Sunday, 7 September 2014

Is the logic of devolution independence?

With less than two weeks to the referendum on Scotland’s independence, a recent poll suggests, for the first time, that the Yes campaign is winning the argument—albeit a poll than did not include those who remain undecided or who do not intend to vote.  Should this come as a surprise?  I think not.  The No campaign, though working hard to get its message across, lacks the charismatic appeal of those campaigning for independence.  Individuals such as Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, though undoubtedly ‘big’ political beasts, do not have the same populist clout as Alec Salmon and Nicola Sturgeon.  Gordon Brown may be right when he suggests that the Better Together camp was finding it ‘difficult’ to win over Scots because of anger over coalition policies including changes to housing benefit and tax cuts for the wealthy but there also appears to have been a haemorrhage of Labour supporters to the No campaign as well. 
One critical problem for those calling for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom is that the logic of devolution in a unitary constitutional system is independence.  Devolution only satisfies some of the aspirations of those areas given devolved powers, so you give the areas more devolved powers but in a unitary system you can only go so far.  What those who originally thought constitutional devolution was a way of satisfying calls for greater regional control over their own affairs either failed to recognise or recognised but ignored that while devolution within a federal system might  stem demands for independence, in a unitary system it would not.  If Scotland votes for independence on 18 September, one of the reasons why this will occur is that politicians who gave devolved powers to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland failed to then abandon the unitary constitution and establish a federal constitutional system.  Arguing for ‘Better Together’ and at the same time saying that if there was a ‘no’ vote, further powers would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament demonstrates the weakness of the unitary Unionist case in an increasing devolved political environment.  The logic of devolution need not be independence but it is more rather than less likely if you then retain a unitary constitutional structure.

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