Rights are won, not conceded

Right from the start the UK government has approached Scottish independence in a patrician way.  This was most glaringly obvious during the referendum negotiations.  Prime minister David Cameron, confident of a No vote, insisted it be all or nothing and refused to countenance a third question on enhanced powers (devo max).  As I warned at the time this was likely to blow up in his face.  Now that it has, everyone recognises it for the blunder it was.  Lest there be any doubt remaining, the offers of the last week from the three unionist parties (actually replicating what they said in the Spring and therefore already discounted by the Scots electorate) do constitute various versions of ‘devo max’.  Of course the problem still remains because:

  1. The three offers are all different, with the Conservatives at the most generous end (because they are furthest from power in Scotland).
  2. They were made by Gordon Brown who ceased to be prime minister in 2010 and is not in a position to deliver them.
  3. They purely address Scotland’s constitutional status and this (assuming a No vote on 18th) is infeasible because of the ramifications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But what has not yet been understood is that barring the devo max question was as much as about method as about content.  Cameron’s original stance can now be seen in the light of powers that the Conservatives are prepared to concede.  He is prepared to be flexible if he can preserve the Union.  But what is not negotiable is the entrenchment of any new powers for Scotland by a popular vote. A voted majority for devo max would first of all be a vote for a definite proposition, and not for the vague and sentimental waffle served up in the past week.  Second it would be absolutely irreversible, consolidated by an open and free vote of the Scottish people. David Cameron’s approach to all this has been that of the feudal lord, who graciously concedes.  But concessions can be withdrawn – as these will be after a No vote.  The only rights worth having are those you win by your own efforts.  I am one Englishman hoping Scotland will vote Yes on Thursday.

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