Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Scottish Questions

As a half-Scot, made very conscious indeed of that side of my background yesterday as I took one of the chords at my uncle's funeral on the banks of Loch Lomond, I think that I have cracked the extraordinary and very obvious hatred between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Although, to the best of my knowledge, my cousins called Cameron are not related to Dave (but we are all distantly related to Alistair Darling, apparently), it is certainly a very Scottish name, like Lindsay.

David Cameron, I submit, is a posh Scot. Not a borderline case like Tony Blair or Iain Duncan Smith, but the real deal. His English public school, his Oxford degree, his marriage into the English baronetage, and (these days) his Southern English seat are all part and parcel of this. Therefore, he simply cannot believe that a state school and Scottish university son of the manse from Kirkcaldy has the audacity to be Prime Minister instead of him. And Brown knows perfectly well that those are his views.

That is the real Scottish question in British politics today. It is certainly not the West Lothian Question, which does not in fact exist. If the Parliament of the United Kingdom were to enact legislation applicable in Scotland, then that legislation would prevail over any enactment of the Scottish Parliament. There is simply no doubt at all about this. At present, it merely chooses not to do so. But it should do so, not least to make the point. After all, hasn't Brown any views about such matters in his own constituency? Well, now he has the chance to give effect to those views. He should take that chance.

11 comments:

  1. It 'merely choses not to do so' because to do so would be to instigate a constitutional crisis.

    The theory of absolute sovereignty of Westminster is a convenient smoke screen to disguise the fact that in Scotland it is the people that are sovereign.

    Westminster politicians know this, the SNP know this, and so too - though not in so many words - do the Scottish people.

    I'm sure there's nothing that Alex Salmond would enjoy more than for Westminster to legislate for Scotland (without applying the Sewell Convention).

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  2. The Aberdonian27 July 2007 at 09:49

    Toque

    So very true, partcicuarly in the precipiptation of a constitutional crisis. If Westminster tried to steamroller laws over a devolved area in Scotland without Holyrood's consent it would be grist to the nationalist mill.

    Just remember the row over the Libyan prisoner.

    The realpolitik of the situation was put up quite nicely by Tory and arch-unionist Allan Massie in his column in the Scottish Sunday Times.

    He writes of Salmond:-

    "Meanwhile, he recognises there are opportunities within the UK's new devolved structure and within the EU. He knows state soveriegnty is no longer absolute, but has been pooled or shared. Most importantly, he has grasped that Enoch Powell's dictum - "power devolved is power retained" is in practical terms nonsense no matter the logical cogency of it as theory

    The unitary British state is no more. Those of us who argued vainly against devolution have to accept this as the new reality. We are living in a different world, one that is still in the process of being made. It is quite likely we are advancing towards what may best be described as loose informal confederation of the British Isles and, very probably, to a European confederacy."

    Concerning Cameron as a Scot, nobody seriously thinks he is one up here although it is recognised he is of Scottish extraction - something along the lines of ex-President Rawlings of Ghana.

    There tends to be more of a debate concerning Blair but the mockney accent (cos it certainly ain't Edinburgh or Durham)and his support for English teams tends to push him into the category of "being born in a stable does not make one a horse" - as the late member for Trim in the Irish House of Commons Arthur Wellesley is ascribed to have said.

    I suppose he is seen as Scottish in the same way that Cliff Richard, Joanna Lumley and Spike Milligan - to name a few - are Indian.

    Saying that, Blair did donate one of his guitars to the National Museum of Scotland.

    Nationality is however fluid thing. Compton MacKenzie being a good example. Certainly I would consider Tom Conti (Italian immigrants for parents) more Scottish than our former Prime Minister.

    Returning to the devolution aspect, me thinks that David is evolving from Colonel Blimp to General Dyer in his attitudes towards to the natives.

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  3. Lindsay says
    "It is certainly not the West Lothian Question, which does not in fact exist. "

    Drivel .

    Of course it exists , worse than ever .
    Furthermore the residual and only theoretical arthority of the British parliamenr in Scottish internal affairs is just that , residual and theoretical .
    Only a clown , a blind clown that is , or a person with ulterior motives would try and insist otherwise .

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  4. What "constitutional crisis"? There is absolutely no doubt which Parliament prevails in a conflict: it is written into the Scotland Act. So that's just that.

    How's the independence referendum coming along? Or, to put it another way, what is now the point of the SNP? Anyone who really does believe in independence should now leave it, because its leaders have tasted the fruits of office at the UK's expense and have no intention of ever giving them up.

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  5. The Aberdonian30 July 2007 at 10:17

    The SNP will be publishing the white paper on a referendum next week although Salmond has more or less conceded it will be defeated. It is probably being carried out for three reasons:

    1 - Keeping election pledge to the public

    2 - Keeping the party happy

    3 - Symbolic reasons

    While you are constitutionally correct about the UK Parliament being able to legislate over the Scottish Parliament, in practice trying to legislate over the top of it against its will for no good reason (in the eyes of the Scottish establishment and public) would provoke a situation.

    Theoretically the Westminster can abolish the Holyrood but how could it enforce this if it is against the will of the Scottish people. Believe the STUC policy on forced abolition of Holyrood is to call a general strike. And that would cause a situation.

    Nothing would probably make Holyrood more popular than it being threatened by London.

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  6. What "situation", not least if, say, the STUC-dominated Scottish Labour Party got Brown to get Westminster to enact a pretty much STUC-drafted Health (Scotland), Education (Scotland) or Transport (Scotland) Act, not something that the STUC would ever get out of the SNP, or indeed could expect in an independent Scotland?

    The idea that Brown, Darling and the rest have no view on these matters in their own constituencies, or are willing to allow the SNP and the Greens to legislate thereon, is completely absurd. Expect those Bills in the near future.

    Devolution was always conditional both on a Prime Minister without a Scottish constituency and on a Labour-led Executive at Holyrood. Neither of these things is now the case, so Holyrood can carry on legislating to its heart's content, but can now expect overriding legislation from Westminster in all the same areas. There will be no attempt to abolish it, because there will be no need to do so: it will no longer matter enough to go to the trouble of abolishing.

    There is no way in the world that the present Government could be depicted as some sort of English Raj, and that Government is going to be around for quite a while. But by the time that it does leave office, no one will mind how English its successor is, because everyone will have grown used to the new state of affairs, itself only marginally different from the very old state of affairs.

    And by then, will the SNP still exist? If, between now and the next Holyrood Elections, it has failed both to deliver and to win a referendum in independence, then it will have split to death. It probably won't deliver. And it certainly wouldn't win.

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  7. The Aberdonian31 July 2007 at 09:48

    They are two seperate Parliaments and two seperate governments. Trying to steamroller legislation over the Parliament would cause a problem - whatever the makeup of the British government. It would show that London could not be trusted to keep to their side of the devolution bargin. If Labour tried a stunt like that on an SNP government, would that not give precedent to a Tory government in London doing it to a Labour government in Edinburgh?

    After all if David Mundell or some other Westminster Tory (when the swell their ranks to maybe 5 MPs if they are lucky) disagreed with a Labour policy in Edinburgh, they can steamroller over the top of the Labour party's mandate in Scotland. But what be the public perception of such a move and how would Labour take it?

    Possibly a constitutional crisis maybe?

    Both governments have the right to show irritation towards each other's policies and even use underhand tactics to block them. Such examples are Labour's plans to build nuclear stations in Scotland - energy is a Westminster matter. The SNP intends to block this using its control of Scottish planning laws. The SNP want to introduce a local income tax but need council tax benefit to plug the gap during the transition. Labour who do not want a change say if there is no council tax in Scotland then there should be no council tax benefit in Scotland.

    The SNP can try and influence British policy through the British Parliament. Labour can do the same in the Scottish Parliament.

    But London behaving in an imperialist manner would break the devolution settlement. And would justify my suspicions that London could not be trusted.

    Concerning the raison d'etre of the SNP, it is generally thought that Salmond knows he will not get his referendum this Parliament. Would the SNP split if there was a referendum defeat - quite likely.

    The SNP inhouse rag the Scots Independent often calls the Labour Party "the Imperial Labour Party". Me thinks you might be the personification of that.

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  8. Your attempt to depict the two Parliaments as qualitatively equal beggars belief: one of them only exists by a (clearly and carefully restrictive) Act of the other.

    Had there been no such Act, then, referendum or no referendum, there would have been no Scottish Parliament. Which, as much as anything else, does away with the "where sovereignty resides in Scotland" red herring often introduced at this point.

    As, indeed, does "the devolution bargain", which was that the Scottish Parliament could legislate in any area not reserved to Westminster, provided that any Westminster legislation would prevail wherever the two conflicted. That's what the Scotland Act says, clear as day.

    Now, I suspect that Gordon Brown and the other Cabinet Ministers with Scottish seats have a few views on the policy matters in question as they affect their own constituents. Should they cause Westminster to give legislative effect to to those views, then this would involve nothing ourtside the terms of "the devolution bargain".

    ("Bargain" with whom, exactly? This is not some sort of treaty; it is just a domestic Act of Parliament like any other domestic Act of Parliament.)

    Again I say that the SNP will not survive to the next Holyrood Election. There will be no devolution referendum (not least because only Westminster can legislate for one, which it will never do), so the fundamentalist wing will either break away or stage a ruinous leadership contest with the same eventual effect.

    And what if there were such a referendum, and a Yes vote? No British Government would ever sign up to Scottish independence without at least a permanent 50/50 split in oil and gas revenue, if not a split per head of population. No Spanish or Belgian Prime Minister would ever permit the accession to the EU of a secession from an existing member-state.

    But most of all, unless you somehow obtained a clear majority Yes vote in each and every one of Scotland's municipalities, no Westminster Parliament would ever do other than follow the Irish precedent and legislate for the independence only of those municipalities where the majority of registered voters had voted Yes, with the rest remaining the Scottish part of the United Kingdom as already existing.

    In other words, the Union is the only way to preserve Scotland, as such, at all.

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  9. As I said in my previous post, legally London could legislate over the top of the Scottish Parliament but to do so would be provocative.

    You say that Gordon Brown etc might wish to impliment policies in Scotland in devolved areas. However the Scottish Parliament has given a mandate to govern to a different party than Labour to deal with devolved areas. To try and legislate over the top of Scottish Parliament would smack of quasi-colonialism by the back door. It would reck the devolutionary bargin/consensus and push more people into the nationalist tent.

    You seem to want to provoke a fight and possibly bring around a situation which would seriously threaten the Union that you so wish to protect. Such attitudes have the echoes of the behaviour of Edward Carson and Henry Wilson in Ireland. Carson went out to fight devolution and er ended up with an independent Parliament in most of Ireland and a devolved entity in Northern Ireland. Quite an achievment I might say!

    Wilson's actions were even worse. Both men helped bring about the culture of paramilitarism by their provocative behaviour.

    I am very aware that the Scottish Parliament was created by an Act of the UK Parliament. I am also aware that nearly every legislature of Britain's former colonial possessions were in the same boat at one time. The Great and General Court of Massachussets was the creation of the British (or maybe English) Parliament. However things have changed somewhat in Boston these days --- Beacon Hill is not at home for the roars of Westminster.

    Who gave West Virginia the right to leave Virginia (an entity created by the English Parliament)?

    Another example is the Athling of Iceland. Its modern entity was created by an act of the Danish Parliament. As was the Faeroese Longting. Copenhagen's writ no longer runs through Reykavik despite their legislature being a creation of the Folkleting.

    Concerning Scotland and referendums, we do not know how it will be conducted. Will it be by municipality? What will be the passmark? Do not know. There is no huge ghettos of unionism which operates to swim against the political tide in Scotland - i.e. is no part of the country which is up in arms over the authority of the Scottish Parliament over them at this present moment. Not even Shetland.

    Concerning the Irish example, Fermanagh and Tyrone had nationalist majorities at time of partition. The original partition was the whole province of Ulster but after doing their homework, the unionists discovered that the province was 48% Catholic and 52% Protestant. Deciding they did not like the odds, the opted for the four staunch counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh and Stoke County along with Fermanagh and Tyrone.

    Of course I might add the partition happened on the assumption that both parts (26 and 6 county) would be devolved entities in the UK as per the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.

    Concerning the oil and gas, what claim has the rump of the British state have on resources outside their jurisdiction. That is tantamount to the Turks saying they want a share in Albanian oil revenues because Albania used to be part of Turkey. Come to think of it, by your thinking 50% of Iraqi oil revenues should be going to Ankara. Iraqi waters were once Turkish waters after all less than a century ago.

    Concerning Belgium and Spain there has never been any comment from them on the Scottish situation. And anyway the UK exists due to a union between Scotland and England. No Scotland, no UK. Wales was incorporated into England in the 16th century and Ireland well---

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  10. The Aberdonian31 July 2007 at 17:07

    The previous post is mine by the way.

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  11. "However the Scottish Parliament has given a mandate to govern to a different party than Labour to deal with devolved areas."

    Which are precisely that - devolved. That is all.

    "To try and legislate over the top of Scottish Parliament would smack of quasi-colonialism by the back door."

    No, it would just be to give effect to the Scotland Act.

    " It would reck the devolutionary bargin/consensus and push more people into the nationalist tent."

    "Bargain" between who, exactly? And what "consenus"? There might be a "consensus" around Morningside dinner tables, but so what?

    And as many people as were ever going to vote Nationalist did so last time. They have been entirely disappointed, and the Nationalist vote can now only decline. Making even the existing level of autonomy look pointless by legislating over the top of it, though in accordance with popular opinion in Scotland, would only accelerate that process.

    "Concerning Scotland and referendums, we do not know how it will be conducted. Will it be by municipality?"

    Well, the votes will have to be collected somehow. And that is how the devolution votes were counted.

    "Concerning the Irish example, Fermanagh and Tyrone had nationalist majorities at time of partition."

    In other words, Westminster will insist on retaining even areas with slight Nationalist majorities for the sake of the Unionists living there. There is simply no doubt at all that there would be partition unless every single municipal area voted heavily for independence. And you know that that is not going to happen.

    Likewise, you know that the oil and gas, being currently a common resource, simply coould not just be signed away by the British Government; that would be a dereliction of its responsibilities.

    No British Government would ever accept anything less than 50/50 for ever. And what if it insisted on per capita for ever? What if it just refused to sign without that provision? Which, therefore, it would. As much as anything else, it could not possibly resist the domestic pressure to do so.

    As to Spain, Belgium, and Scotland's alleged indispensibility to the UK, you are just being silly for effect, and you know it.

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