The more influential ministers in the [UK] coalition ache above all to radically challenge the role of the state, to achieve the reverse of the 1945 Labour government. Remarkably, given that they rule in a hung parliament, they have found the space to pursue their radical ambitions. Few in England voted for a revolutionary overhaul of the NHS, the near privatisation of universities, a further decline in the power of local government, a framework for education that paves the way for a return to selection and the introduction of profit-making schools, but that is what they are getting. In their fervent disdain for the state as a mediating agency, ministers focus with special energetic intensity on areas over which they happen to have no powers in Scotland.
As a result Scotland becomes more markedly different than ever. In Scotland the NHS is spared the haphazard revolution in England. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is powerless to impose his resolute will on schools in Scotland and the same applies to his other more evangelical colleagues moving England rightwards. Without doing very much Scotland becomes more different because of what is happening in England. The limited powers handed over to the Scottish parliament are precisely the ones that partly protect it from the ideological mission of the Westminster government. The cautiously incremental New Labour settlement [of devolution] becomes the basis of historic distinctiveness.But does this inevitably and inexorably lead to some form of independence? Or is there a stopping point at devo-max, where enough seems to be enough? Or, in today's interdependent world where sovereignty is always and at least partially pooled, is the difference only a matter of semantics?