Tuesday, 13 January 2015
What is "ultra-extreme devolution"?
The Scotsman, having obviously had sight of Mr Rennie's script, reports that the Lib Dem leader will warn of the SNP "gaining independence by the back door" via "ultra-extreme devolution".
“As a minimum [the SNP] say they want a form of ultra-extreme devolution that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and which would inevitably tip Scotland into independence." Mr Rennie will say. He is also expected to accuse the SNP of redefining the purpose of the referendum, criticising them for promising a referendum as a "once in a lifetime opportunity" while "planning the next one". “I find it inconceivable that their target to win every Scottish constituency in May will not result in an attempt by them to get independence by the back door”, he will add. "Those who thought that winning the referendum by almost half a million votes was enough to put the issue to bed or even a lifetime need to think again. The Nationalist campaign continues"
The SNP campaign for independence is bound to continue. Anyone who thought that the referendum would settle the matter for ever, and that the SNP would simply abandon its raison d'etre, is being unrealistic. The referendum was a setback for the cause, that much is true - although how serious a setback depends on how the pro-Union parties respond in the coming months and years. I appreciate how frustrating it must be to hear those denying the result, behaving as if the Scottish people haven't voted, or who are now suggesting that independence just requires "one more push" - but to criticise the SNP for continuing their campaign is ridiculous. We Lib Dems haven't abandoned our campaign for electoral reform because of the AV referendum reversal. Neither were anti-Europeans silenced by the 1975 referendum.
I understand Willie Rennie's tactics, and there are reasons why he's turning his fire on the SNP. With Labour's current predicament and the predictions of significant SNP gains at the General Election, it should surprise no-one that he is seeking to warn Scottish voters of the potential consequences of returning an unprecedented number of SNP MPs. But the idea that a post-election deal, presumably with either Labour or the Conservatives, would yield "ultra-extreme devolution" (and this is necessarily something we should all fear) is difficult to accept. Neither of those parties is likely to offer the SNP anything along the lines of fiscal autonomy exceeding what exists "anywhere else in the world", whether the SNP are seeking it or not.
In any case, what exactly is this "ultra-extreme devolution"?
Liberal Democrats have previously used the term "extreme" to describe supporters of independence, and Mr Rennie also made an attempt to associate the SNP with an "extreme" English nationalist party. I hope this is not a further unwise attempt to smear political opponents. Certainly using terms such as "extreme" in the absence of context, as the Scotsman has done in this case, is unhelpful. What is Mr Rennie actually referring to?
I for one would support what others may consider an extreme form of devolution - and that's a full fiscal federalism, which is the kind of thing Liberal Democrats should be promoting. So I'd be interested in knowing something more about what these super-devolution plans are, what evidence there is that such plans have been advanced by the SNP and whether there is any intelligence to suggest that either the Tories or Labour would entertain them.
Make no mistake - the SNP aren't going to give up on independence. That's an inescapable fact of political life. They'll keep on using whatever weapons are in their armoury to make it happen, and they'll go through any door to achieve it. It's who they are.
True, the SNP have in recent weeks suggested that the general election could be used to secure "home rule" for Scotland. What they mean by "home rule" may be quite different to what Liberal Democrats aspire to, but there is nothing controversial in seeking to use a UK election to secure a better constitutional future for Scotland. Indeed, it is something I hope we will be doing.
I don't know what else Mr Rennie will say in his lecture, but I hope he deals with the substance of what "ultra-extreme devolution" - or "Devo Max Mega Plus" - is, because the term itself is loaded while providing little real information. However, I also hope he takes the opportunity to reiterate the Liberal Democrats' support for "home rule" and the case for wider UK constitutional reform, because it is in making the case for a workable federalism and real democratic change that the arguments can be won and independence defeated. Mr Rennie needs to keep talking less about the independence referendum and saying far more about the Scottish Liberal Democrats, while communicating our own distinctive agenda for Scotland's future.
Having not had sight of the lecture script, I will reserve judgement and suggest The Scotsman has predictably focused on one element of the speech. However, if we've learned anything in the last four years it's that adopting an overtly adversarial approach towards the SNP is seldom productive, and Mr Rennie must take care how his messages can be interpreted.