For our purposes, devo max means the devolution of everything except foreign and defence policy.
- It wasn’t offered by the three main UK parties, even if many people claimed that it was. The three party leaders made ‘The Vow’, which is a vague commitment to ‘extensive new powers’ and not what we think of when we say devo max. In fact, the vow includes a commitment to the Barnett formula, which suggests that most fiscal powers won’t be devolved (and we already know that monetary policy will remain at the UK level). In a separate post is a list of examples of media stories and politicians telling people that devo max is coming, but it’s not coming. You can believe that these devo max predictions either betray some loose, or deliberately misleading, language (or a mix of both), but they were made by people not in a position to deliver on devo max promises.
- Those UK parties remain at the heart of the decision. The Smith Commission is asking for views from the public and ‘civic leaders’, but it is working to a wacky timetable determined largely by the UK political parties, the commission is stuffed with representatives of parties, and the proposals will be taken forward by one or more parties. It is not one of the old-style constitutional conventions with widespread membership, and it is not set up to maximise public engagement. Instead, it is there to turn three separate plans on further devolution, made by three different parties (discussed well by the IFG), into one coherent plan (while, somehow, incorporating the SNP’s push for devo max).
- It’s too easy to argue that people seem to want the ‘devo max’ powers but not the outcomes. Recent polls suggest that, when asked directly, a large majority of respondents favour the proper devo max not on offer. However, when asked about the consequences – such as raising and spending all finance in Scotland, and/or producing the potential for different tax rates and social security spending (e.g. the state pension) – that support falls. As John Curtice suggests, this is partly a consequence of a binary yes/ no debate which did not allow us to clarify the practical meaning of devo max. Consequently, political parties have the wiggle room to argue that most people don’t really want devo max (and that it’s not a good idea).