Why devomax doesn’t work

Would I vote for independence? I don’t know. (Fortunately, I don’t have to make up my mind till autumn 2014.) Whichever way the vote goes then – for independence or for the status quo, devolution within the UK – the future is clear.

The Scottish Parliament was based on the work done by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and two years of solid legislative work in Westminster by Donald Dewar and other Scottish Labour MPs. Though Tony Blair was apt to pat himself on the back for it, his main contribution appears to have been a rather grubby deal carving up what would be Scotland’s territorial waters to give a claim on the oil to the rest of the UK, and removing Scotland’s right to space travel. (Dammit.)

I don’t think there should be a devomax option in the independence ballot for two reasons.

One, because it will ensure a complicated and unsure result in a referendum that must have a clear and certain answer for us to move forward. Whether a majority of those who vote in autumn 2014 vote for independence, or a majority vote for the status quo of devolution, then the clear will of the Scottish people has been established – Scotland must become an independent country, or Scotland must remain part of the UK. No one who holds to the Claim of Right for Scotland can do otherwise but abide by a clear result in the referendum.

Two, because “devomax” has no groundwork. The Scottish Constitutional Convention met between 30th March 1989 and 30th November 1995: six and a half years to produce a blueprint for the Scottish Parliament that allowed all interested groups in Scotland to have some input. A referendum on devomax would need to have that kind of grounded blueprint. Above all, it would need to be clear if devomax would give Scotland control of the oil revenues in Scotland’s territorial waters – and given that devomax must be legislated from Westminster, I think it’s safe to say that no UK government would give those up, especially as the negotiated agreement between Dewar and Blair gives Westminster the rights.

Certainly the think tank that came up with devo-plus doesn’t claim that devomax Scotland would gain control of the oil The “devo-plus” group in Parliament and Reform Scotland say they have a plan for devomax:

Under devo plus, Holyrood would gain new responsibility for welfare benefits except pensions, funding all its own spending through full control of income and corporation tax.

It would also receive a “geographical” share of oil revenues – tax receipts from oil and gas in Scottish territorial waters.

VAT and National Insurance would remain in Westminster hands, but Scotland would control its share of UK borrowing. (BBC)

Reform Scotland, by the way, is a “sister think-tank” to the London think-tank Reform. Reform was founded in 2001 by Nick Herbert, who is now the MP for Arundel and South Downs and the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice since May 2010. and by Andrew Haldenby, who is now Reform’s Director and who was the head of the Political Section in the Conservative Research Department. Reform had an income of just under £1m in 2009: their corporate donors include General Healthcare Group (GHG), KPMG and GlaxoSmithKline. They support the NHS Reform Bill to privatise the NHS.

Reform Scotland claims to be independent of the London-based Reform group. Their key staff includes research director Alison Payne (née Miller), who was a Conservative candidate for the 2007 City Council election in Edinburgh, and a former political adviser to Annabel Goldie.

The Director of Reform Scotland is Geoff Mawdsley, who was a Conservative on Edinburgh Council 1992-1996 and the Conservative candidate for Stirling in the 2001 General election. He was also Policy Manager for Scottish Financial Enterprise, he spent 8 years as Chief Political Adviser to the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, and he worked in public relations and public affairs with GPC, which was made internationally famous in 1998 by Greg Palast.

These are the people who are doing the groundwork for devomax. This is really not the kind of representative group that we need if we are genuinely going to consider a new constitution for Scotland.

It could be argued that independence has no such groundwork either. True, but there are clear international laws and precedents for a country becoming independent where once it was a devolved province. If Scotland becomes independent, there are questions about how the community property will be divided fairly – the BBC, the NHS, the railways, the military: and these are questions which I would ask people who already know they will vote Yes, to urge the Scottish Government to provide answers before the referendum.

But devomax according to Reform Scotland’s plans, a devolution according to the Conservative party? No.

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Filed under Elections, Scottish Politics

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