Monday 5 January 2015

Why the nationalists have us on the run.

New years always take me a little by surprise.  I've looked back to see what I was predicting for 2014, and I seem to have been pretty much right.  I said that the key intractable issues of the year would be:

1. The rise of the intolerant, nationalist right across Europe.

2. Political stalemate over the status of Scotland.

3. The breakdown of the measurement and transparency system in UK public services. 

I'm not sure that I completely hit the nail with No 3. In fact, the measurement and transparency systems which govern public services still stagger on, as boneheadedly as ever - and that will be a theme, if only for me - in the year ahead.  We have still not grasped the damage it has been doing.

This is what I wrote under No 2:

"I know all the bets are on the Scots giving a whole-hearted thumbs down to independence, but I am not sure it will be overwhelming at all – and for the same reason for the revolt against the European Commission and the bureaucracy of the single market: voting yes to Scottish independence looks increasingly like a vote for imagination and open-minded courage, and against the miserable technocratic carping about how people’s narrow economic interests will be compromised."

Looking back at the peculiar period of the Scottish referendum, my strong sense is that the issue will not go away until the unionist side can c0me up with a vision for Scotland which is as optimistic and compelling, while still being inside the UK, as the independence side.

The way out in the Scotland debate, and a victory for the non-nationalists, will come in precisely the same way as a victory for the non-nationalists in the Europe debate.

The non-nationalists can win temporarily, by citing narrow economic interests - about being part of the UK or part of the EU - but that is all.  By doing so, they simply postpone a solution and leave open the possibility of exit.  In this, as in so much else, we await the emergence of a shared radical narrative for a future which is not simply about defending the compromises of the past.

Will it come in 2015?  My prediction is that it will be more apparent, but still has some way to go before it reaches the mainstream - maybe as much as a decade.  We therefore await the crisis of the early 2020s, which I believe will bring about the major change of direction that I've been predicting.

But still, this is the first blog of the year, so I have to make a few predictions about the 12 months ahead, and in particular the coming general election:

1.  The Lib Dems will hang on with 39 seats (yes, you heard it here first).
2.  UKIP will get no more than four seats.
3.  I have not the foggiest idea who will be prime minister at the end of it - or indeed whether we will have to vote all over again.

I'm only too aware that this isn't much of a prediction.  But the implications for the Scotland and Europe debates is that, in the absence of that compelling vision of independence inside the various unions, then the nationalists will still have us on the run this year.

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