From Alasdair Galloway:
There is a particularly interesting blog post by Calton Jock this morning, discussing the “velvet divorce” in what used to be Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia:
Comparing this to the situation in the UK just now, he concludes “If Czechs and Slovaks were able to separate in six months, surely Westminster and Holyrood can find a way to extract one the other in a similar time period?” The answer to that is “yes, well I suppose they could”. The problem is would they? For one thing the Westminster government is desperately trying to shoe horn the devolved UK of the noughties back into the sort of centralised UK that there was before. It therefore seems to me that the problem with Jock’s thesis is that “it needs two to tango”, “you always need a willing buyer and seller” and so on. Even if Scotland enthusiastically endorsed this approach, it would need the rest of the UK to do the same. This seems unlikely ?
However, I too have been intrigued by the velvet divorce over the last few years. While it seems unlikely that there would be the level of agreement and cooperation that there was in Czechoslovakia (and the absence of a sovereign Parliament under the control of either side is perhaps one reason), perhaps in the absence of this another process could perform a similar function (though perhaps more a “sandpaper divorce”?)
That process would be the collapse of the UK. The Johnson Gang like to portray the UK as big and strong (and tough) but is it? Or how big … etc? Let’s look at the constituent parts.
Northern Ireland is deeply unstable thanks to the agreement with the EU extracted from Westminster as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. International opinion (and especially in the US) is that Johnson messes with this at his peril. Yet at the same time the Unionist side protests about the “border in the Irish Sea”. At the same time, demographically at least, there never has been a better time to hold a border poll and secure a single country on the island of Ireland. What would the political impact of that be on British politics? Yet, it’s all there in an agreement which in effect is sacrosanct.
In Scotland the possibility of independence has been the defining issue for the last ten years, and the most recent poll suggests a return to a majority in favour of independence. Moreover, the data shows a clear majority in favour of independence in an age group less than 55. The effects of Brexit – sorer on Scotland than almost anywhere else in the UK – are just beginning to come into focus. The antics of Johnson and his chums become more ridiculous by the day, though they will have to go some to beat the bridge over the Irish Sea. We might not have international law on our side in the same way as the Irish, but opinion for independence is probably clearer.
Then there is Wales, which historically has perhaps been the UK nation with less desire to leave Mama England behind. But even here things are changing. Not only has the Labour led government there entered into an agreement with Plaid Cymru, but in the last year the Labour FM Mark Drakeford has made clear that he considers the current Union (which London is trying to reassemble) dysfunctional, and that it needs to be replaced by a more Confederal UK. That might not be quite the disjunction of Scottish independence, but it is heading in that direction. When Johnson says “No”, what does Drakeford do? Does he tug his forelock and say “very well PM”, or does he do business with his new Plaid comrades? Rather like the velvet divorce Drakeford needs the Westminster side to be a willing participant. What if, as seems likely, they aren’t?
In short the three other parts of the Union are gey shoogly, and if one went would the political disruption be the opportunity for the other nations to leave the Union? If, say, a border poll (guaranteed in international law) in Ireland resulted in the reunification of Ireland, could the UK survive? Perhaps the analogy then is the collapse of the USSR, when the failed coup against Gorbachev resulted in many of the constituent republics taking the chance to get out.
Of course much of this is conjecture against only a background of political reality. However, what it does point to is that the process of independence may follow a course more like chaos theory rather than rational political analysis.