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.


  1. "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."

    You're not alone Effie. Keep up the good work.

  2. Effie, your thoughts are always appreciated & your efforts in the face of Twitter abuse are - how shall I put this - sterling. But I have to disagree with your contention that the establishment of devolved administrations is the source of current problems.

    For one, there appears to be no significant nationalist advance in Wales. Secondly, devolved government in Northern Ireland is absolutely essential to keeping a fragile peace alive. Thirdly, similar institutions exist in other parts of Europe with no detriment to the national entity, no matter how threatening they seem. Belgium has not - as many feared - been split asunder despite separate linguistic legislatures. Similarly, Spain remains intact. Catalan & Basque nationalism are no (or scarcely) more powerful than they were a generation ago. As I have tweeted to you on several occasions some form of asymmetric devolution is the best possible solution.

    Spain has 17 "autonomous communities" with some more powerful than others. Catalunya & País Vasco top the list. There is a far greater demand for devolution there than in Extremadura or Andalucia, or even Madrid.

    Federalism in Germany was an imposed by the Allies after the Second World War in order to prevent a single powerful state (by which they meant Prussia, the abolition of which formally took place in 1947) from dominating the entire country and perhaps threaten the peace of Europe once again.

    In the USA the federal nature of the country was established at the outset in order to even establish a UNITED States as otherwise the smaller ones feared the dominance of the larger (in those days mainly Virginia)

    Switzerland faces linguistic issues which don't apply and the current set-up was established after civil war.

    I'd argue therefore that none of these countries represent (nor should they) a model for the UK.

    There is also a big problem in determining what an English region is (see local government re-organisation in the 1970s and its unhappy consequences). London already has a measure of devolution. Yet the North-East - one of the most easily definable "regions" in England voted against an elected assembly when given the chance. Would a Yorkshire region consist of an amalgamation of existing local government or would it have its "historic" borders? Should Cumbria be subsumed into a far more powerful Lancashire? How would the world of itself Liverpool feel about the same? Where does the West Midlands end and the East Midlands start? Would Wolverhampton and Coventry be happy about regional government from Birmingham. Where would the centre of government be in the South East? How would a Cornwall which was up in arms about losing its own MEP feel about rule from Plymouth or Exeter, let alone Bristol?

    It may well be than in the end there has to be an imposition and in the absence of natural borders such as exist in the devolved nations a line has to be drawn somewhere. But to suggest giving them all the same powers as the already devolved institutions is, in my view, both unwanted and unworkable.

    We already have assymetrical devolution. The Scottish Parliament is much more powerful than the Welsh Assembly. Northern Ireland because of its special circumstances has to guarantee government representation for several political parties.

    Finally, with regard to the current situation in Scotland. If a Labour Party which had a commitment to devolution in every single manifesto from 1974 onwards had failed to implement that commitment in 1997, do you think the SNP or people generally would have shrugged their shoulders and said "oh well, that's that then?"

    I think it much more likely that the situation arrived at on May 7th 2015 would have been reached at the general election in 2001.

    And in those days, remember, SNP policy was to regard a majority of seats won in Scotland as a mandate not for a referendum but for independence itself.

    1. The North East voted against an Assembly for several reasons and they were why vote for an assembly which would have been largely powerless and just a talking shop for politicians and why was England never offered what Scotland was allowed to have ie a devolved national parliament? Was the reason we weren't because the Labour Party (and this also applies to the Tory Party) afraid that such a parliament would have to be voted for by using a PR electoral system and we would use it to vote for 'Right-wing' parties such as the BNP and UKIP whereas the Scots and Welsh could be trusted not to?

      Why were Scotland and Wales not offered the chance to be regionislised? After all, what does a Gaelic-speaking crofter in the Western Isles have in common with a solely English-speaking unemployed Ned in Glasgow? Or a Welsh-speaking person in Snowdonia with an English-speaker in the Rhondda?

  3. There is little or no appetite in most of England for a federal solution, as scotleag points out. Even if it were to be introduced in a few areas where "natural" regions might be regarded to exist like Yorkshire or the NE, it doesn't solve the disparity in influence between the various parts of a federalised England. That's why the Tories are now pushing the idea of a city based "Northern powerhouse" with elected mayors; they agree with your plan to try and kill devolution stone dead by de-centralising to the lowest possible level, whilst also dealing a blow to Labour in the North. Signs are it will be about as successful as Labour's attempt to kill the desire for independence by introducing devolution.

    As for your claim: "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?" there is simply no basis in fact for your approach. No promise was broken by the pro-independence movement. It is quite simply a lie put about by disgruntled anti-independence supporters with an atavistic desire that their opponents should "get back in their boxes". We all respect the outcome of 18/09; only a pitiful handful of zoomers banging on about "we wuz robbed" don't accept it. We voted and Yes lost. The idea however that we must somehow give up the ideal forever, or for some random time frame chosen by our opponents is risible. The Scottish people, through their elected representatives in Holyrood and Westminster, are the only ones responsible for deciding when and how often a referendum is called.

    You often complain Effie about being labelled an anti-democrat, but that is exactly what you are, however hard you try to deny it. Again and again in your blog you have promoted the lie that Yes supporters have broken some promise to abide by the No vote and asserted that we were under some obligation to give up the struggle. What is worse you have then used this falsehood to call for future referendums to be banned altogether, whilst complaining when people point out this makes you anything but a democrat in any conventional sense of the word.

    The problem you have, as the GE15 result showed, is that you are swimming against the tide of history. You advocate a solution which has no real popular support in Scotland, and will be unsuccessful in the rest of the UK.

    Your comment: "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" is frankly extraordinary..or perhaps just petulant. Are you honestly suggesting that in the event your fellow countrymen democratically decide to become independent you would rather leave? Is your feeling for and connection with the idea of Britishness so strong that you would rather absent yourself from Scotland than abide by a democratic process which decided on independence?

    Remind us again of your commitment to democracy Effie?

    Andy Ellis


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