Something not about Alex, Nicola, or even James Hamilton

Illustration: Matt Kenyon
 Illustration: Matt Kenyon/The Guardian

From Alasdair Galloway

Mike Small in a piece today (“On Harry Cole, Doomsday and the new Hyper-Unionism” – https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2021/03/23/on-harry-cole-doomsday-and-the-new-hyper-unionism/), quotes John Harris as saying “ “Shall we at last face the facts? Even if the institutions of the United Kingdom creak on unchanged or are somehow saved by a new federalism, as a meaningful political entity the UK is all but over. Independence is partly a state of mind, and for very different reasons, a large number of people in Scotland, Wales and England have got there already.” (“English politicians are waving the union jack, but its meaning is tattered and torn” – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/21/british-politicians-union-jack-flag.

Fwiw I have long had this notion – and I would put it not one wee bit stronger than that – this is no great analytical insight. – just a feeling – that when Scotland becomes independent, no referendum will be involved. In particular, I have been drawn to the Czechoslovak “velvet divorce” of the early 1900s. The reason for this was that ever since the Czechoslovak state had been set up, the Slovaks wanted a decentralised state, while the Czechs were quite happy with the country being run from Prague. As time went on the two communities progressively drifted apart. Slovaks were the minority community (about 1/3) but the Czechs felt that at that proportion they had too much power, though the Czech economy was about 20% bigger per capita than the Slovak. Czechs sought tighter integration of the two parts while the Slovaks sought more local independence. Sound familiar? Pressures from the larger community for greater centralisation of a system decentralised in some respects.

This became critical when in 1992 the Czechs elected Vaclav Klaus who advocated a tighter union of the two communities, while the Slovak’s political leader Miroslav Meciar wanted a confederal state. The Slovak Parliament declared Slovakia to be independent, and a few days later Klaus and Meciar agreed the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. There was no referendum – just the declaration of two politicians that the game was up for Czechoslovakia, even though only 36% of Czechs and 37% of Slovaks supported this in a contemporary opinion poll.

Why would this tell us anything about Scotland’s independence? For instance, while the Czechs were the largest group and dominated the country, they did so to a much lesser degree than England does the UK – 85% England; 8% Scotland. Nor did they have to deal with the Supreme Court and arcane notions of sovereignty, such that the Slovaks never had to go to the Czechs and ask if it was ok for them to become independent.

The relevance of this is that if Harris is correct and “as a meaningful political entity the UK is all but over”, there must be some process for this to happen.

Let’s take Wales, whose current First Minister, Mark Drakeford, was quoted earlier this month as saying “The United Kingdom “is over” and a new union should be crafted to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”, (https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2021-03-05/the-united-kingdom-is-over-drakeford-says). Even more importantly he underlines this with “the break-up of the UK was possible if politicians only offered a “tweaking of the status quo” and yet, the direction of travel of post Brexit UK seems to be precisely the opposite.

The vision of the Westminster government, based on the philosophy and practice of the UK Internal Market Act is toward closer integration, side-stepping the possibility of potential difficulties with the device of “mutual recognition”, which threatens any part of the UK that imposes higher standards (eg of food production) with the lower standards of elsewhere having to be recognised and allowed to apply.

Harry Cole, Political Editor of the Sun (“ONE YEAR ON Boris Johnson was ‘naive’ to give Nicola Sturgeon pandemic powers, Cabinet colleagues claim” claims that some members of his Cabinet “wanted Mr Johnson to rely on the doomsday 2004 Civil Contingencies Act which gave Whitehall supreme authority for a “catastrophic emergency” rather than the four nations each going their own way. As Mike Small writes “There’s an ominous addendum: A Cabinet Minister said: “I have no doubt that it will be done differently next time. The PM knows that.”

In short, Johnson and his government are aiming to take the UK in precisely the opposite direction from what Drakeford wants. A confederation would be relatively loose – Huw Edwards might get to use his flag – but what Johnson et al want is a tightly integrated UK. But it is also important to remember Drakeford’s wider political opinions. This is the man who just last year said “Welsh nationalism is an “inherently right-wing creed” and that people must choose between it and socialism.” (https://nation.cymru/news/nationalism-inherently-right-wing-and-incompatible-with-socialism-first-minister-says/) and that “devolution is the best of both worlds. It allows us to remain part of the United Kingdom and draw on the strength of being part of that collective whole. But it puts decisions about what happens in Wales in the hands of people who live in Wales.” In short, Drakeford is no Nationalist, but if the sort of car crash that apparently looms comes about, he might have to make his mind up. Does he want Wales to be part of a new, more highly integrated UK – at least undermining devolution – or, if confederation is not available, will he support independence? Is this not rather like the contradiction that Klaus and Meciar walked into in 1992.

Then there is Ireland. Many feel the North rejoining the rest of Ireland is simply a matter of time, even if only on demographic grounds – a higher proportion of Roman Catholics among the younger population – the 2011 census was a “demographic watershed”, as for the first time, the proportion of the population declaring themselves as Protestant or brought up Protestant fell below 50 per cent. However, that does not take account the utter shambles of the Brexit agreement which places Northern Ireland in the strange situation of following EU Single Market rules (so that customs checks on the border are not necessary as to do so would contravene the Good Friday Agreement ) but still remains part of the United Kingdom. This part of the Brexit Agreement seems likely to see the EU Commission take the Westminster Government to Court over their unilateral increase to the “grace period” for not following new regulations to be extended.

What about England itself? Recently, Labour supporter Rachel Swindon tweeted, “If Bristol was worth a few headlines Liverpool will get its own 16 page souvenir pull-out.” Of course, if folk in Liverpool were to take the same course of action as people in Bristol, she might well be right, and just how Johnson would react if his government came under much the same sort of pressure in many more places than just Bristol (or even just Liverpool). Some of us are old enough to remember the riots in 1981 that took place mainly in Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth, Chapeltown and Moss Side, though there were other outbreaks in Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn, Preston, Birkenhead, Ellesmere Port, Chester, Stoke, Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, High Wycombe, Southampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Knaresborough, Leeds, Hull, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Stockport, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Luton, Maidstone, Aldershot and Portsmouth. The causes were held to be racial tension, economic circumstances and police powers and how they were being exercised. Sound familiar? I think it’s fair to say that these issues were not finally settled forty years ago. Could we be set for a replay?

In 1981, Thatcher responded by addressing issues of youth unemployment with such as YTS, Police procedure was amended, the Scarman Commission argued “it was essential that “people are encouraged to secure a stake in, feel a pride in, and have a sense of responsibility for their own area”. He called for a policy of “direct coordinated attack on racial disadvantage”, and things did settle down after this. However, Thatcher’s authority was dented and only restored by the Falklands War

If the same thing happened to Bo Jo, would he be able to respond, or is his government actually so full of dolts that they wouldn’t know what to do? Ally this to Brexit, the stress of the lockdown and the virus and is the British state starting to wobble really a stupid question?

And there is us, Scotland. Current SNP leadership intends, assuming it wins the election in May, to approach Boris Johnson to seek another s30 Order so that another referendum can be held by agreement with Westminster. I have considerable sympathy with this view, particularly the latter part – “agreement with Westminster”, for without that independence is going to be awful lonely and difficult, even if it is possible. However, at the same time, it is widely held that Johnson will say No. Fine, say the Scottish Government, we will go to Court to determine that Scotland is able to organize its own lawful referendum, even if this means going to the Supreme Court to establish this. So let’s suppose this is what happens and that the Supreme Court says it is within the powers of Holyrood to hold its own referendum. Want to bet Westminster just changes (they will say “clarify”) the law, which is what they did with the Brexit Continuity Bill when it became clear they would lose at the Supreme Court. In other words, that route seems barren and unproductive. It will generate much heat, for I am not sure Johnson appreciates just how badly saying “no” could play in Scotland. Remember how well George Osborne’s “you wont get to use the pound” went down in February 2014! But where do we go?

I don’t think there is any agreed answer to this, though there are many suggested, but they all have one thing in common – uncertainty.

But let’s consider a situation where Northern Ireland wants to integrate with the rest of Ireland, Wales wants a new Union based on confederacy which has little support in the ruling Westminster elite and Scotland is, well, just being Scotland, and at the same time, England is starting to explode. Can the UK as a political entity survive so many significant challenges coming at it from all sides? Call it what you want – collapse of a dysfunctional UK state, divorce, or whatever. It does though seem to me that a referendum is not necessarily going to be the only way forward.

17 thoughts on “Something not about Alex, Nicola, or even James Hamilton

  1. I have written to the Herald extolling the virtues of a Velvet Divorce in minimising bad feeling and easing the transition to independence. It is the equivalent of peeing into the sea–they don’t want to know.
    This corrupt, crony-rewarding, graft ridden government is putting Commissioners into running the city of Liverpool—because of corruption–you couldn’t make it up.
    I read somewhere there will be a directive that the Union flag is to be flown from government buildings (England, Scotland and Wales–N Ireland is exempt) every day of the year, not just the Queens birthday.
    This parochial, forelock-tugging, nuke-hugging and basement to flags and symbols, is the what the Tories think will save the lop-sided Union from the centrifugal forces of sturdy, confident self-rule
    They just don’t realise that the more they strut their right-wing Empire2 fantasies (to the beat of military marching bands), the more antipathy they generate among normal, sensible people.
    When the pandemic is contained and economic ruin faces many families, things will get grim–the reason for new policing Bills in England.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. O/T The BBC News website today tells us that: “Government buildings to fly Union flag every day”.

    The article has this: ‘Announcing the new guidance, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The Union flag unites us as A NATION and people rightly expect it to be flown above UK government buildings – this guidance will ensure that happens every day”.’ (My emphasis) So the UK is just one nation?

    However the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s press release on the matter has more of note.

    Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/union-flag-to-be-flown-on-uk-government-buildings-every-day

    Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP is quoted stating this about the Union flag: “Our nation’s flag is a symbol of liberty, unity and freedom that creates a shared sense of civic pride. People rightly expect to see the Union Flag flying high on civic and Government buildings up and down the country, as A SIGN OF OUR LOCAL AND NATIONAL IDENTITY.”

    But then we have this from the same press statement: “Where organisations have two flag poles, they can fly the Union flag alongside another flag. This will allow organisations to highlight their local identity alongside their national identities, for example by flying a Middlesex county flag alongside the Union flag in London, or the Saltire alongside the Union flag in Scotland.”

    Is the Saltire highlighting our ‘local identity’ just like the good folk of Middlesex flying their county flag?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I posted this over on WGD, but think it’s applicable here too.

      Thoughts on looking at the press release:

      1) Pirates of the Caribbean – “We look on them as… guidelines…”

      2) It doesn’t actually mention the size of the flags. So, if forced to fly 2 flags, the UF could be a tiny little one and the Saltire a regular size.
      2a) Another quick thought – we could fly it upside down. The FU? 😀

      3) The SCOTTISH NHS needs a new flag – urgently. (Subliminal linking of UF and NHS?!) It could be awarded in appreciation of services during the pandemic. How fortunate it’s blue and white already – the addition of a St Andrew’s cross would be very tasteful don’t you think?

      4) If it’s ever made compulsory to fly the thing (or possibly even if not) I feel a parade, stopping in front of such public buildings and showing due respect by raising one’s straightened right arm to 45 degrees and shouting “Sieg Heil” would be appropriate.

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      1. IUSEDTOBEENGLISH
        Fret not we Scots are inventive and creative
        And should the Union Jackery get so blatant and out of hand
        Then just as the Traffic Cone Upon Wellingtons head in Glasgow
        Someone will pull of a spectacular stunt that not only goes viral but become a permanent
        Symbol of what the facts on the ground really are
        One picture can paint millions of words

        Like

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Alasdair Galloway’s piece and it’s conclusions especially the paragraph about ‘clarifying’ the law should defeat in the Supreme Court be likely. However Alasdair neglects to consider how such an action will be viewed internationally and the pressure that could be brought to bear if international trade deals were put on hold as a result. Much is talked about of the Scottish diaspora and motivating them would cause untold difficulties for wasteminster should they consider such a repressive measure.

    So IMHO as well as independence coming from the implosion of the UK due to the various pressures recounted above, there is also the possibility that international pressure may speed up or overtake these.

    Bojo is toxic in Scotland but he certainly isn’t ‘flavour of the month’ in Europe and the US. Legislating while the Supreme Court is considering a petition from the SG could well mean that he upsets Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the Commonwealth as well!

    Roll on Global Britain, IMHO it is more likely to split us than unite us.

    Like

  4. The riots have started in the south. Social unrest and disorder. The Tories causes discontent and inequality. The Brexit mess unfolding. The criticism increasing. The pandemic mishandled. More people dying. The Tories losing support. The best way to bring change is to vote for it. SNP/SNP. The opportunity will come for Independence.

    Like

    1. Gordon
      When and not if serious disorder kicks off all over England
      Then due to years of cut backs the Police and
      Armed forces will NOT be able to contain nor
      Subdue the unrest
      Therefore Westminster has no alternative but to declare Martial Law along with a Shoot to Kill policy fully implemented
      Special units of the Armed forces have already been fully trained to do so and on standby
      Given Bristol recently no doubt they on a heightened order of increase alert and standby
      The British state has much form in ruthlessly
      Crushing dissent in its early days
      But this time they might just find themselves
      In a most precarious and dangerous of times
      As security forces stretched beyond their capabilities
      Matters may be considered as a pile of dry tinder that merely awaits the right spark landing in the piles midst
      I assure you 100% The Government can shut down Social Media and the Internet from GCHQ within a few minutes
      And these people right now scouring over all the data from Bristol all in order to see and identify any form of organised dissent originating from Social Media ( Hong Kong showed the way )
      And if so then all security sources secretly placed on higher alert status
      Along with double checking their armouries
      Unlike PPE at the start of the pamdemic
      Their will be NO shortages

      Like

  5. The concept of Britain as a voluntary political union is very much dead, IMHO, though it was never that alive in the minds of English Tories. Who, to a large extent, view Britain as greater England, and British nationalism as the articulation of Tory ethos and tradition. Which is regressive and authoritarian in nature. Forget federalism, as that would require England to change their legal culture, which considers Parliamentary sovereignty as the source of legal authority. It would also relegate the monarchy to a vestigial role, and the English are quite keen on the monarch as head of state.

    A velvet divorce would be lovely, but the Tories simply didn’t learn from the riots of the ’80s. So I think it will be up to Scots to express our political demands more forcefully. Though by legal means, not by taking up arms. So that suggests turning Scottish elections into plebiscites to empower our constitutional individuality and rights. Which English Torydum is determined to deny.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Riots in England? That’s a foreign country problem. Nothing to do with Scotland. Would riots in Scotland be of concern to the average voter in England? Not in the slightest, short of those who keep a second property up North.

    When Scots start ignoring issues South of the border and focussing on their own issues, they’ll start taking control and responsibility for their own futures. It’s not a tangible thing, as such, but an attitude (some might say inward-looking; I say we take care of our own house first).

    The more Scots do this, the more they’ll realise that Westminster is nothing more than an interference. A tax levy. A democratic deficit. An international embarrassment. A relic of an empire, long gone.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m pretty certain the Scottish government didn’t say they would ask for a section 30 agreement and if refused would take the UK gov to court. What they did say was that if a section 30 was refused they would hold a referendum under legislation through the Scottish Parliament and that it was for the UK gov to challenge it’s validity in the courts, that would be the Scottish courts. Whether it ends up in the the UK Supreme court or the ICJ is another matter entirely. The UK government challenge will be, whatever the submission says, entirely focused on where sovereignty ultimately lies. The UK Convention of Parliamentary sovereignty or Scots Constitutional law which doesn’t recognise, as Lord Cooper rightly opined, the purely English principal of Parliamentary sovereignty. Interesting days ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We should not discount currents emerging in England, which might, indeed, lead to social unrest. This could lead to a break-up of the UK without referenda.

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    1. I agree that there are grounds for thinking that the union will end without the need for a referendum, whether it’s due to civil unrest in England or because westminster couldn’t live with the thought of being booted out Scotland and end the union from themselves,, I don’t know, but it’s crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

      Like

      1. Golfnut
        England will NEVER boot us out
        Why
        Because they and in Business terms the administrators ( Liquidators ) in the form of the IMF would have to be called in
        Why 2 yrs ago the IMF produced a balance sheet on the UK and found that liabilities were in over 5 Trillion in excess of assets
        Along with the following caveats
        When and not if the next fiscal shock hits
        Then in order to survive the severest of Austerity would be required for at least 20 yrs and would have to include the dismantling
        Of the entire welfare state inclusive of the NHS and state pensions
        Having produced this balance sheet it begs the question why such a large deficit
        And upon investigation that in main it is mostly due to the sell off by far most of the state assets
        Which upon analyse was found to be way in excess of all other nations,which in turn has lead to the burdgeioning debt and extremely poor productivity
        Further more when G.Soros learned of all this
        His advice was as follows
        I never ever play politics but i can see no way that Scotland will not break away and when the rest of the remaining UK is deprived of Scottish assets it will be immediately bankrupt
        So my advice is quite simple Divest your self of any holdings in UK now but slowly and surely
        The higher echelons of the elite and powerful are fully aware of all this
        Why do you think they are so bloody desperate to stop Indy
        And all this is based on pre covid and Brexit
        The UK shall very soon be a complete basket case

        Like

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