MALCOLM CHISHOLM MSP argues that Scottish Labour will not be able to shape Scotland in its own image unless it is willing to define and then embrace Devolution Max 


Now that the Review of Scottish Labour is almost complete we can perhaps move on to the more important debates about what Scottish Labour stands for and what devolution position we should advocate in the forthcoming independence referendum.

Many of us may not be in any doubt about what Scottish Labour stands for, but the fact of the matter is that many people out there are genuinely unsure. That is partly because of the corrosive negativity that has characterised so much of our opposition in the Scottish Parliament since 2007.  Some of that may be perceived rather than actual, but the result is that – even when we have a legitimate critique of an aspect of Scottish Government policy – our arguments can be brushed aside as  Labour once again opposing for opposition’s sake. It is high time we were occasionally and strategically negative but consistently and substantially positive.

We need to be positive about the values and principles that underpin our politics but also positive in proposing  specific policies and budgetary choices. The values are perhaps the easy bit, but we should speak loudly and consistently about our objective of a more equal society and, in particular, the need to enhance the position and the opportunities of  those who are most disadvantaged. That will lead to specific budgetary choices and it  should no longer be  acceptable to simply call for more spending in a whole range of areas without saying where the money is to come from. One area I have championed for a long time is additional  investment in social rented housing, but I know that has to mean taking money from other capital spending areas. I have therefore said that housing should  be our number one priority for capital expenditure and that the transport budget, particularly the roads bit of it, should  be reduced to pay for it.

The SNP will say that these choices  are only necessary because we have a fixed budget from Westminster. I would say choices will always be necessary but that they are particularly  stark in a Parliament that has spending powers but very few opportunities to raise finance. That takes us right to the heart of current constitutional debates.

Wendy Alexander – to her credit – saw this lack of financial power and accountability as the great weakness of the original devolution settlement, but unfortunately the Calman Commission failed to address it in any significant way.  Scottish Labour is currently caught on the Calman hook and needs to get off it  fast if we are to create a Parliament  with meaningful financial powers. The Scottish Government is finding life  easy not just because  of  our failings but because  the current constitutional arrangements are ironically ideal for enhancing its popularity. All problems can be  blamed on Westminster, with a great deal of  justification in many cases, while  the Scottish Government can claim credit for any  improvements that do take place.  The situation is particularly urgent because a Westminster government making big cuts was always going to be the best opportunity for the SNP to secure its ultimate goal.

Scottish Labour must respond by developing a Devo Max position. To be pedantic, that does not have to mean the greatest possible devolution but certainly means very great devolution. We should therefore not just look at what has come to be called Devo Max – that is, the devolution of all taxes and revenues to Scotland – but also at intermediate positions  such as the Devolution Plus advocated by Reform Scotland. That organisation is too right wing in its general policy positions for most of us but it talks a great deal of sense when it comes to the constitution.  Reform Scotland believes that  since the Scottish Parliament is responsible for about 60 per cent of Scottish  public expenditure then the Scottish Parliament  should have access to a range of taxes that covers about 60 per cent of Scottish tax revenues. We should certainly explore that position and variants of it as well as the ultimate Devo Max option. A key part of our consideration must be how much of social security expenditure should  be devolved, but we should be in no doubt that demands for that will grow as the massive social security cuts from Westminster kick in.

I believe that Devo Max in some form is the right position for the  good governance of  Scotland and the best way of ensuring that Scottish priorities are to the fore in all domestic policy areas.  Those who are not convinced  of that  should perhaps reflect  that nailing our colours to  Calman and the Scotland Bill will boost the independence vote in the forthcoming referendum, as evidenced a few weeks ago when two well-known Labour figures told me they would vote for independence if the alternative was Calman. We need a three question referendum and Labour has to define what Devo Max means as a matter of urgency.

Malcolm Chisholm is MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith and was a Scottish Government minister from 2001 until 2006.

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68 thoughts on “Maximum advantage

  1. I’m against Devo Max because it is a slippery slope towards independence.

    We must stick with Calman’s Scotland Bill. We owe it to Wendy Alexander.

    1. I agree, Tom. I even believe Calman goes too far. Labour’ problems began with devolution. We opened that Pandora’s box so it is up to us to close it again. When the Scottish parliament is closed at last, Labour will once again become the party of the people of Scotland. We have plenty of Labour MPs in Westminster who have always courageously defended Scotland’s interests, even during the pain and torture of the Thatcher years. That is more than sufficient.

    2. Then labour will sadly continue to lose relevance in Scotland… The aspirations of the Scottish people are much more than what is being offered by the Scotland Bill.

  2. Raiding the roads budget shows no thought at all for the rural areas. We must have a functioning road system. Some of our A roads are single track in places. We need roads to develop the economy, houses will follow the jobs good communication helps create.

  3. Malcolm. It is no surprise that you were the only Labour MSP to hold his constituency seat in Edinburgh in 2011.

    Your advice to your Labour colleagues is predictably (in the nicest possible way) excellent. I doubt if they will take it though, as the baleful influence of London Labour, and those Scottish Labour members who see their careers in Westminster terms, will be just too much to overcome.

    1. “the only Labour MSP to hold his constituency seat in Edinburgh in 2011”

      A rather silly thing to say. Only Malcolm and Sarah Boyack were sitting MSPs defending their seats in Edinburgh, and Sarah’s constituency boundary had been redrawn making it notionally no longer a Labour held seat.

      Let’s not rewrite history, eh?

      1. Duncan-Who is being silly 🙂

        My comment is entirely accurate, but I will put it another way-the only successful constituency Labour candidate in Edinburgh in 2011 was Malcolm Chisholm.

        I think he did very well because he enjoyed the support of a plurality of the electorate, including a critical number of people who would otherwise have voted SNP, because he has proved himself over a number of years to be far from being a Labour apparatchik.

        Why not contact Malcolm and tell him how unimpressed you were by his victory 🙂

        1. “a critical number of people who would otherwise have voted SNP”
          Having interviewed Malcolm too many times to count I must agree.
          His unique status having resigned from Government twice is testimony enough let alone his electoral victory.
          Its just a shame that Leith does not also have Shirley-Anne Somerville at Holyrood.

        2. Thanks again for the comment, got a bit of time to persond .I do wonder if we are sometimes more harsh to the ones we love or, in this case, the ones we identify with. I am not privy to the emails that SGP send out but it is the proactive positivity that made me persond more to the Greens, both down here in England and up in Scotland. A can-do attitude on insulation, Land Value Tax or revenue raising was a welcome change from a state of inertia that seemed to be creeping into Holyrood with fresh ideas drying up. Not that I necessarily fully agreed with each of these new ideas but at least they were new ideas that would justify the Parliament’s very existence. If there has been some cheap shot messages in the heat of the election campaign then I’d agree that that would be disappointing.It’s interesting that you mention the tax varying powers as your final straw . I guess there are two subtly different ways of looking at the problem: those in favour of paying over the odds to have the tax-power ready to be used (which not many seem to be in favour of) and those who believe John Swinney should have told us earlier what was going on (which a lot of people seem to believe). I don’t really see how Patrick Harvie can be held responsible for the cost of tax-varying powers when John Swinney didn’t even tell the Parliament what that cost would be. It was fair to assume that the powers were still available to be used as, presumably, the Green party had assumed all along and even afterwards, my impression was that the Greens were keen to work constructively with the SNP to get the powers up and running again and use them as originally intended.Again, agree or disagree with the SGP policy of using those powers but I don’t think the conduct applied in advancing their argument was untoward; from what I could tell from down in London at least. (I don’t think I always get the full picture to be honest)As for winning some extractions from the SNP budget? Yep, totally valid point of course but I guess there was just such a fundamental difference of opinion that the Greens couldn’t bring themselves to pick a few cheap goodies from what they saw as a a332bn bad deal. I can understand that; it’s not perfect but I can understand it. I do think the Green leadership needs a mini-rebranding before election day if possible, more statesman-like and less huffy but whether the party gets enough media air time to have that chance remains to be seen I suppose.Anyway, I can totally understand an overriding belief that the SNP beating Labour is more important than a clutch of Green MSPs getting into Holyrood. All I would say is that looking at the individual constiutuency and individual region that you are in, considering how powerful your vote is if used for SNP/Green and then weighing up the risk of zero Green MSPs against to what extent your vote will actually go towards assisting the SNP. That’s what I’d be doing if I still lived in Leith and, truth be told, I probably still wouldn’t know which way I was going to go.Hope you get the result you’re looking for though!

        3. Unlike others here who think this guest airtcle is not up to snuff, I beg to disagree. In my opinion, it clearly describes why Labour lost the election and why it will contineue to lose.In a few short paragraphs, we see the following.1) Labour was never going to win, ignore what the polls were saying.2) The SNP used thier fundraising avantage to make the election unfair.3) SNP policies were totally wrong and will destroy the country.4) Please ignore the fact the Labour copied most of those policies and continues to support them today.5) The media failed the scottish people by not hammering the SNP at every opportunity.6) Labour has no talent at Holyrood and needs to bring in MP’s to right the ship.7) Jim Murphy has a responsiblity to take over as Scottish Labour leader. It was all Iain Gray and his team’s fault because they fought the wrong campaign and even did that badly.9) The Labour Party doesn’t have to do much to win the next election, just bring in the Westminster MP’s and get some good policies that the Scottish People will like.10) Labour needs to find a business tycoon to give the few million quid to finance the next campaign.These ten points are not a game plan for the future but an eulogy for the Labour party.Until Labour members learn the lessons of the last two elections, they will repeat them and return in every smaller numbers.

  4. Malcolm Chisolm has always been a decent and honest man. He is one the few politicians that Scots actually listen to and take note off. When Malcolm Chisolm says, “Scottish Labour is currently caught on the Calman hook and needs to get off it fast if we are to create a Parliament with meaningful financial powers” everyone should pay heed.

    Devo max, independence lite, call it what you may, because it is what a majority of Scots now demand of government. To underestimate the strength of public feeling on this fails to recognise the fundamental change in the views of voters. Holyrood is now seen as given Scotland good governance – Westminster on the other hand is seen as given the UK incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, sleaze and cronyism.

    It is recognised that the devolved status quo is unsustainable and that Calman will do great damage. The only alternatives on the constitutional table, the ones that will win popular consent, are Devo Max and full independence.

    As I said Malcolm Chisolm is a decent and honest man. It is a pity that he or his like do not lead Scottish Labour because he would be able to reconnect the party with the elecorate and civic Scotland.

      1. You are confusing those who read the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph with actual Scottish people.

  5. I completely agree with this argument. I think its logical conclusion is that we need to establish a process for defining Devo Max in a way that includes all of Scottish society; just as the SNP defining the third question would be wrong, so would Labour doing so. In the absence of willingness to move on this from the SNP, perhaps we need to consider asking the Scottish Constitutional Convention to reconvene.

    Most urgently, the SNP government MUST declare a timetable for the referendum, and declare its format (2 or 3 questions). It is their referendum to define, but if it is to have any legitimacy they must give all sections of society a fair opportunity to engage in debate.

    1. “Most urgently, the SNP government MUST declare a timetable for the referendum, and declare its format”

      Unfortunately, as Malcolm points out, Labour’s relentless, pig-headed negativity in opposition lost it any right to make demands such as yours. You can shout as much as you want, but thanks to Labour’s antics since 2007 the SNP has a majority and will do whatever the hell it likes to ensure it has the best possible chance of getting the result it wants. The chickens are well and truly home and roosting.

    2. OMG – how can we say it will be a 3 question referendum when, as you say yourself, it’s not the SNP that should write it?

      You want to re-convene the Constitutional Convention go ahead but personally I think you would be better off trying to persuade at least one of the candidates for Labour leader/depute leader that they want to go further than the Scotland Bill. Because none of them are saying that – indeed some of them are strongly against Devo Max, seeing it as giving ground to the SNP.

      If there is no political support for a third question it won’t happen.

      Don’t blame the SNP for that – we suggested a third question ages ago. But it is not for us to put that case, it is for those who support it to put that case.

      I respectfully suggest the supporters of Devo Max get their act together soon or it will be too late.

      1. It is down to the SNP to decide between two questions and 3. My argument is that *if* the answer is 3 then we need to know early enough for the middle way option to be defined by broad consensus. It would be ludicrous for such an option to be defined by a party whose raison d’etre is to win a vote for another outcome.

        The problem is that the SNP want to delay the decision between 2 or 3 questions until they can see which gives them a better chance of winning a yes.

        On your last point I agree – it will soon be too late for this to be a decent, honest debate. If the SNP delay their decision much longer we will not have time to agree the third question fairly.

        1. But how can we decide to put a Devo Max question on the paper when nobody at this present moment is saying that is their preferred outcome – except, if you believe polls and the scottish social attitudes survey etc, the majority of voters? If that situation continues how can the SNP be the ones to campaign for Devo Max as well as independence? That’s absurd.

          The SNP does not want to delay a decision on the third question! We are waiting to see if anyone is actually going to run with that.

          Maybe the issue here is that we started a lot earlier than anyone else due to the refusal of opposition politicians to engage with the national conversation.

          Your Scotland, Your Voice was published in November 2009. It made it absolutely clear that there is room for a question on Devo Max on the ballot paper. That is absolutely crystal clear. And when the draft referendum bill was published that also included the option of a question on Devo Max.

          So, sorry, you have known for almost 2 years that there can be a second question on Devo Max.

          Don’t blame the SNP for the fact that none of you bothered to even think about it till after the election because you never thought a referendum would be held.

          It is going to be held. We have told you when. If you could just get over your antipathy to the SNP you might just notice that we are bending over backwards to try and enable the supporters of Devo Max to get in on this. That’s not for your sake, it is so that people will have the full range of choices when they come to vote.

          1. Look, it’s your referendum. You withdrew it the last time you promised it because you didn’t think you could win a yes vote. You’ve delayed it this time because you think that gives the best chance of a yes vote. And right now you’re considering a 3-option question because it could improve the chance of a yes vote.

            Stop pretending that you haven’t been playing games with this all along.

            You will get to decide how many options there are – not other parties, not opinion polls – the SNP. And the longer you delay that decision the less time we have to constitute a reasonable body and debate what the third option should be.

            This is not an issue which divides down party lines. Labour can no more define Devo Max than the SNP can.

            The only thing you are bending over backwards to do is to give yourselves the best chance of gaining a yes vote on independence.

  6. Good article here by Mr Chisholm, kind of makes you wonder why he isn’t front runner for the post of Scottish leader and why Cathy Jamieson isn’t shadow Scottish Secretary. It’s also hard to argue against his view that a parliament that has lot of responsibility for spending money but next to none for raising it is always likely to be popular, though following that logic it highlights how poorly Scottish Labour severed Scotland during their time in power here in Scotland. As for getting off the Calman hook can’t agree more as a set of proposals it would have looked out of date and out of touch 4 years ago and now the lack of consideration and planning behind the report has now been exposed to all for Labour to plough ahead with it anyway would be suicide.

    The obvious problem Labour have in terms of offering a greater degree of devolution in Scotland is it will only serve to exacerbate the problems of the West Lothian question. The obvious Tory answer would be a further cut in the number of Scottish MP’s which neither SNP or Labour will like but the SNP are likely to accept as to do so would protect Scotland from Tories cut and because not to do so would be seen as grossly unfair on the rest of the UK. The other choice would be to move to towards a federalized British state which to me sounds grand in theory but my god I think 1st off agreeing what the federal British state would look would be a tough one, then selling the idea not only to the wider British public (well English I suppose) but also then getting the Westminster turkeys to vote for it I really can’t see it happening. I suppose while in opposition at a UK level this is a position that could be easily adopted but would lead to a lot of work while in government or equally it could be one held by the Scottish party but not the UK ( no idea which way Welsh Labour would go on this ) but would the Labour party be willing to have such a conflict between Branches of the party? FFA or Devo plus as Malcolm has highlighted are good positions to adopt as it shows clearly to Scotland that your trying to protect the country from Tory cuts and also it something that Holyrod has always done well (particularly compared to Westminster) in delivering policies that people in Scotland actually support and like. So while it must be a tempting position given its popularity you need to fully think it through.

  7. I dont have any great points of disagreement with Malcolms analysis but we can see by some of the responses that the splits on this issue are pretty deep. Devo Max(or FFA) is the most popular position among the Scottish public. If that isnt on offer it is my belief that Independence will win the day, certainly not Calman,a bear trap designed for the SNP but now containing the Unionist Parties instead!
    Why would Devo Max not be on offer? Because the Westminster parties would refuse to give up Fiscal powers to Hollyrood, prefering to call Alex Salmonds bluff.
    Cameron,Clegg and Miliband V Salmond. What side would you bet your house on?
    Go with Malcolms Home Rule instead.
    The only losers would be a few dozen MPs who would not be required in London and the denizens of the Lords.Instead there would be representatives required in a new Federal Parliament! Perhaps a written constitution.

  8. The most honest article I’ve ever read on Labour Hame, Henry McLeish has been saying the same things. What a pty Wendy was not allowed to push through her Ideas by the Calman decision that it would not consider Dev Max but shose the arbitrary 10% – We need fast response if there is to be any impact from a new set of policies before the local elections.

  9. If you are still opposed to FFA, consider this not too far-fetched possible future. Five years time.The Torys back in, with a majority this time. The Tory right wing on the up. A Bill to privatise (it would be promulgated as “modernisation”) the NHS in England is passed. The monetery burden would pass from the State to the citizen. The fiscal position for Scotland Wales and N.Ireland, if still as now, would force these administrations into the same position whether they agreed with it or not as there would be a drastic cut in block grants.
    Fiscal Autonomy is A GOOD THING in a democracy in a multi-member State!

    1. You could extend the analogy.

      Vote for independence to save the NHS

      Vote for independence to save free education for all.

      Vote for independence to save public service jobs.

      Vote for independence to save the armed forces.

      Vote for independence to protect the vunerable.

      Vote for independence to protect human rights.

      Reduced representation at Westminster, the Scotland Bill and the prospect of an outright win for the Tories at the next UK election is too awful to comprehend for the vast majority of Scots.

      “Save and protect” could easily become the new nationalist mantra, thereby oncemore stealing Labour’s clothes.

      The only realistic and popular constitutional options are Devo Max or outright independence.

    2. Too true Gavin.
      A privitisation agenda in England under the Tories would have a knock on effect on Barnett consequentials and block grant to Scotland……whoever is in power in Holyrood.
      And whoever is in power in Scotland will have no option but to watch scottish tax revenues go south to the exchequer while they explain to the electorate why public services in Scotland are being starved of cash to mirror a UK government obsession with austerity for the many and tax cuts for the few. The maintenance of public services, ( think education, NHS, the whole shooting match) are important and I won’t vote for a party, any party, that would jeopardise these for some tactical game playing and short term political point scoring. Nothing less than FFA can guarantee the tax take will be safe from carpet bagging big business with letters of marque from Tory HQ. Neither Calman nor the status quo are an option here.

    3. Jeff,For once I actually feel that your toiuitinn is way off and displays that perhaps you’re now out of touch with Edinburgh politics and therefore not best placed to make predictions .So here goes for the things that you don’t mention:Sarah Boyack is indeed a respected politician, but due to boundary changes has lost a significant number of her voters. She is also orphaned form any Labour campaign machine Labour still organise on a Westminster, not Holyrood basis and it is well know that she has been left without human and financial resources by the squabbling CLPs that share responsibility for her area. Why do you think that she has been allowed to be the exception to the rule and allowed to stand in both list and constituency?You fail to mention that the Lib Dem and SNP candidates are very well resourced and have extremely strong on-the-ground campaigns. You actually fail to mention Marco at all he is both doing well and notionally & on-the-ground is a clear challenger. Also, don’t write off Cole-Hamilton for the Lib Dems: he’s leading a strongly resourced local campaign, has a seemingly bottomless pit of cash and has covered the area well (with the usual Lib Dem nonsense!)Edinburgh East sorry, but again if you knew anything about what was actually happening in the constituency you’d know that Kenny’s personal vote is rocketing and Labour know it. Yes, they have a strong campaign and an excellent campaign leader, but their candidate is awful . Anyone who is under the illusion that this area is going Labour is simply sampling party loyalty, rather than asking which candidate they will be voting for.And with regards to Shirley-Anne Somerville, I take exception to the parachuted in dig: Shirley-Anne has been working hard in Edinburgh for a long time, previously stood in areas covered by the new constituency and is nationally recognised as leading the key political debates in North and Leith ie Trams and Biomass for instance. Oh, and Mike Pringle hasn’t got a strong enough personal vote to deal with the coalition toxicity Come back and find out for yourself!Chris

  10. I agree wholeheartedky with Malcolm Chisholm about the dangers of Calman, but don’t really understand why a country which is admittedly ready for Devo Max isn’t yet ready for full independence? We have our own Parliament, legal system, education system, a “separate” NHS already, and under Devo Max we would also control our own revenue, spending, etc. with Barnett no longer applying (presumably). In what way would we still be ruled from Westminster, and what would be the benefit to us of being so ruled? Why not just be independent?

    Currency and defence would be thorny issues, but no one (I hope) thinks the future is going to be easy anyway, whether we are within the UK or outwith it, whatever the people choose.

    I like Duncan Hothersall’s idea of reconvening the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

  11. It should be obvious from my previous postings that I am for a self governing, independent Scotland, with a normal, friendly relationship with our neighbouring Nations. I do agree with Malcolms position for Devo Max as a Labour policy. I think it is fair both to England and Scotland and would cause far less bitterness than a campaign between Calman ( though it would be interesting to hear a defence of its economic proposals ) and Independence.

  12. The depressing thing about this bang-on-the-money article is the fact that Malcolm Chisholm isn’t standing for Scottish Labour leader. That must mean he wouldn’t have the support to win, which must mean that the sensible faction of the MSP group must be in the minority, which means these proposals have no chance.

    If Labour stands in the referendum on a Calman/Scotland Bill platform, Scotland will be independent by 2020. Even the dogs in the street know it.

  13. It might also be worth considering Sir Richard Dannatts comment that there should be detailed defence plans put forward before any referendum. This is total bunkum, no-one can foresee the circumstances in 5 or 10 years time. Within months of the Tories coming to power ,plans to cut two thirds of Scotlands air bases were announced.Scotland hosts the UKs only base housing WMDs ( I was based there twice ).Scotland neither builds or refits the weapons or the weapon platforms even though a refit dock was in the process of being built in Fife. It was cancelled and the facility moved to the south of England at a large extra cost. The point being that the Union side would stuggle to make any promises about Scotlands share of defence spending that could be believed.

    1. The detailed defense plan for the UK that is current should suffice in the event of a “no vote”.
      There are currently no political parties proposing a devo-max option, so there are no parties in a position to put a plan based on that scenario up for scrutiny.
      The SNP have published a defense plan. There are clearly matters of joint and common interest in it that would require resolution by negotiation. It would be for Dannatt to respond to these, subject always to concerns about pre-empting possible future negotiations by ELECTED politicians. He could however meantime employ himself usefully, as an officer carrying the queens commission, putting together a plan as to how he proposes to defend the realm if his nightmare scenario comes about. Still, nice to his sniper training hasn’t been wasted.

  14. Consider this..

    The SNP now claims to be the national party of Scotland having stolen support from Labour,LibDems,Tories,Greens & SWP and presents a positive Social Democratic position to the electorate.

    How is Labour going to be re-elected to power without parking some tanks on the SNP lawn?

    Which popular SNP policies will Labour adopt and how does Scottish Labour persuade the Scottish electorate its still a Social Democratic party while London Labour espouses right-wing Blairite policies?

    Its widely held that 20% of Labour Members support independence yet the Stalinist legacy(that drove me away)smothers real debate inside the party.

    Malcolm presents the most optomistic AND realistic options for the future of Scottish Labour.

    I for one look forward to an independent Scotland with a re-invigorated Scottish Labour Party playing an important role in running the country.

  15. Pound to a penny, that when the time comes, Mr Chilsholm will cast his vote for independence.

  16. Considering the positive responses to Malcolm Chisholm comments I would say that we need to see and read more contributions from Mr Chisholm and less from the usual suspects.

  17. Mr Chisholm hits the nail on the head. The Calman proposals are dead in the water. If Labour is to stand any chance of being re-elected it has to push for FFA. Devo Plus just won’t work in my opinion. Many folk, myself included would rather vote for independence than some fudge which offers no real benefit to Scotland. So as a Labour supporter I find myself ready to vote YES to independence unless FFA is offered as an alternative.

  18. Some bizarre comments above. Most particularly the correct assertion that a straight choice between independence and the status quo gives independence the best chance of winning. Of course it does!

    Why then are the SNP advocating a second question, not presumably out of the goodness of their hearts?

    They are toying with offering a second question because the best chance of winning an independence referendum is still no chance. They wouldn’t therefore mind if some other party offered them a fall back position.

    Labour Party policy is for the Labour Party, not for the SNP.

    I don’t go about SNP websites offering them Policy advice. If I did it would be that their best chance of retaining power would be not to have a referendum at all. They seem however to have worked that out for themselves

    1. Iain this isn’t about Labour or even the SNP it’s about what the people of Scotland want which seems to be FFA so that we are no longer subject to the whims of the Tory party which has next to no stake in Scotland. I find it truly jaw dropping that a Labour man such as yourself seems unable to get that this is devolution in action, a Scottish solution to 300 year old problem of the inadequate British Constitution.

      As for the SNP not doing this out of the goodness of their heart your right, they doing because it’s clearly the will of the Scottish people! Granted after the final few years of the Labour government in Westminster the idea of a democratically elected government trying to legislate and act according to the will of the electorate may seem novel but perhaps Labour should try it if they ever get back into power.

      1. The referendum should be a simple yes or no to if Scotland should be independent of the United Kingdom. Having a second question or third option is simply being supported by the SNP and their followers because it will give them cover for when they lose the main vote, with salmond claiming “people just want to take things a step at a time”.. and it also muddies the debate, by creating a decoy option which means less time to focus on the big issue.

        Where power rests is secondary and on a completely different level to if Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or be an independent state.

        Devolution Max plays right into the separatist agenda and right into their hands.. it must be opposed.

    2. Your are allowing the SNP a WIN-WIN-Win situation on the referendum.

      If Scots choose independence the SNP will claim a WIN.

      If Scots choose Devo-Max then the SNP will claim a WIN because they are the ones that put that option on the ballot and many traditional Labour supporters will vote for it.

      For Labour to be seen supporting the Coalition in retaining the constitutional status-quo will also be a WIN for the SNP, for it is clear that the unionist parties will lose by a large margin on that option.

      Labour should be concentrating it’s efforts on how to support Devo-Max and how to implement it.

    3. “Why then are the SNP advocating a second question, not presumably out of the goodness of their hearts?”

      None of us has any idea what the SNP is or isn’t going to put on the referendum ballot at this point. All we know for certain is that there will be options for the status quo and independence. Frankly, if it looks like there’s a decent chance of independence winning by 2015, it wouldn’t be in their interest to offer devo max at all, and the trend is that support for separation is growing (especially with 16-17-year-olds getting the vote).

      Your misplaced arrogant complacency, with several years of anti-Scottish Coalition government still to come (today’s Longannet decision is probably worth another percentage point to the SNP), is astonishing. Is EVERYONE in Scottish Labour a Nat secret agent?

  19. Ian Smart is surely wrongheaded in his claim that the SNP have no chance in the referendum. They have a great deal of momentum and public good will.
    The UK parties have leadership issues and the print media does not carry the same weight as in the past.
    It goes without saying that Labour policy is for the Labour party to make but he is in for a gunk if he wants to keep a public forum exclusive to members of the party-what of ex-members like me?

    1. Iain Gray’s congratulatory secpeh to Alex Salmond the other day gave those of us who have grown to loath the man an insight in to the real Iain Gray. And I have to admit, he came across as the man that SLAB tried so hard to convince us he really was. The irony is, that now the pressure to adhere to Labour’s strategy in Scotland has been removed from him, Iain Gray could actually turn out to be the best leader the current Labour group in Holyrood will ever have.Which brings us to Labour’s problem. Despite Iain Gray’s assertion the wee Milliband gets Scotland , the evidence overwhelmingly reveals he absolutely doesn’t. Being able to point to Scotland on a map doesn’t automatically instill the intimate knowledge of Scotland that her peoples expect, nay demand. In this fault, young Milliband is in some infamous company Thatcher didn’t get Scotland either and that failing still haunts the tory party north of the border.The Labour party have claimed they will learn the lessons and have instigated a review. However, now that they have their sacrificial lamb in Iain Gray, the man who will carry all the blame for Labour’s failings (how did things work out for Labour south of the border?), it appears that the review will be a going through the motions exercise with absolutely zero changes. The arrogance of the Westminster labour MPs, who still don’t realise that there is a very fine line between running down the SNP and running down Scotland (Scotland’s too poor, too wee, too stupid look at the Scottish banking crisis), especially when they share a platform with the Lib Dems to do so (the party that willingly sells its soul and principles for power), is highlighted by the fact that, by all the evidence available, they have already made up their minds that more Westminster control is the answer.That’s fine. It’s actually starting to really annoy me that all these bloggers, journalists and political pundits think that there is a need to help the labour party fix their problems in Scotland. I don’t. I’m watching what’s happening from the sidelines and am finding it hard to suppress a hearty guffaw. Without radical change, and I don’t think the Labour party is capable of such a change, the party that SLAB hold up as the bogeyman in Scotland whilst trying so hard to emulate in the South of England, will be seen to have trailblazed the route of SLAB. And whilst Jackie Baille will never be as much loved as Auntie Bella, she will be no more relevant from a Scottish point of view.

    2. The Greens. However, over the past year, being off work ill I’ve had more time to spend looking into ermttas a bit closer and I will not be voting for The Greens. I cringe at some of the emails which are sent out, I would expect theses from Labour, not the one time well respected Greens. There is just never anything positive, it’s all too negative. I wonder how many millions Patrick Harvie would be willing to have Scottish tax payers stump up to have the tax varying powers sit dormant? That’s really been the final straw for me.Patrick could and should have managed to make some gains for the Green movement through the budget, but he failed to. I just feel sometimes Patrick is standing in the way of progress. As a family of farmers, yoga teachers, artist to up and coming chemical engineers, structural engineers we’re a mixed bunch really but all moving towards the SNP.I think the SNP has governed really well despite being up against the unionists attempts to vote them down, particularly labour, plus all the bias media.I never would of thought I would feel this way and I’ve thought about it long and hard as it’s in my conditioning and roots to vote Green.I will be voting for the SNP as will most of the family, the students who will all be graduating soon are proud of their Scottish roots but they are pondering on departing for a warmer wealthier climate more so if Labour are elected. They just cannot come to terms with the thought of Iain Grey as First Minister or Andy Kerr in charge of finance.Perhaps tactical voting is needed!Ps: I do enjoy your blog, sorry for rambling on.

  20. Isn’t it all academic anyway? No-one in Labour is listening to Malcolm Chisholm. The party review has already decided that Tom Harris MP is going to be the leader and Ian Davidson his deputy, so that the Westminster “Team Scotland” can operate as a government in exile. They seem to be suggesting that Devolution has gone too far and it’s time to stop offering the electorate more and get them tellt. Labour will be campaigning under a banner of no change for the next year or so until it all unravels again. You’ll have had your tea?

  21. Call me eccentric if you will, but I think that the forthcoming referendum should be about letting the Scottish people decide where they want to end up on the spectrum between devolution as we have it now, & independence.

    This isn’t an abstract argument. Malcolm correctly identifies the forthcoming attacks on welfare benefits by the Tories as being an issue which will draw blood from some of the poorest people in society & a huge amount of anger from Scotland as a whole. That’s just one example. OK people might not want full independence, I acknowledge that, but they do want to stop the Tories at the border as much as they can.

    Labour need to step up to the plate here. The SNP cannot campaign for both independence & devo max. Labour need to get their act together to give the electorate a choice.

    1. Observer

      “Labour need to step up to the plate here.”

      Err, no we don’t.

      This is your (ie SNP ) gig.

      It should be a simple yes/no question on whether Scotland separates from the UK.

      Anything else is a distraction and I do hope as a party we don’t walk into the fairly obvious trap currently being set by the SNP.

      Is it just me or does the continuing game-playing by the SNP smack just a wee bit of desperation?

      Going from a referendum on Scotland’s ‘freedom’ to a multiple choice family quiz isn’t really the actions of a confident liberation movement….

      1. I also want a simple yes or no vote, as I believe the yeses would take it, even now. But offering other options is more democratic – there are a lot of people in the country, a majority I think, who are not yet fully behind independence, but lean that way, and their voices deserve to be heard just as much as the voices of those who support and oppose it viscerally. For these folk Devo Max or FFA will be a true representation of their views which they can get behind without feeling that they’re exaggerating their commitments one way or the other. It makes sense to have multiple options at the present time, if we want to give everybody a voice.

        But it’s all academic till we found out the real proposed questions.

        1. when I get here to comment. This is the prbloem with my bloody time zone.But yes, Jeff, you do well in theory to try and pick holes in what independence for Scotland means, but you don’t necessarily do all that well in practice. This is a non-starter. Your logic, such as it is, does not take any account of the oil, of the continued English need to negotiate with Scotland for the transfer of defence resources and for hammering out some kind of cross-border treaty to prevent massive discrepancies in business rates like the Republic and the North of Ireland. Among rather a lot else, not least the Boy David’s obsession with how he is perceived abroad and particularly in the Eurozone.This, sadly, smacks of a belief that England and Scotland will somehow descend into acrimony after independence, which I very much doubt will happen. There might be a hard bargain to drive on what the post-independence landscape will look like for both countries, but at no juncture do I expect Cameron et al to take their ball and go home. They might as well say they don’t accept the result of the referendum.

        2. Dear god, I know you guys really don’t like Labour, but not only do you pdirect almost every Labour/SNP marginal to go the SNP’s way as well as putting a couple of Labour seats in SNP hands just for the sake of it.As well you prescribe this mysterious encumbency effect that allows sitting SNP MSPs to buck the trend because one of your friend’s aunties told you that they were well liked locally. But never prescribes that effect to sitting Labour MSPs (presumably none of your friends have aunties in Labour seats)To cap it all whether the SNP win seats like Cumbernauld is purely to do with how well the SNP campaign. The strength of the Labour campaign doesn’t seem to feature.First of all you really don’t seem to have learnt the lessons of Jeff’s abysmal forecasting last year. Second of all you seem to have ignored the distorting effect of the 100,000 spoilt papers, which affected areas with poorer and older electors more. Never mind being in the middle of a unpopular war, never mind the SNP’s dodgy ballot paper.Now you could be correct and not simply repeating last year’s ridiculous optimism. But your analysis doesn’t indicate this.I look forward to you pdirecting that the SNP will not only hold Glasgow Southside comfortably’, but will snatch’ Kelvin from Pauline McNeill, because being merely a Labour MSP she will have no incumbency effect!

      2. If Labour don’t support FFA then it will either not be included on the referendum paper, or it will be included so that the SNP can persuade people that it doesn’t go far enough. All indicators at the moment are that the third option is the most popular. If Labour don’t pick it up & run with it, then it will be a lot easier to persuade people that it’s a half way house we don’t need, if no one is arguing in its favour. I am not averse to that outcome, I am merely puzzled why Labour would be so stupid.

        1. Observer

          It should be obvious to anybody reading these posts or listening to the pronouncements of your dear leader that the SNP are desperate to have anything but a straight yes/no referendum.

          The reason for that is clear – you’d lose it and you know you’d lose it.

          Why on earth should the Labour Party help get you out of a hole into which your dear leader has swaggered?

          Independence and constitutional issues are the SNP’s obsession not ours – we’ve wasted enough time on this already so let’s settle Scotland’s future once and for all and let’s make sure the answer the Scottish people give is unambiguous.

          Either in or out the UK, no flim flam, no silly games – just a simple yes or no.

          Who could disagree with that?

          1. You really don’t get it, do you? The SNP will be *delighted* with a straight Yes/No vote, because if such a thing happens it will be in the context of *Labour* having failed to put forward a third option, and it’s Labour who will be blamed for (yet again) denying the Scottish electorate the chance to vote for the thing they actually want – devo max.

            The SNP are practically *begging* the opposition to present a devo max option, and they’re doing it incredibly publicly so that everyone can see. There will be no confusion in the public’s mind about whose fault it is if there isn’t one on the ballot paper.

            The status quo is the LEAST popular option, especially with Tories in power at Westminster. If Labour forces Scots into a straight choice between that and independence, it’s going to be in for a nasty shock.

        2. Indy’s excellent post sums up how I think James has isesmd the point a little this isn’t about politics in the conventional sense (which is how Labour are trying to play it, with their customary lack of grasp of reality) for the SNP, this is a quasi-religious thing. Independence isn’t an end in itself, it’s the fount from which everything else flows. They’re champing at the bit to implement policies without limitations even if, as James does point out, they’re not necessarily all thinking of the same ones. why do their press team put out so many press releases urging Labour and the other Yoonyonishts to put forward a Devo Max option? I’m genuinely in awe of how Salmond has played this. The Unionist parties and the media seem to think they’ve somehow got him on the horns of a dilemma with regard to Devo Max, but I honestly think the SNP don’t care very much either way whether we have one question or two on the ballot paper. They might have a slight preference one way or the other, but ultimately both are good if Devo Max is on there it will definitely get a large majority, taking Scotland (at worst) a good 80% of the way towards independence and energising the party still further for the final step. If it isn’t it’ll be because the *Unionists*, not the SNP, rejected it. Given that it’s currently by far the most popular option regardless of whether people understand the fine details or not being seen to block it would be a suicidal move for Labour in particular. THAT’S why Salmond is going so far out of his way to be seen to offer it. Such a scenario will undoubtedly boost the independence vote, and it’s already pretty close, with several more years of Coalition butchery still to come. If the Unionists think that a one-question referendum guarantees them a win, which IS what they appear to believe, I have a feeling they might be making yet another disastrous miscalculation.And the idea that the SNP would dissolve after independence just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Salmond might take a well-earned retirement (he’s getting on a bit, after all), but for everyone else there would suddenly be REAL government jobs with REAL power up for grabs. There might be internal wrangling, there might even be a breakaway or two, but having pulled off such a staggering achievement who’d want to choose that moment to walk away? Is Nicola Sturgeon, say, going to turn down being the first ever Prime Minister Of Scotland?Devo Max is indeed an obvious bear trap. But as mindgame points out at #8, it’s one so ingenious that the SNP can hardly lose whichever way the Unionists turn. That doesn’t mean the vote is won, but Salmond is stacking the odds in his favour, and do we think the other side has anyone clever enough to outsmart him in the next three years?

    2. Exactly! Duncan’s comments are profoundly depressing because the SNP is not playing games. This is the most important thing to us. It’s the single reason we came into politics in the first place.

      If they keep up this tactic of saying it is up to the SNP to decide on what the third question is then it will be the SNP that defines Devo Max – and it will be the SNP that takes it to pieces because there will be nobody there to argue for it and defend it. Because they can’t get beyond narrow party politics.

      It’s pathetic really. The people of Scotland deserve better.

      1. You do realise that I am not saying the SNP should define the third question, don’t you? Quite explicitly I’m saying it should not be a single party which draws up a plan for a new constitutional settlement, but a reconvened Scottish Constitutional Convention.

        The pull for a devo max option is coming from the electorate. So what need to happen is quite clear:

        1. The SNP need to decide whether they are going to allow the electorate that option.

        2. If they are, the SCC needs to reconvene to agree its form.

        3. The terms and timetable of the debate need to be clear in good time so that Scotland can have an honest, open discussion.

        That means the Scottish Government need to decide now between 2 questions or 3. That is their decision.

        1. That means the Scottish Government need to decide now between 2 questions or 3. That is their decision.

          Eh… surely if the Scottish Constitutional Convention were to be reconvened, they would decide the questions required to satisfy a decision on any new constitutional settlement?

          Is it Labour policy to reconvene the SCC by the way?

          Ultimately though, its too late to be flapping about in a constitutional frenzy after the fact. The electorate spoke in May, and until that point, Labour were well off the pace of electoral opionion. I dont think you are in a position to be dictating how this can proceed – the parliamentary arithmetic states that you either work constructively with the majority, or you forfeit your chance to do something while you still can. And that means picking up the Devo-Max argument and fighting for it with everything you have.

          We’ve seen Labour’s definition of “work constructively” before though and the signs arent great to be honest. 🙁

        2. The SNP answered question 1 years ago, and have made their position absolutely clear countless times since then, including this week: they are open to offering the Scottish people the choice of devo max/indy lite/FFA/whatever on the ballot. However, as the SNP favours independence and can’t argue two positions at once, any such option will have to be created, defined and tabled by the opposition parties.

          Reconvening the SCC is entirely up to Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Your points 2 and 3 are therefore in the opposition’s court, not the SNP’s. People already know what the status quo is, what full independence is, and that the vote will be in 2014/15. If you want to put anything else on the table, stop waffling and get on with deciding what you want it to be.

          (Also, what are these “two questions or three”? The issue is whether we have one question – Do you want independence, Yes/No – or two.)

  22. It is regrettable to say the least that Scotland’s constitutional future should be dictated through the prism of party-political antagonism. The referendum, from the perspective of both fundamental unionists and fundamental separatists, should offer the voter only two options, forcing the very blinkered ideology of both parties on the people of Scotland who in reality are a much more complex set of individuals; unlike the party political inhabitants of Holyrood they do not fit into the pre-defined boxes of nationalist and unionist. Many will see the referendum from the perspective of the citizen who would like the outcome to be the best for their own situation with regard to their social and economic circumstances; how will this help our job market? How will this provide a better future for my child in terms of their education and welfare support? The complexity that is to be found within the pool of potential voters is reflected in the fact that a recent poll highlighted a larger degree of support for more devolved powers, rather than full independence or the status quo. This is an option where, through the reformation of a constitutional convention, the Scottish people are more likely to be presented with a tailored set of proposals that better represent the capabilities and the promise of Scotland’s parliament and Scotland’s people. It depresses me greatly that an issue that will so fundamentally change the direction of travel for the country for generations to come will be decided in a referendum that, at a time when many of the problems relating to Westminster could be solved by devolving key powers, will reduce the argument and the quality of the discourse surrounding Scotland’s future to a facile game of ‘he says she says’ ‘winner takes all’ political grandstanding between members of our ruling elite. This is an issue that needs discussion and inclusion, and must be owned by the citizens of this country, not implemented as a tool to herd them towards any self-serving, aggrandising and grandiose vision of what one set of people think being Scottish means, or what being British means. This is about demanding more from our politicians. If we are to have more powers and more responsibility then we must not fail in taking responsibility now while arguing our case; if the referendum is presented in the form that both unionists and the SNP have largely proposed, then the Scottish Parliament has fallen at the first hurdle; providing a realistic and clearly defined set of questions, constructed by a transparent cross-party body, that does not simply cater to a facile interpretation of Scottish public opinion. There is support for devo-max, surveys and opinion polls have shown it. If it were to be ruled out of the process then our policy-makers would do a great disservice to the population, forcing those whom they are supposed to represent to make a decision, not on their terms, but on the terms of those who hold the reigns of power. And then what will that say about the ideals of democracy to which we all aspire, independent or not?

  23. The contributions to this topic underline how completely confused the Labour Party is over the referendum. This is exactly why Alex Salmond offered to put the unionists “Devo Max” on the referendum. It is because there is no chance of the unionists uniting on what Devo Max should be, once this becomes apparent as you all argue about it any attraction will soon fade away. AS is running rings round you. And anything “Devo Max” can do Independence can do better. I would say considerably more than 20% of Labour supporters would vote for independence. In any survey we’ve done it is much higher than that.

  24. A few years ago a survey showed 45% of Labour voters would support full Statehood for Scotland. More surprisingly 20% of Tories and 30% of Lib Dems also would vote Yes to Independence. If Devo Max or Indy Lite were on offer the numbers would alter again, but do these numbers mean much when the result of the referendum will hinge on the kind of campaign fought by each side. Already we know that Alex Salmond will lead the Yes campaign but already there are splits appearing in the No camp with Labour figures declaring they wont share a platform with David Cameron. Clearly for Unionists there are several reasons to retain the Union, but the problem for them is that they are often mutually exclusive. Failure to agree a leader for the No campaign will seriously harm the prospects of a No vote. All these politicians calling for an immediate referendum on Independence must have a deathwish as only the SNP is building a referendum warchest which leaves Unionists looking to London for funding. As they used to say in colonial times “The writing is on the wall”!.

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