AN unintended consequence of this week’s devo-max debate (but edifying nonetheless) has been apparent. It’s caused a cessation of hostilities in the culture war that’s disfigured the Yes movement over the last few years. Until now it had seemed that each side in this stand-off would rather sacrifice independence than yield an inch to the other.

Rather conveniently for the SNP administration this toxicity has tended to divert attention from its questionable 15-year record on trying to unstitch economic, educational and health inequality from the fabric of Scotland. This explains, perhaps, the First Minister’s curious craving to press ahead with the casual self-identification proposals within the Gender Recognition Bill.

For Nicola Sturgeon, this has become a legacy issue as she begins to plan for a life beyond politics. To put it brutally, there simply isn’t anything else in the course of her tenure that’s significantly improved the lives of her fellow Scots. In Scotland’s poorest communities the poverty dial hasn’t moved one inch in the right direction.

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An article in The National written by Chris Hanlon, the former SNP policy chief, floated the idea of the devo-max option in a three-way independence referendum. At other times this could have had the potential to sow division within the Yes movement. At this point though, it seems to have unified the warring tribes.

A close inspection of assorted social media platforms this week reveals a firm rejection of the devo-max option across the Yes firmament. Even more significantly, a steady procession of the SNP’s high command have stepped forward to dismiss the idea. They’ve been joined by those from within the party who have lately come to revile these executives for their performative contortions on the politics of identity.

The backlash against Mr Hanlon’s suggestion has included much that is unfair. It’s been assumed by some that he is a leadership drone, sent out to begin the task of softening up the Yes community to the eventuality of something less than independence. This simply doesn’t compute. He is no longer in his post as policy convenor. Rather, this should be viewed as an honest attempt to begin the process of thinking more about independence.

If, prior to Mr Hanlon’s intervention, the constitutional question had indeed encountered a logjam in its route of travel then it hasn’t been for the usual assumed reasons: that it’s been reduced to a game show in which Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson strive to outdo each other in their Covid responses.

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Where there’s been a lag in the independence debate it’s most evident in the SNP leadership itself. None have ventured to reinforce their purported enthusiasm for a second independence referendum with any detail on the questions which will dominate that campaign: currency affecting EU membership; border arrangements with London and the establishment of a central bank. Mr Hanlon’s contribution has at least engendered some long overdue discussion about these.

As predictable as some responses to his article have been none are as tiresomely formulaic and atrophied as those from a few of my esteemed brethren in the Scottish commentariat. Thus, Yes devotees who oppose the devo-max option are dismissed superciliously as ‘die-hards’. “Why wouldn’t these untutored ruffians want the Scottish electorate to have another option,” they ask.

Well; perhaps, but why stop there? Why don’t we have a devo-min option for die-hard Unionists who think (as many do) that there are too many devolved powers and that they haven’t been used very well? How many options do you need?

This media group-think betrays a degree of condescension for Yes voters but also a measure of self-indulgence. All week on social media flocks of professional politicos have gathered to feast on the implications of devo-max. They are like cardinals disputing with each other the correct way to give out communion.

In the real world (a fabled place occupied by the other 99% of the population) the terms devo-max and Edinburgh Agreement are never uttered. This doesn’t mean they are unsophisticated wastrels; only that they are too busy dealing with the lived experience of the powers we already possess. In the midst of a lethal contagion they are trying to make sense of the muddled messaging from big government which, two years into the health emergency, has not yet managed to keep pace with this quicksilver virus. They know that patterns of inequality evident before the pandemic have become more embedded in their communities in the course of it.

The addition of a few more powers will not affect this significantly one way or the other. When the second referendum comes they’ll have had more than enough time to compare and contrast the attitudes and behaviours of Holyrood and Westminster. And then to decide if an independent Scotland would improve their families’ prospects.

In the seven years that have elapsed since the last referendum support for the devo-max option has retreated while backing for independence has settled to a consistent 50%-plus. Those advocating for the devo-max option cite Alex Salmond’s endorsement of a multi-option referendum in 2012. Surely, though, their political sophistication extends to knowing what a negotiating tactic looks like.

David Cameron duly swallowed the bait and the resultant binary referendum took place. You can come to your own conclusions as to whether ten successive electoral wins in four different jurisdictions for the main party of independence since then constitutes a mandate for another one. Or that the serving UK Prime Minister has been exposed as a liar in the House of Commons. Or that his administration has routinely used Covid-19 as a business opportunity.

The only beneficiaries of a multi-option referendum are Unionists. Who else would it benefit? To suggest that clouding the issue is to democratise it is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. It’s good for little more than people like me on social media seeking to justify their existence and trying to convince you that we’re political savants.

If you want to see an earthly depiction of angels dancing on the head of a pin simply log on to Twitter and key in devo-max.

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