The last few weeks, since the publication of a poll in November suggesting that the majority of both Scots and English support independence, have seen the debate on the issue grow much hotter.
This is very far from the first time, in recent years, that the majority of Scots have supported independence- indeed it was the usual state of affairs for much of the last ten years of the last Conservative period in government. Perhaps then that we should not be surprised to see that Iain Dale has been running a poll about whether Scottish "Devolution" has strengthened the Union , and even less surprised to see that 92% of the readers of Iain's blog think that it has not.
I beg to differ.
I passionately believe in the "claim of right" of the Scottish people to control their own affairs. I do not believe in Devolution- that implies power has been handed down to the Scottish people from on high. I believe in Home Rule- the free decision of Scotland to share its sovereignty with the other nations of the United Kingdom. Under Labour, we do not yet have this, but I will continue to argue for and believe in a Federal Britain.
Looking back to 1997. The decision by Labour to create a Parliament for Scotland (and an Assembly for Wales) was the "unsettled business" of John Smith, the lost Labour leader, and the Parliament is his lasting memorial. However had such a Parliament not been created, I believe that the frustration of the 74.3% of the population that supported the creation of the Parliament would have boiled over. Scotland already had devolved government- but it was devolved to the unaccountable Scottish Office. Scotland's legal system was practically the only one in the world without its own legislature, and the compromises of passing legislation twice through the House of Commons was eroding many of the key legal principles inherent in the Scottish system- creating strange anomalies.
I have always found the smugness of Alex Salmond strangely unconvincing, even though in the North East of Scotland, particularly, the overlap of SNP and Liberal Democrat voters is substantial. However, neither do I believe that the election of the SNP to the Scottish Executive would automatically end the Union. I think that the position of Scotland would become like Quebec or Catalonia- a distinct entity, for sure, but not necessarily independent.
Denying Scotland its Parliament would have driven the Union to destruction- and given the history of other parts of the UK, it is not fanciful to believe that the denial of Scotland's democratic rights would have led to violence.
Thankfully the Conservatives lost the election of 1997- and the bone-headed way that English Conservatives continue to approach the issues of Scottish governance underlines why it remains unlikely that the Tories will ever recover north of the border. "Devolution" can not be wished away- but it can be improved, and the major part of that is the creation of comparable English entities in order to restore the balance of our common constitution.