Devo-Max is Back

Iain Macwhirter: Devo Max is back, and this time it could be a goer

No matter if one thinks of Scottish journalists as paid hacks of the British state, and let’s be frank, most are, a few do hold tight to their integrity, but they tend to be freelance. Iain Macwhirter is one who has managed to say out of the bag of old rusty bits and ridiculed for it by his peers, and by too-quick-to-condemn Internet tweeters.

Macwhirter announced early that he supported Scotland’s independence, and has held to that while the SNP tortoise is still asleep. He went further and criticised BBC Scotland, a place where he promoted his opinions and earned a fee for his time, only to see himself cold-shouldered by that oh-so terribly impartial news and opinion gathering corporation. You will not see him fronting a television walk-about series on as much as restoring a Clyde steamer, let alone Scotland’s politics. (I hope he is given air time.)

Here, courtesy of his weekly column, Macwhirter looks at the latest wheeze, Home Rule, actually a very old idea. To me, ‘Home Rule’ signifies more of the same from England’s Home counties. The excuse for discussing what is no more than a halfway-house compared to genuine autonomy is the same as ever, the fashionable falsehood that it ‘avoids a divisive referendum’, people at each others throats. Who claimed politics of any national importance involving equality is always conducted harmoniously, peace and light flooding into dark corners? Securing equality means upending the comfortable, and they are sure to squeal blue murder.

A history of England’s conquests reminds us that the half-way solution leaves colonised nations in a worse mess that before, the bungled withdrawal of a dominating British state able to say, we told you so; you needed England’s guiding hand. “We taught you the intricacies of cricket – you still cannot play it properly. What are we to think of you?” When dealing with England, we are dealing with one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and it is all legal.

As one quick-witted reader posted: “England would still choose where the nukes were kept, when and who we went to war with.”

The question that advocates of Devo-Max avoid is also as old as the hills. Alex Salmond offered a version of keeping good links with England yet was thoroughly rejected by opponents for his consideration. To make sure he did not propose it again, he was denounced as a non-person, Politburo-style, aided and abetted by the SNP he had helped create. The notion English interests will not trample all over a Home Rule bill is delusional. If England ever accepted Home Rule the dice will be loaded. A solution must come from the Scots, by Scots, for Scotland.

Moreover, dscussing Home Rule gets the SNP off the hook. We submit to poor leadership, Nicola Sturgeon’s chronic fear of the real thing – independence.

One is tempted to introduce Macwhirter’s article as just a piece of topical whimsy, but Home Rule is bound to gain momentum with Westminster free of influence and leverage from the European Union, one of the smartest moves by the Tory far-right to lasso runaway ‘territories’ and bring them to heel.

Faced by a weak SNP leadership, the Tory Party is having a field day. Instead of ‘what currency will you use?’ they can throw in a whole series of complications to self-reliance on top of climate change and a never-ending pandemic of economic woes.

I have always been of the opinion a Scottish journalist cannot be trusted; he or she will always revert to type. Macwhirter makes good my observation, but he will argue a dry oat cake is fine when cheese is unavailable. Readers can judge his remarks for themselves. To my mind, Home Rule, Devo-Max, however you label it, is the biggest squirrel let loose, so far. Watch our feckless ‘leaders’ chase it.


by Iain Macwhirter

Here’s a counter-factual to reflect upon this week. If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014, would Brexit have happened in 2016? I very much doubt it.

David Cameron, or rather his successor, would surely not have risked a referendum on leaving the European Union after such a disaster as Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom. The Westminster Government would anyway be up to its oxters in negotiations with Scotland over borders, currency, debt, Trident … There just wouldn’t have been the bandwidth to cope with another massive constitutional upheaval.

But of course, Scotland voted No in 2014 by a decisive majority. Mr Cameron went ahead with the Brexit referendum in 2016 thinking it was a slam dunk for Remain. It wasn’t. So we are where we are.

Remainers console themselves by tweeting told-you-so’s about trade and the Northern Ireland Protocol. But the UK will not be rejoining the European Union in the foreseeable future. Vaccine nationalism by Brussels was bad enough, but the imposition of a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will only harden Brexit opinion.

The NI border trouble is beginning to weigh heavily on the minds of independence supporters in Scotland. There is no way around it: leaving the UK, post-Brexit, will a create a hard border with England and a massive currency headache for the provisional government of an independent Scotland. The SNP, having realised this, has opted for denial. Nicola Sturgeon has said precisely nothing of substance about the constitutional future despite last month’s landslide “mandate” for indyref2.

But politics like nature abhors a vacuum, and while the First Minister waits for a referendum that will never come, others are busy reviving the constitutional equivalent of flared trousers: devo max.

Out of fashion

Maximum devolution went out of fashion after 2012, when Mr Cameron insisted on a binary referendum. But it’s suddenly being talked up in the most surprising places. The Alba MP Kenny MacAskill shocked many Alba members last week by calling for “home rule” as an alternative to the present indyref deadlock. He has lost any confidence in Ms Sturgeon as an agent of change. Home rule, the original devo max, has a respectable history, here and in Ireland. It might, Mr MacAskill says, “break the log jam”.

Perhaps he’s right. An unlikely coalition of devo-maxers has emerged from the the closet recently. The former Labour front bencher Neil Findlay, and the Red Paper Collective called last month for maximum devolution of economic powers to deal with Scotland’s social problems. One of our leading academic authorities on nationalism, Professor Jim Mitchell of Edinburgh University, has been arguing for a “third way” that will avoid another divisive referendum. Like many on the nationalist left, he wants to avoid the kind of chaos and angst that the Brexit referendum left in its wake.

How we dislike dissonance

The former Labour MEP David Martin is also worried about social division. Before he left the European Parliament, where he specialised on constitutional issues, Mr Martin had moved toward Yes on the Scottish Question. He is now calling for what he calls “independence in the UK” which sounds like an oxymoron but is a form of asymmetrical federalism.

Under this version of devo max, Scotland would assume completely control of its economy: tax spending and borrowing. The late Donald Dewar once called for something similar back in the day. Further back still this used to labelled “dominion status” when applied to former colonies like Canada and Australia in the 1940s.

Scotland’s “independence” would still be severely constrained under this arrangement, not least by retaining the pound. But that would also have been the case had Scotland voted Yes in 2014. Indeed, Alex Salmond always said his objective was to create a “new UK” based on partnership by self-governing states under the Crown. The 1603 Union would have remained even as the 1707 Union was revoked. The 2013 independence White Paper envisaged a continuing “social union”, guaranteed by common membership of the EU.

Clearly dead?

That 2014 project is clearly dead. But there may now be space opening for a new constitutional settlement along similar lines but without a referendum. Mind you, it would require a lot more than another Vow, or another Smith Commission. To be taken seriously it would have to atone for the breach of trust over the Sewel Convention. That was supposed to ensure that Westminster could not legislate in devolved areas without Holyrood’s consent. But we now know that Sewel wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t printed on.

No alternative

Perhaps something like the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 might work. A statement that Westminster had no “selfish, strategic or economic interest” in Scotland might be the basis for change, as it was in Ireland. The declaration would make clear that Scotland is a sovereign nation, but that it would agree to “pool sovereignty” (rather like states in the EU) in the areas of currency, foreign affairs, strategic defence. That is pretty much the substance of Mr Martin’s “independence in the UK”.

Many nationalists would scoff, especially if this new arrangement were brokered by Prince William after his grandmother passes away. It may sound naive. But what is the alternative?

If a second independence referendum were, by some remote chance, to happen, the best the independence movement could hope for is a narrow victory for Yes. That result would be contested by the unionist minority, just as the Leave vote was resisted by the Remain minority – Ms Sturgeon included – all the way to the Supreme Court.

Independistas have to ask themselves: do they continue with fruitless bickering over an independence referendum that, if it ever happened, would cause a decade of social instability? Scotland is not as far from the politics of Northern Ireland as we’dlike to think.

The SNP is anyway committed to “fiscal autonomy”, which is devo max by another name. Tory and northern Labour MPs would be happy to see the end of the discredited Barnett Formula. The SNP is pro NATO so there need be no strategic issues.

Scotland and England will have to coexist on this small island. Devo-maxers think they can achieve the same objectives as 2014, only without the referendum. Who knows: they may be right.


This entry was posted in BBC, Media, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Devo-Max is Back

  1. duncanio says:

    Iain MacWhirter says ‘“independence in the UK” which sounds like an oxymoron’

    Well, if it sounds like one then it is one.

    I thought that the basic skills of a journalist was literacy?

  2. duncanio says:

    “A statement that Westminster had no “selfish, strategic or economic interest” in Scotland might be the basis for change”.


    But Westminster does have an extremely “selfish, strategic or economic interest” in Scotland. Not its people but its resources of energy (oil, gas, renewable sources), whisky, financial sector, deep-water ports to house nuclear weaponry and its geopolitical importance.

  3. diabloandco says:

    Duncanio , only some journalist possess basic skills – the rest have none, certainl y in Scotland.

    I am beginning to regret buying Mr MacWhirters book.

  4. duncanio says:

    Devo Max relies on a benign British state.:
    The UK is malign, witness the rolling back of current devolution, threatening to breach international treaties, bad faith in its dealing with all devolved administrations etc.

    Devo Max is ambiguous :
    One man’s maximum devolution is another man’s independence light. It would just lead to confusion, interference and ultimately the old Westminster/Holyrood conflict.

    Devo Max is a vote-spliter:
    Just more divide and rule from Westminster.

    Devo Max is not give autonomy on foreign policy:
    More illegal Iraq wars anyone?

    Devo Max does not yield freedom on trade policy:
    So no EFTA or Single Market membership for Scotland … ever

    No, Devolution in any form is over. The UK government killed that with Brexit and the Internal Markets Bill.

    For me it is Independence or bust.

    The only Devo variant that will ever get my vote is the one headed up by Mark Mothersbaugh.

  5. maceasy says:

    It’s a consequence of the log jam we have now. An immovable Johnson with a weak, timid Sturgeon, unwilling to challenge him, content with the status quo. So some are casting about for an improved devolution settlement with more power.
    Apart from the obvious problems, even if you favoured it as a better than nothing option, the two incumbents are the worst possible people to implement anything remotely radical enough to be worthwhile. Johnson we know is a born liar, and also has no pressure to do anything much, other than some cosmetic changes which will be purely more of his typical PR fluff. Sturgeon has no canny strategy, or willingness to make life as awkward as possible (like the DUP do) for him, and has never indicated any passion or belief in actual independence. As it is, she has absolute power, has subverted the major institutions in Scotland and is very handsomely rewarded for it.
    So it is in neither of their interests to do much. Sturgeon loves having Boris in control, as she can offload everything bad on to him, and play the poor, suffering victim.
    So I am not surprised that, in recognising this stalemate, that people are casting about for another solution, anything at all which they think will move things on a notch. It is a sign of resignation to the status quo combined with a desperate desire for some kind of autonomy, compromised as it may be.

  6. LynHay says:

    We have a ruling class of looters operating in gangs, the originating gang in England with outposts in Scotland. And in other colonies too, most notably America where the gang has grown fatter and stronger than the progenitor and now grinds and loots in a cartel.

    But Scotland is ours, and so long as enough of us remain Scottish we shall never be ruled by these gangs. And when our rulers prove themselves unfit to rule, as is now the case, we claim the right to rise up and replace them by all legal means available. Nor shall we accept a puppet show under the name of ‘home rule’ while the prime gang controls the prime strings.

    We shall not be victim to their perfidy again.

  7. Angry Weegie says:

    “The notion English interests will not trample all over a Home Rule bill is delusional. If England ever accepted Home Rule the dice will be loaded. A solution must come from the Scots, by Scots, for Scotland.”
    Absolutely. The English parliament will never accept anything that disadvantages England and, by definition, anything that improves matters in Scotland is bound to have the opposite effect in England.

  8. twathater says:

    There are so many comments that EXPOSE the ability of these proposals to be totally unworkable , we have had over 300 years of lies , corruption and perfidity what would make the future any different , it is sheer panic and frustration by both sides that is forcing even contemplation of these ideas.

    The problem we have is that the electorate have fallen for a charlatan con woman and her disciples whose lies and corruption are being hidden and covered up by the broadcasters and MSM , and unfortunately the tools that we have to expose the putrid rot that is eating Scotland from the inside is not powerful enough or organised enough to expose and destroy the charlatan and her cheerleaders

  9. Ronnie Mcneill says:

    Shove it.

  10. alfbaird says:

    Home rule may well be defined as a wee bittie mair devolution, but it is still colonialism and thus implies continued oppression of the Scottish people.

    Albert Memmi suggested that the only two outcomes for a people under colonial rule are either ‘assimilation or petrification’. The SNP elite appear to fall into the latter category, scared to address or face the oppressor in any meaningful sense, and in the process wasting successive elected national majorities of Scotland’s MPs and MSPs in favour of independence. In essence, doing nothing, unwilling or ‘unable to move’ (i.e. ‘petrification’).

    This is unfortunate not least because Memmi also warns us what is to come, in that “colonization can only disfigure the colonizer” whose behaviour as we see becomes more barbaric in its treatment of the natives and the colonised territory, and in this regard there is inevitably to come “a drama, a still more serious one, if colonization continues”.

  11. lorncal says:

    Somehow, I just don’t buy the ‘she’s too feart’ proposition.

    Look at the division she has caused by not moving towards independence and by backing the trans horse. She has torn the party and the country apart on both these issues. Nah, she decided not to go after independence; it’s as simple as that.

    When that great influx of members came in 2015, she never intended to use them to gain independence. Too many of them were pseudo ‘wokists’ fleeing the Labour Party, and they chimed with her own pseudo ‘woke’ philosophy. That is why independence has stalled. These people, backed by her, and the Greens, want this stuff pushed through before independence, but pushing it through in Scotland will mean that the emphasis will then move to England.

    So many people think that this movement is just here. It isn’t; it is everywhere. It is powerful and backed by mega bucks. What happens here sends vibrations through the web down to England where the potential capture is huge.

    As per, we are the lab rats for England – even in this. Independence will remain on the back burner till this stuff is either pushed through or defeated, and, if it is pushed through, women will be so alienated and despairing that their vote will shrivel.

    The women’s vote for independence is crucial. I have been warning for some time that the protection of women’s spaces and rights is inextricably linked to independence, but I feel that I am whistling in the wind.

  12. Grouse Beater says:

    The ‘too feart’ thesis is based on plenty of evidence that Ms Sturgeon is out of her depth, knows it, and so stays well clear of risking her career and legacy. That’s called fear in anybody’s language.

  13. lorncal says:

    Okay, Grousebeater, I get it. For her, it’s personal, and I agree. However, that does not preclude shying away from independence because another agenda comes prior to it. The spider’s web that is the trans lobby – specifically, Stonewall – has entangled ever aspect, every department of governance in Scotland. That it has been allowed to do so, is no coincidence, surely? The link between this infiltration and the stasis we find ourselves in re independence are linked?

  14. alfbaird says:

    It seems difficult not to conclude that the SNP elite’s unwillingness to do anything about independence is the result of their ‘petrification’. There are clearly many avenues they could take either individually or collectively in order to up the ante, with examples such as:

    – hold a plebiscite election (May was an opportunity)
    – use the elected sovereign nationalist majorities at Westminster and Holyrood to withdraw Scotland from UK
    – take a Scottish delegation to the UN and its Decolonization Committee C24 and make the case for decolonization
    – test lawfulness of Scotland’s MP’s withdrawal of Scotland from the UK treaty in a Scottish court
    – hold another referendum without a S.30
    – introduce secondary criteria for national referendum voting (as in New Caledonia)
    – non-cooperation with Downing St
    – withdrawal of SNP MPs from Westminster
    – dissolve Holyrood and hold a plebiscite election on independence
    – establish a Scottish Civil Service
    – Appoint senior personnel running Scotland’s public bodies from among Scots
    – close the border
    – set up ports in Scotland with direct ferry links to the continent
    – get Scotland to join EFTA
    – establish shadow ministries for reserved powers
    – etc etc

    The SNP elite are clearly scared to do anything about independence or even to prepare the ground for independence.

  15. jim4indy says:

    “A statement that Westminster had no “selfish, strategic or economic interest” in Scotland might be the basis for change.”

    If they could make a statement like that Iain – ‘cross our hearts and hope to die” – then there would be no reason not to shake hands on independence immediately.

    If you have something of no value, you are anxious to get rid of it. If you have something of high value, you will not part with it. The desperation with which they cling to Scotland is the proof of how much of a perk we are to them and how little we need them to thrive.

    “If a second independence referendum were, by some remote chance, to happen, the best the independence movement could hope for is a narrow victory for Yes.”

    That statement is only true under the current SNP “Leadership”. With virtually zero encouragement and positive case since 2014, the people of Scotland have handed the SNP mandate after mandate. The only deadlock here is Sturgeon and her ever-narrowing leadership circle. She is resounding proof that intellectual bankruptcy is never an impediment to political success. But when you also heap a mountain of corruption and mendacity on top of that, the inglorious end is not far away.

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