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Public not being offered the choice it wants

Ben Thomson in the Sunday Times

This week’s YouGov poll, commissioned by the Better Together campaign, clearly confirms once again that the option favoured by the Scottish public is to remain within the Union but with greater devolved powers. In other words, they want Devo Plus. The problem is that the public is not being offered this choice. Well, not yet, although an increasing number of public figures are openly discussing how enhanced powers might benefit Scotland, including Steven Purcell in today’s Sunday Times.

The Devo Plus Group was established to set out in detail how such a proposal might work, and to persuade politicians to recognise that this option is not only the most popular, but also the best one for Scotland’s future. It was formed with support on the Group from senior Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrat MSPs. Three detailed papers have been issued setting out how such greater devolution within the Union could work in practice, and our subsequent Glasgow Agreement offers a basic structure around which the three Better Together parties can unite.

Devo Plus is founded on four principles. Firstly, that the Scottish Government should raise in revenue the majority of the budget that it is responsible for spending. Secondly, that welfare should be determined at the level of government where it is provided, so that, if the provision of housing is a local responsibility, housing benefit and other related benefits should also be determined at that level. Thirdly, with regard to those powers reserved to the UK, such as defence, foreign affairs, monetary policy and banking regulation, Scotland should have full representation, proportional to its population, at Westminster. Finally, all of the powers devolved to Holyrood should be legislated for in such a way that they can only be changed with the mutual consent of both Westminster and Holyrood.

Whilst those three parties have talked about greater devolution, they have not yet agreed to put forward this united plan for Scotland’s future. They need to do so – voters must be told that something will happen after the Referendum, assuming a “No” vote.

The latest Scotland-wide Social Attitudes Survey clearly showed that whereas two thirds of the population wanted more control over welfare and fiscal powers, only one third wanted more control over defence and foreign affairs. This week’s poll just confirms this point and indicates that if Devo Plus were on offer next September in the form of a ‘no’ vote, it would attract a massive majority – much greater than the numbers Better Together is currently polling.

The Referendum should not be about party politics; it should be about delivering the best system of Government for Scotland. The choice we are being given is not about how we will be governed or which party will be in power, but the powers that the different levels of government will have to govern us. Therefore, this is a perfect opportunity for Better Together to come together and adopt the principles of Devo Plus and give the public the choice it really wants.