Gordon Brown’s tough to trump “have-your-cake-and-eat-it formula” for Scotland

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For my money I think Gavin Falconer underestimates the sheer pragmatic force of John Bew’s latest argument in favour of the union. One of my late uncles by marriage was one of the few people I’ve ever known who had been an enthusiastic member of the AOH (by contrast I know lots of Orangemen).

I once asked him why the AOH had fallen on hard times. He answered quick as a flash, the 1947 Welfare Act. Up until then, he told me, the primary function of Hibernians had been self help for poor, mostly rural Catholic communities.

It’s an argument and a period which Bew (who’s been working on a book on Attlee over the last few years) digs into with  evident aplomb:

…the Irish nationalist movement, which secured the independence of Ireland in 1922, contained one crucial ingredient that modern-day Scottish nationalism lacks. This was not violence (take note, Mr Adams) but the willingness of a huge majority of its people to accept a lower standard of living as the price of freedom from England.

Irish nationalist fortitude at the expense of self-interest – infused with a much more authentic sense of grievance and with anti-English feeling – was something that impressed even Winston Churchill, one of the fiercest opponents of Irish independence.

“As the price of autonomy the Free State has already accepted a lower standard of public expenditure than in this country,” he said as chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925, not without admiration. “They have lowered the salaries of their teachers, they have reduced their Old Age pay, they have not followed our later developments of unemployment insurance, or pensions for widows, or of pensions at 65 years of age. They have great difficulty balancing the budget.”

This is a part of the Irish story which has been obscured in Northern Ireland in the first place by partition and in the second by a northern republicanism which sense that just one more cold war heave until, as Falconer rather that acutely puts it:

Northern Ireland would continue to bob about for a while yet, increasingly unstable and unseaworthy, before, probably in the 2030s, sinking under the twin burdens of demographic change and cartographical aesthetics.

The truth for Scotland is that Ireland (ie that bit which exists to the south and the west of the Northern Irish border) is a better marker for Scotland than any projected future pathology for Northern Ireland.

But in the near term this morning’s Irish Times editorial in response to Gordon Brown’s speech in Glasgow yesterday probably nails the problem facing Salmond and a well funded and generally well led Yes campaign:

Scotland’s referendum on independence shares a singular feature with our recent poll on abolishing the Seanad, one that strongly favours their respective No campaigns – No voters in both cases could embrace a campaign against the imperfect Seanad/Union as it stood while demanding fundamental reform.

In Scotland home rulers, critics of the current insipid devolution, make the case for “devo max”, a rolling out of far more devolved powers to Edinburgh, while making common cause with out-and-out unionists and mild devolutionists, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it formula that is difficult for the SNP to defeat. [emphasis added]

 

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  • Scáth Shéamais

    I think Falconer nailed Bew very well with this comment:

    “Bew’s argument that Scotland is economically dependent on England tendentious to say the least. Finally, rather than compare Scotland with Ireland today — despite everything, still enjoying higher living standards and better welfare provision than us — he opts for the 1920s. An historian’s privilege, one might say.”

    Gordon Brown’s dubious suggestions also got mentioned on Bella Caledonia recently. It seems much more likely at this point that a No vote in September will lead to a loss of powers for a devolved Scottish administration rather than an increase in powers.

  • Kensei

    Tough to trump and entirely fictional. Unionist parties kept “devo max” off the ballot, but now claim they’ll implement some form of it, some time, if Scotland just says no. The Irish Time article might state change is irresistible, but there is a dozen ways to kill or neuter it in the long grass.

    Aside from anything else, the Labour Party is essentially at war between it’s MSPs and MPs, the latter criticisming the former for reaching to the “extra powers” box as a response to the SNP, and concerned about any extra powers further eroding their position.

  • grandimarkey

    More doom and gloom it seems.

    Yet the latest opinion poll shows yet another increase in support for the Yes campaign. All us idiots clearly aren’t listening to the more sensible ones lecturing on and on about how the sky will fall in once there’s a Yes vote. Stupid Jocks.

  • IrelandNorth

    Gordon Brown made almost identical comments as Carwyn Jones. That in the event of a rejection of Scottish independence from the currently constituted United Kingdom (UK) by even as narrow a margin as 51% to 49% that things couldn’t continue as if nothing momentous had happened. Strange as it may seem, the old adage of England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity could be more positively construed in the present to read the UKs reconfiguration could be Ireland’s reintegration. Constitutional connections don’t have to be all or none blkack and white, but forty shades of constitutional gray with an Irish nationalism of forty shades of green. They can exist along any point of a 100 degree sliding scale. Rather than preliminary movements towards Scotttish independence beign a doomsday scenario, it could in fact be an augur for a constitutional reconfiguration of all four nations on the British and/or Irish (Celtic or Brythonic) Isles. Constitutional lawyers and political scientists in respective jurisdictions should be crunching their constitutional rubics cubes to come up with the least clausterphobic and least incestuous compromise.between Ireland (ROI/NI) and GB (Scotland/Wales/England). And Ulster unionists should assuage their stereotypical Plato’s Cave syndrome in the knowledge that Irish nationalism is a far broad church than they ordinarily give it credit for.

  • DougtheDug

    No voters in both cases could embrace a campaign against the imperfect Seanad/Union as it stood while demanding fundamental reform.

    Or jam-tomorrow as it’s called in Scotland.

    The flaw in the idea is that the three unionist parties cannot agree on a common way forward for devolution because none of them have even got a policy on more devolution for Scotland let alone a blueprint for the mythical and undefined beast called devo-max.

    Furthermore just because the Scottish region of Labour, the Lib-Dems or the Conservatives come out with a proposal in no way binds their party as a whole to that proposal. The belief in Scottish Labour as a distinct and separate entity from Labour died a long time ago in Scotland and it took the similar lies about a Scottish Lib-Dem party and Scottish Conservative party with it.

    The No campaign for jam-tomorrow (more devolved powers) is based on two items of faith. Scots will be gulllible enough to believe the waffle about more devolved powers in the event of a No vote and the North British and British media are unionist to the core and will push the same waffle as the next best thing to sliced bread.

    The latter is undoubtedly true but Scots are getting very wary of undefined promises made not by the party leaders, Clegg, Cameron and Miliband but by Scottish back-bench has beens in like Ming Campbell, Brown and Darling.