How well does England understand devolution?

In the Politics Show on Sunday, the BBC published the results of a poll they commissioned on the future governance of Scotland. It was a poll that presented three options, rather than a straight Yes-No choice to independence, and the headline figures were:

In Scotland

Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 29%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 33%
Full independence for Scotland ... 28%

In England

Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 40%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 14%
Full independence for Scotland ... 24%

TNS-BMRB, 6 November 2011

For obvious reasons, commentators have drawn attention to the relatively low support for "devolution max" outside Scotland; and have rightly made the point that although the Scots can decide for themselves whether they want to be independent or not, they cannot decide on a different form of governance for a Scotland that remains within the UK without the consent of the remainder of the UK.

The low degree of support for devolution max outside Scotland might seem to indicate that the rest of the UK would not be willing to give that consent. But I would like to suggest a different explanation. The full data includes this breakdown for Wales:

In Wales

Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 33%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 26%
Full independence for Scotland ... 15%

The sample is small, but the figure for devolution max is much higher than anywhere in England, and the figure for independence is generally much lower.

I wonder to what extent this is because people in England think that the Scottish Parliament, and indeed our Assembly, have far more devolved powers than either of them actually do have. To me, it is clear from the standard of debate in the UK-wide media that people in England have very little grasp of these issues. Some of the questions asked and opinions expressed in political programmes are breathtakingly naïve and ill-informed.

We in Wales have a much better grasp of the issues, because we have direct experience of devolution ... and in particular we know that there is plenty of scope for more devolution of power from Westminster to both Scotland and Wales. This could explain the marked difference of opinion between Wales and England, and indicate that opinion is likely to change as people in England become better informed.

So I would not use the results of this poll to write off devolution max as something that would be unacceptable to the remainder of the UK. The debate still has some way to go.

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Rhys McKenzie said...
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Rhys McKenzie said...

What surprises me more than anything in these figures is how even split this poll suggests opinion in Scotland is. Perhaps it was simply more naïvety on my part, but in any poll offering the three options I had expected to see devo max roaring ahead.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you add support for devo max and independence in Scotland together you get a very healthy majority for radical change.

Anonymous said...

The figures raise a very big headache for Salmond in my view.
The % in favour of independence is really quite high, combined with Devo-Max and it's clear the Scots Parliament will change. But there is the headache- when you give people two options some may say "meh, I'm not sure about independence, I'll go for devo max first". Perhaps if it was "status quo" or "independence" that person may have said independence- that is his problem he faces.

The Scots Parliament IS going to get more powers, SO my advice to Alex would be to go for just a one option one. If it polls 30%+ he's already got an excellent case for more powers (i.e devo max). I also think a devo-max option will be quite hard; I just cant see how they are going to define it- will there be some Bill pre Referendum describing what is?

Whatever the answer- there are exiting times ahead for Scotland- pity Wales wasn't involved (all we had in March was some crazy, crazy referendum on a tiny minor issue!)

Anonymous said...

Following on from the above: a simple example is in a Restaurant. You get three course meal for £20 or nothing. Or you get a two course meal for £15, three course for £20 or nothing.

In the 1st scenario I'd go for the £20 3 course meal. But in the 2nd, I'd think "hmmm am I really that hungry, do I really want to spend that money"... maybe I'll go for the 2 course option; with a view of having pudding later.

This really is the risk you take in having a three way referendum- people who may say YES to independence instead go for the half way house.

MH said...

I've said before that although people have seized upon devolution max as an option, there is no guarantee that it will be on the ballot paper. This is because, as Anon 21:56 says, it needs to be defined and deliverable.

At least this poll did attempt a definition, but the thing it failed to address was whether Scotland gets to keep the tax revenues from its part of the North Sea. But whatever the definition, it needs to be agreed by the UK (and in practical terms this must mean by parliament in Westminster) before the referendum. If not, it's just a wish list.

If the Tories and LibDems could agree on it, the question is why they don't simply include it in the Scotland Bill. Alternatively, it might just be possible for the LibDems and Labour to agree a package and get it through ... but Labour seem more concerned with opposing everything and I find it hard to imagine them working together on it. The next option would be for Labour to make a manifesto commitment to implement it if they won the 2015 election. But that's a very big if.

So everything will depend on the opinion polls. The only thing that will get the unionist parties to the point of dropping their mutual animosity and jointly agreeing a devolution max package would be if support for independence kept rising, and it became either obvious or very likely that the Scots would vote Yes to independence.

But if the polls showed that, why on earth would the SNP put devo max on the ballot paper? Their argument is that they will include it in the interests of democracy if there appears to be an appetite for it, but not (I would guess) if the polls showed less appetite for it than for independence. They would also say that if the unionist parties were agreed on it, why would it need a referendum? The SNP would say that they should just implement it and leave the Scots with a straight Yes-No vote on independence. So in short, I think it's rather unlikely that devo max will be on the ballot paper. But we'll see.

Junius said...

"To me, it is clear from the standard of debate in the UK-wide media that people in England have very little grasp of these issues. Some of the questions asked and opinions expressed in political programmes are breathtakingly naïve and ill-informed." add that to the condescending insinuation that when the thick idiots finally wake up to the righteousness of the nationalists point of view they're going to change their tiny minds.

You know it is this kind of naive and ill-informed comment that make sensible English people start to think they would be much better off without you.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Salmond won't just ask a simple question on the referendum sheet:
"Do you believe that the Scots Parliament should control, tax and gain all North Sea Oil revenues"?
Surely this would get 90%+ support and Westminster would have to comply with the voice of the people? I cannot see Nick Clegg going against this.

I think this is the best way to get "devolution max" without interfering with independence. As it is clear Westminster wouldn't just give the revenues- they'd want to give up on others; benefits, barnett etc?

Just a thought!

MH said...

Being naïve and ill-informed will hopefully not be true for long, Junius. But as an example of it being the case now, look again at the Politics Show report I linked to.

In it, David Thompson said that one of the features of devo max as opposed to independence was that it keeps the Queen and it keeps the pound. That's a cringeworthily bad piece of reporting. An independent Scotland will keep both.


As for the question you suggest, Anon 11:36, why on earth would the SNP want to ask such a question? They want independence for Scotland. Devo max would be an improvement on the settlement proposed in the Scotland Bill, but it's still not independence. Now's not the time to settle for second best.

Home Rule for England said...

The media and Unionist politicians in England try their very best to cloud the issues. They talk about 'the NHS' 'this country' 'tuition fees' etc. when they are talking about the English NHS, England and English Univerities. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a programme on TV where English nationalists can explain their position. Invariably, when on the rare occassions that the issues are given an airing the tv muddle it together with Britishness and often have Scottish representitives involved in what is an English affair!
Given the opportunity to listen to unbiased and informed debate most English people would I'm welcome Scotland and Wales parting company with England.

MH said...

I'd agree with HRFE that the media use terms like national in an ambiguous way, it annoys the hell out of us in Wales, so people who are concerned about England as a nation are bound to feel the same way.

But England is hampered by the fact that there isn't a readily identifiable party for English nationalism. Those that there have been have a shady history, including elements associated with things like ethnic intolerance and trying to claim parts of Wales as belonging to England. I don't see any sign of a better party forming, and I believe that it will only happen if one of the mainstream parties picks it up as an issue.

I believe that if the UK is to have any hope of a future, it must include an English Parliament to complement our Assembly, that of NI, and the Scottish Parliament, with each having exactly the same devolved powers. I'd include a Cornish Assembly if a majority of people there come to see themselves as "Cornish not English". I think this should sit in the current House of Commons chamber. We should then have a smaller separately elected UK federal chamber in place of the House of Lords dealing solely with matter of UK-wide concern.

However, if any of the unionist parties had wanted a federal UK which respected the identity of England as a nation they'd have done this years ago. Now, I think it's all too late. Scotland will go, and the choice for Wales and NI will be whether to stay and become insignificant parts of Greater England, or to go.

I think Ireland will re-unite. But that it will only happen if the Republic changes from being a unitary state to becoming a federal state, so that the six counties have at least the same degree of autonomy in it as they have now within the UK. I think the west, southwest and southeast of Ireland should also have provincial assemblies with the same devolved powers as the six counties; again with a smaller federal government dealing only with all-Ireland affairs. The two triggers will be Scotland becoming independent and the death of the queen.

And us? The choice will be whether we want to be subsumed into a right-wing, europhobic "Englandandwales" or have the confidence to govern ourselves as an independent nation. We'll be faced with that choice within ten years. That's why it's essential for us to work now to get Wales to a position where we can stand on our own feet.

Anonymous said...

"The choice will be whether we want to be subsumed into a right-wing, europhobic "Englandandwales" or have the confidence to govern ourselves as an independent nation. We'll be faced with that choice within ten years"

Currently most people in Wales are apathetic when it comes to nationalism or unionism. They accept devolution, but oppose independence, however those that aren't apathetic are very divided and are on very different spectrums. On one side you have Plaid Cymru who support independence and self-determination for Wales, yet on the other side you have True Wales, who seem to despise all things Welsh, and prefer it if we became part of England. That said I really am worried what could happen to Wales if the UK were to breakup.

There won't be a UK, or British identity at all if the Scots & NI separate. When you get divorced you are not leaving your marriage you are ending it. Therefore Scots will not be leaving the Union they will be ending it. Wales would revert back to its pre-1707 status as a Principality within the Kingdom of England, its as simple as that!!

The **** would hit the fan for those who are apathetic in Wales if this was too happen. Now most Welshman would never travel the world carryman an 'English' Passport, nor would they want Y Draig Goch flying alongside St Georges Cross instead of the Union Jack at public buildings across Wales. Yet on the other hand unlike Scotland & NI we are so integrated with England. English businesses dominate Wales, the North East is communterland for Liverpool, Cardiff and Swansea play in the English league, and most Welsh people read English newspapers. Could we actually abandon our nationhood for good for our own convienience? It would be one hell of an ultimatum, one that could tear us apart and take us down a direction that the people of Northern Ireland are trying to get away from!!

MH said...

I wouldn't regard the examples you've given as particular problems, Anon. The UK has major banks, airports and power companies owned by Spanish and French companies. That doesn't mean the UK, Spain and France can't be independent states. Lots of football teams play in the leagues of other countries. People commute across borders all over Europe, and the "commuterland" for Luxembourg includes several other countries much bigger than it is. What you think of as problems aren't real problems at all.

The big thing we'll learn after Scotland becomes independent will be how normal the relationship is. We'll still trade with them, visit them, have friends and family who live there. But they will be able to create a better society, based on the values that they consider important, rather than be obliged to accept the values of their larger neighbour. When we see it, I guarantee we'll want the same for ourselves.

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