Eddie Barnes: At first it was just one orphan, devo-max; now there’s a whole litter of them looking for a home
It does, to be fair, have a guardian: a Mr A Salmond. But Mr Salmond is currently busy polishing the shoes of his own offspring – Independence – and doesn’t have that much time for it.
He does want to keep devo-max alive, however; he knows independence may not make it to adulthood. So he is diligent in trying to find someone to adopt it.
For the time being, he is hoping the task will be fulfilled by something called “Civic Scotland”. But nobody knows who or what this is, least of all itself. For the time being, poor devo-max is left to wander the streets.
Last week, optimistic nationalists may have thought that David Cameron, or perhaps Alistair Darling, was preparing to offer to adopt it. First the Prime Minister said he would look again at the devolution settlement. Then, at the weekend, Mr Darling backed the principle of ensuring that the Holyrood parliament raises the money it spends. But neither will go anywhere near backing devo-max.
This is if we accept the SNP’s version of what devo-max actually is. The party defined it in its 2010 consultation paper on independence (and strangely then left out of its version earlier this year). It reads: “Under this proposal, the Scottish Parliament would, with certain exceptions, be responsible for all laws, taxes and duties in Scotland. The exceptions, which would continue to be the responsibility of the UK parliament, are defence and foreign affairs, financial regulation, monetary policy and the currency.”
Mr Cameron as near as dammit ruled this out on his visit to Edinburgh last week. In a Q&A afterwards, he said that the country needed to “get the balance right” over devolution. He talked up the need for “solidarity” across the UK. By this, he meant the continuation of fiscal transfers – so, for example, Scottish cash helps out Kent (or vice versa) when required. Talking up the benefits of the UK, he expressly mentioned “the fiscal union”. That is not devo-max.
Meanwhile, Mr Darling appeared to be backing the idea of assigning more taxes to the Scottish Government – where the block grant is gradually reduced and replaced instead by a cheque from the Inland Revenue made up of taxes collected here. That isn’t devo-max either. As one political hack has put it, it’s more like “Devo Plus Minus”.
Mr Darling conceded at the weekend this was likely to get “complicated”. Given this, the pro-Union cause is now keen to focus attention back onto the main question around independence. But having let the devo-more genie out of the box, they may now need to find it a new one. Under Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats are holding their own commission into more powers. The talk is that this could now develop into a new cross-party group. Might Devo Max/More/Plus soon have a home after all?