A couple of days ago, the Labour ex-Prime Minster Gordon Brown, now an ordinary MP at Westminster, made an unexpected and widely-publicised entry into the IndyRef campaign. He claimed that he would get The Speaker of the House of Commons to set in motion a process that would produce a “cast-iron” timetable for a devomax solution starting on 19 September and finishing by 25 January 2015, which just happens to be Burn’s Night (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/05/gordon-brown-scottish-independence-devolution).
This was widely welcomed by the Better Together campaign in the belief that it would get some people to refrain from voting Yes.
There are number of important misunderstandings conflated here. Firstly, Cameron himself appears to have rejected a proposal by First Minister Alex Salmond to have a devomax alternative on the ballot paper (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/david-cameron-missed-chance-save-7727958). The ballot paper states without any doubt that this is about Yes for Independence or No for the status quo. Repeat – No is not a vote for more devolution. However Better Together understood early on that they would get nowhere with a genuine No campaign so its various factions have been talking about “devomax” – each political party offering a different version – which actually contravenes the rules set out in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012.
Brown was hoping that his standing within the Labour party and his Scottish antecedents (he is MP for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath) would give his proposal the necessary political clout although it was only a timetable, not actual powers. None the less Westminster politicians rallied round the idea with enthusiasm. But Yesterday William Hague, who was standing in for Cameron during Prime Ministers Question time, said:
“Fast tracking further devolution for Scotland was not Government policy”.
This statement is absolutely consistent with the Edinburgh Agreement.
Gordon Brown had also overlooked a constitutional requirement that any bill put before the House of Commons has to be ratified by the House of Lords before it becomes legal. That body issued a report in 2012 which stated specifically that
“Proper constitutional process requires that negotiations involving all parts of the United Kingdom precede any referendum on an agreed scheme of “devolution max.”
So not only would any devomax solution have to pass the House of Lords but it would also have to be negotiated with all parts of the United Kingdom (http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/uk-to-get-veto-on-gordon-browns-devo-proposals).
How such negotiations would be done is a purely academic question. DevoMax hasn’t died, it was stillborn from the start – another Dead Parrot on the Better together campaign trail.
One wonders why the Yes Scotland campaign hasn’t given more publicity to the funeral.