In a spectacular failure of democracy the clear winner of the Scottish independence referendum was actually not an option on the ballot paper. Whatever you call it and however you define terms such as Devo Max, Federalism / Home Rule or the even more sedate localism (probably soon to be called ultra-localism by the media) the political and constitutional agenda across the UK has changed for good.
Scottish local councils body COSLA and their counterparts in the rest of the UK are calling on Westminster to devolve more powers not just to Scotland and Holyrood,but to council bodies right across the UK. They argue that the Scottish Independence referendum debate has shattered trust in the old centralised way of running the country and that it is beyond repair. Business for Scotland has previously written about localisation and always believed that independence is just a step in the localisation process (Why Scotland needs a productive economy that spreads wealth).
The Scottish Case for Devo Max / Home rule
The Scottish Government had originally suggested that Devo Max be an option on the ballot paper for the Scottish Independence referendum and that was supported by Business for Scotland. The UK Government fought to remove that option, which meant during the campaign that Devo Max was not the subject of scrutiny and public investigation. If Devo Max had been an option then Business for Scotland believes that it would have failed in comparison to independence in the eyes of the Scottish people, but would have been seen as optimum if compared only to the status quo represented by a No vote.
In the last week of the campaign public polls showed a dramatic shortening of the gap between the Yes and No options with one poll showing a Yes lead. We understand that more extensive and reliable canvassing returns for political parties showed a sizeable and growing poll lead for Yes. Faced with the prospect of losing the referendum the heads of the Unionist parties issued a vow on new powers on the front page of a national newspaper, which effectively sought to redefine the meaning of a No vote.
The Vow contained the claim that:
“The Scottish Parliament is permanent and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered.”
The political leader of the No campaign and UK Prime Minister David Cameron said on the 15th of September:
““If we get a No vote on Thursday, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament.”
Other senior and official spokespeople for the No campaign such as former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, having previously said that Scotland would be as close as possible to a federal state within one or two years, offered No voters “a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom” on the 8th of September.
Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on the 13th of September spoke of “effective Home Rule”.
By these actions and clear and strongly worded commitments to the Scottish people in the face of what seemed a likely Yes vote, the official No campaign sought to redefine the meaning of a No vote. They succeeded, and in doing so won a mandate from the people of Scotland for substantial and significant change, for more powers to be devolved to an extent that can be defined as Devo Max/home rule and as close to Federalism as possible within the confines of the UK.
The Smith Commission must now seek to define what that means and suggest proposals that are acceptable to the Scottish people. If the Commission fails to do this, or the Westminster parties seek to water down or fail to implement the Commission’s recommendations, then the people of Scotland may decide to challenge the mandate to maintain the UK gained by the offer of extensive new powers.
As well as the principle of extensive new powers we strongly believe the principle that 16 and 17 years olds can be trusted to vote intelligently and diligently has been proven. We believe that allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the next UK General Election should be fast tracked ahead of other new powers to be in place for May 2015.
The effect of the Vow on the referendum result
A survey carried out by YouGov on March 24th for The Times, when compared to another YouGov survey on September 5th for The Sunday Times, demonstrates clearly both the growing support for Yes 34 – 45% when compared to No change, which declined from 24% to 15% support. Increased devolution maintained steady support, falling slightly from 40% to 38%, but as previously mentioned had the advantage of not being critically scrutinised.
By seeking to redefine the No vote in the way described above, the No Campaign sought to add the support for increased devolution/Devo max to the No vote so that support for extensive new powers could be added to the rapidly sinking support for No change.
Assuming that the Yes supporters, given that independence is no longer on offer, will support maximum devolution then adding the support for increased devolution in these polls would indicate that more than 3/4 of the population at the very least (and a significant majority of No voters) support the promised modern form of home rule, near federalism and extensive new powers on offer.
We are now it seems fully committed to Devo Max despite the fact that it wasn’t subject to democratic and media scrutiny during the campaign. If anyone thinks that the hard line No supporters especially in Westminster are not going to try to sabotage the devolution of extra powers then they have not been paying attention.
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This article is based upon an excerpt from Business for Scotland submission to the Smith Commission, this will be available on our website on Monday.