It can seem a bit difficult to keep up with what is being offered to Scotland by Westminster at the moment – though generally I think it’s safe to assume it’s less than what most Scots want, whether they voted Yes or No in the recent referendum (and it’s also worth bearing in mind the maxim that power devolved is power retained). I actually think there’s an argument to made that there is much noise but little real substance, as attention in Westminster turns away from us troublesome Scots now that we’ve voted to stay in the union (for now, at least).
As can be seen in the two videos here, ‘Home Rule’/’Devo-Max’ (understood as all powers except foreign affairs and ‘defence’ – this BBC segment is interesting on the issue) was what I think the panicked British nationalist parties promised to Scottish voters shortly before the referendum day, though for an interesting alternative perspective on what was offered, see this blog posting by the STUC’s Dave Moxham (in thinking about all this, I’m going to ignore the ludicrous George Galloway’s talk of Devo-Super-Max, whatever that is!).
Of course, Devo-Max is unlikely to happen. In fact, ‘unlikely’ barely seems to cover it. Peter McColl over at Bright Green Scotland outlines rather elegantly the trap Miliband has stumbled into and why Cameron has no incentive to honour any pledge/vow/promise made to Scotland. Nonetheless, given the outcome of the referendum and the widespread understanding that 25% of voters eventually decided for No on the basis of these promises, it is entirely reasonable that we should, as the saying goes, hold these leaders’ feet to the fire and make sure they deliver. Of course, we must also help them to do so – Yes and No voters need to work together on this.
And to be clear: Devo-Max would be great, it really would.
But it is not enough for me. I want Scottish independence.
I don’t want independence because I think nation states are in and of themselves wonderful, in fact, insofar as possible, I’d prefer to do away with nation-states and the Westphalian nation-state model altogether. I am not a ‘believer’ in Scottish nationalism understood as ethnically-based chauvinism. No, I want independence because I see it as the best way to achieve key elements of social justice to create the kind of country that I want to live in – and that is emphatically not the state we are in at present. I want independence because even if we had Devo-Max (and could therefore more usefully direct some of our abundant resources to, for example, alleviating child poverty rather than propping up financial speculators in the City of London), there is too much that we still could not do.
Firstly there is the obscenity that is Trident. Leaving ‘defence’ in the hands of Westminster does nothing about Trident. I was delighted to see courageous protesters (including good friends of mine) continuing their long-standing efforts to hinder and disrupt Westminster’s WMDs just days after the referendum. A Yes vote would have ensured the reasonably prompt removal of these weapons from Scotland, and almost certainly from the UK, and I am absolutely sure that any future moves towards independence would still do that (it would now be electoral suicide for pro-independence parties not to oppose Trident: whilst opposition comes rather naturally to the Greens and SSP, there are undoubtedly some within the SNP whose opposition to Trident is less a matter of conviction; I am confident the present leadership is absolutely opposed, however).
Secondly, foreign affairs (closely related to ‘defence’, of course). MPs are meeting in Westminster today and will be voting on further military adventurism in the Middle East, this time ostensibly to stop the Islamic State movement in Iraq, a group that emerged as a consequence of the last attacks carried out in Iraq by… err… the UK and its allies. I cannot see how bombing Iraq and/or Syria is at all advisable in the present circumstances, but in some ways that is irrelevant to my argument here: even under Devo-Max the Scottish government would have no say on the matter. Military action is, of course, an extreme form of foreign policy, but it exemplifies the failure of our foreign policy. In an independent Scotland I would hope and work for a Scottish government that generally took a more responsible line in foreign affairs than Westminster does: the work the Scottish government has carried out with regard to Malawi and offers for assistance to Palestinian victims of Israeli bombing in Gaza etc. offers a good basis on which to build in this regard.
We should not forget that these ‘overseas’ issues have profound domestic impacts too. Whether in terms of financial cost (every year we retain Trident or every time we fire more expensive weaponry at people in the Middle East we have less money for healthcare, education, transport etc. – I am not alone in noting that Westminster always seems to find the money for weaponry, but struggles when it comes to social expenditure), or the impact on our collective well-being as a society for tolerating WMDs etc., or the environmental damage such militarisation causes (eg Dundrennan/Solway Firth) – this list could go on for quite a while!
Of course, under a Devo-Max system we would still have some form of representation at Westminster to help decide on these issues, but there is no reason to presume that Scottish representatives in such a system would be anything more than the ‘lobby fodder’ they are at the present time. The Westminster system would require radical reinvention – from changing the voting system, to removing the unelected second chamber and more – but there is nothing in Westminster’s (thin) proposals so far to suggest any intention of tackling such issues.
For these reasons, Devo-Max, even if it happens, is not enough for me. I want and need more: I want independence. I want independence for what it could enable our government to do and be. I want a government in Scotland that can decide on the affairs of Scotland, including working for the removal of WMDs as the majority of the Scottish population has long argued for, a refusal to engage in unnecessary or ill-advised military adventurism overseas, a more responsible foreign policy… none of which can be achieved through Westminster.
So yes, let us push for Devo-Max for now, as a tactical step forwards. I fully support the efforts of people like Mark Ruskell pushing for the Westminster parties to adhere to their promises:
I agree with many others who argue that we should work hard at trying to achieve Devo-Max – and we should ensure that we are not the ones who prevent it from happening. At the same time I think we should be clear that Devo-Max is only a step on the way to independence and fuller control of Scotland’s place in the world – if we achieve Devo-Max, we should then push for full independence as soon as possible. And yet, as noted above, I don’t expect Westminster to (be able to?) create a framework for enabling Scotland to have a Devo-Max form of government. If and when it does not happen, a move to full independence becomes inevitable, and could possibly happen quite quickly. Only with independence can we make decisions about all of the issues that affect Scotland.