Simon Jenkins takes a laid back view of the Union versus the Nation debate. He argues that there are some cogent anwers to the West Lothian question, but it would require substantial political risk to the New Labour project that a strongly Scottish front bench may be unwilling to take.He points out that the union was never anything but a series of ad hoc arrangements to facilitate wider relations, not a permanent fix:
There is no such thing as Scottish independence. There is no need for a separate English parliament. There is an easy answer to the West Lothian question. There is only one debate. This is how best to order the neighbourly relations of distinct peoples within the British Isles. Such questions are the stuff of politics. One answer was the Anglo-Scottish Act of Union, 300 years old today. Another was the Anglo-Welsh union of 470 years ago. Yet more were various government of Ireland acts from 1800 to 1920. None has proved robust. Hence a debate that refuses to go away.
And the Scottishness of the Chancellor, he believes, is not bringing any clear-sightedness to the issue:
Brown is clearly scared. The British have long been hospitable to their minorities, witness Trollope’s Phineas Redux. But Brown’s paranoid favouritism has swamped the government benches with Scots names and accents. Today we should not remember 1707 but 1603, when ambitious courtiers galloped from the bed of the dying Queen Bess to escort James Stuart south on a cloud of glory and patronage. If Brown cannot pass for English, he can try to wrap himself in the union flag, but it hardly fits.
He believes that the binary references of Union versus Independence, are skewing the debate:
Independence is not a helpful word in this debate since it implies an absolute. In reality, a fuzzy line of sovereignty runs from localities through counties and provinces to national governments, and on to supranational ones. Brown and the neo-unionists have suggested that Scottish independence would threaten millions of Scots expatriates with alien status, that it would mean a separate currency, separate nationality, immigration control, customs duties and a collapse in business and financial services – not to mention barbed wire along the Cheviots. This is stupid, as stupid as the wilder demands of nationalists for total independence.
And this is where it gets a little closer to home:
All national sovereignty is qualified by tiers of authority, internally and externally. It is also qualified by regional self-determination, sometimes to the extreme of separatism. But separatism is never absolute. Ireland and Britain have had a common travel area and shared citizenship since the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. In 1993 Czechs and Slovaks parted but formed an economic union, with free population movement. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg formed the Benelux economic union in 1944. Catalonia and the Basque country enjoy extensive autonomy beyond anything in Scotland, without it leading to the “break-up of Spain”. Meanwhile, ruthless attempts by the Serbs to retain the Yugoslav union fostered a blood-stained separatism (which Britain militarily abetted).
Mainstream Scottish nationalism would appear to favour some hybrid autonomy, with domestic policy under the Edinburgh parliament and a joint assembly with England to handle joint policies on defence, foreign affairs, currency and trade. There would be negotiation over oil rights and a phasing out of the £25bn subvention (which would be followed by a Thatcherite, Irish-style boom in Scottish enterprise). This is hardly beyond the wit of man.
I’m not sure he has all the detail completely locked down, but it’s a intelligent within an emotional maelstrom, particularly in Scotland.
See also last night’s fascinating Newsnight debate in Scotland.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty