How Scotland Will Be Lost (The Neverendum Act II)

After the relief yesterday that the Union was to stay together, I’ve been pretty depressed at the many expressions of the kind of UK politics that many in Scotland were understandably keen to get away from. And it’s become pretty clear to me that we could easily see another referendum – in which the result is ‘Yes’ and by a greater margin than we saw yesterday – if we get caught up in the kind of divisive factional politics that flourishes so abundantly alongside the fervour of nationalism in the absence of real political leadership or vision.

There we undoubtedly many in Scotland – though we don’t know how many – who were swayed by a pledge that was made by the three party leaders. The timetable included a parliamentary motion which, as Salmond shrewdly pointed out in his resignation speech, Cameron is most likely to have broken his promise on because he feared he didn’t have the Parliamentary numbers.

Remember this?

It was a pledge made with the best of intentions – but we shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we could deliver.

Nick Clegg claimed to have learned from his ‘mistake’ over promising to vote against a tuition fee rise under any circumstances.

But more importantly – most important of all – you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And that’s what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.

Looks whose signature is here:

Could it be he not only hasn’t learned his lesson, but the other two party leaders have made the same mistake?

Cameron has been busy trying to position the ‘English Votes for English Laws’ argument alongside the vow. It’s not new – it was in the Tory manifesto, and he failed to get it into the coalition agreement. This looks like he’s hoping either to get something for himself out of honouring the vow by reviving this failed policy, or presenting failure to deliver as a manifestation of the democratic will of the voters. UK voters. Of whom 85% are English.

I’m a democrat, and I think that UK voters need to support the changes that are proposed. These promises have been made on our behalf, but they should have our support. Gaining support needs the case to be made – with strength – and there needs to be a unified vision and case made for why deeper asymmetrical devolution is good for everyone (we need to see the kind of transformation that Gordon Brown brought to the Better Together campaign with his intervention). Instead we are seeing appeals to nationalism: Cameron is playing off the English against the Scots. This is the kind of thing all the nationalists thrive on – it’s the problem they pretend to be the answer to, when in fact they are the problem – and one sign of them reaping the benefits will, I believe, be the result in the Clacton by-election.

If the three party leaders break their promise, it doesn’t matter how they break it. I agree with Nick, when he said

We shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we could deliver.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are facing electoral meltdown. And it’s why they deserve to.

The risk for all the Unionist party leaders is another referendum in Scotland, maybe as soon as in five years time. Salmond, whose signature is on the Edinburgh agreement, must I’m sure be aware that stepping aside makes this more likely. And I think there are strong reasons to suppose in those circumstances, the vote would be for Scotland to be an independent country:

  • The sense of betrayal would likely sway ‘No’ voters to ‘Yes’, and make any promises of change from ‘No’ less credible.
  • Demographics  – in all age groups except 18-24 and 55+ a majority voted ‘Yes’ – so without wishing to be morbid, more ‘No’ voters than ‘Yes’ will have passed away, while a majority of the current 10-15 year olds are likely to to become ‘Yes’ voters as 16 & 17 year olds were this week.

The prospect of the parties at Westminster bickering about constitutional tinkering is unedifying. As Phillip Blond points out, English votes for English laws is a side issue: it would have changed just 21 out of over 5000 since 1997 if Scottish MP’s votes hadn’t been counted. Tom Watson makes an excellent point in the Mirror about the supposedly centralised power of the UK parliament: the problem is not that Westminster is keeping it all for themselves, it is that it has been given away to the unaccountable – corporate entities, private companies. The prospect in Scotland was one of regaining democratic control. That has to happen throughout the UK. Dishing out whatever is left to whatever contrived English assemblies or parliamentary subgrouping some wonk has devised isn’t a solution to anything if the cupboard is already empty.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

One thought on “How Scotland Will Be Lost (The Neverendum Act II)

  1. It won’t do for England not to have its’ own parliament now, cupboard bare or otherwise. The idea that Britain ever had proper democratic control over its production is questionable, but it was a debate that was ongoing. The repeal of anti union laws would be a major step in the reinvigoration of that debate, and this could just as easily be facilitated in an devolved parliaments as in Westminster.

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