Michael Haggett says low levels of support for devolution max are due to the paucity of debate in England
In the Politics Show on Sunday, the BBC published the results of a poll they commissioned on the future governance of Scotland. It was a poll that presented three options, rather than a straight Yes-No choice to independence, and the headline figures were:
Scottish Parliament with existing powers … 29%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs … 33%
Full independence for Scotland … 28%
Scottish Parliament with existing powers … 40%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs … 14%
Full independence for Scotland … 24%
For obvious reasons, commentators have drawn attention to the relatively low support for “devolution max” outside Scotland; and have rightly made the point that although the Scots can decide for themselves whether they want to be independent or not, they cannot decide on a different form of governance for a Scotland that remains within the UK without the consent of the remainder of the UK.
The low degree of support for devolution max outside Scotland might seem to indicate that the rest of the UK would not be willing to give that consent. But I would like to suggest a different explanation. The full data includes this breakdown for Wales:
Scottish Parliament with existing powers … 33%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs … 26%
Full independence for Scotland … 15%
The sample is small, but the figure for devolution max is much higher than anywhere in England, and the figure for independence is generally much lower.
I wonder to what extent this is because people in England think that the Scottish Parliament, and indeed our Assembly, have far more devolved powers than either of them actually do have. To me, it is clear from the standard of debate in the UK-wide media that people in England have very little grasp of these issues. Some of the questions asked and opinions expressed in political programmes are breathtakingly naïve and ill-informed.
We in Wales have a much better grasp of the issues, because we have direct experience of devolution … and in particular we know that there is plenty of scope for more devolution of power from Westminster to both Scotland and Wales. This could explain the marked difference of opinion between Wales and England, and indicate that opinion is likely to change as people in England become better informed.
So I would not use the results of this poll to write off devolution max as something that would be unacceptable to the remainder of the UK. The debate still has some way to go.