By G.A.Ponsonby
Gordon Brown this week became the latest Unionist politician to pledge his support for ‘more devolution’.
The former PM was delivering the Donald Dewar lecture when he confirmed his support for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, although Mr Brown made it clear that in his opinion full fiscal autonomy was too far.

With Brown now joining UK PM David Cameron and a host of other Unionist politicians north and south of the border who have also signalled their own support for an all-new beefed up constitutional settlement, it has brought about an intriguing question; just what alternative to full independence will now appear on the ballot paper?

The argument has been put forward that because no political party is willing to adopt the parentless Devo-max option, then there exists no mandate for the ‘third choice’ and thus, it cannot legitimately appear on the referendum ballot paper.

However, it is becoming clearer by the day that the status quo itself is fast losing appeal amongst Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties.  Faced with a growing prospect that the ‘no change’ stance may have no political backers by the time Autumn 2014 comes around then the No campaign faces a difficult task as they try to define what it is they are advocating.

Immediately after the 2007 Scottish election, when faced with an SNP government for the first time the Unionists panicked and set up the now infamous Calman Commission.

The aim was to spike the SNP’s guns by drawing Scots away from independence and onto the safe ground of Devolution.  The commission was a safe pair of hands, completely dominated by Unionists and for the three and a half years from December 2007 until May 2011 much was made of its considerations and recommendations.

However it failed, partly because its limited set of recommendations were then whittled further by Westminster based Unionists.

As May 2011 approached the alternative to an SNP government who had performed well as a minority administration and were offering the Scottish electorate a referendum on the country’s future, was a Unionist cabal intent on preventing any such referendum and offering a meagre plate of constitutional crumbs in response to a growing desire for more powers.

Now, as autumn 2014 moves closer, we are seeing the same game played out with the Calman Commission this time replaced by ‘Better Together’.  Unionists are facing the same dilemma in that they must try to determine the point at which Scots become satisfied with their new Unionist version of devolution.

With two thirds of Scots wanting significantly more powers than is currently on offer through the Scotland Bill, it is inconceivable that Labour, Lib Dems and the Conservatives will maintain a stance of vague promises of unspecified ‘more devolution’.

We are already seeing fractures emerge with former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish calling for something akin to Devo-max, which would see all powers return to Scotland with the exception of foreign affairs and defence.

There is also the Devo-plus camp, which includes Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem members and is seeking considerably more fiscal powers in an attempt at making the Scottish parliament more accountable.

Better Together head Alistair Darling has already given his backing to more income tax powers for the Scottish parliament.

Thus, the pro-Independence camp can merely sit back and watch as the opposition jostle and cracks appear with different factions putting forward their own definition of the new Union.

The Scottish government appear to have won the battle for the referendum date.  Signs are that they have also won the battle for sixteen and seventeen year olds to be allowed to participate in the referendum.

The final, and arguably the most important struggle is the one over what choices are available to the voter on the ballot paper.

Is it possible that what we will eventually end up with is a question over not whether we wish independence or the status quo, but one which asks Scots whether they wish a return of all powers from Westminster or whether they will settle for the, as yet undefined, 'more devolution'?

You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.


Donate to Newsnet Scotland


Latest Comments