Scottish home rule or 'Devo Max' is as relevant as the Schleswig-Holstein Question to the independence debate – Kenny MacAskill MP

Last week saw the resurrection of Devo Max with many taking to their keyboards and others in print to debate its merits or otherwise.

But whilst it burned up Twitter and brought forth heated demands and equally strenuous denials, it remained an esoteric debate.

It’s not on the agenda and, along with another Indy referendum, it’s just not happening any time soon. Nor was it either discussed or even mooted in Westminster or any the major corridors of power. It’s a debate with no substance.

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Whilst not “as dead as a dodo”, it has as much relevance as the proverbial Schleswig-Holstein Question. The Tory government just ain’t interested.

They’re no more going to listen to the pleas of Nicola Sturgeon for a “gold-plated” referendum, than they are for squeals from lesser mortals to make it a multi-option one.

Coronavirus still dominates and it’s “the economy, stupid” that’s going to dominate now and for some time to come. Talk of a referendum will remain just that, as the focus and agenda will be on unemployment and the cost of living.

Demands for a referendum will be rebuffed and discussions about its wording won’t even enter into it.

For a new phrase has entered the political lexicon and has far more resonance in Westminster than Devo Max ever had. Its “muscular unionism” which roughly translates as “take what you get Jock”, if not “know yer place Scotland”.

Home rule is no longer on the agenda, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)Home rule is no longer on the agenda, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Home rule is no longer on the agenda, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
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It’s redolent in almost all the Tory government’s recent actions. There’s neither discussion nor even debate. That applies not just in rebuffing any thoughts of enhanced devolution but in the application of the current constitutional settlement. The Internal Market Act’s imposed, Scotland side-lined and Westminster dominant.

Welcome to the new age of devolution. Harking back to 2014’s pointless. That was then and this is now. There was no multi-option referendum then as Cameron in his arrogance, which would ultimately cost him dear on Brexit, assumed he’d win it comfortably and ruled it out.

There’s going to be no referendum but even if there was, it would require clarifying just what Devo Max is. Yet ever since 2014, if not even before “the vow”, it remains whatever an individual thinks.

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To vote on it in the abstract would be absurd and, before it or after it, there would doubtless have to be some commission, taking an eternity to discuss, let alone deliver.

If there was any willingness to head in that direction, then it would be evident now. Devolution would be evolving, and powers would be being granted incrementally.

The arrival of Wales on the constitutional scene, through the enigmatic but very effective First Minister Mark Drakeford, has surely given an impetus for that. But there’s no relaxation of the Union’s muscles, indeed quite the opposite.

It’s why if Scotland wants to move the constitutional debate forward, then it’s going to have to do it itself, not cede powers and timing to Westminster, as is the Scottish government’s current position. It’s action that’s needed, not an esoteric debate.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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