Tag: UK

Devolution causes as many problems as it solves

The more one thinks about it, the more one realises that devolution in its present form causes as many problems for the Union as it solves. The Union, after all, is just a nation state known as Britain, in which citizens as far afield as Penzance and the Hebrides have equal political rights to one another – further, and flowing from these political rights, we citizens also have equal access to cultural and economic benefits offered by the unity of Britain.

If we are to continue to recognise Scotland as a political entity, not just a cultural entity, then we have to recognise England as a political entity too. So far so good. But if the Union is going to comprise four political entities, one of which dwarfs the lot, the Union will be grossly imbalanced. Resentments and jealousies are as likely to grow as they are to diminish – probably more likely. This may serve nationalist interests, but it does not serve the interests, in any way, of Unionists.

The problem – or one of them, at least – is in thinking the United Kingdom is in fact a federal Kingdom. It is not, and never has been. A dominant England will end up dominating these islands. One of the great benefits of having a single parliament is that it extends equal political rights across the whole of the Union. We are in the process of building a Union of unequal rights. This is dangerous. The genius of Britain as a political entity is that England no longer exists as a political entity. As far as politics is concerned, no one is English and no one is Scottish – until now, that is, and more’s the pity.

It is worth reflecting on how this happened. The Scottish parliament was not created because devolution to the former nations of the Union is recognised as the best way to govern it; it was created because the Scottish nationalists realised the very existence of the parliament would drive a wedge between Scotland and England. And this is precisely what it has done. I hope this referendum vote is the last of Scottish separation; but I doubt it. Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves if we were right to devolve powers to separate parliaments and assemblies at all. I wonder if now is the time, despite almost everything saying it is not, to reinvigorate Unionism and moot the idea of a single parliament again?

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The Left has so much to answer for

After the referendum we are left with division – division between Scots voting ‘Yes!’ and Scots voting ‘No!’ With any luck they will find a way to come to terms with the result, but my suspicion is that things will be raw for a long time yet. I also suspect we are embarking on a period of even greater trauma that could well lead to a split some time in the future.

And it is difficult to see how divisions between Scotland and England will not now intensify. A light has been put on the stupendous idiocy of the original devolution settlement that allowed Scottish MPs a say on English issues while not returning the favour. The English can be slow to identify injustice, but when they do…

But all this is in a sense incidental – it will happen as it happens. All this could have been avoided a long time ago, but various acts of destruction were perpetrated that may well make division more likely – not less. I am interested in why politicians do stupid and destructive things. I am interested to know who to blame. Whose fault is all this?

Not, mind you, because blame games are good in themselves – they are not. But it is always important to understand why things happen. If we do not, and if we make no effort to find out, we are destined for things to continue their sad decline, and one day we will wake up to be living on an island divided by arbitrary lines, cutting families, friends and fellow-countrymen off from one another.

Britain is – and this needs saying more often, despite the shrill invocations to the contrary – a great country. Probably one of the greatest ever to have existed on this earth. To kill it, I assure you, will not make the world a better place – and it will certainly not make the lives of the inhabitants of the British Isles any better.

It is easy to blame David Cameron. He agreed the referendum. He agreed the wording, which gave the separatists an inherent advantage – co-opting the positive word ‘Yes!’ and focusing attention on Scotland’s independence rather than Britain’s end. It would be interesting to know how many extra votes these simple affirmative exclamations garnered for their cause. He was also, as people are beginning to say, far too cavalier in his approach, at least until the panic in the week leading up to the vote.

But it wasn’t really his fault. Once the Scottish electorate, in 2011, returned to parliament a majority for the SNP of 69 seats out of a total of 129, Cameron had little choice if he was to avoid being called a Tory naysayer (or words to that effect). The wording of the referendum remains unfortunate, and he should have fought a bit harder, but he remained mostly aloof because he assumed, quite logically, that Conservative involvement would haemorrhage votes from the ‘No!’ campaign even before a word was uttered.

Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists are another culprit. Well, this is obvious; but an end to the Union is what they want so they can’t really be blamed. Yes, he will say anything to get votes out, and he has no identifiable scruples, but that is the modus of the demagogue and that is what he is for. The fault lies much deeper. Forty-five percent of the Scottish electorate didn’t have to vote his way; something of far greater import has gone wrong with the Union and with Britain.

But what?

Nick Cohen, writing in the Spectator, has an idea. A number of left wing English intellectuals, he writes, were possessed by a loathing of England. Anyone who sets themselves up against England, so the logic goes, cannot be all bad. But this is not just left wing loathing of England. It is every bit as much left wing loathing of Britain and pretty much everything you might lump in with traditional understanding of those two entities.

Nick Cohen, of course, impeccable left winger that he is, raises the point because he doesn’t want the left to become an anti-English movement. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot to admire about Nick Cohen. He writes with the clarity of an Orwell, and he takes a principled stand against state regulation of the press, and exposes to great effect the hypocrisy of many left-wingers over some of their most cherished shibboleths – feminism, equality, anti-racism.

But what drives Nick Cohen in this instance is a fear that left wing politics might be rejected in England because of crude anti-English sentiment. If socialism is to control Britain then it needs to control England, and in the new post referendum paradigm, England has woken up to not only the unfairness of the West Lothian question but also the imbalance in public spending between Scotland and the rest of the UK. If Labour does not get this right, they could suffer, especially as they might be about to lose the influence of the Scottish Labour MPs in future English-only business.

But here’s the problem. The dominant strand of left wing politics today is very much about anti-Englishness – and anti-Britishness too. There was a time when the Labour movement did patriotism; there was a time when the Labour party would have no truck with ideas and movements plainly anathema to British civility. But somewhere in the mists of time the Labour movement was almost completely captured by those who hated Britain and all she stood for. Those who took their inspiration from the toxic theories of Karl Marx rather than the compassionate example of Christian socialists. That is why the left has worked so hard to change so much about the country – they weren’t reformers; they were vandals. What sort of love is it that seeks to change everything about a person? I love you, darling; I love you so much I want you to become a completely different person. Doesn’t wash.

It is noticeable in the way many on the left assume that anyone criticising England and Britain can’t be all bad. It’s been going on for decades – complacent toleration of Soviet sympathisers while eviscerating the career, political or otherwise, of anyone even taking the piss out of Nazis by wearing their clobber at a party; the lazy equation of Britishness and Englishness with inherent racism; the implacable desire to keep handing power to the nation-destroying EU; the mass immigration which seems to be viewed as a means to dilute the existing, obnoxious British population; and accompanying all this are the insidious, oblique references and attitudes that there is something wrong with Britain and England at the most basic level.

What Nick Cohen is asking for is perfectly reasonable – that the left shows a little more love for the English. His fear being that the left ‘will not get a hearing unless they give the impression that they like their fellow citizens; and don’t regard them as irredeemably prejudiced xenophobes and creeps.’ True enough. Neither does he want Labour to ‘find itself portrayed as the enemy of the English.’

The problem is, in so many ways the modern left is precisely those things. They don’t like a good proportion of their fellow citizens, particularly those who remain quite attached to the history and achievements of their country, and especially the ones who don’t accept this leftist characterisation of their country as racist, xenophobic and bigoted. They want to be permitted their traditional English and British identity without being sneered at. If the left can alter this attitude then that would be a good thing, for the left and for the country. But it would have to be genuine. Gordon Brown perfectly demonstrated the two faces of the modern left in his response to Gillian Duffy in 2010. When he left her he said, ‘Very nice to meet you.’ But when in the supposed privacy of his car he let his true feeling out: ‘Just a sort of bigoted woman.’

I would suggest Nick has his work cut out. Leopards and spots and things.

Of course the Union could be restored. It would be difficult, but doable.

“If Scotland votes yes, the UK will split, and we will go our separate ways forever. We must be very clear there’s no going back from this. No re-run. This is a once-and-for-all decision.”

Comments like this, reputedly from the Prime Minister, aren’t helpful. This is because they just aren’t true. If Scotland votes for independence next week, and a few years down the line decides this was a mistake, and as long as the rest of the UK is in agreement, the Union will be re-established. Simple.

We know why people on the ‘No!’ side of the campaign say such things. They do it to put the wind up the undecided. Vote to split the Union and that’s it, over, the end, no going back to the cosy embrace of the Union. It is a political ploy to shore up the vote for the Union.

But this is part of the problem, isn’t it? The sense that Westminster politics ignores the people, takes the electorate for granted, and that politicians play these sorts of games. The thing about parliamentary democracy is that one parliament cannot hold a future parliament to its decisions. If the future government of Scotland, headed by Fraser Nelson, and the future government of rUK, headed by Charles Moore, decided, having been prompted by electoral support, to restore the Union, it will happen.

Of course it will. So why do politicians say what is plainly untrue? Wouldn’t it be better to say that restoration of the Union would, of course, be possible; but that it would be a very difficult process? That way, you get the message across that, a) breaking the Union is not like suspending you membership of the municipal golf club, to be taken up again if you decide you miss golf terribly; and, b) the Union could, though with a great deal of difficulty and wasted effort, be restored.

The Prime Minister is going to Scotland to debate the Union – and about time

We hear that David Cameron is off to Scotland tomorrow with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The panic is on. But why has the Prime Minister stayed so aloof from the debate on Scottish independence? He is the Queen’s lead advisor and the head of her government – that is the government of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is an integral part. Yet he has seen fit to play almost no part in the debate over whether his, our and Her Majesty’s country should be split in half by Scottish separatists. Why?

The answer is actually quite simple, and depressing. He has hitherto been concerned that his posh accent and his southern Tory identity will convince voters to vote ‘Yes!’ even before he’s got his point across. In a way this is understandable; a certain strand of Scottish nationalism has long fed and sustained itself on anti-English and anti-Tory prejudice. It has been a crude calculation, but Cameron has taken the view that it is better to stay away and hope the Scots see sense. It is ironic that this aloofness compounds the stereotype of remote and privileged Englishmen who don’t care one jot for the Scots. They just assume, yah… But he does care, very much.

This is depressing for a number of reasons. The decision not to enter the debate has smacked too much of moral cowardice. That’s a strong charge, and perhaps unjustified, but politics is about ideas and the willingness to get stuck in and argue for those ideas. That cannot be done if you are not prepared to enter the debate and risk the eggs. Scottish Labour MP Jim Murphy seems to have no such qualms, even when subjected to serious abuse from the more chauvinistic wing of Scottish nationalism.

It is madness to think people will see the sense in your political manifesto if you are not even prepared to tell them what it is; yet that has been the Prime Minister’s approach. You can see why the strategy meetings concluded this the right way to win the referendum, but the polls are suggesting there is a void that Labour politicians cannot fill by themselves.

It is also depressing because it has left the field open for the Labourites (Liberal Democrats seemed as uninterested as the Conservatives). This is a problem because they are not the solution; they are a significant part of the problem with the Union today. It is Labour anti-Tory rhetoric of the most shameless kind that did much to stoke Scottish resentment and a belief that there is something especially vile about conservatism – but it’s all been politics.

Labour and anti-Tory politics entrenched the myth that the Poll Tax was ‘tested’ on the Scots as if they were mere lab rats. But the real reason was in fact born from a wish to ease the burden of a particularly punitive rate re-evaluation in Scotland. What’s more, Margaret Thatcher only did this because of strong argument from Scottish ministers. But the lab-rat narrative suited Labour’s wish to denigrate their political opponents. Spinning a line was not invented by Blair.

The central problem with left-wing politicians leading the Unionist campaign is that they define their politics largely through anti-British attitudes and measures. They are wedded to the nation-dismantling EU. They wallow in the ‘crimes’ of British history and do their best to link them to Tory politics. They support levels of mass immigration which dilute British cultural cohesion. All these things undermine the very concept of Britishness, so when the Scottish Nationalists come along and say they want an independent Scotland, the counter narrative of British identity no longer seems that appealing, perhaps even irrelevant.

But really! If Conservatives are not prepared to roll their sleeves up and argue the passionate case for the Union of these islands, then it is difficult to see how this can end well. Even if the ‘Yes!’ vote fails to cross the line this time, Salmond and his crew will immediately set their sights on the next vote. Perhaps not for five or ten years, but it will be their lodestar. And they will continue to attack the very concept of Britishness; it will be like a festering sore. Maybe, just maybe David Cameron does understand this. We shall see from his visit tomorrow.

The British Army might be on the verge of disbandment – not good.

Scotland might be about to leave the United Kingdom. It’s worth saying this one more time, in the hope the enormity of separation might actually sink in.

The consequences will be staggering. 300 years of unrivalled history will be ended, possibly the era of greatest internal peace these islands have ever experienced; the island of Great Britain will be split, just like Timor (well, perhaps not just like Timor); and an artificial national barrier will cut the British people in two, ushering in an era of separate development, divergent history and increasing friction.

None of this is good. There is one consequence of people in Scotland (note: not the Scottish people; see here) voting ‘Yes’ later this month we haven’t much discussed. That is the impact on the British Armed Forces. David Blair, however, writing in the Telegraph, has noticed. He uses the phrase, ‘broken into pieces’.

He’s not much wrong, either. Salmond, despite his pacifist rhetoric, expects to take Scotland’s share of fighters, frigates and battalions. None of this sounds like much, but, when we remember that the British Army has just been cut by 20,000 soldiers (20% regular combat strength), it is worth considering the impact of a further cut to what remains one of the few serious military powers in the Western world.

But combat strength is not just about numbers. British military doctrine considers this part of the physical component of fighting power. There is also the moral component, which might be translated for the non-military mind as morale, spirit, heart, motivation and a sense of pride and duty. And this is where the British Army will be hit hardest. What will happen to the name? We might keep it; Britain is, after all, comprised of England and Wales, Great Britain being England, Wales and Scotland. But it will be something of a sham. Without Scotland, the British Army cannot lay full claim to the name.

But what’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. A name carries history; and the history of the British Army is as important to the morale of the British Army as anything else – indeed, it is from history, from former battles and wars that we draw much of our store of morale. Goose Green, Imjin River, Market Garden, Battle of Britain – these battles and operations inspire the present generation, in all services.

It is true, the Royal Navy will not have its name challenged; it will remain the navy of Nelson. Neither will the Royal Air Force have its name challenged; it will remain the air force of Douglas Bader. Tracing a direct line to former military greats is important; it is tradition, and it is the core ideology of the British regimental system. Break that link and we break that history; the army of the rUK will have to start again. Pity that.

But perhaps the British Army will keep its name. It might do that. But as I’ve said: it will be denuded not only about 10% of its strength, as will the other services, but it will lose much of the power of its history. Reputation is important. It affects the morale of both friends and foes; ‘Win the war before you even begin to fight it!’ said someone quite wise. The absence of the British Army will not make the world a better place – promise.

If the people in Scotland who have a vote (see above) decide to go their own way, then there is probably nothing we can do about it. Democracy is still it. But it will present all sorts of challenges, not least for our military structures. Do we fully comprehend that? I wonder.

Are Labour arguments in favour of the UK better than Conservative ones?

Philip Webster‘s early morning Times briefing, Red Box, tells us that Ed Miliband is heading to Scotland tomorrow. Once there he will try to convince voters that Labour will win the general election next year. Labour strategists, in their modest way, believe this is the best way to stop Alex Salmond and the separatists.

This fits in well with the Labour conceit that the Tories, braying and condescending, are the source of Scottish anger with the Union. If only the hated Tories would disappear, everything would be all right, the thought goes. It is rarely, if ever, stated clearly, but the insinuation is that the Conservatives hate the Scottish, in much the same way they hate the Welsh, the Irish, foreigners generally, Muslims, gays, lesbians, ethnic minorities, poor people, single mothers, northerners and any other identity group certain Labour and left-wing campaigners feel belong to them.

You can see Ed Miliband making his points: the source of Scottish (and British, as it happens) suffering is Toryism; their policies stink; they persecute the Scottish, just look at the guinea pigs they made of them over the Poll Tax; they rig the economy to suit their hedge-fund mates in London. That might not be the exact wording, but the sentiment is about right.

He might also talk about the Tories privatising the NHS, and how the only way to stop them is to have a Labour government in Britain and Scotland. But this falls down because under the terms of devolution Scotland runs health already. And yet, if the Scottish people can just see their way to voting against separation, next year they will have the benefits of both a Labour government and a Labour governed Union. Win! Win!

But Alex Massie, the Spectator’s Cricket blogger, took a contrary view. Writing about the recent Darling Salmond debate, he suggested that ‘Darling had many problems last night but among the greatest was the fact he’s not a Tory.’

What?

If Scotland doesn’t need to go its own way because there will not be a Tory government next year, how is not being a Tory a problem for Darling? One would have thought Darling’s biggest strength was being a thoroughly decent Labour man. He, after all, and unlike the Tories, cannot possibly want Scotland to remain in the Union as some sort of English vassal state – he’s Scottish, for goodness sake!

Though perhaps Darling, being a Scottish politician down in Westminster, is not quite as impeccably Scottish as other more independent minded Scots? A sort of traitor, even? You may think this is too strong, a bit hyperbolic. But perhaps you should ask Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire. He recently had to suspend his Scotland-wide tour because of the abuse he was receiving: the eggs, the intimidation, the name-calling, such as paedophile, terrorist and a Quisling – oh, and the charge of being a traitor.

East Renfrewshire, by the way, is a Scottish constituency, and Jim is Scottish too, born in Glasgow and schooled in Glasgow. His wikipedia page does, however, say he lived in South Africa between the ages of 12 and 18. Why? Because his parents moved there. He returned to study at the University of Strathclyde, but perhaps this absence degrades his Scottishness, I don’t know.

Massie, however, was making an interesting point that contradicts the view that Scotland’s place in the Union can best be defended by Labour people. This may or may not be the case, but Massie seemed to be arguing that Salmond’s reasons for leaving the Union are, in fact, better defeated by conservative arguments.

Darling could not, for instance, argue against Salmond’s notion that his new government – any government, in fact – will create lots of new jobs come independence. Neither could he argue against Salmond’s criticisms of Coalition welfare reforms. And nor could he argue ‘that however uncomfortable life might be for the poorest sections of society it might be even less comfortable after independence.’

Darling’s weakness in arguing against these points was that he and his left wing political tradition largely agrees with them – that governments not markets create jobs; that welfare reform is punitive, and that there is a ‘cost of living crisis’. If this is all true (debatable) then who would not want to get away from such a government, especially if it’s a hated English Tory government?

But then this takes us back to Ed Miliband’s plan to go to Scotand and tell the Scots they need not vote ‘Yes’ to escape these vicious policies; the Labour party is going to win the next election and return not just Scotland but the entire United Kingdom to the sanity of Brownian economics. There’s a certain logic to it, I suppose, even if you think it a rather alarming prospect.