Delving into politics here...
The news yesterday was quite momentous for Scotland, with the announcement of an agreement between the Scottish parliament and Westminster about the referendum on independence. There has been a lot of debate in the past few years or so about how the referendum is going to happen and some of the major points were agreed yesterday, with potential for other points to be put in place as well..
The general gist of the agreement is as follows:
- The referendum will take place before the end of 2014
- There will be one question asked
- The possibility of extending the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds is still on the table
This is basically what Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, was hoping for. Over all the news is positive from Scotland's point of view, although the agreement on a one question format has led to some upset. Up until now debate had mainly focused on what the question is going to be - the devil is in the detail there - but also on the kinds of options that could be offered. Broadly speaking, the referendum question could be a simple case of asking voters to decide whether or not they want to vote in favour of Scottish independence, and in case, it's a simple yes/no answer. Alternatively, the question could get a bit more complicated and voters would be offered a choice between independence, staying in the union, or choosing door number three.
This third option is called "Devo Max." Instead of going for outright independence - full autonomy - voters could instead decide to choose to opt for further devolved powers being given to the Scottish government. In broad terms it could be seen as just one step shy of full independence, essentially giving full fiscal autonomy to scotland, but otherwise staying within the union.
Devo Max has a few advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand it's a baby step towards independence - a step in the right direction for those who like the idea of independence, but not too big when you consider all the things that might go wrong and start to worry about them... It offers a something of a safety net in case of disaster, and so on. On the other hand, it's not independence and it would mean that the Scottish tax payer would still be footing the bill for things that aren't popular here, like nuclear arms, and so on. It is argued in some quarters that this option would be financially wasteful, duplicating expenditure on some things that would remain as part of the UK infrastructure, simply for the privilege of staying under their care.
To a certain extent, there are a number of folks in both the Yes and No camps who view Devo Max as an unnecessary compromise. In theory it leaves the door open for a further referendum in future, paving the way for a yes vote, so it's not a solution for either side, really. A no vote, on the other hand, is seen as putting the question to rest in a fairly final manner, at least for another generation, anyway. And a yes vote is a pretty final solution too. So neither side really see Devo Max as an end in itself, and ultimately it doesn't solve anything.
It's also possible that offering three options would have split the vote and we would still end up with a "No" on our hands. The people who didn't vote No might then be unhappy because their vote combined might have given a different result, so all in all it seems that a basic Yes/No sort of question is both simpler - and therefore less confusing for the average voter who doesn't want to deal with complicated options - and potentially safer and more decisive in the sense that the vote can only go one of two ways.
Still, it's a tricky one. Seeing as the agreement has ultimately played out in favour of Scottish parliament, there are some who are saying that Westminster has basically handed the referendum to the Yes vote already. I'd say the vast majority of current Westminster policies are doing the job more than anything right now - with a Tory government (albeit in a Lib Dem coalition, but they're basically ineffectual) in Westminster right now, much of what they're doing really goes against the grain of the average Scottish voter who tend to be more left leaning than the Middle England voters Westminster generally tends to court. That, more than anything, will prove to be a big factor in however people decide when it comes to it, I think.
The potential for opening the vote up to 16-17 year-olds is also controversial and weirdly, from what I've seen on the news so far, it's the one thing everyone is concentrating on. They don't pay taxes, why should they vote! They won't think for themselves, they'll vote however their parents do! And all sorts of silliness. I don't see it as an inherently bad thing but there are surely pros and cons to that too.
The bottom line is, this is a momentous occasion, it really is. There are still plenty of things that need to be hashed out but we now know that the referendum will take place, and while we don't know what the question is actually going to be, we know it's going to ask for a Yes/No answer. Polls so far generally have the yes vote hovering around the 30% mark, but that doesn't mean much right now. Two years is a long time in politics and there are a lot of undecideds and people who won't get their preferred option of Devo Max who will now need to have a rethink. And many might change their minds repeatedly up until the day of the vote itself.
If you want to read up on things, here's something from the BBC with further links to explore on the page. You can also view the agreement itself. Wikipedia has a decent article explaining the basics of Devo Max if you want to look at that more closely, too.