Back to the future with IONA?

Three cheers for the Guardian for giving space to the future of the Union ( the English-Scots version) and two to Simon Jenkins for trying to shake the Westminster establishment out of its complacency. Partly, he has in mind the commission being set up to review the conundrum of the  “West Lothian Question” under which Scots ( and to lesser and different extents NI and Welsh MPs) can vote on English-only domestic measures but English MPs can’t vote on matters devolved to the three other jurisdictions. I could quarrel with nearly every sentence in Simon’s piece but the shock value is great.

The disintegration of England’s island union began when Ireland departed a century ago and is now progressing in the same direction. Salmond’s devo max is not a rerun of Bannockburn. It is a reasonable step down the road being taken by free peoples across Europe. In responding to it, England should grow up.

The piece was sparked by a little noticed passage in David Cameron’s Tory conference speech accusing Alex Salmond of being a “feardie” for ducking the barmy idea of a referendum on Scottish independence now.  Salmond replied with a Guardian interview.

His ire was provoked perhaps by a carefully scripted jibe by the prime minister at the Conservative party conference last week. At the party’s Scottish reception, Cameron called Salmond a “big feartie”, a scaredy-cat, for refusing to hold an independence referendum now rather than in three years’ time.

Salmond dismissed this as a “banality”, but his irritation was clear, fuelled by the Scottish National party’s landslide win in May’s elections for Holyrood. His anger did not appear synthetic. Scottish nationalists nurture a visceral dislike for English Tories.

Even so, Salmond – who acknowledged he does, partly at least, feel British – suggested he is willing to form alliances. He is prepared to compromise on introducing significant new powers for Scotland, despite deep reservations.

He is also willing to compromise on his referendum, with a second question to give Scotland economic autonomy without leaving the UK. On current polling, this measure is more likely than full separation to win majority support.

The trouble is, Salmond and the SNP have yet to spell out clearly what “devolution  max” actually entails. But Alan Trench who has been discussing it and the” two questions” referendum issue in his blog Devolution Matters for some time now.( See The new National Assembly; making the institution match its role” model 4. 22 Sept)

Model 4: ‘Full autonomy’, with the regional level having pretty much complete autonomy over matters other than foreign relations, defence, macro-economy (currency and similar issues). It would make all decisions about such matters as welfare benefits, tax rates and charges, whether there should be a health service, what that would do and how it would be organised. That, in effect, is what the ‘devolution max’ option under discussion for Scotland would involve.

With Cameron just jeering at the SNP, Salmond is strategically on win:win at the moment. If he fails to get devo max (which the present Scotland Bill falls well short of), he can play the victim. If he were somehow to get it, he could either settle for it as a triumph or treat it as a major step to the fulfilment of his quite soft view of an independent Scotland in a “ social union” with England  and affecting the rest of  ”these islands”, as described here by the SNP leader at Westminster Angus Robertson.

“Twenty-first century independence will be good for people in Scotland. I think it will also be transformative for people in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.”

So roll back to the vision of IONA, “Islands Of The North Atlantic?

In the meantime let’s quietly forget the looming black hole in Scottish finances which the SNP can safely dismiss as largely a myth, for as long as they think they can blame the Whitehall system for it.



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  • Alanbrooke

    IONA long overdue.

  • JoeBryce

    This is the direction that things are going to go, and by reframing our relationships, will make current (though diminishing) polarisation redundant.

  • Dewi

    “In the meantime let’s quietly forget the looming black hole in Scottish finances which the SNP can safely dismiss as largely a myth”
    Because it is precisely that – a myth.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I hope Salmond will also consider, when thinking about devolution max, the possible impact on stability in Northern Ireland. It really could be a game-changer in Ulster. I’d personally like to see any independent Scotland taking on a role akin to the Irish Republic in NI matters. Given it has its internal sectarian issues, it will be unwilling to act as the support for Ulster Protestants in the way the Irish have for the Catholic community. But it could and should have a role at least equal to that of the Irish government. I hope we’d also look at similar joint tourist marketing and so on.

  • ayeYerMa

    “IONA” – what on earth is that? … other that a pathetic nonsensical acronym used by foolish dogooders as an appeasement to Irish Republican zealots whose chip on their shoulder is so deep that they cannot call the British Isles by their name.

    To any progressive Unionist the archipelago as a whole should be the true geographical window of reference and the true meaning of the word “British”.

    Avoiding its use would be similar to some people refusing to call this island “Ireland” and absurdly calling it “Island off the west of Britain /IOWB”, “Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland/ NIROI” or “Ulster and Ireland / ULAI”.

  • ayeYerMa

    Mainland Ulsterman, good points about furthering our relationship with Scotland.

    Many political commentators talk of the “Council of the Isles” being an “East-West” part of the Belfast Agreement – this, however, is not the case – more accurately the “Council of the Isles” is a North-South-East-West body that includes north-south with the Republic together with relationships with the IoM and Channel Islands. We should be looking to formalise a true East-West form of “Dalriadan” cooperation as Scotland increases its political assertiveness.

    The fact that Scotland also has “sectarian issues” makes a strong case for cooperation – we may be able to learn from each other on this one.

  • antamadan

    Not using the ‘British’ isles is not really the same as a unionist not using the term Ireland for the island. The Roman and Greek maps that have survived clearly show that there was no generic name for Britannia and Hibernia used. The British decided post-conquest that they would henceforth call Britan and Ireland the British isles, and then as they invaded the rest of the world, became big in map-maping, the rest of the empire followed suit. But it was never agreed with the Irish, just a conquerer’s thing, like the ‘British Empire’

  • Barnshee

    “England should grow up.”

    Indeed it should it should also tell all the celtic hangers on to clear off and pay for themselves in whatever fashion they so wish

  • DougtheDug

    The trouble is, Salmond and the SNP have yet to spell out clearly what “devolution max” actually entails.

    Now that’s an interesting one. Salmond has always said he’s willing to put another option on the ballot paper but he’s never said that the SNP will write it.

    The only way a “Devo-Max” option could be viable is if the Conservatives, Labour and the LIb-Dems agreed to implement it in full if it was chosen. Until they do that it would simly be an SNP wish list and Salmond knows that.

    It’s not up to the SNP to write the “Devo-Max” option it’s up to the unionists.


    “In the meantime let’s quietly forget the looming black hole in Scottish finances which the SNP can safely dismiss as largely a myth”

    You appear sceptical Brian. Or simply repeating the canards of ill informed Tory backbenchers which have no basis in fact.

    How would you explain this?

    “In terms of the net fiscal balance – which includes infrastructure investment for long-term benefit – Scotland was again in a stronger position than the UK: a deficit of 10.6 per cent of GDP, compared to 11.1 per cent for the UK as a whole.”

    Unless I’ve missed something perhaps you could explain why you think it’s not the UK that has the greater black hole in public finances?

    When even the Scotsman is highlighting the longer term fiscal advantage of oil (it was meant run out when I was 18) it makes the fiscal difference even more profound.

  • Brian Walker

    The place of scottish oil in calculating a fiscal deficit is almost philosphical depending on whether “Scotland’s oil” is calculated per captia or geographical. Comparing the Scottish defcit to the UK’s’ however is not a like for like position as the Scottish gov at the moment can nether tax nor borrow.and it woud be dicey I reckon to make the case for fiscal autonomy depending on dwindling oil revenues. In the meantime it’s hard to believe that that the SNP government can avoid significant cuts in the future, regardless.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Given that over 70% of the Scottish Electorate favour The Union,isn’t this akin to yet another ‘imminent’ ui thread ?