Many people ask; “why can’t we just have devo-max?”. We researched the facts and found the following:
Devo-max remains a largely undefined term, and therefore, unlike federalism, does not offer a defined constitutional solution. Devo-max would also have to be voted for by the House of Commons to be implemented and thus, is not up to Scotland to decide. Like federalism, devo-max would involve Scotland’s political power still being limited by a central government outside of Scotland.
- Devo-max is an undefined term. This was the case in the lead up to the 2014 referendum, when the term was used by the Unionist campaigners to try and persuade voters that Scotland would receive greater powers if there was a No vote.
- Devo-max was proposed as a constitutional alternative by which Scotland would be granted full economic independence from the rest of the United Kingdom but would still be subject to governance by the British Parliament in particular areas, such as defence, foreign policy and benefits.
- By most definitions, defence, foreign policy and benefits are three of the key areas of policy that Scotland disagrees with Westminster on the most. For example, the Scottish Government strongly opposes the Bedroom Tax (benefits), Brexit (foreign policy), and renewing trident (defence).
- Brexit has drawn attention to other issues with devolution. Research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has highlighted that new powers, that had previously been shared with the EU, will be granted to UK ministers in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, including devolved matters. This will allow UK ministers to act alone or alongside Scottish ministers on devolved matters.
- If devo-max was to be fully implemented, Scotland would be granted full fiscal autonomy (FFA). This means that all powers would be devolved to Holyrood except those regarding foreign affairs and defence. However, attempts to have FFA included in the Scotland Bill were rejected by MPs in 2015.
- Devolution, even if it was enhanced to devo-max, has limitations. The UK parliament retains the power to legislate on any matter, even those that are devolved. Although this is not common, it highlights the vast differences between devo-max and independence.
Devo-max is another political promise that has almost zero support within Westminster and so will never be fulfilled; a promise made in an attempt to decrease the support for independence in 2014. The term remains largely undefined, and even if we consider the commonly used definition, it is still unworkable. Three key areas, defence, foreign policy and benefits, would likely be retained by Westminster. These are areas that the Scottish Government and population largely disagree with Westminster on.
Although the UK parliament would not normally legislate on a devolved matter, it does have the power to do so. Therefore, even if devolution was enhanced, the limitations of devolution would still exist, and this is another problem with the concept. Moreover, devo-max or full fiscal autonomy requires the support of Westminster to be granted. It was demonstrated in 2015, when an attempt to include FFA in the Scotland Bill was rejected, that MPs are not willing to support devo-max.
Devo-max can often be confused with the term federalism. Read our FAQ on federalism here.