Reflections on 2014

I haven’t blogged since before the referendum. Even now it feels a tad early. The referendum campaign ran for more than two and half years and it’s only three months since the vote. There is a lot to learn, and a great deal to recover from. Good friends who were on the other side of the argument from me spent much of the autumn in mourning. This is not an exaggeration. For many Yes campaigners something core to their worldview was lost on 18 September and they are right to grieve its passing. I wrote before the referendum that after September we would need magnanimity from the winners and acceptance from the losers. To my mind there has not yet been enough of the latter. The reconciliation of which the Queen spoke in her Christmas broadcast will not happen until unionists come to terms with the fact that 1.6 million of our fellow citizens were so unhappy with the United Kingdom that they voted to leave and nationalists accept that, despite this, they lost.

But let us be patient. Some wounds take time to heal.

And the referendum campaign was wounding. There is an awful lot of collective self-congratulatory back-slapping about the conduct of the referendum. It was wonderfully inclusive. It displayed unprecedented levels of voter participation, from teenagers to pensioners and from the Borders to the Islands. It was an almost entirely peaceful and exemplary way of conducting constitutional politics. All true. But, equally, this is only one part of the story. For many of us the referendum was horrible – and this needs to be said. As with any binary question it was necessarily polarising, but in communities that did not necessarily want to be polarised. It was divisive. Oftentimes it was bitter. It was hard-fought. I make no complaint. I fought. And I fought hard. But let’s not delude ourselves about it all being rosy and cuddly and lovely and friendly. I never want to have to go through it again.

Why did we win?

We won because we won the argument. There is a view in some nationalist quarters that we won because of the Vow. This is a nonsense. The Vow was a front-page commitment in the Daily Record on 16 September (two days before the referendum) that a No vote would mean more powers for the Scottish Parliament, further devolution, and change. It said precisely nothing that had not already been said many times over by the UK Government, Better Together, and the three unionist parties. For sure, it helped to land and to drive home messages we had previously laboured over, but the Vow was not new.

It was judged necessary because of the way the Yes campaign had conducted itself in the closing weeks of the summer. Yes emptied itself of more or less all content and became a rhetorical vessel into which you could pour all your hopes and fears, all your frustrations and aspirations. No longer a constitutional argument about independence, it became the only way of saving the NHS (despite the fact that the NHS is already fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament), the only way of securing social justice (however defined), the only way of achieving a more equal society, the only way of pushing up wages, etc. Such is the anti-politics, anti-establishment and anti-Westminster mood in parts of Scotland that Yes found an eager audience for their rhetoric, especially in Glasgow, Dundee, Lanarkshire and Clydebank. The opinion polls narrowed and, ten days out from the referendum, Yes finally took the lead.

To meet this challenge, Better Together felt that they too had to say something about change. The “more powers” argument had never gained the traction it deserved, partly because the three unionist parties disagreed with each other about the shape and size of the new powers which should be devolved to Holyrood. But more importantly, the argument was failing because it was dull. Talk about devolution with voters on the doorstep and their eyes glaze over. Arguments about devolution have become technical and nerdy. The contrast with the 1990s could not be greater. At the time of the Scottish Constitutional Convention “home rule”, because it was then an aspiration, was exciting. Now that it’s been delivered it’s a reality: part of ordinary life, not a dream to fall in love with.

So the “more powers” argument needed to morph into a “change” argument. Thus, we heard, a No vote is not a vote for no change. A No vote means safer, faster change than the uncertainty and risk of a Yes vote. Vote No and we’ll safeguard the NHS. Vote No and we’ll confer powers on the Scottish Parliament to address inequality and social injustice. Vote No and you’ll get the change you crave. Our change is better than your change. Etc. You could almost hear the echoes of the Obama presidential campaign: vote No for change you can believe in.

What mattered about the Vow was not its content but where it appeared. The Scots who were driving the change in the opinion polling were Labour voters from Labour heartlands, precisely the people that Nicola Sturgeon’s wing of the SNP have been so successful at peeling away from their long-standing (but default) support for the Labour party. For two long years Better Together had struggled to reach these voters – the ground campaign in places like Glasgow was woeful – but, if they read a paper at all, these voters read the Daily Record. From time to time a tabloid front page is so simple, so graphic, and so brilliantly well timed that it achieves the impossible in journalism. Today’s newspapers are, as we all know, tomorrow’s fish’n’chips wrappers. Even good journalism (of which there was plenty in Scotland’s indyref) is forgotten overnight. Exceptionally, however, a tabloid front page achieves notoriety. The Sun on election day in 1992 (depicting Neil Kinnock, with the headline asking the last person to leave Britain to please turn out the lights) is an example. So too is the Vow.

Brilliant tabloid journalism, yes. But not the reason we won. We won because we won the argument. The case for independence was never made. Most Scots don’t want to break up Britain. They want what’s best for Scotland, for sure, but they understand that Scotland’s future is safer and better secured inside the Union in which Scotland has flourished for 300 years. There has never been a majority of Scots in favour of independence, and it was always the tallest of orders for the Yes campaign to manufacture one. Better Together’s job was to identify the weaknesses in the Yes campaign’s argument and to exploit them. This it did ruthlessly. Scots saw through the bluff and bluster on the other side and understood the SNP’s disastrous currency position, the radical uncertainty about future EU membership, the refusal to come clean about the start-up costs of creating a new Scottish state, their untrustworthiness on the oil price, and the fact that the Union was delivering for Scotland and was not the great enemy of progress of nationalist nightmare.

What Alistair Darling called the quiet majority of Scots was always going to vote No, and for these reasons: not because the Vow promised the faster delivery of more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but because the case for independence was never made. The narrowing of the opinion polls in late August and early September gave us the fright of our lives, and there was no little panic in the heat of the campaign to save the Union, but in the end it was all unnecessary. Alistair Darling was right to remain calm. The pollsters under-estimated the numbers in which No voters would come out to vote. Differential turnout was one of our greatest fears in 2013 but, on the day, the difference was in our favour. The Sunday Times crossover poll ten days out from the referendum, in which YouGov gaveYes a two-point lead, frightened the hell out of the quiet majority, and caused turnout in some of the most pro-Union parts of Scotland to rise above 90%. No-one had predicted that. By contrast, Yes Scotland’s famous ground operation, about which we heard so much noise during the campaign, could deliver only a 75% turnout in Glasgow.

What did we win?

We won the right to set the terms of Scotland’s ongoing constitutional debate. The independence referendum did not end that debate but it did decisively determine its future direction. Instead of negotiating the terms of separation, which would have been awful, we spent the closing months of 2014 negotiating how to build the Scottish Parliament so as to secure Scotland’s ongoing place in the Union. It’s been a wholly positive and forward-looking conversation, unlike so much of the indyref debate. I am and always have been a devolutionist. I have always understood devolution as an avowedly Unionist solution to Scottish government. Like most folk living in Scotland I like devolution and I want more of it. It works because it allows us to take charge of our own domestic policy without tearing up the country and leaving the UK. But it doesn’t work perfectly. In a 307-year Union we’ve had devolution for only 15. We’ve still got a lot to learn about realising its full potential.

Devolution has delivered stable government for Scotland, whether under coalition, minority, or single-party majority rule. Resort to the courts has occurred only rarely and, when there have been legal disputes, they have been brought by insurance and tobacco companies, not by Whitehall. Westminster has left Holyrood to legislate on devolved matters and has not sought to trample on Edinburgh’s patch. The reality of devolution is that Scotland’s two governments routinely co-operate with one another, even though, as is only natural in politics, there are sometimes disagreements between the parties.

But what devolution has failed to deliver is the much needed ending of the grievance culture of Scottish politics (what my friend Toby Fenwick has dubbed on Twitter “grievo-max”). Holyrood takes the credit for what goes well, and Westminster, the English, or the Tories are blamed for what goes wrong. This is partly a function of the SNP’s well-oiled PR machine but it also has deeper roots, in the very nature of the way devolution was established by Labour in the 1990s. The Scottish Parliament is already a very powerful legislature when it comes to spending other peoples’ money: two-thirds of public expenditure in Scotland is under Holyrood’s control, with only one third being under Westminster’s. But the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for raising very much of the money it spends. The Scotland Act 2012 (the result of the Calman Commission) devolves some tax-raising powers to Holyrood, but it has long been clear that, if the goal is to reverse grievo-max, it was never going to be enough. This is why the core of the unionist parties’ plans for further devolution after the independence referendum centred on fiscal devolution: on the devolution to the Scottish Parliament of much more extensive tax-raising powers.

Yet, within a single state, caution has to be exercised. The tax code is already complex enough. Tax collection is already expensive enough. Tax avoidance should be discouraged and penalised, not incentivised. And tax competition within a single state could lead to an unplanned decline in public revenues. For these reasons some taxes are more amenable to devolution than others. Corporation tax, excise duties and taxes on capital are the least suitable for devolution (i.e. capital gains tax and inheritance tax). At the same time, taxes which are closely linked to UK-wide social security such as the state pension should surely remain at UK level and not be devolved (ruling out the devolution of national insurance). Income tax, however, is easy to collect (through PAYE), hard to avoid and, most important of all, very highly visible. Putting politicians in charge of the rates at which we pay income tax is a sure-fire way of making them directly accountable to the voters not only for the money they want to spend, but also for the much more difficult question of from whom and in what quantities they want to raise it. Income tax devolution has two further attractions: it is a high yield tax (so its devolution generates a lot of revenue for the devolved legislature) and it is relatively stable. Tax revenues from North Sea oil and gas, by contrast, are highly volatile. The last thing a unionist should want is to devolve to Holyrood a range of fiscal powers that would make the Scottish public finances more unstable. (One of the interesting things about the Smith Commission is that the SNP did not want to talk about oil at all.)

The Smith Commission was an all-party group of (mainly) politicians tasked with the responsibility of agreeing a package of measures for further devolution to Scotland in the light of September’s No vote. There were two representatives for each of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament – I was one of the nominees for the Scottish Conservatives – and we were chaired by the independent peer, Lord Smith. We met in full plenary session on nine occasions between 22 October and 26 November. Our agreement was published on 27 November. All five parties signed up to it in full: no reservations were entered and there was no dissenting opinion attached to the report. It was, of course, an immense honour to play a role in it.

The most important thing about the Smith Commission is not what we agreed – although that is important! – but that all five parties were sitting, talking and working together to reach an agreement. This is the first time in Scottish political history that both unionists and nationalists co-operated in this way. The Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 1990s was boycotted by the SNP and, for different reasons, by the Tories. More recently the SNP had their “national conversation” while the unionist parties had their Calman Commission. But in Smith we all sat down. Together. And we all stayed, right through until the end.

Personally, it was not remotely difficult to stay. I wanted to talk to the other side. I wanted them not to be the other side any more. This was the magnanimity I wanted to see from the indyref’s winning side. I wanted a constitutional politics that was no longer polarising and divisive, but accommodating and inclusive. This is how it would have been had we lost the referendum: as the then First Minister said, if he’d won he would have put together an all-party Team Scotland to undertake the hugely complex and fraught task of unravelling the Union and building the new state. I had indicated to my friends in the SNP that I would have agreed to join Team Scotland, should I have been asked to. Had we lost the referendum I would not have sat on my hands, written endless “I told you so” blogs, and plotted to have the result reversed the next time. There would have been no next time. And if there would have been no next time had Yes won, why should anyone think there should be a next time now?

Did we win?

The post-referendum period of Scottish politics has been very different from how we had thought it would be. We had rather fondly imagined that losing the referendum would be traumatic for the SNP and that they would struggle in its aftermath. But this has not happened. The SNP’s membership has surged, from something like 25,000 members to approaching 100,000 members. This is phenomenal. At the same time, they have enjoyed a more or less seamless leadership transition. Nicola Sturgeon was one of the indyref’s outstanding performers and it took her no time at all to find her feet as Scotland’s new First Minister. I disagree profoundly with much of her politics, but she is truly impressive. I have great respect for her – and that is something I could never have written about her predecessor.

The Scottish Labour party also has an impressive new leadership team, although it is always harder for the opposition than it is for the government to set the agenda, or event to set the pace, doubly so when your new leader is not (yet) a Member of the Scottish Parliament. But Jim Murphy is talented enough to know how to turn that to his advantage. His eyes will be firmly fixed on the 2016 prize and he will not be overly distracted by the 2015 general election.

The UK political scene in the first half of 2015, however,  will be dominated by that election. The Better Together alliance is no more. The election is a straight fight between the two major Better Together parties: come May either the leader of the Conservatives or the leader of the Labour party will be Prime Minister, although the unpopularity of both main parties is such that either is likely to require the support of one (or more) of the smaller parties to form a government. Current opinion polling suggests that the SNP will eat substantially into Scottish Labour seats – it was the Labour heartlands of West Central Scotland that voted Yes, after all. If Labour lose large numbers of their 41 seats in Scotland it will be far harder for Ed Miliband to find his way to Downing Street. This, no doubt, is why the nationalists fill their speeches with so much anti-Tory rhetoric. These (ex-)Labour voters won’t vote for the SNP if they think the nationalists will prop up a Cameron-led government.

In this environment, is the Union safe? It does not always feel like it. But, in Scotland at least, it should. If the economic case for independence was not made during the referendum campaign it would be even harder to make it now. The SNP’s modelling of an independent Scotland’s economy was based on what we now know were ludicrously optimistic forecasts as to the oil price. Whereas the SNP forecast an oil price of $113 per barrel, since September the price has crashed to barely $60 per barrel. Alex Salmond’s Team Scotland would be leading Scotland to disaster right now had 200,000 No voters switched to voting Yes. We came perilously close to economic ruin, and I hope there is a full parliamentary inquiry into whether the Scottish Government acted responsibly in preparing the economic arguments about an independent Scottish economy. Optimism is not a constitutional wrong: but recklessness is.

The real danger to the Union now is coming not from Scotland but from south of the border. When I moved from England to Scotland in 2003 I remember saying that the Union would be robust enough to withstand the challenge of Scottish nationalism. Apart from a ten-day wobble when I could feel the ground moving in late August and early September I have always held firm to that view. But the Union may not be strong enough to constrain the forces of English nationalism, should they ever be unleashed. My fear for the Union is that they are. England has not kept pace with the devolutionary changes from which Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have benefited and the English are more than beginning to notice. It is no doubt to foment English disquiet that Mr Salmond has decided to seek a return to Westminster.

The solution to the English question lies not in the creation of another tier of unwanted government there – few mourn the passing of John Prescott’s regional development agencies – but in having the courage to face up to the consequences of devolution, consequences which have been ignored for too long. These consequences are two-fold, and they go to the core of the constitution. The first concerns representation and the second money. Westminster is England’s Parliament as well as the UK’s and a way urgently needs to be found to ensure that the laws it makes are determined by the appropriate body of MPs. UK laws should be made by MPs from across the UK. But laws which affect only England should be determined – at least in their detail – by MPs representing seats in England (“English votes for English laws”, as it is sometimes called). As for money, the financing of devolution has been via the block grant, which is calculated according to the Barnett formula. This is complex, wholly lacking in transparency and, as a result, badly misunderstood. Urgently in need of reform, the Barnett formula is unfair in different ways both to England and to Wales. The good news is that, as we move towards fiscal devolution, Barnett becomes less important (because the Scottish Parliament will raise more of its budget directly through taxation, the size of the block grant decreasing as this happens).

In Scotland we unionists have been forced by the challenge of nationalism to look deeply into our unionism. We understand it much better now. For decades it was passive, default and unexamined. No longer. The independence referendum forced us to articulate what our unionism is for. For the Labour party the core of the case for the Union is about the pooling and sharing of risks and resources. For Conservatives it boils down to two words: trade and security. The UK is a genuinely single market (giving Scots fully ten times bigger a domestic market than we’d have under independence) and, like all states, the UK’s most vital role is to protect internally and externally the security of its citizens. That doesn’t just mean defence and international relations; it means the state pension and our economic security as well.

Once you have understood what the Union is for, the task of distinguishing between powers that should be devolved and those that cannot becomes easy. For a Conservative, powers can be devolved unless they start to cut into or undermine the UK’s single market or collective security. Thus, universal credit cannot be devolved (because it relates directly to the labour market, welfare reform being designed to smooth the path from welfare to work). Likewise the state pension. But other aspects of welfare can be devolved. Hence the agreement reached in the Smith Commission to reserve the state pension and universal credit but to devolve much of the remainder of the welfare budget.

English unionists, by contrast, have not had to think through, articulate and defend their unionism as we have had to do in Scotland. North of the border we have come to understand that in order to safeguard what we cherish we have had to allow it room to adapt and change. We have learnt that a looser Union is a stronger Union, that enhanced devolution is not a consolation prize to nationalists for coming second in the indyref, but the means whereby we ensure that the Union endures and flourishes. Little of this is comprehended in England. While all five Scottish parties were sitting around the Smith Commission table, Labour refused point blank to engage with the coalition in their attempts to solve the “English votes for English laws” puzzle. One nation’s constitutional politics is mature; the other’s is juvenile. In one nation the parties rose above partisan interest to seek common constitutional ground; in the other the public interest continues to be reduced to mere party advantage.

That said, perhaps the contrast is not so great. Whereas the SNP participated fully (and constructively) in the Smith Commission deliberations, the moment Smith reported they sought to rubbish its achievements. This was a rare mis-step by the SNP and impressed nobody. Of course Smith does not go as far as the SNP want – what they want was rejected by the Scottish people in September – but to deny that the agreement constitutes a significant devolution of extensive further powers is just daft. Once Smith is delivered, in a Scotland Act to be enacted after the general election, Holyrood will be one of the most powerful sub-state legislatures anywhere in the world. Scotland will be more powerful in the UK than the states are in the US, more powerful in the UK than are the Australian states, and more powerful in the UK than are the Länder in Germany.

Scottish politics in 2014 has been all about the constitutional question. In 2015 we need to refocus to concentrate not on the question of “what powers do we want” but on that of “how is the SNP government exercising the formidable powers it already has”. But constitutional politics is not going away any time soon. Scotland’s constitutional future was won by the unionists in September, but the Union we fought so hard to maintain will not thrive in the longer term if England’s needs are not addressed. Perhaps I should start a new blog for 2015: Notes from South Britain.

29 thoughts on “Reflections on 2014

  1. I’m not sure which side ended up “winning”. Did “No” get more votes on the night, yes, but I think something has shifted… I moved in the campaign from a hard no, to a soft no… It would only take 2 or 3 major policy decisions by the UK government to shift me over to Yes now. We’ve seen the labour party support collapse such that the next parliament may for a number of matters be one that is simply ungovernable – if the Labour party need SNP support to govern AND the SNP continue their trend on abstaining on “English” matters (or end up being blocked from voting legally), its going to leave the UK in a weird position where the government depends on whether the word “Scotland” appears somewhere in the bill being debated…

    The depth of the scars and damage caused to the UK are yet to be seen.

    • “Despite you and yours”? So you don’t want to engage the whole country, you want to force your opinion through? That is the biggest obstacle I see to creating a United Scotland and unless you realise you can’t bully people into agreeing with you, it doesn’t bode well.

  2. Thanks for this, Adam, it’s a really interesting read. But I wonder what you think of the argument that the UK could not leave the EU without Scottish consent and that a vote for Brexit would be a legitimate pretext for another indyref?

  3. The trouble is that the constitutional question has not been resolved by the referendum; indeed it may not even have been put into abeyance. I voted Yes out of a simple belief that you cannot negotiate a new relationship between countries unless you first have the power to do so. This is why the LibDems have been on a hiding to nothing for over a century with their schemes for a federal Britain: no one pays the slightest attention…
    It boils down to that elusive concept of sovereignty – the tragedy of the 1707 negotiation was that the Scottish Commissioners felt that their preferred federal solution would be a non-starter, and that they must accept an incorporating union. All the subsequent discontent stems from that.
    I’m sorry to say that the referendum campaign merely reinforced the perceived inequality between the partners to the Union. This was clear from the outset with the first of the UK government’s ‘analysis’ papers, in which any suggestion that Scotland retained residual sovereignty after 1707 was dismissed out of hand.
    In your comparison with the US, Australia or Germany, you ignore pertinent historical differences. The Treaty of Union was between two sovereign states – Scotland is not, and never has been, a product of a federal constitution, and attempts to draw parallels merely distracts from the more fundamental question, which is that of where power lies and ought to lie in a union of nations.
    I draw you attention to the words of Jo Grimond (A personal Manifesto – 1983):

    “I do not like the word devolution as it has come to be called. It implies that power rests at Westminster, from which centre some may be graciously devolved. I would rather begin by assuming that power should rest with the people who entrust it to their representatives to discharge the essential tasks of government. Once we accept that the Scots and the Welsh are nations, then we must accord them parliaments which have all the normal powers of government, except for those that they delegate to the United Kingdom government or the EEC.”

    That is wisdom, (and it’s typical of the LibDems that they continue to ignore it). This should be the starting point for constructing a workable relationship. But for so long as Westminster considers that it alone has the right to decide which powers are delegated where, there will be no lasting solution. It forces me and people like me to continue an argument and a political battle which should not actually be necessary.

    If, from the start of the referendum campaign, there had been sufficient statesmanship exhibited to acknowledge that it was not about ‘Breaking up Britain’ but about re-casting the union into a looser, but more comfortable form, we would all be in a better place today. Throughout, this was the sub-text of the Yes campaign, but the UK government’s determination to hold to what they have, with minimal concessions, rapidly poisoned that particular well. An opportunity missed.

  4. One problem which lies at the unexplored heart of your post is the profound disconnect between Scottish voters and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have one Westminster representative who was almost invisible in the Indyref, David Mundell, and a leader, Ruth Davidson, who only made it on the regional list. Ruth Davidson had a fairly good campaign, but it was at the head of a campaign which sought to distance itself from the excesses of Westminster Conservatives. You proceed on the basis that the constitutional question is settled and quote ‘grievo-max’ but the fact is your one Westminster representative is an accurate indicator of the popularity of your party in Scotland. Scottish Labour took the bullets which were mostly aimed at Coalition excesses. Devo max is the means by which Scottish Conservatives can try to detoxify the brand up here, but when you say Unionists, you really mean Labour, because the fight between the SNP and Labour is the real battlefield. Scottish Tories were merely holding the jackets. You cut a bella figura then and now, but Mundell’s almost non-existent profile and Cameron’s reluctance to visit and Osborne’s wish to implement savage austerity while hoping to offer tax cuts is the heart of the difficulty of Scottish Tories. You are in a minority in Scotland because the majority of Scots reject your policies. Should Cameron head another coalition in 2015, Indyref 2 will kick off

    • “Should Cameron head another coalition in 2015, Indyref 2 will kick off.”

      No, we have had the referendum. Independence was decisively rejected. Alex Salmond declared just before the referendum that there wouldn’t be another opportunity for independence for a generation. He was right. To suppose that there will be another referendum just because this or that party win the 2015 general election is wishful thinking.

      • It is not wishful thinking. The SNP Gaining a significant number of seats from Labour in Westminster and a Conservative led coalition or, indeed, a Conservative government will simply exacerbate the tensions raised by the Indyref. Then add the referendum on Europe into the mix. Saying that the referendum decisively rejected independence does not simply mean the issue is done with. I am not some Nationalist looking for a neverendum, I am simply saying that Pandora’s Box has been opened and who knows what happens next. To suppose that the issue is done with because No won is wishful thinking. Cameron tying EVEL to the referendum result was crafty politics, but poor statesmanship. Labour losing a significant number of seats in 2015 to the SNP will provide a shot in the arm for moves towards Indyref 2. Not wishful thinking, but speculation based upon the current political context.

    • John, I am not a tory but i suggest you check out the figures – the number of Scots who voted Tory in 2010 is actually very similar to the number of Scots who voted SNP in 2011. Don’t believe the SNP myth machine

      • I’m not a nat, although I did vote yes. I am a politics anorak, though, and the tectonic plates are shifting. The end result will be a realignment of Scottish and UK politics. Scotlab are going to have to fundamentally rethink their approach. The Tories are, as I’ve said before, holding the jackets and watching the fight from the sidelines. David Mundell is the lone Scottish Tory and I don’t see their prospects improving. Finally, looking at today’s Guardian, even on the most conservative ( ahem) estimates, Labour look set for a kicking and the SNP could become a formidable and influential bloc at Westminster where they can make a significant impact, especially in a hung parliament.

    • John, I will just be brief about MSPs. Regularly it is more secure to be on list. During full term by elections will be called if the MSP directly elected leave parliament. It is unlikely a by election will be called if list MSP leave parliament. The next candidate on list of political party will take position as a MSP. This is a personal view.

  5. If 2.5% of the UK’s population think they can try and break it up a 2nd time, they have another thing coming.

    28 out of 32 regions rejected nationalism. To suggest this is not massively significant, is to contradict the basic Yes premise that its unfair that London wields all the decision making power. Why should Glasgow then?

    If anything its the revisionist attempts of the complete and utter defeat (a 10%+ delta too) which could turn matters into a neverendum. This blog is well written but its objectives are plain. Too much damage has already been done. Civic nationalism is dead in Scotland, accept it.

  6. My view is simple to say the least. The SNP will do its best to destroy Labour in Scotland and let the Tories back in. It will not help their cause to have a Labour Gov giving ordinary people what the want. A Gov for them. This would put any thought of independence out of reach in any near future. The deception over oil, NHS etc during the debate three months ago proves the depths to which the SNP will sink. If they had got the YES vote, what a mess Scotland would be in now.

  7. I recognize the good will of Prof.Adam Tomkins and his sincere desire to reach out and so forth, but there is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to begin…

    I’ll summarize the problem I see in Prof. Tomkn’s views by citing just one major obstacle: the total sovereignty, unconstrained by any written constitution, of the Westminster Parliament. Assuming Prof. Tomkins to be a serious player in this drama- i.e. not a Unionist who says, right that’s it, you Jocks, get back in your box – he must posit a new federal dispensation in these islands, to accommodate the justifiable needs of the Scots, Welsh, N Irish. This can only be achieved if Westminster cedes sovereignty. In practice this mean the totally useless unelected House of Lords must be replaced by some form of elected second chamber representing the counties of England and nations of Scotland & Wales.

    A chamber that has a voice, when Westminster decides for example to send Scottish young men to die in an illegal war, or launches a referendum on a Brexit, or decides to splurge $100 BN on new nuclear weapons that cannot even be fired without US approval, while imposing the grimmest austerity on the poor.

    So how will this be achieved? For the best part of 800 years the HoC has been accruing power unto itself (from above) while ceding as little as possible (to below). That’s institutional DNA for you. Plus with an unwritten constitution Westminster’s PM enjoys in effect an elective dictatorship. Subject psephologically every five years, he or she can do anything, even revoke Holyrood. The House of Commons cannot even envisage a second chamber that may leach power from itself. Yet any progressive Unionist such as, I presume Prof. Tomkins is, must assume a more federal dispensation implying cession of power from HoC. When 45% of a high turnout vote tell you they went out of your country, you have by definition a serious problem, even if you have “won” (through massive media pressure and fear mongering). How will you achieve this in the face of adamantine refusal by the HoC to cede any real power to a second chamber.??

    • “…total sovereignty, unconstrained by any written constitution” is probably the best and purest description of a democracy.

      Also, in the light of Westminster’s democracy sending all of those Scots to die in foreign wars etc, it’s worth pointing out that more Scots vote in Westminster elections than Holyrood ones. But some people can’t deal with pure, undiluted democracy and the responsibility of convincing millions of people to vote a certain way. Hence the ongoing projects to make Uk democracy smaller and more local; to put limits on its power with a constitution; to banish its sovereignty to Europe; and to generally make our democracy tamer and safer.

  8. First of all, thanks for an interesting and thoughtful blog. Your comments with regard to the ‘English Question’ are insightful. Devolution in the UK has essentially been a pragmatic solution to immediate political problems. Smith is no exception to this. As a result, we have several different models of devolution which have been pasted over what remains in many respects a unitary state. If these new arrangements are to be robust then they require a solid constitutional foundation that is well understood, fair to all the components of the United Kingdom and generally accepted. That requires a much broader debate than the one we have just experienced in Scotland and, crucially, one which engages England. With 90% of the population, England has always been the ‘elephant in the room’ and that would not have changed had Scotland voted for independence. We ignore England at ur peril.

  9. Well said. However pelase remember that thanks to David Cameron we did not get a chance to vote on the issue of greater devolution.

  10. Very good post as usual. Personally I think the biggest problem facing Scotland is that 45% of the voters were happy to swallow so many bare-faced lies from Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney. Their conduct alone is sufficient to deny the SNP another referendum…ever.

    • I can think of bigger problems- foodbanks, welfare cuts, rocketing bills, the destruction of the post war settlement without mandate by a distant elite. 45% of the population of Scotland felt strongly enough that they voted for independence with all of the economic uncertainty that entailed, such was their disenchantment with the status quo. As far as bare faced lies go, how about us all being ” in it together”?while the richest are promised tax cuts? From the people who promised no more top-down-reorganisation of the NHS?

  11. To paraphrase a rather well known aphorism ” nationalism is a philosophy of failure , the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy ,its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. Please keep your worthwhile comments and extremely erudite analysis updated and ongoing.

  12. I will look forward to reading the first “notes from Southern Britain” it is indeed a pleasure to read such balanced reasoning

  13. Isn’t it somewhat anomalous that all this talk of constitutional change etc for Scotland never involves proposals for a ahem proper written Constitution for Scotland? As in virtually all other EU MSs? (We cannot criticise the proposed Scottish constitutional settlement in a similar way to for example Hungary’s Fourth Amendment because we are not presented with a single constitutional document). All this talk of what the Legislature is going to do for the people of Scotland, generally involving controlling them and taxing them further, but no giving or even enshrining of basic constitutional rights in return. Its a missed opportunity. For example, what does a Scottish citizen who considers their rights to have been infringed by the State do to achieve redress in Scotland (such as a victim of the Edinburgh Statutory Notice scam?) Oh, judicial review, of course. No constitutional court. But from a legal certainty point of view, it is a valid criticism.

    Is it not also the case that Scottish citizens have lost certain constitutional rights and traditions in recent years, not least those enshrined by the more traditional checks and balances and the basic tripartite division of Executive, Judiciary and Legislature generally provided by a bicameral as opposed to a unicameral system? Is it not extremely teleological thinking to assume from the outset of this process that all such changes are, or indeed will be, positive?

  14. South Britain sounds like a good term to me. We all need to think much more in terms of Britain and less of Scotland or England, if we want to stay together in Union.

  15. One point that is always seemingly ignored is that in any democracy you never get everything you want. If Scotland had gained independence (let’s leave aside the questions right now of the economic mess that a USD 60 oil price would deliver) the belief that the utopia of beauty amnd happiness would result is flawed. There would always be some people who didn’t get their wants satisfied. The almost silent threat from the Shetlands and Orkneys to cede themselves if a Yes vote had occured is evidence of this. You can’t keep devolving (sic) down to lower levels of apportionment to get concensus. At some point you have to accept that the point in a democracy is that the majority rules.

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