The question of devo-max versus independence is, for me, one of the greatest anomalies to date of the Scottish independence debate. Whilst the vast majority of polls indicate consistently strong support for a straight choice no vote, a highly significant number of Scots indicate time and time again that they would be in favour of the devo-max option.
As the debate unfolds, it is rapidly becoming clear how insignificant and unimportant the differences are between devo-max and independence, despite being so exhaustively debated and ultimately rejected by the Scottish government. In fact I would claim, by definition, independence actually is devo-max – surely there can be no greater form of devolution.
It has become very clear over the months of campaigning so far that those making the case for independence are doing so on a very pragmatic basis. After various predictions to the contrary, there has been scarce waving of saltires (aside from Alex Salmond’s inability to resist at Wimbledon), no bagpipes and haggis and no capital being made out of battles fought nearly 400 years ago.
In reality, this is the only way that an independence campaign can hope to have success in Scotland. The Scots are realists; if there is no tangible benefit to be had from being independent then the vast majority would rather stay put. That is a perfectly understandable and reasonable way to think. Moreover, the social connections that it shares with England, Wales and Northern Ireland are too strong for people to make a political decision based on blind patriotism.
The ‘Better Together’ campaign, despite their carefully chosen name, has been inept when it comes to providing a shred of evidence of how Scotland would benefit from remaining within the Union. They have instead provided only a negative picture of an independent Scotland, going down the lazy and well-trodden ‘it’s too much hassle’ and ‘it’s too risky’ route. The campaign has invented increasingly bizarre and fantastical obstacles such as border controls with armed guards and the loss of UK television programmes, which should insult the intelligence of anybody with the smallest iota of common sense. They are also rapidly losing the debate on the economy too and with a Labour party promising to back and maintain the recent disastrous and profoundly damaging Tory cuts if elected in 2015, Scots would be mad not to look at alternatives.
So why is it then, that they differentiate so much between the alternative they seem to support (devo-max) and the one they seem to largely oppose (independence)? Based on figures from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, if you add together the percentage of Scots who said they supported independence and that which indicated support for devo-max (defined here as the Scottish Parliament having control over everything except defence and foreign affairs), the resulting average figure for the period between 2010 and 2012 is 66%. There is therefore a very comfortable majority of Scots who want considerably more home control.
However, it seems to me that there is an almost innate lack of confidence lingering somewhere in the psyche of a lot of Scots. We feel that we can shout loud and be proud about our merits, but we somehow need the sinister comfort blanket of nefarious and corrupt Westminster politics controlled by millionaires – who have not the slightest clue what it’s like to live in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Dundee – to hide behind.
We say in overwhelming numbers that we trust our own parliament in Holyrood far more than we trust its London counterpart. So why is there this reluctance to let the one we trust more make all the decisions that affect our lives? If we define devo-max as it is defined above, then what would actually be that different from full independence?
Or perhaps a more prudent question would be what is better about that situation than independence? Indeed, an independent Scotland would surely have to be in constant dialogue with Westminster about defence and foreign affairs in any case. We would, however, have a real say – something which we currently lack.
We would, for example, have a sufficient mandate to remove evil and exorbitantly expensive nuclear weapons from our most highly populated urban centre. Perhaps we could also use some of the funds saved by not renewing them – which is estimated to total between £15-20 billion – to address poverty and invest in education. It would also certainly go a long way to eradicating the apparent need to terrorise the vulnerable with cruel Tory taxes on spare rooms. We might even be able to look after our pensioners in the harsh winter months rather than letting them freeze in their council houses.
Undoubtedly, the word ‘independence’ is a loaded term. It tends to give rise to other terms such as separation, severance and division. Though based on no scientific fact, it seems to me that the negative connotations associated with these words may be putting people off the idea. Independence, however, needn’t mean a deterioration of the relationship Scotland has with its neighbours. For too long it has been hindered by rule from a different country with very different social values.
As an independent country we will be able to stand side-by-side as a stronger nation with our neighbours. Our differences will no longer divide us.