNP need to stay open to either possibility. That’s what Salmond seems to be aware of. I bow to his greater skill in knowing how to do that, so I won’t presume to think I know what he should do about devo max. But for me it’s essential that we accept his basic principle that it is the Scottish public, not the SNP, that is in the driving seat and will dictate when independence happens.

  12. Scottish republic says:

    I don’t want DEVO MAX – I want sovereign nation status.

    That said – it should be pointed out that proper devolution is DEVO MAX – that would have probably stopped independence but the Brit nats wished to create a DEVO parliament that was controllable.

    Result – their imperialistic anti-democratic policies will break up the union I hope.

    There is no guarantee – yet one is interested to see how the Brit nats are still aggressively trying to confound a free and open expression of democracy.

    They paid in every other country they did that – but will they pay in Scotland?

    Time will tell.

  13. EricF says:

    Alex. In describing the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, you are describing a process whereby the Constitutional Convention, “Civic Scotland” if you like, Lib-Dems and Labour politicians came together to campaign for devolution. The powers that were eventually given were agreed with Westminster, legislated for at Westminster and given from Westminster. There was no “independence” option available, which made the consensus around devolution quite easy – if you wanted change, you voted “Yes”. The process of definition, agreement and commitment by Westminster is no different for the upcoming referendum, but the fact that “Independence” will definitely be on the paper makes the need for another “change” option, if it appears, to be clear, agreed and secure. “Devo-max” like middle positions generally, seems to be popular as an idea at the moment, but it’ll need to be much much more than that if it’s to run in 2014. I don’t think Salmond loses anything by saying “It’s not our choice, and we won’t be campaigning for it, but if people want it I invite them to get it organised and we’ll happily put it on the paper”.

  14. Alex Buchan says:

    Eric, I agree with your last point about Salmond. I’m not sure whether the basic principle of respecting the Scottish public’s right to have as wide a choice as possible its necessitates Devo max to be the policy of a party likely to gain office at Westminster or not (remember devolution would never have happened if Labour hadn’t won in 1997). That could be quite a tall order, given Miliband’s poll ratings. See my last response to Doug for my overall thinking on this. Suffice to say that Alex Salmond needs to show convincingly that he’s not taking the Scottish publics attitudes for granted in all of this. To not do so would ensure definite defeat in the referendum.

  15. EricF says:

    Alex. I think that having a ballot paper that reflects allows as wide and as accurate a choice as possible in such an important issue as this is very important. I’d be happy myself to see “devo-max” there, all defined and happy, as an option. If there is an upsurge, a popular movement or whatever that kicks off and gets it all agreed, and its a realistic option, and a form of question(s) can be put together (this last not too difficult I’m sure) then absolutely fine. We know if we get the oil, or total or part revenue or whatever. A wish-list would be no use, and wouldn’t survive the scrutiny of a campaign anyway. If we’re respecting the Scottish public’s right to as wide a choice as possible, the choices have to be clear and realistic. You rightly say that devolution wouldn’t have happened in 1997 if Labour hadn’t won the election, which is why it IS dependent on a party committed to it to win at Westminster. Civic Scotland, in fact all of Scotland does not have the power to bring about “devo-max” by itself, without Westminster’s by or leave. I can’t see how Salmond’s position in all this can be interpreted as “taking the Scottish public’s attitude for granted”.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      Hi Eric

      Maybe the best way to respond is to say what I think the attitude of the Westminster parties is. They are opposed to having a devo max option because they think it will make independence inevitable, whether its legislated for at Westminster or not. That’s why from their point of view they don’t distinguish between a fully worked out devo max or a vague one supported by civic Scotland, they see both as leading to independence.

      They are probably right. Devo max is very dangerous for the British State and the Westminster parties. Even if devo max never produces anything, it stays there as the wish of the Scottish people, voted for in a referendum, and if it isn’t put in place by Westminster the SNP can say that devolution does not deliver so it’s time to move on to independence. If Westminster does deliver it, it’s still very dangerous because the SNP is still likely to be the biggest party and it will take the powers and then make a fuss about not having control of fishery negotiations, or will try to force the UK government to go further and remove trident, or will vote against any war Britain gets into. So eventually this will also lead to greater demand for independence. Plus they fear the Scottish public will see the move from devo max to independence inside the EU as quite a small step. Added to this the fact that devo max will lead to an English Parliament and the eventual break-up of the British State.

      This is why I see all these articles on Bella Caledonia as completely missing the point because, if there’s no devo max option, then the union is saved, because I am certain Scotland might vote 45% for independence this time but I can’t see Scotland voting 55% for independence, not yet anyhow. But if there was a vote for devo max independence would surely follow regardless of whether it is ever put into place or not.

      1. Indy says:

        What you are not taking into account there is that there is a majority in Scotland for change. If all of those who believe in Devo Max find that it can’t be worked out because the UK constitution can’t accommodate it then where do they go? Do they just stick with the status quo, which they are clearly not satisfied with, or take that one small step further to independence? Because it’s only a small step.

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        That is one of those statements that can just as easily be turned on its head i.e. ‘there is a majority for not risking independence’. We are deluding ourselves if we think that just because people want the Scottish parliament to have more powers when asked in an opinion poll that such people will be sufficiently fussed about the subject to withstand all the stuff in the press about the risks of independence. The biggest mistake the pro-independence campaign could make would be to assume that this majority for change will move over to supporting independence if the third option is removed. There is absolutely no polling evidence to support that view..

  16. EricF says:

    I agree that meaningful “devo-max” has huge consequences, Alex. If Scottish MPs are agitated and in desperate search of a role now, and West-Lothian questions being asked about their powers, think what that would be like after the transfer of massively more powers. The more power you get in your hands, and handle competently, the greater the argument for getting full control. All achieved at a pace that reflects the “will of the Scottish people” and all that. I’m quite relaxed about having the question, and also that Westminster must, and if they aren’t they SHOULD, be worried about it.

    It has to be properly worked out, though, before it reaches the paper. I believe a vague “devo-max” referendum choice will lead to obfuscation, procrastination, committees, sombre pronouncements, proposals in papers covered in St Andrews crosses that beef up the status quo a bit (and probably hide away the bit that “definitely” take away the power of Holyrood ever to this kind of thing ever again, ever) and we’ll be presented with Scotland Bill Mark II. And what will we have up here to say definitely that that wasn’t what we wanted, honest?

    So I’m all for a “devo-max” option, if that’s what people want, and I do see the power of its adoption, but, again, its vital that its clear what we’re voting for, and that THAT’S what we get! (and, to go back to Doug’s article, I just don’t see it happening).

  17. Alex Buchan says:

    It sounds as if we agree. But if you and Doug take the attitude “I just don’t see it happen” You can’t at the same time deny that most people take the attitude “I just don’t see it happen” when taking about a yes vote in a straight yes no vote, and they are not just blustering they’ve got lots of polling evidence to back it up.

    The most that nationalists can say is that the gap is getting narrower. But the gap has got narrower before. Pretty much all of the time there is a sustained majority against but there has never yet been a sustained majority for, so by definition any possible majority for independence is bound to be very fickle and will purely depend on circumstances, not a good basis for advancing a nation’s interests. No amount of sabres rattling by the serial ranks of SNP supporters will sway a nation that’s not yet made its mind up.

    I can see the sense of Alex Salmond using a referendum to advance the dynamics of the situation, by making talk of Scotland’s ability to stand on its own feet mainstream and by bringing into question the long term survival of the UK. But as a strategy for a one push and we’re free kind of approach it was never realistic. Alex Salmond seems to realise this so I only hope that he has well worked out strategies for dealing with every possibility, including a no vote in a straight forward yes no vote.

    The problem with the debate over devo max is that it’s not sober enough. There’s no attempt at a sober assessment of where we are. It is more of a case of everyone trying to convince each other that the unionists are “on the run”, we are right and the rest of the world is wrong. It’s not the debate of a mature nationalist movement.

    1. EricF says:

      There’s also a wee issue with mandate and negotiations, unless one option really takes off (I’m quite optimistic about independence doing this, but that’s by the by). We’ve a rough thirds split at the moment – status quo, devo-max, independence, with devo-max appearing the most popular. In a consultative referendum the government is going to approach Westminster to negotiate the terms of whatever the Scottish people have decided. If the result they have is one where more people voted against than for (likely in a three way split) how strong is their hand going to be (even for independence)?

      There is no inevitability in what’s going to happen over the next two years. If devo-max is going to take off and become a viable alternative then somebody needs to get a hold of it and make it happen. This isn’t the SNP’s job, as they’re committed to full independence. IF it does, then a lot of thought needs to go into the structure of the referendum to ensure a credible result. Failing this, we’re probably better with a straightforward two-question referendum where the issue and the outcome are clear, and the mandate is in no doubt – even with 51%!

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Eric

        As far as I know the Scottish Government is talking about two separate votes, with the status quo pitted against independence and also pitted against devo max. Both votes would therefore be straight choices requiring 50% plus to win. The UK media have characterised devo max as Alex Salmond’s consolation prize, so the presumption is that the SNP, although campaigning for independence, will be able to claim more powers as an advance and therefore to be critical of any resistance by the UK Government over this in any post referendum situation. In fact the SNP Government have been careful not to in any way reject more powers, either through the Scotland Bill or through any devo max proposal.

        I accept that there are a lot of problems around how devo max could be framed, campaigned for and implemented. I’m not sure whether there would be a lot of momentum around devo max, but I have no doubt that there will be momentum around independence, but momentum doesn’t guarantee a yes vote. Momentum just means that there are more politically active people prepared to put in a lot of effort for independence than there are for the union, but the vast majority of the public will not be unduly influence by momentum, either way, because they will be more concerned with the argument and with how independence will affect them (I remember the 1992 UK election, Labour had all the momentum but the Tories still won).

        My main concern is that we have to focus on the public more than on the unionist opposition. The public could still vote no even if the unionist opposition was rubbish. Winning over the Scottish public is the main issue, and to do that we have to have very well worked out answers to all of the issues that will concern them. At the same time people will also go with gut feeling and that will be mainly influenced by how well Alex Salmond comes across on the most important issues that concern them. I would say the picture here so far is mixed. On many issues he comes across as unconvincing, e.g. on the currency, on RBS etc . On the other hand his attitude of confident defiance in the face of the concerted attacks from all sides is actually a very powerful role model, and Scot’s confidence will grow as a result. National confidence will be the main factor in deciding the outcome, but national confidence can be quite precarious.

    2. Albalha says:

      But surely there is a role for people who are not members of the SNP and may not support all their policies BUT do support independence? I think this gets lost as the debate is seen as polarised – so either you want Alex Salmond to get his way or you don’t, neither accurate nor helpful as a way to frame the debate.

      1. EricF says:

        Of course there’s a role for everyone here, SNP members or not. I’m not quite sure what point you’re making Albalha. Can you clarify?

    3. Albalha says:

      I suppose all I mean is that the public deabte is very much framed by commentators as ‘will Alex Salmond get his way’, when we should be asking what the will of the Scottish people is. I rather worry that for the average voter it is framed as purely a political party debate; who do you support? Also the idea that ‘civic’ Scotland is for a middle way, (which as has been explained clearly on these pages is a complex business) when many people who support independence are not paid up members of any party and I’m not sure how widely the nuances are being debated. Does that make any more sense? Maybe my thinking is confused but I am reflecting the points raised by those I speak to who are genuinely perplexed by the debate.

      1. EricF says:

        I think Cameron’s intervention shook things up a bit and commentators were flying to the main protagonists (as they saw them) looking for responses and quick quotations. They were of course only too happy to oblige. We have the SG’s consultation going out soon (as well as Westminster’s, which I don’t think will have all that much profile up here), and hopefully more and more people will get involved, more information will be presented, the debate will go wider and get more mature (no – that’s probably asking TOO much!) and it WILL get away from master tactician/evil genius Salmond versus whoever. It is up to others to GET involved, though, and not just stand on the sidelines and get perplexed, I would say.

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Albalha

        I think that is a very important point and think that it would be really good to see articles around the issue of mass mobilisation on Bella Caledonia. I’ve often felt that Facebook or twitter (I’m not best qualified in social media activism) organised initiatives could be very important in the referendum campaign. The nature of these could be worth exploring whether it would be better to have one mass campaign or and lots of such initiatives loosely coordinated, or with an umbrella organisation. Initiatives like students for independence, lawyers for independence, apprentices for independence, Glaswegians for independence, GLBT activists for independence, or Asians for independence etc. A major issue worth exploring would be how to keep it separate from being perceived as being aligned to the SNP. But that would be something that could be explored in articles or discussions. What could also be explored is whether these campaigns should be pro-independence or anti-status quo/anti Westminster dictated solutions.

      3. Indy says:

        You are absolutely right and that is why it is so essential to have the widest possible debate and for the SNP to be willing to consider every option.

    4. Albalha says:


      Thanks for articulating more clearly what I was trying to say, I can imagine a non aligned but pro-independence travelling band taking to the roads of Scotland and meeting with people to discuss the issues, to address the concerns. While of course social media has it’s place it’s not for everyone.

    5. Albalha says:

      oops its place …..

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        This is exactly the kind of things that it would be good to bounce around here at BC. There’s no limit to what would be possible. There could even be a Labour members for independece group and a LibDem members for independence group, or a labour members opposed to the status aquo groups etc, but that’s why the separation from the SNP is crucial.

  18. EricF says:

    Absolutely couldn’t agree more. I’d love to see a “Labour for Independence” group, but I do expect to see initiatives like this, and it’s partly what makes me quite optimistic about a “Yes” for Independence on a 2 question ballot, Alex!

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      We’ll it won’t necessarily happen unless people outside of the SNP start discussing and start organising. 1000 more members for the SNP is a good thing, but we need more emphasis or what’s happening outside of the SNP. Even mass mobilisation won’t necessarily guarantee a yes vote, but that shouldn’t stop us doing it because we could gain as much from the process as from the result.

      1. EricF says:

        There was a letter in our local paper this week from a prominent local musician who was asking for other artists to get in touch to start organising a series of events throughout the referendum campaign, culminating in a big concert on the night of the vote. Smallish perhaps, but a sign that there are a lot of people out there, not necessarily SNP politicians or even members, who are keen to get involved.

    2. Albalha says:

      If you haven’t seen it one of the more curious missives of recent days the Peter Duncan 10 point plan, here the details of number 7 given its relevance to the above points on Labour voters for independence.

      7. Accept that political reality – Labour voters are the difference between winning and losing

      Before starting any campaign, we need to identify how it will be won. The simple fact of life north of the border is that the Labour vote is much more important to be won than the Conservative one. The Tory vote is highly motivated on this issue more than any other – but the real challenge is to motivate the 30-40% of the electorate who would regard themselves as Labour (especially those among them who voted SNP in 2011 but don’t support independence). For that reason, the campaign figurehead needs to be a Labour one. I wouldn’t rule out Gordon Brown, who – as the 2010 election showed – remains bizarrely popular in Scotland despite the damage he has done (take it from someone who experienced it first hand in Dumfries & Galloway). Tory voters would hate it – but they’ll still vote no.

    3. Albalha says:

      And this D Alexander piece from today’s IonS talking of ‘narrow nationalism’.

      ” It is a case that the Scottish left has, for decades, rejected, not least because the break-up of Britain would represent a defeat for progressive ideals and a retreat from a shared vision of a multiethnic, multicultural and multinational state.”–but-still-british-6292807.html

  19. Alex Buchan says:

    Labour voters definitely hold the balance, which is why the sooner there is a mass participation campaign separate from the SNP the better, before things are polarised into the SNP versus everyone else

    1. Indy says:

      Yes and no. As I have said the SNP – as a party – is going to be canvassing every household in Scotland over the next few years That is a voter ID exercise which can only really be carried out by the SNP because no other organisation has the manpower, the organisational capacity and the IT to do that. But I agree it is really important for non-aligned people to get involved in the debate and it’s really important that the SNP encourages that by trying to prompt people to think about what independence will mean to them – to their sector or their
      profession or their locality. It’s about building up a groundswell.

      If any of you are SNP members and you haven’t yet been to the Independence Roadshow I would really encourage you to get along because it addresses that issue directly. We all know that in the last week or so of the Scottish Parliament election campaign there was a big groundswell of support for the SNP which actually had nothing to do with us. We didn’t engineer it – it just happened. At one point we were feeling that we were just teeterng on the brink of winning and then literally days later we were getting canvass reurn back which just looked silly and all the canvassers were saying the same thing – we are speaking to voters who have been Labour all their lives who are telling us this time it’s going to be the SNP and my neighbour is also voting SNP and so is my sister etc,
      we’ve all been talking about it and we’re going to do it.

      There was a groundswell in places like Glasgow where people actually became quite excited about the idea of not voting Labour, about switching to the SNP. It didn’t come from anything we were saying – it came from people talking to each other and kind of deciding collectively that they were going to do it. And it was a big thing to do for many of those people, they were literally changing the habits of a lifetime. If we can get the same kind of groundswell going for independence then we will win but we won’t do that by just talking to each other or arguing with our opponents, we can only do it by talking to voters and getting them excited by the idea so they share that excitement with others. Because it is exciting. It’s the most exciting thing, politically, that could happen in any of our lifetimes. In part I think all the carping and negativity from the anti-independence parties is just about trying to kill that sense of excitement and that’s what we have to guard against more than anything else.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        Not sure if the SNP can really be the ones responsible for encouraging a nonaligned movement that seems a bit back to front and would undermine such a movement’s credibility.

    2. Albalha says:


      I hope the Glasgow council elections carry over the same enthusiasm, not sure if you do the same analysis of intentions for these elections but would be a good start to see Labour lose their power as Dundee achieved after years of their stranglehold on the city.

  20. Donald Adamson says:

    While the Scottish government is surely right to give DevoMax a fair hearing in the consultation process, the push for DevoMax is not as straightforward as some of its advocates assume. For example, even assuming away all the impediments to the progress of DevoMax that Doug identifies, there’s a further assumption on the part of the DevoMaxers that, Scotland having voted for DevoMax, the UK government and UK Treasury would then be duty bound to provide the accommodating response of ‘Well, they’ve voted for it so we’d better give it to them’.

    The position of some nationalist advocates of DevoMax to this possible scenario seems to be something along the lines of, ‘If they didn’t give us DevoMax’ we’d have them where we want them, the Tories, once again, would be frustrating the democratic wishes of the Scottish people, independence is in the bag’. I wouldn’t be so hasty to reach this conclusion.

    Suppose that such a vote went along the lines of ‘DevoMax’ 50%, Independence 30%, No Change 20%. The British government, adding together the DevoMax and the No votes, would be entitled to take the following position: ‘It’s clear from this result that the vast majority of voters in Scotland want to remain in the UK. At long last this issue has now been decisively settled by this referendum result, now let’s see how we can improve things for everyone in Scotland and the rest of UK in the future’. Cue the long grass solution. Where would that leave those Scottish voters who supported DevoMax? A proverbial sentence with the words ‘leg’ and ‘stand on’ in it comes to mind. What would happen then? A second contested and protracted referendum process, a declaration of UDI?

    There’s a very good reason why none of this will happen, of course, and it’s the same reason why none of the unionist parties are advocating DevoMax. The unionist parties know that, short of a Yes vote in an independence referendum, nothing is more guaranteed to lead to the break-up of the UK than to concede DevoMax to Scotland. It would create a constitutional nightmare for a British government and ‘nation’ that prides itself on its constitutional inertia. In this respect, rather than aspire to the heady (but ambiguous) heights of DevoMax, it would be more realistic for the advocates of DevoMax to campaign for a modest Calman plus settlement. Even though, this, too, would meet with a ‘long grass’ response from any British government, it’s as much as Scotland could hope to get out of the British.

    A further assumption of the DevoMaxers, albeit based on opinion poll ‘evidence’, is that the highest vote, in a referendum with the DevoMax option on it, would be for DevoMax. That is, that most voters want more (unspecified) powers for the Scottish parliament but they don’t want independence, at least when responding to the framed questions of pollsters. But suppose pollsters were to ask another question. For example, ‘It’s argued, on the one hand, that DevoMax will lead to the break-up of the UK. On the other hand, failure to implement DevoMax will, among other things, subject Scotland to the continued policies of a Tory government at Westminster now and in the future. In light of these arguments, which of these options best describes your voting intentions in the independence referendum: Independence, DevoMax, No Change?’

    There’s hardly anything newsworthy in the point that many voters in Scotland, like many voters in other countries, are instinctively risk averse, that much we do learn from opinion polls. And while questions are being raised about the robustness of the Yes vote everyone seems to be assuming, on ‘evidence’ that has never been seriously tested yet and before the referendum campaign proper has even begun, that it is the DevoMax vote that is most solid.

    But how secure is this potential vote and how would it change if voters were encouraged to think through the consequences of voting for DevoMax, not just for Scotland but for the future of the UK? Most importantly, what would be the impact in the polls on support for independence if those who currently ‘support’ DevoMax became convinced that DevoMax is nothing but a pipe-dream?

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Donald, the fun will come if “Civic Scotland” or some other well supported grass roots body not connected to a political party comes up with a definition of devo-max’s powers for the referendum ballot paper which is well beyond the powers of the current parliament or is close to the foreign affairs and defence only version that people seem to think devo-max actually means.

      If I was the SNP I’d say we’ll happily put that definition of powers on as long as either Labour or the Conservatives or both promise to implement it in Westminster.

      At this point I suspect that things would get interesting.

      1. Donald Adamson says:

        Hi Doug,

        My apologies, I forgot to say thanks for an excellent article that sets out the issues clearly and succinctly.

        If the ubiquitous ‘Civic Scotland’ ever does get round to that, I agree that, in the circumstances you’ve outlined here, this would get interesting.

        But I keep asking myself the question, what’s in all of this (devo max) for the British government? They know that devo max won’t kill nationalism (in England now as well as Scotland, not to mention Wales and Northern Ireland) and that it would be a recipe for a constitutional nightmare. The British government would be on the wrong end of a zero-sum game if they were ever foolish enough to go down this road. Things are bad enough already with the present devolution settlement without making a bad and deteriorating situation even worse.

      2. DougtheDug says:

        Hi Donald, Thanks for the compliment on the article but it’s simply pointing out the obvious that devo-max has to be delivered by Westminster and therefore has to be acceptable to the rest of the UK as it is simply a transfer of powers within the Union.

        The problem in Scotland appears to be that many seem to think that devo-max can somehow be unilaterally implemented by the SNP or will just happen if it’s asked for and the actual mechanism of its implementation has never been thought through.

        …what’s in all of this (devo max) for the British government?

        Well the answer is of course nothing and that’s why no UK party is promoting it and all want an in/out question for the referendum. Their strategy will be to claim that a no vote will result in more devolution in the future but the powers and timescale for the implementation of this devolution will remain undefined. The classic jam-tomorrow promise.

        Since the SNP have always been clear that they won’t write it or campaign for it and since the three UK parties don’t want it either I always wonder why the press have made such a big thing of devo-max especially as most of the press is hostile to the SNP.

      3. Donald Adamson says:


        I agree wholeheartedly. This is why your piece is important, the independence movement needs to start to nail the myths about devo max.

        What seems to have happened is that pollsters and the MSM have ‘led’ public opinion on this (promoting devo max) and no-one, including ‘Civic Scotland’, seems to have thought ahead about the consequences of this. No-one seems to have even considered the possibility that devo max is a non-starter for both the British government and the UK Treasury, far less the consequences of implementing devo max for the future of the UK. This is why the independence movement needs to dispel the myth that, somehow, devo max is a ‘safe’ option, which I suspect is where many voters are right now.

      4. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Donald and Doug

        Just hang on a minute you’re getting ahead of yourself. The Independence movement? What would that be? Obviously it would have to be something opposed to the SNP for your statement to make any sense. Who was it who raised the issue of a third option? Why, of course, it was Alex Salmond. In an interview immediately after the election he told Glen Campbell he would be open to a third option. Who been promoting the idea since? It’s been SNP ministers who have been defending this since on every political discussion and debate. Alex Salmond has even recently started to make references to civic Scotland’s support of a third option adding to the idea that this would somehow be a viable possibility.

        There is something far wrong with our politics if the SNP has been doing this and we then try to claim it’s not them but others who have been pushing this, and then to claim it’s the nationalist movement’s duty to dispel myths. What sophistry is this? I’m all for analysis and debate but not when we twist the truth to suit our purposes. If the SNP wanted they could at any point have pointed out what you’ve been pointing out but instead they wanted the idea of a third option to get up and running.

      5. Donald Adamson says:


        It’s true that the issue of a third option was first raised by the SNP but all that they were doing here was acknowledging that, before 2011, devo max seems to have been the preferred option of a majority of respondents in Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys as well as being promoted by disparate voices in ‘Civic Scotland’. That is, the idea of devo max didn’t originate with the SNP in 2011 but the idea of the possibility of accommodating this preference in an independence referendum did. Not so much sophistry as good politics.

        The answer to your question: “If the SNP wanted they could at any point have pointed out what you’ve been pointing out but instead they wanted the idea of a third option to get up and running”, is straightforward. The SNP needs the supporters of devo max to see clearly and unambiguously that it is the British government that is killing off any possibility of devo max. Until then, it makes sense for the SNP to publicly keep an ‘open mind’ on it.

      6. Alex Buchan says:

        Exactly. So, given that was their reason, what earthly point is there in us making such a big deal about dispelling myths. Surely, until it’s the appropriate point it was important that such “myths weren’t dispelled. It’s also important that the public don’t think that the SNP were cynically stringing them along. So the best thing we could do is not given that impression by saying it was never an option. Clearly it still is, technically, an option because quite a few inside the Labour Party in Scotland would like the Labour party to campaign for a third option and until it’s absolutely decided that they won’t it remains an option.

        I’m less interested in devo max than in drawing attention to the reality of the evidence of the Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys. Not that I want to deny the possibility of a yes vote but more to highlight the fact that this would require a major turnaround in attitudes on the part of those who wanted more powers inside the union. I want the referendum to win but the idea that voters who can’t get their preference will happily shift to another preference when they are frustrated is not founded on any evidence I’ve seen. The best way for this majority of voters to express that preference is to vote no in the hope that they will get their preference at some point in the future. That’s why I can’t see what your evidence is for saying that this referendum campaign will be decisive. It will clearly be decisive in stopping either side from advancing after they lose, but it’s hardly likely to be decisive in terms of a massive majority, unless it’s for the union due to how things turn out.

        I believe to win this referendum a completely different approach is needed from the one used in the election. I think the SNP is too weak to win it on their own. I believe that there needs to be others involved so that the Scottish Government and the SNP is just one strand of a much bigger movement for change. That’s why I feel there needs to be a very sizable nonaligned campaign and that the sooner such a campaign emerges the better because it will need time to build up.

      7. Donald Adamson says:


        The point of drawing attention to the myth of devo max, as I’ve been trying to argue with you for some time now on Bella, is that this will only be settled by a straight Yes/No question. The British government knows that, the Scottish government knows that and all the political parties know that. But as I indicated to Doug, what seems to have happened, since devolution, is that pollsters, ‘Civic Scotland’, and the MSM have been courting the possibility of devo max, asking ‘leading’ questions about devo max and, not surprisingly, voters have been responsive to that. But no-one has tested what devo max means to voters or what the response of these voters would be if they came to realise that devo max isn’t going to happen. Clearly, the SNP, if it is to maintain trust and credibility with the Scottish electorate, isn’t going to rubbish devo max for the reasons already identified, but they’re implicitly undermining the arguments for devo max anyway with their consistent declarations that they will be campaigning for independence.

        As for your point that “quite a few inside the Labour Party in Scotland” support a third option, I’m tempted to quote your own words from an earlier post back at you here. That is, we need to “get real”. Scottish Labour can’t deliver devo max and I’d go further than that, British Labour can’t and won’t deliver devo max either. First, for the reasons that have already been addressed in earlier posts. Second, even if you disagree with those arguments, the prospects of British Labour getting back into office in 2015 are looking increasingly remote. I need hardly remind you that there’s a Tory government at Westminster with every possibility that they’ll remain in office, in or out of coalition, until 2020.

        When you say, “the idea that voters who can’t get their preference [for devo max] will happily shift to another preference [to independence] when they are frustrated is not founded on any evidence that I’ve seen”, the obvious point here is that you’re not going to see any evidence of this until those preferences are finally frustrated.

        At the moment, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to argue that one of the effects of the devo max obfuscation is that it is deflating the support for independence in the polls. That many respondents, maybe even some nationalists, may be ‘voting’ tactically in these polls because they believe that there is such widespread support for devo max. That’s what I meant earlier when I said that devo max is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy on the most slender grounds. If there’s any substance in this, then what’s remarkable is the fact that support for independence is already quite high in the polls.

        I also don’t share your confidence that, “The best way for this majority of voters to express that preference is to vote no in the hope that they will get their preference [for devo max] at some point in the future”. But who is going to deliver this preference that none of the parties in Scotland or Britain wants because they all understand that it’s unrealistic as well as its consequences for the future of the UK?

        All I meant when I said that the campaign will be decisive is that, short of an exact 50-50 split in the vote, it will deliver victory for one side or the other. At this stage I don’t think it would be sensible to predict the outcome of the referendum and, for that reason, I wouldn’t speculate about the size of a majority (either way).

        I agree with your last paragraph. This is an issue that’s been addressed on Bella before many times, usually on variations of the argument that independence is too important to be left to the SNP. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the disparate voices that currently comprise the ‘independence movement’ (outside the SNP) will form into a coherent coalition once the campaign proper is underway. At the moment, the Scottish Independence Convention, which Mike and Kevin are heavily involved in, (I’m just a humble ordinary member myself), is one of the bodies that could lead, mobilise or even comprise such a movement but I personally would like to see others.

      8. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Donald

        You express your views very well and your argument is now quite clear, but I still disagree. In your previous comment you said that being open to the possibility of a third option was not sophistry but good politics, on that we agree. You seem to be rowing back from that now, saying that it has detracted support from independence, which is why you feel you have to dispel myths. I think your understanding of politics here is too one dimensional. I am not rowing back, I believe the Scottish Government’s position is good politics for lots of reasons.

        1) It stops the debate being purely polarised around independence or the status quo. In doing this it prevents the no camp directing all there attention on countering independence. They are clearly aware of this, and frustrated by it, which is why they keep calling for an end to discussion over process (the number of questions is the thing that gives the issue of process real meat and diverts their energies).
        2) It frustrates the no camp in making one of their main arguments which is that independence is separate from the long tradition of home rule and more powers. This has been Scottish Labour constant refrain of late. By supporting the right to a third option the Scottish Government is putting itself on the same side as home rule against the unionist parties.
        3) It makes the debate on Scotland’s future in the media far more nuance and malleable than it would have been if there was just a straight choice. This has led to the interesting situation where many people have come out in support of full powers inside the union including many English columnists. This has moved the debate on to the ground the Scottish Government wants it to be with a presumption now that something has to happen and that the present situation is unsatisfactory.
        4) It sows division in the unionist parties, not just in Scottish Labour, ex MP and Party Chairman Peter Duncan has come out in favour of the Tories campaigning on Devo max, he is very close to Murdo Fraser so may be speaking for a wider section of Tory MSPs, thus weakening Ruth Davidson and confusing the Tories position. The LibDems obviously had the Steel Commission and have only managed to retain a public show of unity by setting up a new commission under Ming Campbell.
        5) It leads to calls in England for English devolution. A straight vote on independence would have isolated the issue from other issues, but the devo max option opens up the whole issue of how the UK is governed and gives Alex Salmond far more leeway to blur Scottish independence into a discussion of both Scotland and England being freed from the constraints of Britain. This complicates things for the unionist parties, and John Redwood and Simon Hughes have now come out for more devolution for England, these are both senior politicians.
        6) Most importantly it helps the SNP with the most difficult issue which is the widespread opposition in Scotland to breaking up Britain. By being open to a third option the SNP are signalling that they are listening to Scottish concerns on this issue which makes it for those wishing to characterise them as extremists dead set on breaking up Britain.

        For all of these reasons, and I could quite easily identify other good reasons, I feel the Scottish Government is right. What I feel is called for is for those who support independence to give the Scottish Government and Alex Salmond more credit and to defend the Scottish Government’s position.

      9. Donald Adamson says:


        I think you’re being a wee bit unfair here and not only because you misrepresent my position. Yesterday (Jan 22nd, 2.58 pm) you criticised me because you thought that I was putting “sophisticated arguments”. Today (Jan 23rd, 11.17 am ) it seems that I’m reduced to being “one dimensional” man! For the avoidance of any doubt let me tell you, in my own words, what my position is, based on the exchanges between us.

        I thought that in acknowledging the SNPs “good politics” on the devo max issue that it was understood that what I was doing here was drawing attention to the realities of the Scottish government’s position. I also thought that I made it clear that the SNP knows full well that devo max is a non-starter and provided reasons for this.

        So why make a fuss about the myths of devo max? I’ve given you a number of reasons for that. First, this will be only be settled, ultimately, by a straight Yes/No question. I’d like this clarified sooner rather than later. Contrary to what you say, this is a “polarised debate” between independence and the status quo. The SNP will be campaigning for independence and the unionists will be campaigning for the status quo (to keep Scotland in the union). There’s nothing “one dimensional” about that, it just happens to be the reality that, sooner or later, will dominate this debate. The implication of your position is that this debate is best avoided by keeping devo max alive as long as possible. This leads to the second reason I gave you.

        The devo max option is obfuscating that debate. But doesn’t this contradict the “good politics” argument? The “good politics” argument isn’t going to hold for much longer, I suspect (and hope) that it will be resolved shortly after the Scottish and British governments have completed their consultation processes. What worries me about your position is that, if I’ve understood you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that the longer the SNP keeps alive the option of devo max, the stronger will be the SNPs position as the unionists, poor souls, run around like headless chickens trying to work out their best strategy. Not only does this underestimate the unionists, it overestimates the value of the prolongation of this “good politics” for the SNP. That leads to my third reason.

        The devo max debate is deflating the support for independence in the polls. I can assure you that there’s no “rowing back” here from any position. I can also assure you that, if there was any “rowing back” on my part, I’d hold my hand up and admit it (my contributions to Bella are not fuelled by testosterone). This is where you also misrepresent my position when you say, “In your previous comment you said that being open to the possibility of a third option was not sophistry but good politics, on that we agree. You seem to be rowing back from that now, saying that it has detracted support from independence, which is why you feel you have to dispel myths”.

        That’s not quite what I said. What I said was that, “one of the effects of the devo max obfuscation was that it was deflating support for independence in the polls”. In other words, keeping alive the false hope of devo max is artificially reducing the support for independence in the polls. I then went on, in my fourth paragraph, to provide a partial explanation for this. The point I was making here was to contest what I have called your “fatalist” argument that all, or at least a significant majority, of those respondents currently expressing support for devo max will vote No in the independence referendum.

        It seems to me that what you are doing in the points that you itemise in 1-6 is making a virtue out of necessity, based on your own reading of your expectation of the outcome of an independence referendum as well as a few, dare I say it, “sophisticated” arguments. You’ve convinced yourself that the prolongation of the devo max option is a win-win situation for the SNP because you don’t believe that in a straight Yes/No referendum question, the Yes campaign can win.

        As I’ve said before, you seem to be looking for a degree of certitude on this that no-one can provide you with and it makes sense, from this perspective, to want to keep devo max alive as long as possible. I take the opposite approach. I believe that a Yes vote can win whilst acknowledging that there’s no risk-free strategy. I also believe that the devo max issue is obfuscating this whole debate and, if it continues for much longer, there’s a real risk that what, up to now, has been a strength for the SNP, could turn into a weakness.

        There’s one final reason why I think that the myth of devo max should be exposed and that is because it is a myth, a myth that, up to now, has been propagated by, among others, ‘Civic Scotland’, the MSM and, by default, pollsters. It’s true that discontent with the devolution settlement has been growing for some time now. But, as I’ve indicated in a number of my own posts on Bella, although there is this genuine discontent with devolution, there are also a number of domestic and international factors behind much of this discontent, many of which have nothing to do with devolution itself but which are being channelled into the present devolution settlement. This, I would argue, provides more hope to the Yes campaign than it does to the No campaign. |And while keeping the devo max option alive may have temporarily put the SNP in a strong position, the longer it remains alive the more it impedes the campaign for independence and it’s this, ultimately, that is my biggest concern here.

      10. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Donald

        Clearly we have a different assessment of where the Scottish public are. The Scottish Government shows no great sign of wanting to close down the uncertainty over the nature of the ballot. I put my trust in Alex Salmond’s political judgment.

  21. Alex Buchan says:

    I’m not saying devo max should be on the ballot. There are a lot of complicated considerations that I don’t claim to be able to fully answer but both your points need examining.

    1) The Scottish government have made it clear that they don’t want the kind of vote that would grade the results as you outline. They want two separate questions pitting Independence and devo max against the status quo. Now I agree with you (which is why I don’t claim to know if devo max should or shouldn’t be on the ballot) insofar as I agree that any such arrangement could lead to arguments. If, in the play off between independence and the status quo, the status quo scored 65% and, if in the play off between devo max and the status quo, devo max got 63% then unionists could argue that, even though there was a decisive majority for devo max in the second vote there was an even bigger majority for the status quo in the first vote. So clearly that formulation wouldn’t be satisfactory. Peter Kellner lays out all the possible voting options and their implications in Our Kingdom.

    2) On your second point see Indy’s comments above on the overwhelming evidence from the experience of SNP members chapping on doors. In my opinion this is even more conclusive than opinion polls. There is widespread support for Scotland standing on its own feet but equally strong opposition for breaking up Britain i.e. people’s preference is for maximum powers inside Britain. No one seriously believes devo max option wouldn’t gain most support, and that includes the British government.

  22. Donald Adamson says:

    Hi Alex,

    We’re all agreed that there’s no risk-free strategy, how could it be otherwise?

    1) This demonstrates why a straight Yes/No vote would be preferable.

    2) I wouldn’t dream of questioning the results of Indy’s door-chapping polls but people pay more attention to the polls in the MSM and it’s those polls that have an impact on voters’ preferences.

    “No one seriously believes devo max option wouldn’t gain most support, and that includes the British government”.

    I would re-phrase that to: The only reason that devo max appears to have most support is because its supporters, inaccurately, believe that a British government would or could deliver it.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      It’s got nothing to do with what the public will make of Indy’s door chapping experience, give me some credit! There’s no point doing exercises setting up stupid proposition and then knocking them down what is that supposed to prove. But nationalist can’t have it both ways. We can’t say we have the most people out there and the most authoritative knowledge of what people think and that this was borne out by our experience during the last Scottish election where we picked up that the momentum only came in the last few days etc. (see Indy’s comments above) and then turn round and disown the information we are getting when it doesn’t please us.

      Unless we get much more detailed polling evidence as to voters’ nuanced views are we can’t know what the implication of what voters are saying is. Indy and others inside the SNP are taking the attitude that a preference for Scotland standing on its own feet will trump not wanting to break up Britain once voters see that they can’t have Scotland standing on its own feet without independence, but that is an unwarranted assumption.

      Voters have experienced a process over the last two decades of a constant move in one direction. We might not think much of Calman but most voters just see the broad outlines which are that the unionist parties are in retreat and Scotland is gradually getting more powers. We can argue with them that that won’t happen, or that it won’t happen fast enough, but the unionist parties will be reinforcing that perception, so they are liable to fall back on their own experience and question why they should take the risks involved in breaking up Britain. They may well as a whole take the view that there is a good chance that not wanting to break up Britain can quite happily be accommodated with a view that Alex Salmond will most likely end up get some extra powers and eventually over time they will get their preferred option.

      Now without detailed polling evidence we will never know until the vote itself (or we might start to see a trend in voting figures in polls) but no one can say for sure that this is less likely than the view expressed by Indy. SNP supporters are bound to interpret things in a way that gives them hope but the combined evidence of polls (which still show devo max in the lead) and what’s said in on the door step all points in one direction. Breaking up Britain is the big no no. We need to start getting real and stop telling ourselves reassuring things backed up by lots of sophisticated arguments.

    2. Indy says:

      I am not talking about carrying out a poll as such. In the context of the referendum it is important that we actually know what people think and what the barriers to them votimg for independence are. We have to be in a position to target messages very oprecisely. For example if Mrs McGlumpher says I like the idea of independence but my pension is paid from England and I am worried that I won’t get it if Scotland becomes independent. That is what would stop me voting yes. Then we know exactly what reassurance needs to be provided to Mrs McGlumpher. This is what needs to be done on a massive scale, door by door.

  23. Donald Adamson says:


    You misunderstand me. What I meant when I said that, “people pay more attention to the polls in the MSM and it’s those polls that have an impact on voters’ preferences” was not to cast aspersions on your cognitive skills. After all the exchanges that we’ve had on Bella you surely know by now that I have more respect for your arguments than that. Rather, what I meant was that devo max is become a self-fulfilling prophecy on the most slender grounds as support for it has increased in the polls.

    What it comes down to is this. People seem to be supporting a policy (devo max) that they’re not sure exactly what it is, which no political party is advocating, they don’t seem to have considered how unrealistic it is from the British government’s perspective, and which they haven’t thought through the consequences of for the future of the UK. How could they, when no-one even knows what ‘devo max’ is? That was the point I was making.

    You don’t need me to tell you that the British government needs to accommodate not only the impact of any vote for devo max in Scotland but its likely impact on the regions of England and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. Given that even the modest pre-Calman settlement has heightened tensions, resentments etc on both sides of the border, you can forgive any British government, which instinctively recoils from even the most modest constitutional change, for coming to the conclusion that any significant advance on a post-Calman settlement would be potentially disastrous for all the nations of the UK. It would only provoke even more resentment, claims and counter-claims from all the constituent parts of the UK.

    As for Indy’s point that there was a huge groundswell of support for the SNP in the last few days of the 2011 campaign, as Indy will confirm, we’ve addressed this before on Bella. The issue isn’t whether Indy is correct or incorrect in stating this but how this is to be explained. I argued that the explanation was more cumulative, related not only to the SNPs status as the incumbent government, but also to voters’ perceptions of its reputation for competence and that the damage was done to Scottish Labour before the campaign even began. Indy argued that it was campaign related. That’s about where we left it.

    The difference with the referendum campaign, I would argue, is that I think that the referendum campaign will be decisive, much more decisive than the 2011 campaign. The similarity, I would argue, is that there are cumulative processes at work here also. But, either way, to repeat, there is no risk-free strategy, whether the strategy is based on pushing devo max or independence. That’s the other point that I was making.

    The devo max position, at least for those nationalists who support it, seems to have an inbuilt fatalism from a nationalist perspective. It seems to assume that the overwhelming majority of those who are expressing support for devo max will vote No if they are faced with a straight Yes/No question on independence in the referendum. If this is true then there’s no realistic alternative to devo max or what I would prefer to call, more realistically, a modest Calman plus settlement. And if you’re correct in your argument that “Breaking up Britain is the big no no” then, it seems to me that, no matter how “sophisticated” or “real” anyone’s arguments are, the game is up.

    It seems to me that you’re looking for a degree of certitude on this that no-one can provide. An independence referendum was always going to be risky. The point I’m making is that there are huge risks with devo max also and that it’s important to draw attention to this rather than suggest that devo max is somehow a ‘safe’ option. From both a Scottish and British perspective, nationalist and unionist, it isn’t.

    1. Indy says:

      I think most people have an aversion to the idea of “breaking uo Britain” because it sounds divisive, there is a hint of violence even It suggests conflict, it suggests confrontation.It suggests border guards and all that sort of nonsense. It’s an effective tactic for the anti-independence parties and they wil use it. But ib my experience it is pretty easily answered.cos I don’t want to break up Britain either. I lived in London for many years, I have friends there, I have family members down south. Don’t most of us? So if someone says to you I like the idea of Scotland being independent but I don’t want to break up Britain just reply well neither do I. And that is not what independence is about. Independence is about wewhere political power lies, it’s about giving the Scottish Parliament the powers it needs to improve Scotlad. But it won’t make any difference to the ties that bind. We’ll still be abe to travel freely about the UK, visit our family and friends. We’ll still be able to watch East Enders or Coronation Street. None of that wil change. But won’t be governed by the Tories any more,

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