Since I announced the launch of the Devo-minus campaign, I have been inundated by those interested in signing up to help. Hundreds, no tens, sorry, ten people have expressed an interest in joining myself and Alan Cochrane (Scottish editor of the Daily Telegraph) as devo-minus activists.
We are campaigning for much less talk about Scottish devolution, devo-max, devo-plus and independence, on the grounds that this media obsession north of the border is becoming very, very boring. Indigenous Scottish newspapers had circulation problems before this latest round of constitutional navel-gazing started. Will there be any readers left after wall to wall coverage in the 1000 (!!!!) days leading up to voting in Alex Salmond’s referendum?
In England there is also concern. Current affairs programmes with all sort of important things to discuss – the absence of growth in the UK economy, the rise of China, potential armageddon in the Eurozone, the horse lent to Rebekah Brooks by the Met, Steve Hilton’s preference for not wearing socks – are having to divert resources to organising long discussions with guests from Scotland about the Barnet formula and various historical slights both real and imagined. It cannot be good for ratings, and it is trying the patience of tolerant English voters.
So it is imperative that we act.
Ian Smart from Edinburgh got in touch to suggest a new Radio 4 panel game in which four Scottish journalists have to talk for thirty minutes without mentioning devolution or more powers for the Scottish parliament. A system of forfeits could be introduced, with panellists losing points on a sliding scale based on the gravity of the offence. A small mention of Donald Dewar would cost only one point, but a full-blown reference to precisely which tax-powers would go to Holyrood under devo-max would see the contestant lose all points and have to sing a verse of something by Runrig, Lulu or the Bay City Rollers. I have forwarded this idea to a friend at the BBC in London.
A leading opponent of the Nationalists is worried though. He phones me from a safe-house in the West of Scotland: “Leave it. People banging on boringly about devolution and independence is actually going to damage the Nats. Eventually it will turn off lots of voters and make them vote for the Union for some peace and quiet. And to wipe the grin off Salmond’s face. Devo-minus might be too successful. In limiting the amount of hot-air talked about devolution it might make people eventually forget how boring it is and in this way help the SNP. You see?”
Yes, that was always going to be a worry for those of us in Devo-minus. Contrary to popular belief in England, only a tiny minority of Scots are journalists or politicians. A great many normal people north of the border could be attracted to the idea of hearing less about devolution. It is perfectly possible that if we are successful at Devo-minus, and achieve our aims, many Scots may, in time, forget how boring constitutional matters are and in several years vote for independence, possibly by mistake.
It is a risk we are going to have to take.