I RECENTLY read a lot of unfounded speculation, which I might even go so far as to describe as fevered, about the possibility of including a third option in Scotland’s independence referendum. While that’s a load of rubbish as far as I know, it is an interesting subject and it got me thinking about the whole idea.

As someone who is a bit of a popular sovereignty fundamentalist, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the way the 2014 referendum was framed. We all knew – in fact it was an accepted truism on both sides – that the most popular option for the Scottish people would have been devo-max.

There were regular reports that such an option, should it appear on the ballot, would receive nearly 80% of the vote. Neither side wanted that outcome. The SNP leadership wanted nothing less than independence and the anti-independence lobby wanted to preserve the status quo as much as possible.

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To my mind that’s an outrage. The sovereign people of Scotland had a clear preference and the way the leadership on both sides of the debate avoided giving it to them was to intentionally not ask them about it. However much I personally want independence, I am of the opinion that intentionally frustrating the sovereign will of the Scottish people because you don’t want the outcome is unacceptable.

Devo-max isn’t my preference and maybe, given the changed circumstances, it might not be the choice of the majority of the people of Scotland. But part of me remains of the opinion that excluding it from the ballot paper is just plain wrong. The people must have the option of choosing the path the largest percentage of them favour.

So what would that look like? Well, it would have to be an single transferable vote (STV) ballot for a start off. That risks not getting independence straight away but if that’s what the Scottish people want, that’s what they should get, and I’ll just have to lump it in the short term.

But what would devo-max mean? That’s what really got me thinking. In the end I’ve come up with something I’m going to call devo-min-max. It’s the smallest amount of increased devolution that I think those who support independence can live with.

It would be a triple lock, three guarantees that increase the power of Holyrood and put us in a place where we, the people, are firmly in charge of our own future:

  • A guarantee the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood cannot be closed, overruled, or have its powers reduced without the consent of a supermajority of the Scottish People in a referendum.
  • A guarantee of the supremacy of the Scottish Parliament on devolved matters. The UK Parliament may not pass laws that affect Scotland in devolved areas without a legislative consent motion. Ever.
  • A guarantee of the voice of the people of Scotland. Holyrood can call a referendum by simple majority to amend the Scotland Act that is implemented based on a simple majority of the Scottish people approving it.

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That would probably involve amending the Acts of Union but that would be a relatively simple matter of recalling the Scottish and English parliaments solely to approve the pre-agreed changes.

It would barely expand the powers of Holyrood at all, it would make the Sewell convention enforceable and would guarantee that we could hold a referendum on whatever we want whenever we want and that’s about it.

What it would do however is create a path to independence that we can walk down at our own pace whenever we choose.

Chris Hanlon was the SNP’s policy development convener during 2020/21