Is the Alternative to Independence More Devolution?

The unionists are claiming that the Scottish Parliament will get more powers in the event of a No vote, and the media are talking as though we are being promised something significant. It is true that many Scottish voters would have chosen devo max if that had been on offer, but the unionist proposals fall very far short of that. Nevertheless, it is worth considering what are the chances of significant additional powers being granted in the event of a No vote.

First of all, we have to remember that these ‘promises’ are being made by politicians who are not renowned for being trustworthy. For example, before the 2010 general election, Cameron said that there would be no major reorganisation of the NHS in England, but he started one within a few weeks of becoming PM. It is therefore likely that any such promises will be quietly forgotten about following the general election next year.

Even if they are not, the next step will be the creation of a commission or convention, which will spend the next couple of years leisurely deciding just how little can be offered. Eventually a bill will be put before Parliament. In order for it to pass in the Commons, it is likely that one of two things will have to happen, given that it is unlikely that whichever party wins the next election will have a large majority. Either the opposition will have to agree to support the bill, or the government (whether Tory or Labour) will have to avoid any significant back bench rebellion – something which is more difficult than it used to be because the government cannot make a vote a confidence vote and thereby threaten revolting back-benchers with a general election.

Today I read a number of comments on the BBC news website, and many of the comments appear to be from people outside Scotland who are angry that the Scottish government might get any additional powers. The canards that Scotland is heavily subsidised by England, and that Scots want independence because we hate the English, also appear with depressing frequency. These ideas, spread by the unionist press as part of their campaign against independence, appear to have found fertile ground and taken root. English MPs will of course take into account the views of their constituents, and many of these will be vocally opposed to anything that is seen as rewarding Scotland for voting No.

The dark horse in English politics (in perhaps more than one sense) is UKIP, who would like to reduce the powers of the Scottish Parliament, not increase them. They might have a significant number of MPs after the next election, and might even be a coalition partner of the Tories.

Even Scottish Labour MPs appear to be opposed to additional powers for Holyrood, because these will inevitably diminish the status of Scottish MPs. Any major extension of devolution will exacerbate the infamous West Lothian Question, and may result in Scottish MPs being formally barred from debates and votes on matters which do not apply to Scotland; they would then effectively be second class MPs.

I therefore suspect that, even if the next UK government were to put forward a bill to give the Scottish government more powers, it might be voted down in the commons; the more significant the powers offered might be, the less likely it is that they would be passed. If the government did manage to get the bill through the Commons, there would still be the Lords; my guess is that the ‘vermin in ermine’ would be quite happy to punish Scotland for daring to give the British Establishment a fright.

All talk of additional powers by the unionist parties is a confidence trick; even if they were willing to deliver them, it is very doubtful whether they could manage to do so.

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