Thursday 5 February 2015

Is Scotland going the way of Ireland?

English votes for English laws. I can’t help feeling that it is somehow an excuse for Westminster not to debate devolution of powers to cities. It panders to Westminster's obsession with itself.  It expands to fill the BBC’s political brain, and therefore ours. But will it change anything very much – apart from making English laws subject to even fewer MPs than consider them now?

Listening to William Hague putting forward his proposals has been a particularly miserable business, irritatingly English for all the wrong reasons. It is like so much else of what passes for a UK constitution, the sum total of a couple of centuries of short-term fudges.

Because, in the end, these fudges will unravel. The news today, thanks to the Ashcroft polls, that the Scottish Nationalists are likely to win most of the seats in Scotland, reminds me suddenly of the 1880s and afterwards, when Irish Nationalists came to dominate in southern Ireland and to play a critical part in the politics of Westminster.

I happen to live now in the small Sussex town where Charles Stewart Parnell, sometime leader if the Irish Nationalists at Westminster, married his mistress, Kitty O’Shea.

Parnell was known as the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’. It may be that we are entering a similar period now, this time with the SNP and Salmond as Scotland’s claimant to the position of Uncrowned King. In which case, we need to learn from history.

The trouble with nationalism of all kinds, and it is always intolerant, is that it arises as a result of basic injustice.

The rise of the Irish Nationalists was related partly at least to the disaster of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, and the sense that Westminster did not in fact have the interests of Ireland close their hearts.

I  have a feeling that a similar sense began to pervade Scotland during the Thatcher years, when bizarre social experiments were tested first on Scotland. Both the ways the Victorians treated Ireland and the way the Thatcher government treated Scotland smacked of empire. These mistakes take decades to filter though and the current rise of nationalism seems to be to follow on from there.

There are differences, of course. The Fenian terrorists were already active in Ireland in the 1880s, and there is no similar force in Scotland. Scotland does have home rule, which the Irish were never offered until it was too late. And you can hardly compare the disdain of successive London governments with the appalling neglect of the famine.

And then there is the offer to Scotland. No comparison here with the pathetic settlement offered to Manchester and Sheffield, another raft of glorified grants and special systems of centralised control.

If Manchester had shown signs of seceding from the UK in a referendum, perhaps they might have been offered that measure of economic independence they really need.

Also, the disdain of Westminster for Scotland no longer really stands up to scrutiny. The Scots have their own parliament and their own destiny, which may now be inevitable. The disdain of Whitehall for the UK cities is also now being broken down, but ever so slowly.

The cities will eventually grasp the power to innovate they need – and to regenerate their own economies (see my book People Powered Prosperity, and ebook now available). They may not manage it, even in the next parliament, but they will eventually.

As for Scotland. historic inevitability, given the parallels with the 1880s, suggest they will eventually go the same way as Ireland. Whether they do or not comes down to whether anyone can make a sufficiently inspiring case for the development of Scotland inside the union as they can outside.

Can they have a parallel currency inside? Can they develop their cities on a more European model? So far, this task has not even begun.


ian said...

Devolution to a few selected cities is as much a fudge as the current proposals. We need "Home Rule All Round" as was being discussed just before WW1. See for example Churchill's speech to his constituency reported in "Local Parliaments For England." Times 13 Sept. 1912.

That isn't incompatible with the big cities having greater powers, but without it then Westminster will always be able to play one against another through dubious 'challenges.'

Joe from Reading said...

I have long been campaigning for Berkshire to secede from the Union and to become the next Canton of Switzerland. Would you prepared to join the fight or will Sussex remain loyal?