THERE is a world of difference between an honest opinion and a journalistic coat trail.

The latter has been much in evidence these past few days as various commentators, who should know better, get over-excited about another constitutional fudge – which in reality is only designed to delay, derail and ultimately destroy the very idea of Scottish independence by puffing up the smokescreen of “more powers” for Holyrood.

The former is the position taken by Chris Hanlon and frankly expressed in this newspaper. I enjoyed working with Chris when he held office in the SNP but I think on this matter he is profoundly wrong.

For a start there is no need for a referendum to approve enhanced devolved powers. That was never suggested when the Smith Commission reported, and if any Westminster party genuinely believed there should be further powers given to Scotland they could bring proposals forward at any time without seeking the prior, or even subsequent, consent of Scottish voters.

Indeed, they could be approved and implemented even if every Scottish MP opposed them – such is the democratic deficit in the constitutional status quo.

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Just as Holyrood’s powers can be – and have been – undermined by distant diktat, so they could be enhanced by it too.

No such proposal is, of course, being made.

In fact, hostility to the will of the Scottish people as expressed in the Scottish Parliament is demonstrated by the London parties every day. Keir Starmer’s “Britain First” speech this week showed that despite journalistic claims that Labour will deliver there is unity at Westminster on the Scottish question – but that unity is about hampering Holyrood, not helping it.

The National Wales: Campaigners wave Scottish Saltires at a 'Yes' campaign rally in Glasgow, Scotland September 17, 2014. The referendum on Scottish independence will take place on September 18, when Scotland will vote whether or not to end the 307-year-old union with the re

The whole devo-max referendum argument is therefore, at its very heart, a sham.

But there are three other strong reasons for rejecting the suggestion – reasons to do with process, practicalities and politics.

In process terms, accepting the inclusion of another devolution option in any independence referendum is like signalling possible terms of surrender before a shot has been fired. It is yet another example of the national movement as its own worst enemy, capitulating to the constant hectoring opposition demands for a “Plan B” (sometimes even demanding it of itself ) and in so, doing always allowing our opponents to be forewarned and forearmed.

The well-thought-out proposal that was approved by the SNP last January and formed the core of the indy offering endorsed by the Scottish people last May was in part designed to reverse this self defeating trend.

Declaring a clear route to be followed whilst refusing to be publicly drawn on alternatives put the ball firmly in the Unionists’ court. It was and is the right thing to do.

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Practically devo-max is a non-starter too. There has never been a UK Government which has yielded an inch on the concept of the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament, not least because it forms its basic – some might say quasi-sacred – constitutional foundation.

A key element of Westminster sovereignty is the notion that no Parliament can bind its successor. Another – much lauded by the Brexiteers – is that Westminster cannot be subordinate to another legislature. Consequently the Scottish Parliament can never be entrenched (as we know from the failure to do so after the 2014 referendum despite the promises) and can always be overruled.

So demanding the binding inclusion in any devo-max package of conditions about permanence and the establishment of legal personality (which would result in Scotland’s ability to enter into international treaties about devolved issues) is a fantasy that cannot ever be given substance.

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Moreover, is there really any Scottish citizen left who has not learned the lesson of Brexit, and the fact that it does not matter what Scotland votes for or wants if that contradicts what England decides?

There could have been no better illustration than Brexit of Enoch Powell’s assertion that “power devolved is power retained” and anyone who doubts it must have been turning a very blind eye to the stealthy lies of Gove, Johnson, Jack et al in recent years.

But the most powerful argument is political.

Devo-max cannot deliver what Scotland desperately needs – the full powers that any normal nation uses to benefit its citizens and make its way in the world.

Devo-max would not allow Scotland to re-join the EU. Devo-max would not permit us to close our borders in a pandemic.

Devo-max would not secure the removal of nuclear weapons from our soil. Devo-max would not guarantee that all the resources of Scotland benefit all the people of Scotland.

Devo-max would not make certain that those who spoke for Scotland were always elected by her.

Devo-max would not even stop the constant drip of insult and casual disdain that is on daily display at Westminster.

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For example, last Thursday our First Minister was sneered at as “Hirohito” by the archaic, pretentious, hypocritical desiccated stick insect that is Jacob Rees-Mogg (above), with not even an eye brow raised in the House of Commons as he did so.

One of the abiding images of the 1979 referendum was a cartoon by Jim Turnbull in The Herald, which showed a Scottish lion, very far from rampant, cowering whilst looking at the ballot paper. The caption read “I’m feart”.

Surely the lesson of the last 40 years is that Westminster’s ability to keep Scotland feart of change is what has allowed the Union to survive, with all its increasingly baleful consequences.

Yet it is the UK political establishment which is feart now – feart of the clear majority for independence That is what lies behind the stumbling re-emergence of their mangy old beast, devo-max.

Its time is long past. It needs to be permanently caged, and a new confident and ambitious Scottish lion set free.

This piece originally appeared in our sister publication, The National Scotland.

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