What will devo-max mean? Part I

Published: 24 September 2014
Author: Paul Cairney

In a two part blog, Paul Cairney asks what will devo-max mean? And how will it play out in different policy areas? Paul will speak today on life after the Scottish independence referendum at the University of Stirling.

One of the unfortunate things about the independence referendum debate is that it did not help us clarify the most likely outcome: something that many people will call ‘devo max’. For some, devo max refers to the idea of devolving everything except foreign and defence policy – something that just can’t happen to Scotland if it remains part of the UK. Instead, at the very least, the Bank of England will remain in charge of monetary policy and the UK Government will retain control of many fiscal policies.

I think that most politicians, and many campaigners, know that devo max is not possible and was not offered during The Vow. Instead, the three UK party leaders offered ‘extensive new powers’ in a remarkably short space of time (with draft legislation to come before the next general election). From that starting point, what might happen?

  1. Each of the main parties produced their own plans before The Vow, and it is difficult to tell what will happen when they all get together, perhaps with the SNP, to produce a settlement that sticks this time – in a small fraction of the time it took to produce the ill-fated Scotland Act 2012. Whatever it is may still be called ‘devo max’, but it will come to mean the maximum you will get, not the maximum you thought you could have.
     
  2. The only thing we can be sure about is this: it won’t be a sensible outcome. By that, I mean it will be a political outcome. People won’t always get together to work out, in a ‘technical’ way, what responsibilities complement each other, and what level of government is appropriate to what decision (if, indeed, that is possible). They won’t always ask: what are the powers for? Instead, the outcome will result from who is the most persuasive or in the best position to further their interests – such as whatever party is in power after the UK General election in 2015. Or, the negotiations will work from what Scotland already has (note that the Scotland Act 1998 devolved to the Scottish Parliament the responsibilities already held by the Scottish Office, and the Scotland Act 2012 did not go much further) and consider what greater settlement people in Scotland and the rest of the UK will be content with.
     
  3. We might start to think about how the Scottish Government might share or negotiate more powers on a regular basis. In one sense, it would have been handier for this process to include a stronger representation from the Liberal Democrats, since they have thought about devolution for a long time and have a relatively mature sense of the idea of sharing powers in key areas - perhaps to encourage routine intergovernmental negotiations rather than seek a stark (and, in practice, often artificial) separation of powers. Such a relationship seems inevitable if the Scottish Government seeks to ‘join up’ its responsibilities with those of the UK – as opposed to a Yes campaign simply waiting for an inadequate settlement to go wrong. 

Later, Paul will examine these powers in more detail. 

 

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