Scottish Devolutions on Track Despite Salmond's Claims No Voters Were 'Tricked'
Scottish independence has already prompted fierce debates - and the government's devolution proposals have done nothing to dissuade the secessionists Reuters

You know, there comes a moment in the life of any Scottish independence supporter when all he or she can do is just sit back and admire the brazenness of the London media.

Since the publication of the Smith Commission report, we've been breathlessly told that the proposals, which include among their highlights the devolution to the Scottish Parliament of 100% control over road signs, fulfil the solemn promise that was made to voters in exchange for a No vote in the referendum.

Well, that's curious, because this is the self-same London media which, in a state of panic matching that of the rest of the establishment, spent the closing days of the referendum campaign assuring us that the promise amounted to "Devo Max" – universally understood to mean the devolution of everything other than foreign affairs and defence.

They did so even though they knew from private briefings that what was likely to emerge was light years short of that, as has now proved to be the case. I can only assume I must have missed the crucial transitional bit where the media apologised to their readers and viewers for being so cynically misleading, before adding "but hey, 30% control over taxation and 15% control over welfare spending is still well worth having!"

Yes, it is indeed worth having, in the sense that it is better than nothing. But it is plainly not the fulfilment of "The Vow" on the terms that were set out to the electorate not only by the media, but more importantly by the No campaign talisman Gordon Brown, who promised "Home Rule" and something close to "federalism".

So let's hear no more nonsense about the promises having been kept. We're now into the inevitable damage limitation phase in which the London parties attempt to sell a package that falls far short of the one that soft No voters were led to expect. The mind boggles as to just how woeful the proposals would have been had the Labour party in particular not found itself under unexpected pressure during the Smith negotiations, as the SNP racked up a huge lead in Scottish voting intentions for next year's Westminster general election.

'Road signs will be fine, old boy'

Probably the most audacious of the media offenders so far has been The Guardian's Martin Kettle, with his astonishing argument that the Smith report "speaks for" the 75% of voters who want more powers for the Scottish Parliament, and that the SNP's unenthusiastic response risks alienating those people. It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when a commentator seems incapable of actually reading the opinion polls he is praying in aid.

No, Martin, those polls do not show that voters want just any old powers – "road signs will be fine, old boy, just whatever you think is best for us". Rather, there is overwhelming support (in the region of two-thirds rather than three-quarters) for Devo Max. It is the London parties who have set their face against that desire with the crumbs offered by the Smith report. In contrast, the SNP (and presumably the Greens) will be keeping faith with the popular will by putting Devo Max in their manifesto next year.

All the same, with his reference to the polling evidence, Kettle has unwittingly put his finger on where this process has gone so catastrophically wrong.

If David Cameron had meant what he said during the campaign about hearing Scotland's demand for change, the starting point for the post-referendum process ought to have been an effort to identify what constitutional system Scotland actually wants. Instead, the voice of Scotland has been placed second on each and every occasion.

I can only assume I must have missed the crucial transitional bit where the media apologised to their readers and viewers for being so cynically misleading

Cameron's victory speech somehow interpreted a Scottish referendum result as being all about the future of England. Scotland similarly failed to get much of a look-in during the full-scale Commons debate on the subject (ostensibly) of Scottish devolution. And there are strong rumours that when the original Smith proposals were presented to the Cabinet in London, minister after minister lined up to demand that they be watered down. Heaven forbid that the territory of a Whitehall department could ever be encroached upon by the democratic aspirations of the Scottish voter.

And then, of course, there has been the tussle for partisan advantage between the Tories and Labour, which explains in almost every detail the dog's breakfast of a deal that has been thrashed out over income tax. Labour's resistance to full income tax devolution, which eventually led to the irrational and tokenistic refusal to transfer control over the personal allowance to Holyrood, had nothing whatever to do with the best interests of Scotland.

In reality, it had everything to do with the self-interested need to have a plausible excuse for maintaining the rights of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters. By the same token, the ultra-unionist Tories would never have dreamed of joining forces with the SNP and Greens to deliver the almost full devolution of income tax had it not been for the tantalising prize of English Votes for English Laws.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon now has the task of leading the fight for the independence we deserve Getty

On the night before the Smith proposals were unveiled, an STV political correspondent was asked on Twitter to reveal what was being said by Tory sources. She joked that they weren't saying anything, because they were all down the pub celebrating. My own instinct is that the Tories are indulging in wishful thinking if they believe that they can have their cake and eat it.

Yes, they've probably made English Votes for English Laws inevitable now, but that will be a fundamentally unstable system that can only ever be a transitional step towards a fully-fledged English government that will deal with matters such as health, education and, yes, income tax bands and rates. We'll then discover whether a federal or quasi-federal system is workable when one of the component parts of that federation makes up 85% of the population.

Some of the finest constitutional thinkers in the land believe that it can't work – in which case the recent referendum will have marked only a temporary postponement of Scottish independence.

James Kelly is author of the Scottish pro-independence blog, SCOT goes POP! and has been voted one of the UK's top political bloggers. You can hear more from James on Twitter: @JamesKelly