I’ve written on this blog before about the dispute between Westminster and Holyrood on whether there should be a third option – dubbed devo-max – on the eventual referendum on Scottish independence. The coalition doesn’t want it to be, worried the SNP will use it to muddy the waters and keep the independence debate rumbling on. But the Scottish government says the option should remain open if Scottish people show they want it.
The dispute is so tense that Westminster officials recently started questioning whether it could scupper the referendum altogether. But it seems Alex Salmond could be about to back down.
In an interview with the LA Times, the first minister said:
Independence regularly is the most popular option of three options that are usually offered to people. One is no change from the current situation; second is what’s often called devo [devolution] max, or fiscal autonomy; and the other is independence.
But the UK government is clearly not willing to offer devo max or fiscal autonomy as an option. So I suspect … a lot’s going to depend on people who support economic powers for the [Scottish] parliament but find that the UK government’s stopping them being able to move forward.
I spoke to one of Salmond’s adviser earlier. He insisted the SNP leader was not ruling out devo-max appearing as an option on the ballot – “No agreement has yet been reached,” he insisted. But, tellingly, he added:
The interview reflects the fact that if we end up with a single question on independence there will be a very, very substantial number of people across Scotland who currently are for more powers who in these circumstances will vote for independence.
These words are either an attempt to scare the British government into backing down on their opposition, or more probably, an admission that the SNP is not going to get its way on this and is preparing to start persuading devo-max supporters to vote for full independence.
That’s certainly how Labour is interpreting Salmond’s words. Margaret Curran, the shadow Scotland secretary, said:
It would appear Alex Salmond has finally admitted defeat in his campaign for a second prize in the referendum.
If that is the case, agreement on the referendum just took a huge step closer.