“‘Devo Max,’ is based on a positive vision of democratic, cooperative, peaceful, sustainable coexistence with our neighbours on this island.”Neil Findlay MSP
In recent years, the deep divisions in American society have been fuelled by a politics that made zero effort to reach out to, or understand, those who disagreed with Trump’s world view. Those with deeply held and genuine concerns about poverty, foreign policy, health care, education, race issues, good governance and much more were dismissed as the enemy, attacked relentlessly by interest groups and individuals whose loyalty to the project ‘transcended’ everything else and were mocked, attacked and accused of all sorts offences against the project. Social media became a warzone for poisonous exchanges organised by well-funded groups. It will take a huge effort to try and heal these divisions.
Scotland cannot ignore the lessons from the US.
In the last decade, Scotland has become seriously divided. If you don’t support one side or the other of the constitutional debate then you leave yourself open to attack, criticism, ridicule and abuse from the other side. Entrenched views and a complete failure to even listen to or consider the opinions and concerns raised has led to a polarised politics where every issue from dog shit to international crime becomes a proxy for the constitutional question. Forget rational discussion or appraisal of the success or otherwise of Government policy or decision-making – everything becomes a test of loyalty to the cause. This is a depressing and dangerous state of affairs. There has to be another way.
The world I want to build stems from a response to three fundamental questions:-
1) What type of society do we want to create?
2) At which level should powers sit to ensure we gain maximum advantage from them?
3) What level of resources do we need to deliver our vision of society?
I see that as a society that has social justice at its core. One that will put an end to the appalling rates of child poverty we see, addresses educational inequality, creates full employment and enshrines in its constitution a set of civil and human rights that all citizens can expect.
Against that background, I start from the principle that we should devolve all powers to the lowest possible level unless there is an overwhelming reason not to. This would, for example see Pensions and the Border retained at the UK level as this is the most logical, practical and beneficial level for these policy areas to sit. This would not prevent Scotland from providing additional social security payments to top up pensions or have an immigration system that meets our specific needs but it would ensure that we maintain the benefit of a pension pot of a country of 60 million, as opposed to one of 5 million and that on a small island of nations we avoid internal border controls.
This is a prime example of common sense practicality that is in the interest of all our people. It would see specific policy areas operating within a UK framework but where a pragmatic degree of difference and nuance is able to be applied when beneficial to do so. We can then work through all policy areas to establish at which level we get the maximum advantage.
But the principle of devolving to lowest practicable level or subsidiarity as the policy wonks call it, should not stop at Edinburgh – we need power devolved to Councils, workplaces, communities and people if we are to have a genuinely participative and inclusive democracy.
I for one have no desire to stand in the way of the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland. If another referendum becomes the will of the people then so be it, but if there is to be another vote then the electorate must have a choice and an informed one at that. They should not be forced into a binary choice between the unacceptable status quo and the undesirable independence, especially if it is based on Johnson’s ghastly Conservatism and the SNP’s dreadful Growth Commission, which is a recipe for austerity, increased inequality and public services being decimated. We have to expand the democratic choice the voters have to avoid forcing them into choosing between two unpalatable positions. Not to expand the options available is anti-democratic and wrong. Another world is not just possible, it is essential.
The third option I envisage, let’s call it ‘Devo Max’ for now, is based on a positive vision of democratic, cooperative, peaceful, sustainable coexistence with our neighbours on this island. One that rejects both the arrogance of a UK Government that ignores demands for further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales and Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the other English regions too for that matter; and the centralising tendencies of the present Scottish Government but one that provides credible answers to big and difficult questions that nationalists and unionists do not want to address.
A third option would:-
• Address the crucial currency issue – the setting of interest rates, money supply and currency reserves.
• Confirm the need to retain UK wide fiscal transfer via the Barnett formula.
• Address where best powers over pensions and social security payment should sit.
• Identify which powers we need and at which level to end the drugs deaths crisis.
• Show how we decentralise power down to lowest possible, practical level expanding and extending democracy.
• Identify what type of dispute resolution and joint decision making framework we put in place – at a UK level but also at a Scottish level between local and national Government.
• Provide stability for the tens of the thousands of financial services jobs in Scotland
• Avoid the cost and complexity of new passports, borders and embassies.
• Maintain Scotland’s role in the UK’s armed forces (as a fierce opponent of Trident I accept this is a very significant and difficult issue)
• Avoid the huge set up costs of a new state – the cost of setting up social security Scotland is already double the Scottish Governmentt’s estimate as is now sitting at over £651 million
These are just some of the areas where Devo max can answer the questions that others can’t or won’t. The binary alternatives offer a clear slogan without policy sophistication or answers, Devo max offers the opposite – we’ve not yet got a catchy slogan or gimmicky marketing but what we do have is the opportunity to offer greater nuance, sophistication and answers to the really hard questions. The time for a third option has come. We must now articulate it to the Scottish people.