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UK lacks a ‘broader, stabilising and federalising political project’ (or any defence against Scots Independence)…

Fri 4 May 2012, 12:44pm

Great piece from Lallands Peat Worrier (H/T Phil!) who looks at the dilatory effects of the devolution project on the United Kingdom. And he starts with Salmond’s concept of ‘social union’, or ‘killing the union with kindness’:

To move from Union to independence is not, on this theory, the foregoing of ties with England, Wales and North Ireland, but reconstituting those ties on a different, (and nationalists contend) more politically convivial basis. The concern is to “recast the relationship” with what remains of the United Kingdom, not to cast aside the relationship altogether.

But as Lallands points out, the great strategic advantage is not this as a ploy so much as the effects that are already in play within a UK which the centre is not longer capable or willing to listen to the devolved (and some would argue) the devolved edges:

Many Unionists talk of independence as categorical separation, and by implication, an unprecedented and threatening cleavage. The interesting thing is, we needn’t vex our imaginations, or project ourselves into the imagined future, to guess what things might be like after Scottish independence.  Devolution furnishes its own compelling examples of political fragmentation.

Scottish political debate is given mostly to emphasise the ignorance which now characterises the UK metropolitan media’s engagements with Scottish politics. Just today, the Guardian’s Martin Kettle writes about “Devolution and the separation of the English mind”, and “Britain’s increasingly centrifugal politics”, which “means that the English are remarkably ill-equipped to understand or engage with changes in Scotland and Wales that are driving the future of the Union”.

Kettle’s is just one in a recent series of commentary pieces in the London press on this theme. In the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson has recently described a “tricolour Britain” – yellow, red, blue, north to south – on British political fragmentation, and the puzzlement in the metripol about its whys and wherefores.  But how many Scots – even Scots particularly interested in politics – seriously engage with the distinct political spaces and discourses and matters of concern in Northern Ireland, or in Wales either?

This state of affair was somewhat anticipated by Vernon Bogdanor a few years back on the close of a six year study of the effects of devolution on government:

“We don’t have a capacity to think UK-wide any more. And that could signal trouble. The ‘system’ works for now, but largely because Labour has led the governments in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay since 1999. Where problems have arisen they have been managed informally through party channels. That won’t last. At some point territory will become the subject of party-political conflict. And at that point we may well rue our failure to think hard enough about devolution as a project of the UK as a whole.”

Last word to Lallands:

While the idea of “social union” is one intended to reassure, it arguable does so in a queer and unexpected way.  Devolution has already fractured the British state, and owing to that state’s determined refusal to countenance the transformation of its centre – has already created the distinct political conversations – and for the moment, a unilateral rather than mutual indifference in England towards the devolved periphery.

Independence won’t inaugurate a new political sociability, but simply build on the current political and social drift, perceptible across these islands  Without the admixture of a revitalised account of the British state, independence merely completes the logic which devolution – unrooted in a broader, stabilising and federalising political project – set in motion.

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Comments (16)

  1. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    The election results seem to be telling an interesting story, with Welsh Nats slipping into the obscurity region and the SNP stagnating, the Lib Dems paying the biggest price, although Tories getting hit too, but Labour becoming the Party of the Union again.
    Maybe Orkney has it right, electing 21 independant councillors!

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  2. I didn’t think a federal system has any examples in the world where the state in question was a monarchy. They seem to work in republics. I don’t know of any at least.

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  3. It could be argued that devolution has been accepted by the English precisely as a method for not having to worry any more about what’s going on in those strange fringes. One of the main drivers of this process is the structure of news, particularly television, where Englandandwales (and increasingly, England) stories are reported on the “national” news while similar stories for the devolved regions are relegated to the local news.

    This fosters ignorance of fringe politics in England(andwales), while English politics becomes even more prominent in the fringe, even though it is decreasingly relevant. But this increased prominence of English news also means that the fringes know less about each other than before.

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  4. danielsmoran, you’ve never heard of Canada? Or Australia?

    I just got a strange feeling of deja vu. Didn’t we have exactly this conversation on another thread a couple of months ago?

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  5. Shibboleth (profile) says:

    Look on the bright side of Scottish independence. If that happens then unionists won’t need an Irish passport to avoid paying some of those university fees.

    I doubt if Scotland will really go for independence but if it did it surely would make it harder for Labour to win a British general election given that Scotland currently supplies 41 of the 59 MPs.

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  6. it surely would make it harder for Labour to win a British general election

    In the short term, yes. In the medium to long term, Labour would just creep towards the new political centre of gravity. I don’t think Scotland carries enough weight that its loss would be a mortal blow.

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  7. tyrone_taggart (profile) says:

    Drumlins Rock

    “Labour becoming the Party of the Union again.”

    The Conservatives are now an English/Welsh party.

    In order to campaign in Scotland the Labour party will have to move with the electorate there. The idea of “devo plus” and other cunning ploys by Labour is still driving the UK apart.

    “Douglas Alexander has suggested that his party could embrace what’s known as “devo plus”. Unlike “devo max” (an option rejected by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont), which would grant Holyrood full fiscal autonomy, devo plus would leave pensions, VAT and national insurance in Westminster’s hands. But it would give Scotland contol of income tax, corporation tax (which the SNP would significantly reduce) and most welfare spending”.
    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/03/devo-spending-powers-scotland

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  8. The fundamental weakness of the Union is that it is not a union of equals. How its components can ever be truly equal when the biggest unit has ten times the population of the next is the great unanswered question…

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  9. DC (profile) says:

    Frankly, I blame lazy senior civil servants in and around Whitehall who don’t want the hassle of having to plan a new life of economic governance, one where tax and spend powers are trusted to the regions and which – ultimately – should be in place already to match the other powers that have been given away under devolution.

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  10. DC (profile) says:

    Lack of trust is one of the reasons i reckon and loss of prestige, as the powers that be in Westminster realise that a major slice of their ruling potency – economic power – has been stripped away from them and handed to the regions to cut the cloth themselves.

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  11. DC (profile) says:

    “Britain’s increasingly centrifugal politics”, which “means that the English are remarkably ill-equipped to understand or engage with changes in Scotland and Wales that are driving the future of the Union”.

    I don’t think that goes deep enough because I would wager that a vast majority of the English have actually had it with London, the breadbasket as Boris calls it, trouble is this breadbasket is about to become a dust bowl, socially – in terms of over-population and economically – in terms of the city of London fouling the nest and grumbling about having to pay for the clean up. A London which inflates the UK economy but walks away from paying for the pain of deflation when the credit bubble it caused bursts over the UK.

    Not to mention the turbo-charged multiculturalism going on there, which means that the regions not just Scotland and Wales but also the region which is that England outside of London, might actually find more comfort from the storm together as one.

    Imagine a Britain where London is kicked out as being somewhat foreign.

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  12. DC (profile) says:

    London is to the UK economy what Germany is to Europe and its euro.

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  13. Yes, Andrew. Forgot about that but now I’ve remembered.

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  14. weidm7 (profile) says:

    danielsmoran

    Also Spain, Belgium and Malaysia. There may be more but I can’t think of any now.

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  15. Spain and Belgium have states? Generally they are found in large countries so surely that leaves Belgium out unless it’s the Flemish/Ferench divide that necessitates it.

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  16. malairt (profile) says:

    Spain has a vibrant federal system with Madrid trying to control the aspirations of some elements to demand full scale independence. A big factor in Spain’s struggle to stay in the Euro is the provinces refusal to abide by Federal borrowing limits and shoving the deficit way over the percentage agreed with the ECB.

    Belgium has 3 Regions: Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels: their powers are very similar to devolved Scotland.

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