Gavin Greig (ggreig) wrote,
Gavin Greig

The State of the Onion

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.
Tags: current affairs, scotland, thought

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