A lot of water has passed under the bridge since our politicians ruled out the so-called second question on more powers for Scotland.
At the time we were told yes/no to independence was the only viable question which could produce an unequivocal answer. Some politicians even went so far as to say they had no mandate to ask voters about anything else. The credentials of people supporting a second question were also attacked. Only now are the real reasons for this becoming apparent.
It was always the case a second question would have muddied the waters when both sides wanted the certainty of victory or defeat. Even if the rest of us don't feel the same way, independence and Unionism have become tribal rallying points for party politics in Scotland. More devolution crosses those battle lines and confuses the ideological point of it all. The single question was a victory for party rather than public interest.
An option of more devolution would also have required some urgent collaboration across party lines in order to agree on a scheme to put to voters. As we see now this is fraught with difficulty. There is little the three Better Together parties agree on about more powers. There are even some major disagreements within parties, especially Labour. Any forced consensus and common ground would undermine the need for separate campaigning positions in the UK General Election, only eight months after the referendum. A second question would have been inconvenient to our politicians because they would have been forced to work together and agree.
The party strategists thought it much better to have different versions of what happens next after a No vote. So now there will be competing visions vying for support at the General Election. But of course this throws the whole game up in the air. What if no party gains a majority in May 2015? What if, as is often the case, the choices Scotland makes are different to who wins power? Will more devolution get lost if there is a Coalition? Any strategy for the future of devolution which is built upon voting for a political party at a UK election is fraught with uncertainty. Maybe that suits the people with no genuine interest in moving things on.
Donald Dewar famously claimed devolution is a process, not an event. Some 15 years on this has proved truer than even he could have realised. Government is a complex and messy business with powers being forever mixed up and moved across the various layers of authority from local government right through to Europe. Devolution has matured slowly and the Scottish Parliament has acquired some new competences alongside a growing confidence. But there is an obvious distinction between minor adjustments, including almost all of the Calman proposals, and the big issues which everyone has an interest in.
In that context, options for a second question were actually quite easy to agree. The public had a pretty clear view welfare and the economy should be devolved and better integrated with health, education and the environment. Even most of our politicians feel it would be a good thing if the Scottish Parliament raised most or all of the money it spends. On the other hand, there was little appetite for a more-powers option that included foreign affairs and defence. But it is not to be. We probably shouldn't wonder why involvement in politics is in decline when faced with such fundamental examples of putting party advantage ahead of what people want.
A postscript to this unhappy tale might be to reflect it should always be the public who should decide which powers to invest in which political structures. We might even have regular referendums about such things. It is then for the politicians we elect to use these powers. Those who are currently messing with the future of devolution and who have conspired to deny us an option of choice in the referendum have got things the wrong way round. The future of Scotland is too important to be left to our politicians. If there is ever a next time we will need to do it better than this.
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