Against devo max

Categories: Features

Devolution max is currently more popular amongst the Scottish electorate than both outright independence and the preservation of the union. James Foley argues that this is an option not worth exploring.

Scottish Independence poses the greatest existential threat to British imperialism since decolonisation.  From the perspective of global politics, it would confirm what we have all long known – that the British state will never return to geopolitical supremacy.

This is why a furious campaign has been orchestrated by the partisans of the British establishment.  Senior politicians, modern major generals, and propagandists of global finance – bellyachers, one and all – have been rolled out to scare Scottish voters into an early submission.

So far, the full weight of establishment opinion has succeeded fitfully in shaking Scottish opinion.  Despite negligible responses from the SNP, the attacks seem to have made little permanent impact.  This serves to highlight the bungling incompetence and disarray in unionist forces.

But it also demonstrates a failure of utopian imagination.  At a time of austerity, British capitalism has nothing to offer Scotland but threats.  In earlier grim periods of British history, the promise of trans-Atlantic affluent consumerism offered a way out of unemployment, alienation, and anomie.  Today, America is sealed-off, economically divided, and a political basket case.

Political society has failed to shake support for independence because it has nothing to offer.  But where politics has failed Britain, ‘civil society’ has provided.  Thus, a self-declared grouping calling itself ‘Civic Scotland’ has stepped into the breach to save the British union.

‘Civic Scotland’ contains representatives from across the social classes of Scotland, from the right-wing think tank Reform Scotland to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).  Its raison d’être is to explore ‘options other than the status quo and independence’, in the words of Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of STUC.

So-called ‘devolution max’ is one of the favoured options.  Although devo max has not been strictly defined, it basically promises full taxraising powers for Scotland within a monetary and military framework set by the British state.

For its advocates, it would solve the so-called ‘Scottish democratic deficit’ while also maintaining the security of the ‘British big state’, ensuring that we are not the prey of global financial forces like other small independent nations (Greece, Ireland, Iceland, et al.).

If the case for Independence is lost, groupings like Civic Scotland will undoubtedly play a key role.  The unionist parties are otherwise in a mess in Scotland: the Tories are toxic, the Lib Dems are contaminated, Labour is led by Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband.  Civic Scotland represents establishment corporatism in Scotland, and thus promises the security of the status quo.

But there is trouble brewing in the cosy enclave of civil society.  Firstly, the coalition is unstable.  Reform Scotland is an odiously right-wing think tank.  Given that the STUC and other pro-Scottish Labour forces want to slam Salmond’s connection to figures like Brian Souter and Tom Farmer, their association with such nasty low-tax low-welfare ‘reformers’ does them no credit.

Secondly, while people may cling conservatively to the status quo, nobody likes it.  As the TUC has shown, the cumulative loss of wages relative to GDP since 1978 amounts to £1.3 trillion.  Thatcher’s Tories and Blair’s New Labour imposed massive social engineering to transfer wealth from the poor and ‘middle classes’ to the rich.  The cost of Britain’s post-colonial adjustment to global market forces has been borne by the poor, on the basis of a cross-party British consensus.

For the domestic population, the British status quo has come to mean labour market flexibility, insecurity, debt-financed consumerism, and mass youth unemployment.  To the rest of the world, the British status quo means an unconditionally pro-American power on the UN Security Council…and Iraq.  What’s to like?

Lastly, despite the blue-skies waffle of ‘civil society’, the real political partisans of British unionism are determined to keep ‘devo max’ off the ballot paper in 2014.  Yes, they promise a ‘future referendum’, if Scotland minds its manners and votes for more of the same.  But they are sticking to the ‘hard question’ formulation for the initial referendum.

They have adopted this line for a simple reason.  ‘Devo max’ is widely popular in the polls.  But once it is on the table, all the political arguments are for Independence.  The British state no longer looks like a benevolent economic subsidy for Scotland.  Instead, Scotland will be ‘left to fend for itself’ in tax-raising terms.

The ‘Britishness’ we retain will be the ugliest and most decrepit elements of the state: the unregulated speculators and spivs in the City of London; the Eton-educated generals and ennobled toffs; the £78 billion abomination of Trident nuclear missiles; unconditional subordination to American foreign policy, including support for Israeli ethnic cleansing…

It might seem quite simply amazing that supposedly ‘social democratic’ figures would support this option.  But we cannot forget the influence of two toxic British disease – Fabian moralism and syndicalism.

Fabian moralism says that ‘the poor’ will suffer unless the enlightened engineering of a corporatist British state looks out for their interests.  Thus, the feckless Scots might accidentally vote themselves into a situation where they leave themselves vulnerable and defenceless against ‘aggressive capital’, unless intellectuals advise them of their best interests.

Syndicalism says that the ‘only’ divisions worth considering in Britain are between capital and labour, the only ‘working class politics’ worth thinking about is thus rank and file factory committees.

The odious global and domestic role of the British state, and the terminal cancer of British Labourism, are thus merely epiphenomenal, hardly worth consideration.  No internationalist or real partisan of the working class could accept these terms.  We did not choose to put the abolition of Britain on the table.  But the referendum is coming, and we ignore it at our peril.

4 Responses to “Against devo max”

  1. lucy says:

    I’ve been Jerkin Back n Forth with an Uncontrollable Urge to make pointless references to Ohio-based new wave, and while I have a Gut Feeling that this identifies me as a wanker-troll it is What I Must Do as I’m not yet Through Being Cool.

    [Consider this my first and last contribution to political discourse. Enough Said. Oops, there's another one... (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.]


  2. Scott says:

    Stopped reading as soon as it mentioned ‘imperialism’. Get into the 21st century please.

    • TC says:

      How else would you define the ‘policing’ operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?

      Theorists from de Toqueville onwards have thought of the USA as a ‘benevolent empire’.

      “The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.” John T. Flynn

      The Munro doctrine was explicitly used in the Cold War, and the idea of “spheres of influence” hasn’t gone away just because the USSR collapsed. Maybe you should read the article again.

  3. jim says:

    “Scottish Independence poses the greatest existential threat to British imperialism since decolonisation”.

    Hardly? I’ll be voting “yes” in the referendum, a “yes” vote will create a political crisis for the Con-Dems if they are still in office, but it will not by itself present a challenge to ruling class rule. There will be no blood on Scotland’s streets as a result of the referendum. Real change is only possible if workers North and South of the border unite and fight, and, like workers in Egypt and Greece, begin to challenge managers’ power by occupying schools, hospitals and factories to save jobs and services.

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