Scottish referendum: the unionist case is still all over the place


The unionist split shows no sign of closing. The Aberdonian Tory cabinet minister and Surrey MP Michael Gove echoes my “England is sulking “ theory and delivers  some pretty sharp words to his own side.

 …While there is a threat posed by Scottish separatism, he added, “there is also a threat, under-appreciated, from English separatism as well.”

Mr Gove said: “When some of my colleagues say we need to re-visit the West Lothian Question or we need to have a new settlement that is fairer to people in England, I say ‘no, remember the bigger picture’.

“The country was Great Britain for a reason, because we stood together and stand together. If we turn inwards and against each other then I feel we will undermine something that is precious and our country will be a diminished presence in the future. That attempt to set one side against each other is profoundly unhelpful”.

Did he miss Philip Stephens in the FT(£) yesterday, taking a similar line to Tory arch blogger Tim Montgomerie ( see first hyperlink), arguing for precisely what Michael Gove is rejecting? This is a case that merits a reply.

Instead, the unionist parties should seize the initiative. They should set out well in advance of the referendum the terms of a grand constitutional bargain reaching beyond Scotland and England. Mr Salmond’s insistence on a referendum provides a unique opportunity to modernise the constitutional landscape. The real alternative to fragmentation is the creation of a new federal union.

A drive to end the suffocating centralism of the UK state would be the perfect project for the coalition. In Tory terms it would offer communities and citizens more control over their own lives, replacing diktat from Westminster with local decision-making. It would reinvigorate politics in England as well as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Clegg could reclaim the mantle of Gladstone – and find a convincing purpose for reform of the House of Lords.

Whoa Philip, your horses are bolting!. (btw isn’t it fascinating how commentators in these discussions drop in the “Northern Ireland” references  to be polite, while avoiding our exceptionalism like the plague).


The Telegraph’s mordant Scottish commentator Alan Cochrane manages to have a bit of fun at  the expense of two eminent tweeters Alex Salmond and Rupert Murdoch. With friends like that…

Mr Murdoch’s message to the world of Twitter on Sunday, which read: “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win,” had Scotland’s First Minister smiling and saying: “It was a very interesting eight words – a textbook example of how to deploy a tweet and cause a great stir.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London