By Lesley Riddoch

Does it look as if a No vote has become a vote for Devo More?
The Conservatives surprised many by completing a hat trick of unionist parties proposing more powers for Holyrood if Scots vote No on September 18th.  Lord Strathclyde’s Commission boldly recommended Scots should have full control over income tax and Housing Benefit payments, a step further than Labour and just behind the Lib Dems’ plan to devolve most income tax along with Capital Gains and Inheritance Tax – if any of their Scottish MPs survive the next election, that is.

It’s easy to mock – but also unwise.

With President Obama and Sweden’s Carl Bildt wading into the fraught debate about Britain’s constitutional future, hesitant yes voters might be swayed by an appealing sounding Plan B.  And after all, the unionist parties are doing what was demanded of them – coming up with tax-raising alternatives to independence which were unthinkable a few short months ago.

It always looks a tad churlish to reject repenting sinners – if they are sincere.  So how can independence campaigners counter the impression that Unionist halfway houses are solid constructions with firm foundations — when they patently aren’t?

It’s a tricky problem, but one that was always going to arise.

To be crystal clear, Devo Maybe isn’t enough for me or, I suspect, many who previously campaigned for a second question on the ballot paper.  But Yes campaigners must do more than rely on the tired line about previous broken promises to stop Yes support drifting.

That’s not impossible — in fact Ruth Davidson may have done what Yes leaders have not — invigorated campaigners feeling stuck on a weary, slogan-based auto-pilot waiting for something new to happen with the bare-faced cheek of her stunning volte face.  Perhaps Alex Salmond has something up his sleeve — a big final summer gamechanger.  Probably he doesn’t. 

At least one thing is now certain.  Scots know all the proposed alternatives to independence — and can scrutinise their shortcomings.  That should inject a new sense of reality and a renewed focus for Yes campaigners in the final hundred days.

Obviously Yes activists recoil from the idea that Ruth Davidson’s Damascene conversion to fiscal responsibility for Holyrood’s “pocket money” parliament merits any serious response.  The new Devo More stance contradicts her previous “line in the sand” – the status quo manifesto pledge which allowed her to defeat devo-friendly Murdo Fraser in the battle to succeed Annabel Goldie.

It doesn’t take an arch sceptic to observe that a mind changed once can easily change again. Especially when the response from David Cameron is so underwhelming; “There is no reason why the changes shouldn’t happen early in the next parliament.” A cast iron guarantee that ain’t.

Those with long memories, an instinctive mistrust of Tory pledges and an eye for opportunism will take this Tory “commitment” with a pinch of salt.  After all, if David Cameron wanted to “seal the deal” he could have included plans for Devo More in the Queen’s Speech.  He didn’t.

Commentators point out that the Tories once pioneered Scottish devolution through the “Declaration of Perth” in 1968. Indeed when Margaret Thatcher abandoned Ted Heath’s policy stance in 1976, leading Conservatives like Alick Buchanan-Smith, and Malcolm Rifkind resigned. That could suggest the Tories fierce opposition to devolution was just a Thatcherite “blip” and the party is finally returning to its devolutionary roots.

I’d suggest the whole period offers a different lesson.

Despite the genuine commitment of leading Scottish Tories, devolution was dropped like a stone, not to resurface for almost forty years when a UK leader demanded it.  Such is the track record of a party for whom Scottish home rule is neither a top priority nor a philosophical commitment.  That party hasn’t changed.

The challenge from UKIP means an in-out EU referendum will dominate the next parliament if the Tories win the 2015 General Election.  It’s hard to see how enthusiastic they will be to fight battles on two constitutional fronts at one time, especially when there are no votes to be won in the process from defiantly anti-Tory Scots.

And what of Labour?

Bizarrely the Tory proposals make Labour’s “Devo Nano” plans look even feebler and more timid – a shameful situation for the erstwhile “party of devolution.”  Maybe Ed Balls wishes he hadn’t vetoed quite so many adventurous recommendations from the interim Commission report.

But the Shadow Chancellor’s priority was to safeguard UK institutions by outlawing all but the tiniest amount of diversity and shared control.  There will be one hand on the tiller in Ed Balls ideal world and inching towards that evidently matters more than fixing Scotland’s democratic deficit.

Might those priorities change if all three unionist parties work together?

Sir Menzies Campbell has urged a summit of pro-UK parties within 30 days of September’s referendum to agree a broad programme on devolution in the event of a No vote.  Mind you, Sir Menzies also urged all pro electoral reform UK parties to adopt a more workable form of PR than AV – they all swiftly looked the other way.

That’s already happening over Sir Menzies latest call to arms.  In a guarded response Johann Lamont said: “Where we can cooperate, we shall. [We] won’t turn our faces away from it.”  But added Labour would not “force it” by making promises to collaborate when it disagreed with the Lib Dems. That was March.  I haven’t heard much about the joint summit since.

The reality is that if Labour wins power in 2015, voters in Middle England will have saved the day — and those voters will not welcome a further nano-second “wasted” on the busted flush of Scottish devolution.  Political problems like these dog any delivery of Devo More – there are three major practical problems too.

Firstly a great fuss was made last week about the wildly exaggerated costs of setting up an independent parliament.  But this week not a single question was asked about the cost and structures needed to allow Scottish collection of devolved taxes.

Ruth Davidson did concede that devolution of housing benefit payments might be “hard to achieve”, because it’s set to become part of the UK government’s Universal Credit.  That might yet qualify as understatement of the decade.

And yet, strangely, spending on bureaucratic infrastructure as part of an enhanced devolved settlement isn’t deemed wasteful by unionist parties or the press – it’s an investment in democracy.  These double standards would be laughable if the issue wasn’t so serious.

The No-leaning media is spring loaded to be hyper critical of all Yes plans, but makes very little attempt to subject No proposals to the same degree of scrutiny.  It would have been entertaining to hear Ruth Davidson asked thirteen times if she can guarantee the enabling legislation for Devo More will be passed in the first term of a new Tory-led Government.  But no.  Such even handed, robust, persistent questioning is currently the stuff of dreams.

Secondly, much has been made of the potential danger of a “neverendum” despite SNP pledges that a generation will pass before another independence referendum is proposed if this one fails.  And yet, few recognise the actual danger of endless “Devo-makeovers” where half-baked proposals are constantly revamped as election results demonstrate Scottish voters find them unacceptable.

Most of the “daring” advances proposed by the Calman Commission and enshrined in the Scotland Act 2012 are already toast – extended by all the Unionist parties in these latest proposals.  And don’t forget – even the “adventurous” tax raising powers advocated by Ruth Davidson would only give the Scottish Parliament the same powers as the average tax-raising Nordic municipality.

That may seem like a big deal now.  But give it a couple of months or years and these measures will also be overtaken by political necessity or expedience — wasting resources, wasting time, eroding faith in the democratic process and further breaking faith with voters.

Why, for example, have the Conservatives included Housing Benefit payments in their devolved package?  Could it be because the Bedroom Tax became a potent rallying point for political unrest north of the border?  Is that the best way to decide which powers should be devolved?  And what next in this ragtag, random, piecemeal collection?

Thirdly, the various devolutionary offers for Scotland are not on offer elsewhere in Britain – and that will push the UK further into unbalanced, assymetric devolution.  I’ve tried to think of any other successful state in which one constituent nation of five million has tax-raising powers while others do not and 60 million remain governed by a single remote, central government.  That’s a recipe for ultimate failure.

If unionist parties really believed in devolution, sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander.  And yet there is still not the slightest interest in modernising or decentralising the English state which means hopes of a federal Britain are sadly pie in the sky and animosity to “freewheeling” Scots will only increase as voters in the ravaged and unprotected north of England receive more harsh medicine intended for England’s overheated south.

In the medium term, there will be a limit to the viability of Devo More because it works against the grain of all other UK policy.  The tail simply cannot wag the dog – at least Ed Balls is honest enough to admit it.

But do the various “Devo More” proposals put Yes campaigners on the back foot?  After all 37% of Scots backed the option of more powers before David Cameron (its erstwhile champion) removed it from the ballot paper.  Ah irony, thy nose is crooked (Gaelic meaning of Cameron – look it up).

It would be tempting to counter Unionist proposals by reciting the above-listed shortcomings of technical difficulty, cost, double-standards, and lack of UK priority for devo anything.  Tempting but mistaken.

The only way to counter the siren illusion of an Indy Lite option is to focus on the ways independence scores above any other piecemeal alternative.  And that requires something more than a memorised list.  It requires passion, belief and vision.

Devo More doesn’t tackle the unsavoury aspects of the modern British state — top down governance, centralised control, fear and suspicion of neighbours and immigrants and a low wage economy (which ironically depends on food banks, chronic insecurity and migrant labour).

As Iain Macwhirter wrote in the Herald great care was taken in the Queens Speech not to mention any of the unsavoury aspects of British life that could frighten the Scots; “No mention of that referendum on British withdrawal from Europe; nothing on clamping down on immigration, as promised by David Cameron.  No mention of the market reforms to the NHS, welfare reform or the £12bn in extra public austerity that George Osborne talked of in the Budget.  Nothing on changes to the Barnett Formula, the great unmentionable of the referendum campaign.”
Devo More doesn’t tackle a fast unravelling British polity, turned upside down in England by 30% support for UKIP.  Nor does Devo More tackle the biggest threat facing Scots — not Westminster cuts or even another Conservative Government.  It’s fear of ourselves.

Fear of standing up for that small voice that continues to insist there must be a better way to live than the unfair, unequal, hopeless and dismal society we currently inhabit.  And fear of more social, economic and emotional stagnation as we continue to waste energy bridging the gap between the society we aspire to and the one we accept.

Of course, if Scots could simply lose those lofty ideals, jettison our centuries-old political culture, settle for the dog-eat-dog society that satisfies the more populous south, all might be well.  But the vast majority of Scots cannot.  So we continue to be stretched across two increasingly irreconcilable systems – a top-down, competitive, privatised, market-driven, lost-Empire and royalty-obsessed Britain and an aspiring social democracy in Scotland without the cash or political will to use the limited powers we already have.

The self-confidence of Scots will forever be under-mined by knowing we failed to fight for the dream we share – the truly communitarian society described by Burns in “A Man’s a Man for a That”, evoked by Jimmy Reid in his oft quoted speeches and planned by economists like the late Ailsa Mackay.

Do we just plan to talk a good game about equality eternally, feeling mildly superior to citizens in the rest of the UK or do we plan to embrace equality as the principal goal of Scottish society in our lifetimes?
Of course it seems superficially attractive to have the “best of both worlds.”  In practice that isn’t possible.  There is a British default in political thinking across these islands that clings to destructive, old-fashioned ideas of hierarchy, worth, class and entitlement.  It refuses to recognise how badly society was damaged by Margaret Thatcher’s brutal dismantling and fails to accept how much health, shared wealth and general happiness in this rich country have fallen behind our more equal European neighbours.

Independence is justified because an alternative to conservatism without end is needed.  Scotland is a nation with a distinct political culture and voters who have not backed the market-driven route favoured elsewhere in the UK.  The choice now is fairly simple.  Holyrood or Westminster?

If equality, fairness and sustainability really matter – which government is most likely to deliver?  If putting people above the interests of the City of London matters, which government is most likely to do that without repeating the chaos of the last depressing decade?

The sooner we make a clear choice, the sooner we can create a new path.  The foundations are already built.  Competition or cooperation.  Empire building or empowerment.  The Scots have long willed the outcome – we must now will the means.


2014-06-06 19:25

Excellent piece by Lesley Riddoch that takes apart the mythical “devo-whatever” punted by the unionists and their loyal poodles in the BBC and newspapers.

The ONS reported yesterday that Scots are the best educated people in the world so come on people of Scotland and show the benefits of that education and tell these lying unionists what we think of them by voting YES in 100 days time.
Auld Rock
2014-06-06 19:58

Over two years ago the unionists had the offer to put forward a proposition for the alternative option or devo max. But they spurned the opportunity in the mistaken belief that they had it in the bag as it were. Now they see it slipping away while at the same time we have a new kid on the block in the shape of UKIP. We all know their view on Scottish Independence and even devolution for that matter. So what do we have; the lib/Dems with their Federal idea that was thrown out by the Irish in 1921, New Labour and the Devo Nano which offers even less than the Calman Commission recommended and then we have the Tories and despite what Lesley says they are just not to be trusted. At the end of the day the only way to achieve Scotland’s aspirations is to ensure a ‘YES’ on the 18th September.

Auld Rock
2014-06-06 20:08

DevoANYTHING is a con. As soon as you entertain any ‘devolved’ settlement, you have walked away from the life changing once in a lifetime opportunity for freedom, and committed yourself to discussing the small change of life in captivity.
The referendum will decide nothing more, but nothing less, than who makes our decisions.

The white paper is NOT the definitive Scotland which will emerge from a YES vote, it’s one model of an independent Scotland which establishes independence as a credible objective.
That is a big difference. The White Paper is a blueprint for a whole country. It’s not definitive, just one vision, but all the facets of one possible independent country are considered, & the case is credible.
DevoMAX,or whatever you want to call it, is small scale tinkering of domestic policy of no greater import or permanence than a manifesto commitment.

Talk about DevoMax undermines the magnitude of what is at stake here.
2014-06-06 20:53

Please ignore Devo Anything as it won’t happen. I voted Yes in 1979 and then watched as Scotland’s industry got taken apart by Thatcher. If we vote No we will again get nothing. I don’t care what Ruth Davison, Lord Strathclyde or anyone says, we will get a hammering if we are daft enough to vote No. Just vote Yes and build a new country that takes care of itself and decides its own future.
2014-06-06 23:20

Well said.

2014-06-06 21:10

It never ceases to amaze me how much the Labour Party focuses on beating the SNP rather than improving the lives of the people of Scotland.

Lesley encapsulates the fault lines which separate Scotland from Westminster. Scotland can never drive the debate without a gamechanger and the only one at our disposal is the one which Jim Sillars highlights – our total sovereignty for 15 hours on 18 September.

The Labour Party machine and its politicos are heading for the cliff and don’t realise it. I will not grieve for them. They deserve everything coming to them.
2014-06-07 09:09


Labour have long given up trying to beat the SNP. They are focussed soley on opposing them, on anything and everything. What is in Scotland’s interests does not enter it.

2014-06-06 21:40

Independence is the natural state for most humans on the planet.
The reason that we are having a “debate” about whether We should have independence as a nation or not is because the Westminster establishment has fostered a culture of dependency in our country.
The Tories devastated our industries and British Labour made sure that nothing was done to change that situation.
As a result we have too many Scots who think we are doomed without the “benevolent” support of the British state.
How many kids have a debate with their parents about whether they should leave home or not and whether they will be better off or not?
British state propaganda is now out in the open for all to see and if they succeed in stopping our independence will be an example to all undemocratic states in how to control their populations.
2014-06-06 21:45

Once again Lesley demonstrates that she is amongst the most informed and knowledgable commentators. As the “debate” has unfolded she is able to communicate clearly, to anyone who wants more information, what optIons need their consideration and the likely repercussions of them all. She is among many high calibre individuals coming to the fore in our quest for sovereignty and a better future for all the people of this country. We will succeed and Scotland will rise to not only make this corner of the UK a better place to live an work, we will be the catalyst that starts serious change for our cousins in the south and across the sea. So, far from separating from our comrades in other corners of rUK, we will light a beacon for change in rUK in the future.
2014-06-06 21:47

Scotland must stand on its own feet, make any and all necessary decisions as they arise.
It’s time – indeed it’s long past its time. Shake off all extraneous baggage, forge new bonds and make new and honest friends as we face an exciting new, prosperous future.
Will Mcewan
2014-06-06 22:19

DEceiVO Max
2014-06-06 22:33

The London parties have brought forward some trifling new “powers”,but they can still come together and offer a joint package nearer the referendum if polling suggests they need to.But what ever they promise,it’s highly unlikely Westminster will allow anything substantial or even useful.
2014-06-06 23:28

Excellent analysis – we have come along way along the route to independence, and there’s no turning back. We certainly shouldn’t be considering any side roads or detours – the way ahead is clear and unambiguous. Scotland as a social-democratic, independent country, working to eradicate poverty and the neglect of generations.
2014-06-07 06:10

What we must all remember is that what devolution we already have, are soon to get via Calman and are being ‘promised’ by the Projesct Fear is nothing whatsoever to do with what said parties believe in or want but is purely a reaction to the rise of The SNP – remember George Robertson’s words re the creation of Holyrood.

While some in Scottish Labour and very few in the Scottish Tories believe in further devolution (I’ll concede that the Scottish Liberals may on the whole be a bit more sincere in their desire for more devo) the last thing that their respective Westminster Party Leaders and MPs want is more devo and the chances of a Bill for More Devo presented by whoever forms the next Westminster Government getting a majority is NIL.

Let us not be fooled for a second time by any ‘promises’ made purely to stop The SNP and that form no part of the beliefs of those making them.
2014-06-07 07:53

Is anybody asking you whether you want Independence? YES.

Is anybody asking you which powers you would like to see devolved? NO.

Spot the democracy.
Leader of the Pack
2014-06-07 08:44

Lets be clear here.
There is no devo max no devo plus no devo more and no devo maybe.

There are only 2 guarantees coming out of the referendum result.
With a yes we are guaranteed our Parliamentary Independence with a No we are not.

Everything else is a campaign promise.
The no campaign will be under no obligation at all to give Scotland any concessions in the event of a No vote in fact a No vote will give them the motivation to take away constitutional powers not add to them.

Do not get suckered into playing the Devo something debate with the No camp.

If we get a tory UKIP alliance after a no vote and the next election then we may very well lose our Parliament altogether.
2014-06-07 09:02

Devo-whatever, should there be a No vote, can only be delivered by Westminster.
After that No vote, heaven help us, Westminster MPs will be in no hurry to implement more devo, even if they ever agree on what that Devo would be exactly.
Should another war or financial crisis come along you can be sure Westminster will use it as an excuse to kick devo-whatever into the very-long grass.
In other words: Westminster cannot be trusted.
2014-06-07 11:51

I feel that I have come too late to add much but I will have to say I agree with every single comment on Lesley’s piece. I voted in the 1979 referendum to watch us being cheated out of it, by Labour at that. I watched in 1997 as I saw them trying once again. Surely people will not be taken in yet again. The only solution for Scotland is Independence.

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