Saturday, 21 November 2009

Four Into One Will Go

Most of the Welsh never wanted devolution. And it is quite clear that no proposal for anything further will come before the Commons while there is breath in the bodies of almost any Labour (or, almost certainly, Lib Dem) MP from Wales. Never mind the 12 to 14 Tories whom the Principality is expected to return next year. Nor would it ever pass the Lords, who would rightly feel perfectly entitled to refuse it Second Reading.

The combined No voters and abstainers outnumbered the Yes voters in Scotland, too. So much for "the settled will", a theory in any case incompatible with the Scottish theory of popular sovereignty: a sovereign will can never be settled. Scottish Labour MPs desperately didn't want devolution, and would scrap it tomorrow if they could, no one more so than the current Prime Minister.

As in Wales, the local communitarian populists of the Lib Dems knew that it would balefully neglect their own rural strongholds, but were trapped by the "federalist" sentimentality of those of their co-partisans who maintain debating clubs in the Home Counties rather than properly functioning political machines; at least one Scottish Lib Dem MP will not suffer the words "West Lothian Question" in his hearing.

The SNP has given up on the constitutional question and become just another pressure group for ever-higher central government spending in Scotland. And even the Tories, by far the most enthusiastic, might come back if Cameron, needing both them and the SNP in a hung Parliament or other tight spot, quietly forgot about "English votes on English laws". They might then stand some chance of winning back those Orange votes that put the BNP almost level with them in Glasgow North East.

Speaking of Orange votes, today we learn that the Stormont body on which all the Northern Ireland parties now depend in order to justify their continued existence, but which is not at all hat anyone in the electorate at large really wants, really may not have much longer to last.

There will probably always now be devolved bodies at Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont. But in ten years' time, they will do almost nothing, indeed they will barely sit. Next to no one will vote for them, and seats will be even harder to fill than, based on many of the people who have turned up in those seats, is manifestly already the case. Westminster will routinely avail itself of its right to legislate in every policy area for every part of the Kingdom. Everyone in practice, not to say most people in principle, will be perfectly happy with that state of affairs.

The only complaint, not without cause, will be about the cost of the life support for essentially defunct institutions. And those complaints will come loudest from within the Labour and Liberal traditions (themselves organisationally re-shaped, as throughout the country) in Scotland and Wales.

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