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.
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