Wednesday 16 December 2020

Her Nicola's Ship (HNS) William Wallace


It looked for one brief moment as if the UK was about to leave the EU without deal. There was a final deadline beyond which we could not possibly go, but we passed it and kept on negotiating. The final final deadline is apparently the 31st of December this year, but even that is no doubt not finally final. But if going through final deadlines has become tiresome then SNP interventions into the negotiating process have become still more boring and absurd.

The other day Humza Yousaf made the claim that Gunboat diplomacy would not be welcome in Scottish waters. He demonstrated not merely his ignorance of history, but also his wilful ignorance of devolution. Gunboat diplomacy has absolutely nothing to do with fishing nor indeed with protecting a nations territorial waters from lawbreaking. Gunboat diplomacy only ever took place in someone else’s territorial waters usually by means of a dirty great gunboat sailing into someone’s port and demanding something at the point of a gun.

The UK is a unitary state with devolved parliaments and some mayors in England.  There are only UK territorial waters in international law. For the same reason that there is no such thing as Californian territorial waters there is no such thing as Scottish territorial waters.  

All of the confusion which the SNP continually exploits comes about because SNP politicians repeatedly and deliberately conflate what they want to be the case (that Scotland become a sovereign independent nation state) with what is the case. Scotland has a devolved parliament that is subordinate. Scotland has had no international existence since 1707. For this reason, Scotland is not a member of the United Nations and was never a member of the EU, but rather was a part of a member state. We joined because the whole UK chose to do, and we left for the same reason.

The idea of Humza Yousaf’s equivalent in California telling the United States Navy where it could sail and what it could do is quite preposterous. But this would never happen because the roles of the state and federal Governments are clearly defined. The states do not attempt to negotiate with foreign powers, nor do they attempt to undermine United States negotiations because they understand and accept that they are subordinate.

The problems with devolution in the UK are that the subordinate parts continually wish to claim that they are on a par with central Government and push a maximalist interpretation of devolved powers plus a minimalist interpretation of reserved powers.

Foreign policy is reserved. It therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with Holyrood. But that means the UK’s relations with the EU and the negotiations taking place are not Humza Yousaf’s business. Defence too is reserved. It is up to the UK Government to decide how it wishes to defend British waters from Russian submarines just as much as French trawlers. It is true that agriculture, forestry and fisheries are devolved. But this gives the Scottish Government the right to decide what Scottish fishing boats can do, it gives it no right at all to decide what French fishing boats can do. Scotland can no more decide to allow French fishing boats into the North Sea than California can decide to allow or prevent Chinese fishing boats.

Scotland cannot have a foreign policy anymore than California can for the simple reason that neither has an international existence. To suppose that California can act contrary to the United States Government on a matter of foreign relations is to suppose that California can declare war on Scotland. It is to misunderstand the nature of international relations.

When Scots voted for devolution we voted for a subordinate Parliament. This is what devolution means. If the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments were not subordinate, we would not have devolution but rather independence or confederation.  

It was never the intention of those who devised devolution that there would be conflict between devolved and reserved powers, but this was because no one predicted how politicians in the devolved parts of the UK would attempt to usurp reserved powers because of nationalism.

Suggestions from people like Gordon Brown that the solution is to give ever more powers to the Scottish Parliament and introduce some form of federalism miss the obvious point that this would merely encourage people like Humza Yousaf to still more try to usurp whatever reserved powers were left. Giving power to nationalists encourages nationalism. Learn this simple lesson. Politics in Scotland since devolution began demonstrate it unequivocally. One more “wafer thin mint” of powers for Holyrood won’t blow up Mr Creosote, it will blow up Mr Britain.

There is no need anyway to have federalism to have an effective model of devolved Government. France is divided into 18 regions 13 of which are located in metropolitan France while five are overseas regions. France has an admirable level of devolved power and local government. Regions are divided into départements and then further into arrondissements and communes. Each has certain powers and this whole form of Government is such that the National Government rules nationally but each French person benefits from real local power. There is no threat from nationalism in France, because none of the places that have power are called or thought of as nations. For this reason, it would be unthinkable, indeed comically ridiculous for Aquitaine to tell the French Navy who it could or could not allow to fish in the Bay of Biscay.

In France everyone has a similar level of representation no matter where they live. It allows the French voter to have local representation and a national Government that is not undermined by regions pretending to be medieval Burgundians as in Passport to Pimlico.

Devolution in Britain desperately needs reform but not in the way Gordon Brown suggests. Rather we should divide Britain into regions that cut across supposed national “borders”. For example, Northumbria could be joined with the Scottish borders. The goal would be to create tiers of regional Government down to the most local of levels and to plan the powers given to each level in such a way that they were clearly delineated.

The goal must be to bypass and eventually erase the supposed national distinctions in the UK, because these are the source of nationalism. Never again should we have the absurd situation where nationalists close supposedly “national” borders which have in fact no international existence. We cannot allow our response to a national emergency to be devolved. This is not what devolution is for. The UK Government must fight back with a coherent plan for devolution that solves the problem and creates greater UK unity rather than less.

We may disagree with the French about fishing and much else, but they provide us with an admirable model of devolution that works well and does not threaten France with secession. We can learn from it just as we can learn from French methods of dealing with those who are a threat to France. Mr Macron is admirably firm and steadfast in defending France against all enemies foreign or domestic.

If Humza Yousaf wants to launch Her Nicola's Ship (HNS) William Wallace painted blue and white and armed with sharpened spears to take on the Royal Navy, it would be a pity if such pikeboat diplomacy met with a mishap. But in that case we might hope that the violinists continued to play "Flowers of the forest" while Mr Yousaf put on a final coat of eyeliner before making one final solute to Her Nicola as he went down like a gentleman.