Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Memo to Chris Hanlon: Devo Max is either impossible, or it's a trap

I may be quite unusual among independence supporters in that I would be inclined to take Devo Max if it was genuinely on offer.  I've always been more interested in the concrete reality of self-government than in metaphysical concepts like sovereignty.  For example, any one of the federal states of Austria (such as Salzburg) is theoretically more "sovereign" than the devolved territory of the Basque Country in Spain, and yet in practice the Basque Country has far more autonomy.  Genuine Devo Max, defined as the devolution of everything apart from foreign affairs and defence, would give us 80% of what we want, and yet would be much easier to attain a mandate for, because technically remaining within the United Kingdom would provide sufficient reassurance for many of the people who voted No in 2014.  It would also be a potential stepping stone to full independence, because after a few years of Devo Max the jump to independence would seem much less daunting.

But here's the snag: I've just listed several excellent reasons why genuine Devo Max will never be on offer from the UK government.  Why on earth would an administration that has been busily dismantling the current limited devolution settlement suddenly reverse course and willingly hand over most of the powers of a sovereign state?  For some inexplicable reason, Chris Hanlon of the SNP's Policy Development Committee thinks they will (including, apparently, the power to "sign international treaties").  He believes London will be more likely to agree to a multi-option referendum than to a 2014-style binary-choice referendum on independence.  

The polar opposite is true.  London will not swap a 50% risk of independence for a 90% risk of something that is very close to independence and that might swiftly lead to independence anyway.  That's exactly why the overriding priority for David Cameron's government in the negotiations leading to the 2014 referendum was to avoid a Devo Max option.  They were - remarkably - willing to concede votes at 16 and Scottish control over the date and the question wording just to ensure Devo Max wasn't on the ballot paper.

The only possible reason for supposing it might be any different this time would be if the Tories saw an opportunity to lay a trap, ie. by offering "Devo Max" in name only, or what might be described as the Jackie Bird version of Devo Max.  As with the woolly offer of more powers from the No campaign in 2014, and the media's disgraceful unwillingness to pin them down on what it meant, it's possible we might not even be told what "Devo Max" would consist of until after we vote for it.  I can't help feeling that Chris Hanlon's words are simply helping to facilitate such a trap.

I'm also concerned that the fantastical notion that the Tories would be more likely to agree to a multi-option referendum is a sign that the SNP are still hopelessly in love with the blind alley of securing a Section 30 order at any cost, and no matter how long they have to wait.  The reality is that the only way that they won't break their solemn promise to hold a referendum in 2023 is if they go ahead without a Section 30.

Could we also be seeing the early part of a "softening up" process that will eventually lead to the SNP abandoning its support for full independence?  That may seem fanciful, but consider this - Quebec currently has an anti-independence government that defines itself without any sense of irony as "Quebec nationalist".  I've been wondering for a year or two whether the SNP may be very gradually drifting towards the same destination.

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18 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. The Irish Free State was outside the United Kingdom, of course - it was a Dominion of the British Empire. Devo Max would fall short of that.

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  2. I agree mostly with your points and believe that it is right to be cautious. However there are a couple of points that I'd like to make:

    It's not too different from what Kenny MacAskill said several months ago. It is a step to finding how serious the elements in Labour are about reforming the UK. Going to Labour with a definition of what devomax might mean is a better step than having it dictated solely by Labour. For any dialogue to take place between Labour and pro-Indy elements there needs to be something realistic to talk about.

    I suspect that the Scottish people if given the opportunity to define devomax for themselves (through citizen's jury for example) would agree on something which the UK govt whether Labour or Conservative would not accept. My own minimum threshold for accepting devomax would be that NI, Wales and Scotland working together could out-vote England. If the UK govt would not agree to that then it would be incontrovertible evidence that the Union is for the benefit of England, not NI, Wales or Scotland.

    My next point is that for a halfway house to Indy we should be aiming for the status that Canada, New Zealand & Australia had before they became fully independent. As a minimum we should be aiming for the autonomy of the Isle of Man.

    Like you I doubt very much that it is on offer from the UK govt, but until it is clear to all that the current set up is for the benefit of England then it will be difficult to get to 60%.

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    1. So what? We need 50%+1, not 60%. Insisting on a totally needless and unattainable landslide win is an even bigger trap than Devo Max.

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    2. The fundamental problem with Devo Max or whatever else - is that it can be repealed by any future WM government (unless they ditch the Dicey principle - which they won't). That is why sovereignty is important, and why independence is necessary. Get the power first, and then delegate if you wish.

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  3. SNP leadership = devolutionalists = unionists = SNP = subservience = subjugation = humiliation = colony.

    Independence = Vote Alba.

    Don't be a numpty vote Alba.

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  4. Prior to devolution we were told that all it would take for Scotland to gain independence all we would have to do was for the SNP to win a majority of Westminster seats in Scotland. In other words our sovereignty was in their hands rather than Westminster as a whole. Which is as it should have been given the previous existence of the Scottish Grand Committee and the tacit assumption of Westminster as a kind of permanent joint session of the English and Scottish parliaments. In other words our MPs could unilaterally withdraw from the Treaty of Union with a suitable mandate.

    Devolution was a Devil's bargain where somehow our sovereignty was confiscated and is no longer in the hands of Scotland's elected representatives. One might even say that transfer was achieved by deception. If put to the UN a ruling may very well be made that requiring an S30 to hold an independence referendum is in direct contravention of its charter due to that dubiety.

    As you say Devo Max would simply be a way of making another attempt at tricking us out of our sovereignty.

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    1. Sunshine on CrieffJanuary 5, 2022 at 12:23 PM

      Although a certain prime minister stated that, it was never the case that a majority of Scottish MPs would mean independence. There never has been a time when Scottish Votes for Scottish Laws existed; the Scottish votes for independence in Westminster would simply have been overidden by the MPs from the rest of the UK.

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  5. Even when it is an SNP member Hanlon proposing Devo max the WGD numpties still say it is all Albas fault. The nasty numpty Dr Jim is even worse as he takes it all the way back and blames Salmond for a Devo max option in 2014 which didn't appear on the voting paper.

    These guys are not just numpties these days but totally deranged by their hatred of Alba. They obviously cannot stand a party that ACTUALLY wants independence that shows up the Unionist leadership of the SNP.

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  6. Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands have far more autonomy than Scotland would have under the lie that is Devo Max. The SNP is now sinking under the weight of Quislings.

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  7. I didn't say WM would agree to it, I said the People of Scotland ought to have the choice and that DevoMinMax was the minimum level of additional devolution I would consent to.

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    Replies
    1. To be perfectly honest I have no idea whether that's a spoof comment or not.

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    2. Sunshine on CrieffJanuary 5, 2022 at 12:19 PM

      And that's the problem: within the United Kingdom, if the Westminster government doesn't agree to it it isn't going to happen. "Devomax", or full autonomy within the UK, is just a fantasy for those who want to avoid hard choices (the current Scottish administration?)

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    3. Spineless Trap. Max to eleven.

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  8. " London will agree"

    London will only agree to anything that allows them to remain in control of Scotlands resources and retain political control over Scotland. In other words keep Scotland as its northern colony.

    London's little northern helpers are all there in full view in the SNP/Greens. Just like the members of the Scottish parliament in 1707 sold out their country for personal advancement the current lot are just the same.

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  9. It will be simple to identify a false offer of Devo Max - the Scottish Government should declare that under Devo Max they will suspend contributions towards servicing the UK National Debt until a mutually agreed valuation of Scotland's share has been agreed.

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  10. "They were - remarkably - willing to concede votes at 16 and Scottish control over the date and the question wording just to ensure Devo Max wasn't on the ballot paper"

    I reckon that was because they knew they could rig a binary referendum in the off-chance (as they saw it) that the uppity Scots voted for Yes.

    The had no chance of doing so with an STV multi-choice referendum.

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  11. By the way does no one remember that if you have a devo max question on the ballot it has to be a *second* question?. That way you can vote for both indy on Q1 and devo max on Q2. It would be madness to allow people to shade a vote for devo max in a three category question.

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