Tom Peterkin: Confusion reigns, and stand by for more nonsenses on the referendum front

IN 1988 that ebullient Conservative politician Quintin Hogg was interviewed for Desert Island Discs. (It’s amazing what anoraks can download on to an iPod.) When asked by Sue Lawley what he would be happiest to escape from as a castaway, Lord Hailsham answered: “The nonsenses about rows and furies”.

IN 1988 that ebullient Conservative politician Quintin Hogg was interviewed for Desert Island Discs. (It’s amazing what anoraks can download on to an iPod.) When asked by Sue Lawley what he would be happiest to escape from as a castaway, Lord Hailsham answered: “The nonsenses about rows and furies”.

It seemed a peculiar admission for a politician. To most observers it seems as if it is the nonsenses about rows and furies that are the reason for political existence. In Scotland, of course, it is independence that has sparked the most rows and furies since devolution.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Amidst the constitutional thunder, there is one group that is attempting to portray itself as the still, small voice of calm – at least amongst the pro-Union parties.

Devo Plus, the group set up by the Reform Scotland think-tank, has been in earnest discussions with leading Labour politicians, Tories and Lib Dems about its vision of a more powerful Holyrood with control over Scottish North Sea oil revenue, income tax and corporation tax.

Behind the scenes, devo-plus campaigners are trying to persuade the Unionists to coalesce around their favoured settlement before the independence referendum.

Their argument is that it is up to Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems to take the initiative on transferring more powers to Holyrood.

The alternative would be to let Alex Salmond seize the territory and turn the demand for greater devolution into a second question on the referendum ballot paper.

With the Unionist parties united against a two-question referendum but moving towards devolving more powers, the Devo Plus group hopes that they will unite around a devo-plus settlement.

In that way the pro-Union parties will be able to go into the referendum on a platform that gives the electorate a clear idea of the constitutional progress that will be made in the event of a No vote.

That, to many, would be preferable to muddying the waters with a two-question referendum with its potential for delivering confusion.

Given that voters have yet to be confronted with a precise definition of what Salmond’s notion of indy-lite or devo-max might be, there is the added attraction that such an approach would offer some certainty. The devo-plus proponents also argue that they are offering a more credible scenario than that offered by David Cameron.

Cameron has opened the door to more devolution, if Scotland votes No to independence, but failed to define what that might be.

One suspects that the Lib Dems favour the sort of settlement outlined by devo-plus. But inside the Conservatives and Labour parties there is less agreement about the constitutional future.

One suspects that there may be more “nonsenses about rows and furies” to come on this one.