Devo-max merely a dodgy back-up plan to save SNP, says Jim Sillars

Jim Sillars wanted Scotland to be 'free by 93'. Picture: Jane Barlow
Jim Sillars wanted Scotland to be 'free by 93'. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE SNP move to include a “devo-max” question in the independence referendum is a “fraudulent claim”, designed to keep the Nationalist movement intact and in power if it loses the vote on the future of the UK, Jim Sillars, one of the party’s former deputy leaders, has declared.

Mr Sillars has called on his former ally Alex Salmond to bin the idea of a second question on maximum devolution, warning that the SNP’s flirtation with the idea “sends a damaging ambiguous signal about its confidence in the case for independence”.

He claims the devo-max option is only being touted as a back-up plan for the SNP should people reject independence, giving the SNP a cause to champion and a reason to “bounce back” for the 2016 Holyrood election.

In an article in this week’s Holyrood magazine, Mr Sillars says Mr Salmond “has tasted power and likes it”.

He adds: “A cold weekend of surgery work in Gordon instead of tea with the Emir of Qatar is not a happy prospect.”

Consequently, Mr Sillars says, the “fall-back position – which can form its [the SNP’s] future platform and reason for existing, is a necessity”.

An SNP spokesman said Mr Sillars was “entitled to his view”, but insisted it would leave open the option of a second question. Mr Salmond said earlier this week he has “an open mind” on the prospect.

But the intervention comes at a bad time for the SNP, with Mr Salmond preparing to meet Prime Minister David Cameron tomorrow. The UK government is also insisting the referendum should offer a straight choice on independence.

Mr Sillars takes further issue with SNP efforts to sell the case for independence, saying it has done far too little to make secession attractive to Scottish voters.This has resulted, he says, in the First Minister “winging it” on policy, including defence and the currency, in recent weeks.

The SNP intention to keep the Bank of England as the lender of last resort in an independent Scotland is “absurd”, says Mr Sillars.

Under “devo-max”, the Scottish Government would become fiscally independent but would remain part of the UK, paying London for shared services such as defence and foreign affairs. The option raised by Mr Salmond would be to have a question on independence, and another question on “devo-max”.

However, a UK government offer to devolve powers to Holyrood to ensure the referendum is legal will only be granted if the SNP agrees to limit it to a single question on secession.

Mr Sillars writes: “Time… for the SNP to put aside what would be a fraudulent claim to implement devo-max, and produce policies on the detailed issues that will determine the result when the historic day arrives. Lack of preparation is allowing the Unionists to set the agenda.”

Mr Sillars also appears to support recent comments both by the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Tory leader Mr Cameron that any further changes to the devolved settlement would have to be agreed by the whole of the UK. He says: “If there is to be a devo-max question, for it to be capable of being delivered, there must be a Westminster government white paper and a written guarantee that if the Scots vote for the version set out, it will be delivered by the only parliament than can do so – Westminster.”

Mr Sillars says the SNP “neglect” over the detail of independence has been manifest on defence and currency in recent weeks.

On the latter, Mr Sillars remarks: “As for the Bank of England being lender of last resort, it is absurd.”

He goes on: “If Whitehall agrees to the Salmond proposal, there will have to be a treaty to determine the rules of the new sterling currency union; and an independent Scotland will not be the stronger side of the negotiations because, as [Chamncellor George] Osborne would point out, the alternative to agreeing the treaty terms dictated by Westminster would be the euro.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “Jim Sillars is a columnist, and entitled to his view.

“The future of Scotland is a matter for the people of Scotland – in line with the Claim of Right, as endorsed by parliament last month – and the inclusion of a possible ‘devo-max’ option in the referendum is a matter to be determined via the Scottish Government’s consultation.

“The reality is that support for independence is already running neck-and-neck with opposition, and we are confident of securing a Yes vote for independence in the referendum in all circumstances.”

Scottish Labour’s external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson MSP said: “This really intensifies pressure on the SNP to agree to what even most of their MSPs and ministers actually want – a straightforward question on whether or not we leave the UK.

“That is the decision that needs to be made, and it is good to see growing support against delays and attempts to muddy the water.”