Ben Thomson in The Guardian
When I launched the Devo Plus campaign in February 2012, I made it clear that I had not decided whether to vote yes or no in the Scottish independence referendum. Devo Plus – which includes senior MSPs from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties – called for the Scottish parliament to raise at least the majority of what it spends, and for the past two years I have personally committed to vote for whichever side came closest to the desired outcome of our campaign.
I believe in the UK. I believe that we could be better together. But, unless there is a fundamental and radical change in the power which Westminster devolves to the Scottish parliament, Scotland may find that it is more fiscally responsible, enterprising and prosperous by becoming independent.
There are two crucial determinants in my own personal decision.
On the yes side, my interpretation of their offer is that it effectively amounts to what used to be called “indy lite”, with Scotland entering into a sterling zone, contracting out monetary policy and retaining the head of state. It is the “independence” option that is most palatable to the undecided voter who wants greater fiscal and welfare powers, but who also wants to retain the pound and economic stability.
However, the flaw in the yes campaign’s proposition is that they will be dependent on the cooperation of a foreign country to allow them to use their currency and share in their monetary policy decisions, not to mention to act as the lender of last resort. It may be that the first minister is correct when he says that Westminster will change its approach to monetary and currency union after a yes vote, but at the moment we can only take at face value what the chancellor and his shadow spokesmen say when they continue to affirm that there will be no such agreement.
The second, and for me overwhelming, determinant sits on the no side, and it is the devolution of further power to the Scottish parliament. The sands of this argument have shifted considerably, and that is to the credit of MSPs involved with Devo Plus that they have each tried to push their parties further in the direction of more powers for Holyrood.
However, I find it deeply alarming that Labour seems to have been given control over this agenda, given that their previous intervention in the “more powers” debate was to water down their interim devolution commission report to the extent that the final version was close to a “no change” document.
I cannot fathom why the coalition government – members of which have a far more radical agenda on more powers than does the Labour party – has taken this approach. It calls into question whether the Conservative and Liberal Democrat proposals remain on the table, or whether they have agreed to lower themselves to the Labour position. To date, I have not been given the answer to that crucial question.
I am disappointed that, at this late stage, I am still not sure which way I will vote. For that I can only blame the dithering of the unionist parties. If they had come together in 2012 with a radical, combined agenda, there would have been no lingering doubt in my own mind. There would also have been no lingering doubt in the minds of most people in Scotland wanting a strong union with the rest of the UK, but with Scotland controlling much more of its welfare and the majority of its tax powers.
I am a natural no voter. I was not expecting to be even considering voting yes. But the reality is that, because Gordon Brown, on behalf of all unionist parties, has failed to outline what actual powers will be transferred, the factual reality is that the yes proposition appears to be closer to Devo Plus than the no proposition.
I’ll be watching both campaigns closely for the next few days. I’ll decide whether I think the unionist parties are as serious as they claim they are about devolving power, and I’ll be hoping for some further clarity on the powers the UK government will devolve. Then I’ll vote.