Things to come

It was all so predictable. That’s what makes it all doubly frustrating. So much of what is happening could be foreseen and forestalled. Indeed, it was foreseen. If not in detail then certainly in general terms and with predictions necessarily being updated as events unfold. I was warning about the rolling back of devolution as far back as 2012, perhaps earlier. I expected that the British government would begin stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament if there was a No vote in 2014. I warned that it was one of the consequences that No voters would have on their conscience, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one issuing such warnings. But it would not be proper for me to associate others with what I have to say.

The Scottish Parliament’s fate was decided in 2007 when the SNP formed the first Scottish Government since the Union was imposed. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. Devolution was only permitted on the strict understanding that it could never imperil the Union. The electoral system was designed to ensure that no one party could ever achieve a majority. This was intended to ensure that the British parties would retain control in perpetuity by forming coalition governments. Unionists strenuously deny that the system was designed to keep the SNP out insisting, rather, that it was designed to promote a more collegial, consensus-building Parliament. But it’s the same thing. Purposeful or not – and you can make up your own minds about that – the effect was to obviate any threat to the Union by ensuring that the British parties in Scotland were kept firmly in control.

Any plans to weaken the Scottish Parliament after the British parties lost control in 2007 were blown out of the water by the electorate. In 2007, voters had put a big dent in the system. In 2015, they smashed it to pieces by giving the SNP an overall majority. Plans to put the brakes on devolution, or put it into reverse, were derailed. As were the predictions made during the referendum campaign. But if reining in Holyrood had become more problematic, it had also become more imperative. The thing the British establishment feared most; the thing they’d been assured would not follow from devolution, was happening. The SNP was in power. What was worse, they were doing a good job. The administration was competent. That wasn’t supposed to happen either. Worst of all, Scotland under the SNP was visibly diverging from the rest of the UK (rUK) in myriad ways. If that continued, the Union would surely become untenable.

It is not my purpose here to essay a potted history of the period. Suffice it to say that where the British establishment thought it was getting a Scottish Parliament that was unadventurous and a Scottish Executive that was meekly compliant, instead they got a Parliament that threatened to compete with Westminster in terms of authority and a Scottish Government that put Scotland’s interests first. The scene was set for confrontation.

But that confrontation never really came about. There were skirmishes between the two governments. The media made a big fuss about the Scottish Government always “picking fights with Westminster”. But there was no major confrontation. The British political elite still wanted desperately to undermine and weaken Scotland’s democratic institutions. They wanted this more than ever. Hobbling Holyrood had become a political imperative. The Union was meant to do that. But the devolution ‘experiment’ had put the Union in jeopardy.

The British government tried a new tactic. Rather than try to directly trim the powers of the Scottish Parliament, they decided to weaponise devolution and turn it against the Scottish Government. Changes to the devolution settlement, principally in the area of finance, were set up as a mesh of political and fiscal traps. The idea was to discredit the SNP by subtly forcing the administration to make unpopular political decisions and to cause budgeting problems that would be portrayed as ‘SNP incompetence’.

This plan backfired. Largely due to the skill of then Finance Secretary, John Swinney, the Scottish Government managed to avoid most of the traps. They even found money for impressive new projects and to mitigate socially or economically damaging Westminster policies in reserved areas. And they were doing it deliberately!

The situation was desperate. Scotland had always been a separate country, but now it was becoming very much a different country in ways that were obvious even to the politically disengaged. Something had to give.

Then came 2016 and the EU referendum and the beginning of the protracted tragi-comedy that is Brexit. The British establishment saw its opportunity, and seized it. Once again, the consequences of a Leave vote were foreseen. Obviously, nobody anticipated the monumental incompetence of the British government. Nobody predicted they would make quite such a disastrous mess of the whole thing. But certain implications of the UK’s departure from the EU were accurately foretold. Some are about to be proved painfully accurate.

It was entirely predictable that there would be long and loud squabbles about the economic entailments of Brexit. Politicians invariably take debate on to this battleground for the simple reason that they can get economists to say whatever they want. Maybe it would be fairer to say that they can always find an economist who is saying what they want. Economic arguments have the further benefit that they are rarely, if ever, conclusive. No politician wants to find themselves on the wrong side of a concluded argument. So long as they’re arguing, they’re not losing. Not losing is better than winning. If there’s a winner, there must be a loser. And one of these times it might be you. By keeping debate in the realm of economics that risk is minimised.

I probably should leave it there. But I can’t resist pointing out another benefit to established power of making it all about money. Not only does it allow politicians to pick and choose from among a plethora of statistics and charts and tables and graphs in order to construct an economic argument for any purpose, this deluge of data baffles the electors and induces them to switch off and leave it to the experts. Contrary to the received wisdom, I postulate that no voter was ever swayed by an economic argument. Just as politicians can select the economic ‘facts’ that work for them, so voters can pick the economic argument which gives a sheen of rationality to choices that are anything but rational.

But I digress. While dispute raged over the economic consequences of Brexit, little attention was paid to the constitutional implications. During the campaign for the EU referendum I warned that, whatever else it might entail, Brexit would provide the British state with an opportunity to unilaterally redefine constitutional arrangements within the Union. That is what is happening now and it’s what will happen more in the very near future.

The groundwork has been done. The ‘power grab’ of the EU Withdrawal Bill is just the start of it. The endpoint for the British establishment is Scotland locked into UK redefined as a unitary state, indivisible and indissoluble. All significant powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and absorbed into ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ administered by the ominously named ‘UK Government in Scotland’. A final solution to the Scottish problem. Greater England realised at last!

You can take that as another prediction.

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21 thoughts on “Things to come

  1. SNP had 3 years to line up their ducks – get everyone on the same page, and set out the terms of the fight.

    Instead, they were AWOL, never willing to take the hard calls for confrontation (The 2017 GE fall is both symbolic and prophetic). Scotland is now at the mercy of Westminster who are not going to let the status quo remain.

    Westminster has given full warning of what is approaching and YES have been meek in their response – thinking it will never come to pass. So many leading lights saying Wait, Wait, Hold…don’t antagonise the unionists.

    I fear Scotland will just become a advertising cliche on a shortbread tin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s not that YES have done nothing, but the SNP leadership.
      I wouldn’t confuse the two.
      Folks for YES, are not best pleased at this inaction of SNP, these days!


  2. Boris and the English Government of the UK promised to bypass the Scottish Government and make grants directly to Councils. I wonder if that’s the point of delaying their budget until the 11th of March. Could it be that they’re keeping the Scottish Government from making a budget in order to make direct grants to Councils on that date?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Dear Peter,
    I was never a supporter of Scottish Independence until now.
    I ask you to question your premise; Why does Scotland seek independence.
    Looking around at the problems we face, I would say they are not local, but global.
    We require global government to confront them. This is not a reason for any union to fragment, but that Westminster is lurching away from international cooperation.
    An independent Scotland acting as a cooperative partner alongside the best of the world, would be an attractive proposition to many English escaping from an independent England acting as a gung-ho opportunist and looking out for its own wants.
    But is this what you’re looking for?
    If it is, I’m right with you, for what it’s worth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see no prospect of “global government”. And I am glad of that. It would be the ultimate imperialism. What I hope for is more and better cooperation and coordination among nations. The European Union – for all its undoubted faults – is a model for post-imperialist association among nations. I am convinced that this model is the key to achieving the kind of global effectiveness that is required.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I never liked the E.U. until it was under threat, and I hated Globalisation when I first saw it.
        But I don’t know how any country can raise taxes, or influence behaviours of others without either global governance or very close cooperation. The one word may be uglier than than the other but I see very little difference in effect, and very little chance of either being achieved with the current direction of travel.
        Nonetheless all power to you and your cause sir!


  4. this deluge of data baffles the electors

    Never was a truer word written. The BBC in particular invested in this strategy with great enthusiasm. When people in vox-pops kept saying “we don’t have enough information”, even though they were drowning in the stuff, what they were really apppealing for was a reliable source of reassurance whom they could trust.

    I disagree with your conclusion only to the extent that it did have an effect. Economic data overload was an effective tactic for amplifying existing irrational fears among many as to the viability of an independent Scotland. Fears which still exist. Fears which cannot be conquered by indulging in an even greater avalanche of conflicting opinion from practitioners of the dismal science, as the BBC for example is just ready and waiting to do.

    Instead what we need is a very simple argument: why, with its abundance of natural resources and the world-proven capability of its people, could anyone seriously propose or entertain the notion that we could possibly fail to run our own affairs? An easily-digested comparison with every similar-sized European country would be all the guide anyone could need. No specious economic navel-gazing required, especially from those with a desperate need to create informational white noise. We could very easily be like Denmark but with more resources, as someone once put it. We might have to endure a handful of years of some uncertainty to find our feet, and we should be honest about that, but on any longer timescale we would surely all be far better off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve done the case for independence. The case against the Union has never been adequately put to the people of Scotland. We are on the verge of paying dearly for that omission.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, I tend to agree with you on that too. A “Wee Black Book” instead of, or as well as, another wee blue one would be a very useful adjunct to a campaign, when people are actually paying attention.

        Many people aren’t aware that what follows the very fine words which commence the American Declaration of Independence is a veritable litany of complaint against the colonial mismanagement and bad faith of the British Government. Plus ça change, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, and I should add that I completely agree with your prediction of the imminent danger of a rampant English nationalist UK regime unleashed from any formal constraint of EU membership and determined to rein-in Scottish autonomy before it gets any stronger. Some seem to expect a pro-indy backlash as a consequence, but this strikes me as being far too complacent. At the very least it also requires a much more active (and proactive) approach than heretofore from the Scottish Government and its parliamentary representatives.

    I’m still quietly confident, though, that this will be forthcoming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the ultimate endgame would be to reduce Scotland to a Welsh assembly. Not event the current one. The one that was established in 1999, and had all the powers of a parish council. It’s happening right now. In fact the real proof was given when they overturned the Continuity bill 2 years ago.

    The SNP didn’t take any action following that outrage. Instead they just had Blackford grandstanding in WM, over and over again. Words and more words , but never any action. They refer to Blackford as the Scottish Windbag in WM. Because he is all mouth an nae troosers. Sadly it’s the truth.

    Right now we have SNP mp’s tweeting about how awful and unfair WM is. We have members putting in amendments that can never be won. The majority will always overturn these and Boris has a stinging majority.

    The SNP are flapping about at WM , still playing by their masters rules. The odds are fixed in favour of WM. This will never change. Yet they still persist with this farce.

    The SNP are letting Scotland die in front of our eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Painfully and scarily true unfortunately, its always about the money. Scotlands huge resources keep the whole UK economy afloat they’re not going to let that go easily. It keeps the London elite rich and ever richer, its keeps one of the most resource rich countries in europe maybe even the world, with some of the highest levels of poverty. Brilliant piece but terribly depressing. And I think a lot of us feared this would happen especially after the 2014 no vote. I hope the no voters get all the pain they deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The problem is that Nicola has set herself on a course that leads to dead end.

    The worry is that she just keeps heading in the same direction, without any apparent reverse gear or avoidance measures. Its not too late to change course. But she only has a matter of weeks to avoid the calamity that is coming.

    Right now it looks like she has a blind spot for what will happen to us all, if we allow Boris the time to deconstruct our parliament.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “The British establishment saw its opportunity and seized it” – The Scottish establishment saw many opportunities but decided to wait, and wait. Time squandered, a nation desolate.

    Liked by 1 person

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