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A fundamental disagreement between the UK parliament in Westminster and the devolved Scottish one in Holyrood concerns Scotland’s constitutional status. Should it remain part of the UK, become an independent country, or move towards a status somewhere in between?

The last option, favoured only as a fallback position by the ruling Scottish National Party, under its leader Alex Salmond, is summed up in the political catchphrase devo-max, short for “maximum devolution of powers”. Among other matters, this option would include the power to set, raise and keep taxes, with a proportion remitted to London to pay its share of the costs of defence and foreign affairs (the jargon term for this is fiscal autonomy).

The UK government objects strenuously and wants to keep devo-max off the ballot paper in a referendum proposed for 2013 (by Westminster) or 2014 (by Holyrood, since it is the symbolic 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in which the Scots under Robert the Bruce gave the English a bloody nose).

Devo-max is first recorded in 2007 in a book by Henry McLeish and Tom Brown, entitled Scotland: the Road Divided.

Fearful that he may fail to turn the polls round, the SNP leader has been eyeing the consolation prize of devo max (for which the polls consistently show a large majority) as a stepping stone to independence.

New Statesman, 16 Jan. 2012.

Current polls suggest Scottish voters would reject full independence but would back a third option, dubbed “devo max“. The UK coalition government and Labour are determined to make sure it does not appear on the ballot sheet, because they would struggle to agree on the question and fear it would make eventual independence seem inevitable.

Financial Times, 26 Jan 2012.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 28 Jan. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 28 January 2012.