Frank Field, former UK Minister of Welfare Reform, has issued this dire warning to Gordon Brown and the British Labour Party in today’s Sunday Times.
“Unless Gordon Brown wrongfoots [Alex Salmond] by addressing the English question, and by holding a UK-wide referendum before Salmond has the chance to build up a head of steam, the break-up of Britain and indeed of the Labour party looks certain.”
His solution is for Westminster to hold a referendum on the Union. Not only does he want Scottish independence and more powers for the Scottish parliament but he wants England to have a say on whether the Union is to be ended and an option for an English parliament.
Having said all this he admits at the end of the piece:-
“The complacent view on Labour benches is that this question will simply go away. Such a laid-back attitude is unlikely to be reflected by English voters, who recognise the reality that the devolution settlement was never properly thought through. This halfway house was never going to work.”
The idea that the devolution settlement was never properly thought through is an erroneous one.
It was thought through. It initially achieved its purpose. Perhaps without it the Union would be in greater risk.
Labour had been the largest party in Scotland for years. It intended that to continue. To stop the SNP’s charge, it even allowed the Liberal Democrat idea of Proportional Representation to be used in the new Scottish Parliament. It knew that in a four party state, the SNP would be unlikely to get 50% of the vote; and that the unionist parties could always join up to stop the SNP gaining power. It held back the main Treasury controls to Westminster.
Hence it was a confident George Robertson who declared as Shadow Scottish Secretary:- “Devolution would kill nationalism stone dead”.
That statement has proved to be one of the most inaccurate and foolish quotes by a politican anywhere.
Labour won in 1999 and the SNP became the official opposition.
And led to one of Alex Salmond’s quotes being one of the most perceptive and easily seen:- “Oppositions have a habit of becoming governments”.
In a democracy that is the nearest thing to a political truth.
It is also why George Robertson’s assertion must also be inherently false. Any opposition in a democracy will have the chance to govern. It is in the nature of Governments to eventually make mistakes or become tired. That will always give the opposition a chance to govern.
In 2007, the SNP became the new Government.
And similarly an opposition that demands independence, must therefore eventually succeed. Eventually that party, at some stage, will have enough of the popular vote to push through its policy.
It is also in the nature of Governments not to cede sovereignty once it is achieved. Thats why no-one has heard of an independent nation or parliament voting for its non-existence without threat or bribe. That would never be in its national interest.
(The Scottish Parliament did so in 1707 after it MPs were bribed by the English. That gave rise to the lines by Robert Burns:-
We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
The Treaty of Union joined the nations of Scotland and England (with Wales and Ireland), notionally a partnership, but one overwhelmingly run by England. Scottish sovereignty by right and tradition lies with its people, and although it has never been ceded, is usually ignored by Westminster as it holds England’s sovereignty. The UK’s (i.e England’s) national interest is paramount.
Sometimes though, our sovereignty is ascribed:-In the case of MacCormick v Lord Advocate 1954 (1953 SC 396), Lord Cooper stated that “The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.”
Even arch-unionists like Michael Forsyth, then the Secretary of State for Scotland, ascribe to this view:-“we are sovereign within the Union and we can walk out any time we want”.)
Although I fully expect Westminster to throw all its might and dirty tricks to prevent Scottish independence – Gordon Brown has chillingly warned “I will do whatever is necessary to ensure the stability and maintenance of the Union” – once Scotland becomes independent I don’t expect bribery again.
The idea that Scotland once independent would willingly want to rejoin the UK must then be extremely unlikely to the point of being fanciful.
And that political truth shows another.
Independence must be in the best interests of Scotland.