The majority of Scots want devo-max – but what will we get?

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Written by IanRClose

A recent poll by Panelbase has suggested that two-thirds of Scottish voters agree with devo-max – a form of devolution giving the Scottish Parliament full powers over everything except defence and foreign affairs.
In the run up to the referendum Gordon Brown (going against his own party’s stance) stated that he believes a modern form of Home Rule would be granted to Scotland should it vote no.
Despite this it has been almost a month since the referendum and we are now being told that it will take until 2017 for parties to agree on a devolution package and deliver it. It is worth noting that, had a yes vote won, Scotland would have been independent by 2016.

So what are the options being proposed for further devolution in Scotland and how might these affect relationships between the UK home nations?

Pro-Independence Parties

The Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party both, as we would expect, support devo-max (sometimes called Home Rule). Their main arguments to support this are the vow that was made by Westminster parties before the referendum and the recent Panelbase survey. In the survey, 66% of 1049 respondents supported devo-max. Excluding “don’t knows” that is almost 78% of respondents.

Should devo-max be granted that would give the Scottish Government over everything from taxation and oil-revenue to welfare and pensions. The only powers reserved by Westminster would be defence and foreign affairs – essentially giving the Scottish electorate the same amount of control over home affairs as British Crown Dependencies but with a slightly different constitutional status. Some people have criticised the large support for devo-max, claiming it is the same as independence but under a different name. It comes with many of the same risks however there is still an opportunity to give powers back to Westminster should it not work out. Despite this, such measures would likely be unpopular with the English electorate (and potentially the Welsh and Northern Irish electorate assuming they were not also to receive devo max).

This proposal, however popular, is highly unlikely as none of the main Westminster parties support it. The main issues being that devo-max would result in oil revenue being under Scottish control and the imbalance full powers for Scotland would cause constitutionally.

Scottish Labour

Despite being the party that delivered devolution in the first place, the Labour Party’s plans for devolution are regarded as the weakest. This is likely to do with the high amount of support Labour receives in General Elections from Scotland as any further powers granted to the Scottish Parliament could intensify the West Lothian question and result in diminished Westminster control for Labour. The party’s devolution commission supports increasing income tax varying powers to 15p in the pound (it is currently set to be increased to 10p in the pound under the Scotland Act 2012).

They also believe housing benefit should be devolved to Holyrood, allowing the parliament to completely abolish the Bedroom Tax. Although Scots aren’t currently affected by the Bedroom Tax, this is only because of Scottish Government subsidies.

Finally, they also propose devolving the controversial work-programme – a Westminster policy that forces many people who are claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance to work for free.

All other powers would remain with Westminster, despite Holyrood control of benefits, welfare, pensions, oil and gas revenues and broadcasting being the preferred option for the majority of respondents on the Panelbase survey.

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservative Party’s Strathclyde Commission is a slightly more radical proposal than what is being proposed by Labour. The main recommendation by this commission is to give Scotland full control over income tax rates and bands – making the Scottish Government accountable for over 40% of its spending. They also believe a share of Scottish VAT income should be given directly to Holyrood. Furthermore they state that Scotland should be given full control over welfare policies that affect devolved areas such as housing benefit , the Bedroom Tax and the attendance allowance.

They do not, however, support devolution of the work-programme and still fall significantly short of devo-max. Until recently the Scottish Conservatives were opposed to any further devolution beyond the Scotland Act 2012.

Liberal Democrats

The party who promised Home Rule to the Irish propose what is probably the closest to devo-max of any of the other Westminster parties.

The main advocates of electoral reform also suggest the UK would be served better by a Federal system. This would mean that not only would Scotland get more powers, but these powers would also be granted to Northern Ireland and Wales. It would also result in at least one English parliament however many regions of England would prefer regional devolution.

In their commission, Sir Menzies Campbell argues that the Barnett Formula should be scrapped and replaced with a needs-based system of funding. Welfare, pensions, defence and foreign affairs would be controlled by Westminster whilst everything else would be devolved to the federal assemblies. The Acts of Union with Scotland and Ireland (which still exists with Northern Ireland) would be entirely scrapped, therefore changing the status of Scotland from a country within the UK to a federal state within the UK. This would effectively strengthen the ties between the home nations but weaken the power of Westminster.

The only difference between this proposal and devo-max is that it would apply to the entire UK and would allow Westminster to control welfare and pensions.

How will these changes in Scotland affect UK?

It entirely depends on whether they will trigger changes in the rest of the UK. The main significant effect devo-max would have on the rest of the country would be the devolution of oil revenues. There is also a chance that differing tax and welfare policies in Scotland could trigger mass migration between the different sections of the UK, with people moving to areas with lower taxes or higher benefits. Should corporation tax be devolved to Scotland it is likely an SNP government would reduce it, potentially resulting in many London-based businesses moving north.

The Panelbase poll also suggested that Scotland would like to be given a say on the UKs EU membership. With an in/out referendum on the EU being proposed for the fairly near future, this could have a massive effect on the structure of the UK with regard to the European Union. When Greenland was given control over EU membership by Denmark, they voted in a referendum to leave despite Denmark still being a member. This resulted in Greenland being the first ever country to leave the European Union, even though they are still formally united with Denmark. Similarly, the Isle of Man, Channel Island and Gibraltar all have basically the same idea as devo-max and are not in the EU. There is a chance, albeit small, that we could have Scotland remaining the EU whilst the rest of the country leaves.

Unless the Liberal Democrat option is implemented, all other proposals have no effect on England. That being said, David Cameron made it clear in his post-referendum speech that the Conservative government plan on stopping Scottish MPs from voting on English only issues. While this is more democratically fair, it could result in the Labour party having a weakened status in Westminster votes on English issues.

In Wales and Northern Ireland it is likely further powers will be granted in the future. The Welsh electorate have already voted in support of having the same powers as the current Scottish Parliament and it is likely they will accept any increase they are offered. In Northern Ireland, however, the situation is entirely different. Before the referendum, the Stormont executive expressed their concerns over further devolution in Northern Ireland, claiming “we can’t even agree on the powers we have.” They also do not support the end of the Barnett formula as the Northern Irish people currently receive more money per head than any other part of the UK. The recent funding crisis in Northern Ireland resulted in the province receiving a £100m loan from the UK government meaning that any reduction in funding would likely be opposed by the Stormont Assembly.

Finally, there is also a risk that any of the options could trigger a larger desire for independence from the Scottish population. If the Scottish Government are given substantially more powers and they work better for the Scottish population then there may be more support for cutting ties with the Westminster government to allow the Scots full control. Devo-max only allows Westminster to retain defence and foreign affairs and there is substantial evidence to show that the majority of Scots do not agree with Westminster foreign policy.

Likewise, many Scots voted no due to promises of further devolution being made. It was a delay in Home Rule that resulted in 4/5ths of Ireland declaring independence. Should the new powers be seen us unsatisfactory to the Scottish population it could trigger a second referendum sooner than people expect.

But what do you think? Should Scotland be given the full powers it wants? Should more consideration be made to what the populations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland want? Let us know in the comments below.