How Do You Solve a Problem Like Devo-Max?

What do we do about devo-max? This peculiar, but simple, constitutional option seems to be causing a great deal of consternation amongst all sides in the independence debate and no-one seems to know what to do with this most impertinent of proposals.

Devo-max is either a legitimate aspiration of the Scottish people, or it is an evil nationalist ploy. It is either, what most people seem to want, or it is a sinister “nat-filled” Trojan horse.

It is, of course, the anti-independence parties that have the greatest issue with devo-max. For them, devo-max has become a totally toxic proposal, which must not get anywhere near a constitutional ballot paper. They are prepared to give up all their other “conditions” to get this removed and they have poured scorn over any suggestion that it be considered.

Their main contention is that devo-max is a consolation prize if the main goal of independence isn’t achieved. They want no succour or comfort for us in the SNP in the event of a failure to secure independence.

But we’re supposed to all be for more powers aren’t we? Eh, well yes, but just not now. The Unionists, as one, seem to put forward the consolidated view that the independence question has to be resolved before we can start to deal with the question of more powers. This, therefore, leaves them in the rather uncomfortable position of opposing independence, but offering what can only be referred to as “jam tomorrow”. This isn’t a good place to be and they know it. It would also mean a great leap of faith by the Scottish people who seem to be doing a collective “aye right” after having the hindsight of having been here before.

But what exactly is devo-max? “It is a proposal without a home, which no-one can define” are the usual well rehearsed gripes! Well, let me try and attempt a little clumsy definition of my own. For me, devo-max would be the devolution of all remaining powers at Westminster, barring defence, foreign affairs and international treaty obligations. We would remain part of the United Kingdom, but effectively run our own affairs, including all financial ones. Simple, and surely if this is what the Scottish people want, this is what they should have regardless of any constitutional niceties.

And what about devo-max and the SNP? It is, of course, not our position, we want independence. We also want more powers for our Parliament, so we don’t have the inbuilt hostility of the anti-independence parties to devo-max. We are also democrats, who believe that the Scottish people are sovereign and they are the ultimate masters of their constitutional progress.

I, therefore, have absolutely no problem about a devo-max option being on the ballot paper and would look forward to engaging with “devo-maxers” about the short journey between what we want with independence and the maximum powers they support.

But we are all bound by the Scottish people, and in the Scotland I believe in, they should always secure what they desire.


This post is Pete’s new article for the Scots Independent newspaper. More information on the Scots Independent can be found on their website at

10 thoughts on “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Devo-Max?

  1. Pingback: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Devo-Max? | Referendum 2014 |

  2. weetam

    I think Devo-Max would make a good transition point to full independence, and maybe could provide the answer to how we would move from one to the other with the minimum of fuss and risk

    I am all for Scottish independence, but at the moment, there are too many questions unanswered and to many things that don’t seem to have been thought of properly, if at all. questions which really Mr. Salmond hasn’t answered properly enough to convince me he is the man to lead Scotland to freedom.

    For example, he alluded to the fact the Bank of England cannot stop Scotland from using Sterling, however, would this take the form of the SAME currency, accepted in England as it is now, or a separate currency with only the name being the same?

    Defence wise, would the current Scottish regiments be drawn into a Scottish army, or would mass conscriptions be drawn country-wide? would ex British army soldiers or current service personnel be eligible for service or not?

    These are not just small scale problems either, these are major issues that need sorting before anyone could even consider the information at hand to vote in the independence referendum in 2014

    1. fourfolksache

      Can’t see your problem with these issues. Agree specific answers should be given but do you really believe that a country the size of Scotland cannot provide currency and defence solutions? Plenty of others do so why should we be different ?

      1. Charles Patrick O'Brien

        I think too much is being placed on the idea that the SNP via Alex Salmond has all the answers or must provide the answers.Now as I see it when we become independent whoever is in government will make the changes and although the SNP can put forward what they would like it cannot be guaranteed,nor can any answer be definitive.

      2. weetam

        i was just using those as an example, but the problem remains that there are more questions than these that have not been answered

  3. Osian Lewis

    A view from outside Scotland:

    I am personally surprised by the strength of feeling towards devo-max in Scotland. As a Welsh nationalist, my reasons for wanting an independent Wales are many, but one of the most important reasons is that I do not want Welsh troops going to fight wars at the imperial Parliament’s orders. It seems to me that devo-max is simply independence without the most important part.

    Do you think Scottish support for devo-max stems from the misconception that with independence, Scots would not be British, and with devo-max, they would be, rather than from the notion of London having control over Scottish defence and foreign affairs?

    I actually think the scare-tactics used by the unionists is what’s driving the support for devo-max. “All the benefits of independence, without actually leaving the union” – obviously not true, but maybe resonant with swing voters?

  4. Thomas Dunlop

    Since the unionists are very coy about putting forward a second question on the referendum, why not turn it to an advantage.

    Why not have the 3 following options

    1) indy max
    2) indy lite
    3) status quo

    [2) being the closest to the current proposals from the SNP]
    1) Full blooded independence with our own currency and a promise to negotiate terms with the EU. i am pro-europe but i think there needs to be a period of adjustment for both scotland and the EU before integration can occur.

  5. lothiansky

    Although I support independence and prefer a one question, yes or no referendum, I would be willing to accept a question regarding Devo-Max as it is the wish of a significant percentage of Scotland’s population if the polls are correct. However, that is only on the basis that someone who champions Devo Max explains what it actually is as I believe many people don’t know or have a vague idea of what it entails.

    For me the surprise is that the Lib Dems have not positioning themselves as the cavalry for Devo Max. After all, they are supposedly federalists. Devo Max would take them to where they want to be, however Rennie and co have positioned themselves as the sidekicks of the Tories again which is doing them no favours whatsoever.

    As was seen in 1979 promises of jam tomorrow are not kept, so those who wish for Devo Max should speak up now!

  6. John B Dick

    Hang on a minute. I thought defence (illegal wars, Scottish Regiments, defence contracts, Trident, bases) was a big part of the reasons why people in Scotland are unhhapy with Westminster governments.

    Independence wouldn’t have been necessary if Donald Dewar’s plan to remodel the UK parliament on the Scottish Parliament had come to fruition. I assume that would entail a small federal and an English parliament fit for purpose in the modern world.

    It took Donald at least 44 years to realise his vision for a Home Rule parliament (assuming he had just thought it all up five minutes before he told me about it). He may have been working on the project since the 1947? plebicite when he was about 7. Certainly by 1954 he had it all worked out from the seating arrangements to the electoral system and the Founding Principles.

    I can’t wait that long. I’m 73. Independence is the best hope of getting governments fit for purpose. The SNP is missing the best reason for independence: getting rid of the culture, customs and practices of the Westminster parliamentary system, and the people who benefit from the lack of real reform.

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