Log in

No account? Create an account
Gavin Greig [userpic]

The State of the Onion

May 1st, 2007 (10:15 pm)
current location: KY16 8SX

The relationship between Scotland and its junior partner (though majority shareholder in UK PLC), England, is indeed a bit like an onion; there are many layers, and if you hack at it with a knife, it'll make you cry.

OK, I just wanted a cheap gag in the title, and couldn't come up with a reasonable justification.

Anyway, as well as Tony Blair having been with us as Prime Minister for ten years today, it's 300 years today since the Union of the Parliaments established a single UK parliament and meant an end to the Scottish parliament of old. And on Thursday, there's a reasonable chance that in the new Scottish assembly, established by a referendum a little less than ten years ago, we will elect the first government of Scotland to be dominated by a party in favour of independence, the Scottish National Party (SNP).

So it's an interesting time to look at Scotland, England and the United Kingdom that contains both.

Scottish independence will not happen on Thursday, nor even soon afterwards. It probably won't even happen as a result of the SNP's proposed referendum in 2010. There isn't the demand for it. In fact, polls suggest that there's more support for Scottish independence in England than there is in Scotland!

It's a bit of a contrast to ten years ago. The UK had finally reached the end of eighteen years of Conservative government, which the Scottish electorate had consistently and increasingly voted against. Although Tony Blair did not appear personally to be a great supporter of devolution, it had been a primary concern of his predecessor as leader of the Labour Party. John Smith's "unfinished business" became something that Tony Blair was expected to carry through.

In my view, constitutional reform will be Tony Blair's greatest legacy, even if he wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it and didn't do as well as he might in some areas (hem hem not mentioning any House of Lords in particular). That applies across the UK - although I'm primarily concerned with the relationship between Scotland and England, there have plainly been successes in Northern Ireland and Wales too.

If the SNP form part of Scotland's government next week, then an important part of Alex Salmond's legacy will be to have established a precedent for the success of positive campaigning and responsible civic nationalism. He will have made the SNP a credible party of government without necessarily having the same level of support for independence as for the party's other policies. Whether or not an SNP government is actually a success in power, the way in which they will have got there is important for the future of Scotland and the UK.

I am not a passionate advocate of Scottish nationalism, but I do believe that Scotland and England are sufficiently different nations that they need some level of independence from each other. Precisely where the balance is struck is a matter for debate between devolutionists and supporters of independence, but it's clear that almost everyone supports more powers for Holyrood. It seems to me that - not before time - the relationship between Scotland and England is becoming more grown up.

It's not perfect. It's tempting to laugh at that part of the English population who're complaining about the UK government being run by Scots. At least a majority of England did vote for the Labour government, unlike the Conservative governments of the 80s and 90s that we in Scotland never supported but had to thole. However, that would be wrong. There is some genuine injustice in Scottish MPs voting on matters that don't affect their constituents, and hopefully a mature solution will be arrived at without too much escalation of ill-feeling.

There are two possible balanced outcomes, as opposed to the current imbalanced system: a properly federal UK, in which Scotland has more say at a UK level but less on English internal matters, or an independent Scotland. I would be happy to see either, but I suspect that England, with its much larger population, would not be willing to wear the first option - and perhaps rightly so.

Only the future will tell. For now, all we know is that there is an election on Thursday that may change Scottish politics for good, and that next week there will be a change at Westminster too when Tony Blair announces his plans for stepping down. Hopefully Scottish politics is growing up.

And I may have to grow up too. If the result is as most predict (an SNP/Lib-Dem coalition) then, despite having voted in every election in the last 21 years, for the first time in my life I may have to accept some responsibility for having elected a government.


Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: May 1st, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Smiley Rosa

I think there also needs to be a greater degree of devolution within England. Having spent my childhood in NE England, it has always been apparent that English, and indeed UK, politics has been dominated to excess by the demands of the economically overheated SE. The places I have lived and worked in England (Hull and Newcastle) have more in common with post-industrial Lowland Scotland, economically and socially. The same is true of much of England north of the Mersey-Humber line.

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: May 1st, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)

I don't think it's really my place to say so, as the only experience I have of living in England is a year in Bristol under the Major government, but I believe you could be right.

However, there doesn't necessarily seem to be the support for it on the ground - though again, that varies from place to place.

I have always though that for the devolution settlement to be better balanced than it currently is, there should have been an assembly created for England at the same time as for the other countries - but there certainly wasn't the support for that at the time. Maybe a determined attempt at regional assemblies, rather than the rather half-hearted effort there was, might have worked, but I think either solution would have been a difficult sell.

I guess the real problem is that England hasn't really had the debate properly yet. They didn't see the relevance to them of the debate going on throughout the 80s and 90s, and are now having to catch up. There are bound to be growing pains and clashes.

Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: May 1st, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)
Smiley Rosa

I don't think the case was argued properly at the time. In the '80s and '90s there certainly were strong feelings - just as in Scotland, much of Northern England had had its industrial and social fabric ripped up, and, despite a strong Labour tradition, was at the mercy of Thatcherism.

An assembly for England would be a step forward: and it should not be in London. Manchester, or Leeds, or Liverpool.

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: May 1st, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)

it should not be in London

Again, I think you're right; but the pull of a black hole is difficult to resist.

Posted by: Nik Whitehead (sharikkamur)
Posted at: May 1st, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)

No - there's too much hostility between the cities on the M62 that would cause problems. I'd plump for York myself. An ancient city that has been considered the capital of the north of England before now but isn't so big that it overwhelms the others. A little like putting the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh rather than Glasgow.

I would accept a federal UK, although I'd far prefer a confederate one (I'd prefer a confederate Europe too). Regional assemblies are a no-no, as all they would provide is an opportunity for more politicians, lobbyists, aides and other non-productive members of society to lie to the voting public.

5 Read Comments