Monday, January 15, 2007

Scots Wha Hae

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.


James said...

The root problem is the political divergence of Wales, Scotland and England since the 1960s and 70s. In 1955 a half, yes, a half of all Scottish MPs were Conservative. It's the gradual disappearance of the Tory Party outside England that's set up what I see as an intolerable tension within the Union. For Labour to be in power now requires Scotland and Wales to return their Labour MPs to Westminster, while the Conservatives if they return to power as a government will do so off an almost entirely English slate of MPs. This is just not a sustainable way of running a political settlement. It's resolution is almost certainly going to mean a more federal Britain or the disppearance of the Union altogether in the long term.

vaba cymrulane said...

I agree with James. If there is English devolution, would the English public tolerate a situation where the Tories are in power in England but are not in power at the federal level? That would spurn the growth of English independence movements more than any other effect. It's time to say that hey, the 300 years of Union has been fun, it's time to give everyone a chance to stand up on their own.

And Cymru needs a real parliament, not just a quango in Caerdydd just so Rhodri can find a quick drink.

JPJ2 said...

I agree with your analysis that devolution was essential by 1997. However I strongly suggest that the analysis fails to recognise the reality. Nothing was or has strengthened the union-it has simply weakenend more slowly because of devolution, but the eventual end of the union has probably become more certain because it is easier for the SNP to demonstrate-if it can- that it can operate as an effective Scottish government by being the leader of the Scottish executive

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