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Clegg's gamble on further devolution

Regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum, a degree of reconciliation will probably be necessary.

When the Queen suggested a need to heal divisions after September's poll, it was interpreted by some as an intervention in the debate, but it could be said to be a statement of fact.

It is to be welcomed that the proponents of both No and Yes votes are urging a coming together after the result is known. In a riposte to Alex Salmond's Team Scotland plan for cross-party negotiations after a Yes vote, Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday urged the SNP to take part in talks if the Better Together campaign prevails.

It is a smart, positive message that hinges on the promise of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Of course, the SNP remain sceptical about the other parties' commitment to delivering further powers. For his part, Mr Clegg insists the LibDems are instinctive supporters of greater devolution and will play a central role in delivering for Scotland.

More than ever, though, he has had to couch his offer of greater devolution in terms of consensus. Given the diminished state of support for the LibDems, it is not even clear that his party can end up as guarantors of a far-reaching deal.

Labour hope not and their offer of greater powers was predicated on an outright General Election win for Ed Miliband next year. Mr Clegg, king-maker in 2010, has seen his party slip so far in the polls that it is almost certain to lose its only MEP in Scotland this week. Much of the commentary does not consider that it might retain a seat, but who is more likely to profit if George Lyon loses his.

It is also somewhat ironic for Mr Clegg to position himself as a guarantor of future extensions to devolution. Many people who voted for his party in 2010 saw it as a defence against the Tories and many students trusted the LibDems to block student fees. Those voters will ask themselves whether they can depend on the LibDems as guarantors of greater powers

Identifying the creation of the welfare state as one of the benefits of the UK was an odd choice too and an infuriating one, given that the Coalition Government has gone a way towards dismantling it. And Mr Clegg's clumsy linking of the European elections with the independence poll was less than convincing in likening the SNP to Ukip on the basis that both shared a willingness to put Scotland's position in the EU at risk: a return to the tiresome negativity that has dogged the Better Together campaign.

For the most part, however, Mr Clegg's speech to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in Edinburgh emphasised a positive approach, pointing out that voting against Ukip and against independence does not mean voting against change in either case.

Mr Salmond, of course, will not countenance talk of a No vote at this point or develop a contingency plan. But Mr Clegg's offer might well chime with many undecided and swithering voters. Meanwhile, the importance of creating a process to move forward in an inclusive way after the result has become clear cannot be overstated.

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