Saturday, 29 September 2012

How do you say "Estat Propi" in English?

Part 2: Devolution and the Devolved State

In Scotland it’s called “Devomax” – politico-speak for “fully devolved state” – and Alex Salmond’s SNP government of Scotland has provided us with a handy guide to the difference between full devolution and full independence:

Under full devolution… Scotland would remain within the United Kingdom. The UK Government and institutions would continue to have responsibility for many matters, for example the currency and monetary policy, and decisions on peace and war. Full devolution would give Scotland more responsibility for domestic matters, and would extend the range of measures the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament could take to encourage greater sustainable economic growth.

The Scottish Government's favoured policy is independence, which would bring all the possibilities of full devolution with the additional responsibilities that could not be devolved within the United Kingdom, such as foreign affairs and defence. Under independence Scotland would be responsible for:
  • ·    the economy, the currency and the macroeconomic framework
  • ·    education, enterprise, infrastructure including transport and housing
  • ·    the environment, energy and climate change
  • ·    the taxation and benefits system
  • ·    the full range of public services, including benefits and health
  • ·    foreign affairs, defence and security matters
  • ·    equality legislation and human rights
  • ·    the constitution and government of Scotland, Parliament, the courts, local government

Right now, the UK and Scottish governments are negotiating a final form for the 2014 referendum in Scotland, and the big question is whether independence or full devolution (Devomax) will be on the referendum ballot paper. The fact that the UK government is negotiating these issues with Salmond shows that politically, we’re in a different world from Spain and its relations with Catalonia. It would of course never occur to Mariano Rajoy to negotiate any such thing.

Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II has 
chosen not to pronounce about “chimeras” or ghosties in any of the three referendums staged in Scotland during her reign. In her view, a constitutional monarch leaves politics to the elected representatives. Wise lady. You can see why some monarchic dynasties go on and on while others get booted off the throne every so often. 

Will the 2014 Scottish referendum ballot be about independence or devomax? We’ve already seen that independence is the “Scottish government’s favoured policy”, and London wants this question on the ballot too, so why shouldn’t it be about independence?

Two reasons: first, the Scottish public are not that crazy about independence; second, the EU has made it clear that independence for them means a “year zero” reset – an independent Scotland must be considered outside the EU, and apply for membership with the consequent years, or decades, of waiting out in the cold.

1) Scottish independence not popular with the public

 An independent YouGov poll of Scotland in August 2012 found only 27% of Scots in favour of independence and 60% opposed. The “Olympic Effect” of seeing Scottish athletes competing and winning for the Great Britain team in London was clearly in play; but polls taken just before the Olympics in July saw just 35% for independence and 55% against.

We can see now why the UK government is happy to put (nay, insists on putting) independence on the 2014 referendum ballot – it’s 
clearly a losing proposition. 

When it comes to independence, Scots are most put off by the economic effect of having a new and separate currency. The pound sterling is, as they say, “sound as a pound”; a hypothetical new Scottish currency, not tied to the Euro or the UK pound, would be a fragile and vulnerable newcomer on international currency markets. And it would not be tied to the Euro because…

2) An independent Scotland would be cast out of the EU

Jose Manuel Barroso
, president of the EU Commission, leaves us in no doubt:

"I am not going to speculate now about possible secessions, it is not my job. But I can tell you that to join the European Union, yes, we have a procedure. It is a procedure of international law," he said.
"A state has to be a democracy first of all, and that state has to apply to become a member of the European Union and all the other member states have to give their consent."
Pressed on whether all new countries were regarded as new states by the EU, Barroso said: "A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member like any state. In fact, I see no country leaving and I see many countries wanting to join."

This is, of course, why Artur Mas refuses to discuss his “Estat Propi” plan in terms of “independence”. Independence implies a new sovereign nation-state; this new state would have to start from zero in terms of international law, recognition, and most importantly, EU membership.

So by implication, Mas is proposing in his Estat Propi plan a form of fully-devolved state or “devomax”, still connected to the sovereign state of Spain and thereby to the EU/Euro system, but with full powers over domestic policy. Whether or not the Scottish referendum carries independence or devomax as the question to be answered, Mas and the CiU party have already rejected full independence as an option.

History lesson 2

  • Independence is a word; control over your own taxes, budget and services is another thing
  • That thing is known as devolution
  • Independence rocks institutional boats; devolution just makes a few ripples
  • The EU is cool with devolution, but hates independence


The Estat Propi proposal favoured by Mas looks like devolution, smells like devolution and is carefully differentiated from independence in the same way. Therefore the Estat Propi is the “Devolved State”. But that type of terminology is scarcely known outside the UK, and completely unknown inside Spain and the EU.

So instead we could propose “Self-Governing State” to convey the same idea. Roll it off the tongue, it seems to fit – Estat Propi, Self-Governing State.

And Jose Barroso could even hear that phrase "Self-Governing State" without a shudder. You could say it passes the "Barroso Squirm Test".

Source for YouGov polls


  1. Mas said the other day that he doesn't use the word 'independence' because he feels that all states are 'interdependent'. OK that could be politicking.

    The other reason I've heard hinted at is that 'independence' smells a bit odd outside Spain. A bit OTT.

    One more note: Mas also said he wanted a state with all the normal structures and capabilities of any other state. That doesn't sound like devomax to me.

  2. Hi Tom, and thanks for your comments. You're the first and you've busted this blog's comments-cherry.

    No, you're right, all these reasons for Mas not using the term "independence" tie together - it scares other countries, it's incompatible with his aim to stay inside the EU, and it doesn't make much sense in this age of supra-national government, or "interdependence.

    Re "all the structures of a state". Consider how much Mas has spoken about Massachussets and the idea of as federal state as in the US. A US state has no army, no embassy, no passports. The point is that there are sovereign nation-states and other kinds of states, federal states, associated states, devolved states, and these British Empire entities "free states" and "Dominions".