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a proposal in which Scotland would have full economic independence from the United Kingdom but would still remain a part of it and be governed in specific areas such as foreign policy and defence
'Devo max would make Scotland fiscally responsible – why does Cameron oppose it? Only a tribalistic craving for central control explains the prime minister's urge to defend the UK against Scottish autonomy …'The Guardian 12th January 2012
Devo max? Though it might sound like a brand of energy drink or the latest remote control toy, this expression is firmly rooted in the serious business of politics, and British politics in particular.
as the proliferation of expressions to describe this concept might suggest, devo max is a highly contentious issue
Based on abbreviated forms of the words maximum and devolution, devo max refers to the concept of Scotland having full economic independence from the United Kingdom, but remaining part of the union and subject to UK governance in a minimal number of areas, crucially foreign policy and defence issues. Also often referred to as devolution max (or simply maximum devolution), devo max therefore represents the maximum level of autonomy for Scotland, short of full independence. Being something like the 'next best thing' to actual independence, devo max is sometimes also referred to as independence lite, with lite in its popular post-noun sense describing a modified, often less intense version of something (compare marriage lite). A further alternative expression is independence minus. As the proliferation of expressions to describe this concept might suggest, devo max is a highly contentious issue in British politics at the time of writing. Westminster seems largely, if not unanimously, opposed to adopting the proposal, yet polls suggest that there is a level of support for it amongst the Scottish people themselves. Under devo max, the Scots would raise and spend their own taxes and end their fiscal relationship with London. Many commentators suggest that this may not be an entirely bad thing, both politically and economically, for UK central government, and therefore question its resistance to the proposals.
The concept of devo max is a key player in the wider debate on Scottish independence, a hot topic in British politics at the moment due to plans championed by Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, for a referendum to take place in 2014. The UK government, largely opposed to full Scottish devolution, are at odds with the Scottish nationalists over the timing of the referendum, accusing them of delaying tactics in order to garner support. In this context there has been tongue-in-cheek reference to a neverendum, a play on words never-ending and referendum recently used by Prime Minister David Cameron in characterizing the nationalists' desire to continue debating the principles of a referendum but reluctance to stage an actual vote.
The expression devo max emerged in 2011, fuelled by the media as a catchy way of referring to full fiscal autonomy for Scotland.
The concept is not entirely new and follows models in other European countries, such as the Spanish region of Catalonia, which has a level of political and economic autonomy but is not fully independent from Spain's central government.
The system of self-government for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the so-called devolution or transfer of powers, was launched by the UK's Labour government in 1997, resulting in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Historical and administrative differences have meant that devolution has applied in different ways in each of the three nations, though each of them independently controls policies in key areas such as education, health, agriculture and the environment.
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This article was first published on 23rd January 2012.