Wednesday, January 5, 2022
A second memo to Chris Hanlon: "recalling" two parliaments that haven't existed since the early 18th Century is not a "relatively simple matter"
Tuesday, January 4, 2022
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.