Saturday 16 May 2015

Solving West Lothian

If my writing has any purpose it is to question assumptions. It is for this reason above all that I attract rather a lot of name calling. One of the aspects of modern life that I deplore is that people are scared to say what they think. They are scared to say anything controversial in case they are surrounded by a mob saying you’re not a democrat, or you are a racist or you have transgressed any of the other unforgivable sins of modern life. Politicians are so scared to say anything controversial that they end up saying nothing at all. They repeat platitudes or repeat statistics or repeat slogans. It all ends up being desperately dull and useless. We end up with the government we deserve because we wish to jump on anything a politicians says that is remotely out of the ordinary as an unforgivable gaffe. If any politician told the truth about, for instance, the NHS, that it is considerably worse than equivalent health services in Germany or France, they would be immediately condemned as sinning against our dear NHS. But nevertheless what they said would be true. We all know this to be the case, we whisper it sometimes to each other, but please don’t tell us the truth.

I don’t play this game. I’m not a politician, just a woman who writes what she thinks. I assume that my opponents are people of good will just as I am. I may attempt to point out that their assumptions lead to this or that undesirable outcome, but this does not change my respect for them as people of good will. That is how I argue. Likewise if I question the assumptions that you have long held about some aspect of the politics of Scotland please don’t assume that this is because I am a person of ill will. It may be that I am wrong. The discovery of this is also the purpose of putting forward an argument. But please look back at the articles that I have written. You will normally find that I have built up a case for my position and that its implications have been thought through. Your 140 character tweet saying Effie is a this, or Effie is a that begins to look comical in that context. You will find that I am not, or at least you will find something rather more subtle.

When diagnosing a problem with a car’s engine it is necessary to go to the root of the problem rather than tinker with the symptoms. Doing a bodge will not in the end help you. Rather if something is wrong with the engine you need to strip it down and remove and replace the part that is causing the trouble.

The UK started to go wrong in 1997 with the establishment of the devolved “national” parliaments. There were a few people back then, notably Tam Dalyell, who warned of the problems that would arise but they were ignored by those with lesser minds.  The Scottish Parliament in particular is directly responsible for the rise of Scottish nationalism and the destruction of the Labour Party in Scotland.  The idea that giving it more power will lessen the appeal of nationalism is like arguing that pouring petrol on a fire will lessen the heat.  We have seen this ably illustrated in the past year. When Gordon Brown et al made their Vow it didn’t lessen the appeal of nationalism it rather increased it. It is sad and tragic, but Gordon is liable to go down in history as some character from a Greek play. He strives so hard to be Prime Minister but doesn’t dare go to the electorate when he can win and from then on the thing that he has cherished so long turns to dust. He has the chance of redemption by saving the Union just as once before he had saved the world, but his promise destroys not only his own seat but all bar one of this friends. Would that Gordon had kept silent. Would that there had been no Vow. We would have won anyway, we would have won easily. Such a feeble loss of nerve has led directly to where we are now.

When the Smith Commission tried to implement the Vow how many Yes voters did they turn back to the parties of the Union? I suspect none were turned back. On the contrary the Smith Commission fed the insatiable desire for ever more power. It just poured petrol on the flames.

The Vow gambit has failed utterly, but it has failed both ways. The SNP has broken the promise they made in the Edinburgh agreement that. We all spent years of our lives expecting a "referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome.” We commiserated with opponents who had lost only to find out immediately that they had broken their promise. The SNP and supporters immediately broke their vow, why on earth should we keep ours? 

Smith has served no purpose. It has made the situation worse not better. For this reason it should immediately be dropped. Oh but would that not inflame the situation? How many extra votes would be added to the SNP’s tally if we dropped Smith like a hot coal? None at all. But it would raise an enormous cheer from our side. When will politicians learn the lesson of the past 20 years that trying to appease nationalism only inflames it? It’s not as if granting one more little wafer thin mint of a concession is going to make the SNP want independence any less. It just takes them one step closer to their goal. Rather the answer is that we don’t make any concessions, but rather start going in the opposite direction. But wouldn’t breaking our Vow show that we are just as bad as them? No. Because in fact by breaking our Vow would could fulfil it to an even greater extent.

The key is to fulfil the promise of more powers in a different way. We must increase devolution, but we must do so evenly and equally throughout the UK. Devolving to “national” parliaments is the problem as it encourages nationalism. The way to solve this problem is to devolve beyond these parliaments. The UK should be divided up into regions. The number of people living in each region is a matter for debate. But power in Scotland should be devolved to Grampian and Highland if not Aberdeenshire and Sutherland. These regions should have the power that is presently devolved to the Scottish parliament. We must bypass Holyrood. But wouldn’t that make the Scottish parliament obsolete? Quite so. Perhaps it could find a useful purpose as a conference centre or an art gallery.

With these regions we could have a federation like Germany or the USA and just like in those countries nationalism would be for a few extremists on the fringes. We would have much more devolution than hitherto. Moreover it would be fair, democratic and local. It would also solve the West Lothian question. Everyone in the UK would have the same degree of local power and everyone would have the same national parliament. All MPs would be equal and all would have equal say in the running of our country. There would above all be no need for English votes for English laws (EVEL) as English people would have just the same amount of devolution as people from Grampian or Highland.

There are bound to be objections. People say it would be costly. In fact this sort of model of devolution in Switzerland is considerably less costly than what we have in the UK. Some English people say they don’t want such devolution. They’d rather see Scotland become independent. I am frankly becoming tired of living in a country where so few of my compatriots appear to care about the country we’ve all been living in for centuries. In no other country in the world are so many people hostile to the nation state in which they live. It is folly and it is decadent. If the UK becomes a failed state do you really think your lifestyle will remain intact just as it is right now? Sorry. Divorce would be messy and would have unforeseen consequences. It would diminish all of us in ways you cannot even quite imagine.

David Cameron has an absolute majority in Parliament. He can between elections do pretty much anything he pleases. He must do what it takes to make the UK work better. He must not merely tinker with the symptoms, but must reform the UK to make us stronger and more united. We have a problem of nationalism. Here is the solution. It kills nationalism stone dead, because we go beyond it.

The nationalists would kick up a fuss. They might even organise an unauthorised referendum. The trouble with such a referendum however, is that they might find that they win one hundred percent of the vote. Anyway they could safely be ignored. Such radical reform to the UK would take effort and would require us to question all of our assumptions, but it would turn us into a stronger, fairer and much more democratic country. Of course, having made such changes we’d need to wait at least 20-30 years before looking again at constitutional issues again. Wouldn’t it be worth it just for that alone? It would fix the engine. I think it would be worth it. From then on we could run smoothly. It would save our country.  

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.