What does “Devo-Max” mean in political terms?
What is Devo-Max? Other than to limit sovereignty for the people of Scotland I have no idea. How many devolved powers add up to Devo-Max? Who knows? How many hairs constitute a head of hair?
In answer to my uncertainty an irate unionist spat it out: “I thought the term well known! According to the dictionary it means, all powers short of independence!!!” (I presume he thinks lots of exclamation marks aid understanding.)
Duly shamed I slunk off to check a dictionary. None carry that ambiguous definition, the term a fairly new one. What I can discern is, maximum devolutionary powers to reduced to “Devo-Max” renders the phrase meaningless, a doctrine obfuscated, signalling less than it promises. Where’s the beef?
The Devo-Max that particularly irate unionist alluded to leads to one conclusion – independence. Nothing exists in international law that has a country enjoy full democratic powers but not the right to call itself a nation state.
Curiously, one can argue powers the Scottish Government hope to secure for the people of Scotland also amount to Devo-Max, but with a profound difference, the certainty they cannot be removed by a neighbour state. Sharing the pound sterling, keeping HRH the Queen as head of state, no border controls, exchanging security information, going to the defence of each nation if attacked, and so on, and so forth, is a kind of Devo-Max.
What powers does a dominant nation withhold from its neighbour?
That is an easy question to answer. In short, control over its economy and how it spends it, rights over its natural resources, and the ability to determine its foreign policy.
The parties pronouncements on the subject, or to be accurate, their lack of concrete proposals, tell us their Devo-Max means Devo-Mini, the minimum powers bestowed that retain ultimate rights in the hands of the United Kingdom parliament. And here we meet a dilemma head on. For many the United Kingdom parliament is the English parliament. With only 59 Scottish MPs there it is no wonder they, like so many Scots, see it as England’s parliament that has never really ceded real power to a union.
Scotland signed an Act of Union, it did not sign an Act of Submission. Nor did it expect to be annexed. While every country has constraints placed upon its economy, both from internal problems, and especially from external sources, most that are not under threat of invasion or embargo see those constraints as normal, irksome from time to time, but most certainly not a serious hinderance to growth. England is no different, it is in union with Europe. It is also in hock to the USA, and joined at the hip on foreign policy. It does not consider those debts inhibiting. Scotland won’t be any different if in a currency union with England, not for the forseeable future.
However, to have a country’s internal economic decisions, how its spends its money and its right not to go to war, entirely in the hands of another nation, is unacceptable. That is the reality of political life in Scotland.
With 59 Scottish MPs at Westminster – soon to be reduced to 52 – Scotland has zero chance of avoiding getting embroiled in colonial wars it detests. English politicians on the right boast that as part of Europe it has enjoyed peace since 1945, hypocrisy of breathtaking audacity. England, as Great Britain, has been in perpetual war with one country or another, some simultaneously, since 1945, usually at the behest of the USA. English dislike “Johnny Foreigner,” many determined to dump the European Union. Scotland wants to retain links with Europe, historically a friend to European trading nations.
The one-sided “special relationship” that has seen so many young lives snuffed out in the name of spreading democracy is a good reason for Scotland to grasp full control over it foreign policy – the ability to say no to America’s expansionist interests when those mean invasion and subjugation.
Why is Devo-Max not offered in the referendum?
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, argued for three questions to be placed on the Referendum ballot paper: yes or no to independence, and one on Devo-Max, the substance of the latter decided before the Referendum. As I argue, Devo-Max had never been, and never has been, defined or quantified. Devo-Max was negotiated out of existence by David Cameron, the United Kingdom’s prime minister. He wants to retain power for Westminster, his is the party of unionism, after all.
A confirmed democrat, Salmond was obliged to give all quarters of opinion in Scotland a choice. Over 75% of Scotland’s people, (not all of them Scottish or born in Scotland) want more powers. This most unionists and the media ignore, doing their level best to compress the issue into one of a nationalist ambition only.
For power to remain undiluted in the hands of the people it must have legal mechanisms to ensure it cannot be relinquished or withdrawn. A constitution is one method, liberty and autonomy the other. When sovereignty resides with the people it gives the electorate power over their elected government in the event of a rogue administration wanting to rescind civil rights, or have its population involved in international disputes and wars.
Not all who voted the SNP into government want full independence.
In Scotland’s 2011 election many who voted are the same that elected the SNP, or felt empathy for that political party’s aims and objectives. The SNP gained a landslide not from SNP supporters. Voters were not afraid of the SNP’s foundation policy, self-governance. That unswerving ideal did not deter them from voting for SNP policies. This was translated into a negative by democracy’s opponents. Labour politicians, bitterly disappointed to see the loss of what they considered their personal fiefdom, claimed the SNP vote was simply a protest vote. Voters would return to them in time, they said. How they expected that to happen without doing anything to win them back is a mystery.
If, as the Labour Party claim, they are the majority party in Scotland, they ought to have won the election easily. Instead, they were trounced from a combination of gross errors of judgement over the collapse of banks, intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, revelation of corruption at Westminster, and among their Scottish constituencies. (One Glaswegian politician invested £50,000 of constituent funds in his son’s company. He was airbrushed from Labour history, away from the press’ gaze.)
The Scottish electorate comprehensively rejected Labour’s inability to move Scotland forward. Labour had decades to improve Scotland’s prospects but squandered it on self-serving rhetoric, consolation prizes, and temporary preferment. As an antidote to the SNP government’s popularity Labour talks the talk of more powers for Scotland’s parliament yet somehow is unable to articulate what it means. They most they offer is a trade: more taxes here, fewer powers there. It gives the impression all the Labour party is doing is quelling the clamour for greater democratic participation.
Anything approved by Westminster can be repealed.
The crusade for greater democratic powers is littered with MPs who betrayed the electorate by subverting the process. One infamous example was the 40% Rule introduced in haste for devolution secured – a minimum voting threshold of the entire registered electorate. That threshold included the absent and the dead. George Cunningham, the Labour MP who conceived the hurdle, remains unrepentant for his anti-egalitarian action.
Though it offered severely limited powers in a devolved assembly, the Scotland Act of 1978 was defeated, but only just. The then leader of the Tory party, Alec Douglas-Hume, (Lord Hume) promised to rectify deficiencies in the Bill but did not honour his pledge when the Conservative party came to power in the same year.
Today, the Labour party is barely discernible from the Tory party, both are the Business Party. They no longer represent those who elect them, only those who lobby and fund them. People realised the SNP furthered Scotland’s case by a mixture of progressive policies, attention to inward investment, and an unsullied party history.
To offer any sort of “Devo-Max” Westminster’s political parties must spell out the powers they wish Scotland to have. Existing to protect the union, they fear the more they gift Scotland the closer Scotland moves to independence in everything but name. Whatever they propose is theoretical, without guarantee of passing a vote in the House of Commons. Westminster stays resolutely silent on what it might offer if the No vote wins the Referendum, and warns that the power elite intend to withdraw decision-making from Scotland if a No vote carries the day.
A nation must be annexed as part of colonial ambition to civilise.
History repeats itself. With monotonous regularity Scotland is warned of retribution to fall will its head if it dares stand tall again. Westminster and Whitehall are obliged to sustain control of their prime border. Scotland is not permitted to draw a red line at its border. That is England’s prerogative. Successive administrations make plain their hostility to a hegemon holding authority over part of what it considers its territory. Threats come from Labourites, Union Loyalists, retired generals, and Tory grandees. There are echoes of threats back in 1707 made if Scotland did not sign a treaty.
It is fairly certain a No vote today will be interpreted as a mandate to subsume Scotland further into English priorities and interests. Westminster won’t encourage a move towards independence, let alone “independence-lite,” to coin a phrase often no different from Devo-Max. And herein lies another falsehood.
Union supporters argue that to use the pound sterling for the short-to-medium term negates independence. They say also, seeking to retain membership of the EU submits sovereignty to another state, in this case, to Brussels. In both cases, England would have to cede some sovereignty as well as Scotland. Perhaps that is what really lies behind the vehemence of their refusal to share the pound, a currency that also belongs to Scotland.
Civil independence in the modern world means integration.
This is not the 19th century. Scotland is not backward looking, desperate to be an imperial expansionist state. The independence offered is small country independence. There is not a nation state in the world that does not rely on another for its stability to some extent, either in trade or in defence, or both.
The United Kingdom is America’s friend so long as successive governments allow USA weapons on British soil. The USA, the world’s self-appointed policeman, is in hock to China, an authoritarian, communist, one-party state. And it in turn is in debt to the tune of billions of potentially worthless USA Treasury bonds. Furthermore, China is dependent to the capitalist western world for its export markets. And so it goes on.
South American countries show the way forward. Their democratic renaissance is startling, no wonder the western press ignore it. When their ambitions are expounded by a strong, elected Latin American leader, they are condemned. (There are parallels with our press’ detestation of the late Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and Scotland’s Alex Salmond, both elected to high office by landslide victories.) South American nations make progress by integration, in trade, in foreign policy, in open borders, supplying goods at token cost, but especially in rolling back USA neo-con extreme capitalism that has kept them impoverished for generations.
The occasional misstep aside, quickly spotted and castigated by western leaders, South American democracy is flourishing, USA influence is waning. Of course, all we hear about is how poor are the poor, and how so-and-so country tops the league of most murders annually. The west has killed more innocents in the name of democratic progress than any thug enforcing justice over his territory.
The west has seen its infrastructure collapse under the weight of fantasy economics, unjust wars, and power placed in fewer and fewer hands. Control of its population is all it has left to maintain the status quo. As I pen this the mayor of London together with London’s police force, the MET, are asking for water cannon to, “control the expected backlash,” riots, of the poor and the disenfranchised. The Referendum seeks to return rights to the people, and to enshrine them in a constitution.
Democratic rights are attacked from all directions and curtailed.
Scotland’s revitalised ambition for self-governance is a reaction to a growing sense of unease shared by other countries, an unhappiness at the way hopes are traduced, a perception globalisation makes only the rich wealthier and themselves poorer financially and democratically. It is the same spur to action many another small nation has experienced that helped gain its autonomy and its self-respect.
Why not Scotland, the oldest nation on earth?