Lazy politics

Ian Murray is talking nonsense, of course. But of all the nonsense spouted by British politicians in Scotland this guff about federalism has to be my favourite. I like it, not because it is an idea worthy of discussion, but because I’m lazy. Not as lazy as Ian Murray, who can’t be bothered trying to think of something fresh to say. Or even to develop this federalism guff from a vacuous soundbite into something resembling a thought-out policy. I’m not that lazy. But I am lazy enough to appreciate the fact that each time Murray or some other British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) mouthpiece drag the threadbare federalism coat out of the dressing-up box they resort to when trying to look like a real political party, we know three things –

  • That we needn’t trouble ourselves too much with a counter-argument because they have no arguments to counter.
  • That we needn’t trouble ourselves too much with a counter-argument because their ‘policy’ announcement will be almost immediately slapped down by their bosses in London.
  • That we needn’t trouble ourselves too much with a counter-argument because we still have that article we wrote the last time they visited the dressing-up box. Or was it the time before?

This is from an article written in May 2018 – please make allowances for the stuff that is out of date – in response to a piece by Kevin Pringle published in the Sunday Times; in particular, the following,

That is pretty much my position, too, but it begs a question. If independence is a means to certain desirable ends, is it possible to define a Britain in which similar aims could be achieved? In other words, could Scotland in the Union ever be contemplated by a utilitarian Scottish nationalist?

For me, the answer is yes, but it would have to be a UK on a very different trajectory to Brexit Britain: federal, strong and stable in the EU; with a written constitution; an economic policy that works for all the nations and regions and is divested of its post-imperial pretensions, including nuclear weapons. I think that independence is more realistic.

The things Kevin Pringle rightly identifies as the basic (minimum?) conditions for an acceptable – and therefore potentially viable – federal Britain are the stuff of fantasy politics.

  • Written constitution?
  • An economic policy that works for all the nations and regions? UNIMAGINABLE!
  • Divested of post-imperial pretensions?

All of this, together with anything else that so much as resembles modern democracy, is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state. Talk of imposing a working federal arrangement on the British state makes about as much sense as talk of squeezing me into a tutu and having me perform with Scottish Ballet.

And there’s another problem, quite apart from the fact that federalism and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state are mutually exclusive forms. For a federal arrangement to be feasible it would not only have to be fair and equitable, it would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which means that the negotiation of the arrangement would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which, in turn, could only be the case if all the parties involved participated in those negotiations on the basis of parity of power, equality of status and mutual respect. Which, to close the circle, could only be possible if those parties to the negotiations were already independent nations.

Independence precedes and is a prerequisite for the negotiation of any constitutional arrangement which involves the ceding or pooling of sovereignty. Only independence permits the full exercise of sovereignty which provides the rightful authority to cede or pool sovereignty.

Federalism cannot proceed from the British state any more than pea and ham soup can proceed ‘fae a chicken’.

Independence is not only more realistic but essential and inevitable. Any constitutional arrangement which succeeds in terms of the imperatives, aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It is not remotely possible that negotiation of a new constitutional settlement could command the confidence of Scotland’s people other than in the wake of the dissolution of the Union.

The now ritualised espousing of federalism by British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is not a case of them genuinely exploring constitutional options. It is a case of them striving for relevance in a political environment where absolute commitment to the preservation of the British state is increasingly regarded as an untenable oddity.

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14 thoughts on “Lazy politics

  1. Regardless of minimal viable policies, it’s probably impossible to find any federal solution where the constituent states are not approximately equal in clout. The Americans solve this by having the Senate where all states, regardless of population, have an equal say.

    The only workable solution for a federal UK would require the breakup of England.


    1. It is an uncomfortable thought, but Scotland is actually endowed with the collaborative approach which would work well in a Federal state. For example, it ‘gets’ the EU.

      England does not get it. True, it would need breaking up, but it goes deeper – it does not have any concept of collaboration among equals, viewing everything as ruling or being ruled by – witness the brexit referendum – such that it would never voluntarily break up, nor could it accept collaboration among equals.

      Federalism as an idea is past its sell by date. If Blair had managed to install regional governments in England after 1997, it would have done England a power of good. As it is now, an awful lot of heavy lifting is required in England to undo that damage.

      England being ready for federalism would take a generation to deal with the damage of brexit to the body politic and another half lifetime to accept the need for regional governments. As far as I am concerned, the die is cast. England cannot do federalism.

      But my fear is that because Scotland has a collaborative outlook, it could allow itself to be duped into a federalist revamp of the union.


  2. BLiS is indeed struggling for relevance.

    Ian Murray, on the other hand, is simply struggling to maintain his career.

    I have the misfortune to have Murray as my MP. That is, he represents Edinburgh South (or the Heart of Darkness as I prefer to call it).

    It is the douceist of douce seats in Edinburgh with a profile largely comprising aging, well-to-do, conservative and Unionist (with a fair smattering of Anglo incomer) constituents.

    They would prefer to be red or dead – in that order of course – than SNP-led.

    But at least the composition of the constituency may change over (a long) time and with it their voting habits and constitutional preferences.

    But Murray won’t. He’s a one trick donkey and knows what side his bread is buttered on.

    And BLiS can’t. They cling to the tenuous hope that the Scottish population can be conned once more by promises of some

    It’s over for BLiS but Murray will keep receiving his grossly inflated salary and copper bottomed pension.


  3. Peter misses the basic point that a monarchy and federalism are, by definition, mutually exclusive. But we have had quasi-federalism for just over two decades.


  4. A monarchy and a federation are mutually exclusive, by definition. But we have had quasi-federalism for the last 21 years.


      1. But, outside this blog, there are loads of people who are not you.The issue might be persuading them to dismiss it.


        1. If the issue(?) is persuading them to dismiss it (federalism?) then that is a good thing. The infeasibility is not a matter of opinion. Just because you can write or say the world doesn’t make it a valid option. The things which stop it being an option have been very comprehensively described by myself and countless others. When you can persuade me that those obstacles don’t exist or can be overcome, then you might be able to talk sensibly about a ‘federal solution’. Not before.

          And before you ask, NO! I am not giving you your own personalised account of those obstacles. I have neither the inclination nor the time. Go and do some reading.


      2. No, Peter, I am not in favour of federalism. I can think of enough reasons not to that I don’t need your assistance on that, thankyouverymuch.

        My issue is that federalism with a right to secede could appear to be a sufficient attraction to enough people who might say ‘There is a right to secede, so what’s your problem’. Now I can see that it will be a worst of both worlds kind of position, with the risk of the bar for the right to secede being set ridiculously high, or even removed later. So I actually see it as a means of prolonging the agony for both sides.

        But I raise it, because I see that Labour is ready to pick up where it left off in devolution in 2004 without the realisation that Scotland has moved on.


        1. “A federalist arrangement with a right to secede? Hard to dismiss?”

          Why would this nonsense be a “sufficient attraction” for anyone? No viable federal ‘solution’ exists. And we already have “a right to secede’.


  5. Always think of him as the Pieman mark 2.

    He isn’t even worth discussing: much better to let him drown in the squalor of his own self serving unionist polemic.


  6. Federalism , shmederalism , Scotland having a collaborative outlook to me means weakness , especially in the context of England Britain they are not known as perfidious Albion for nothing , in 2016 Scotland voted to remain in the EU , the FM done everything to be included in the negotiations including proposing that we would remain within the UK if only they the English British would permit us to still be part of the CU and the CTA to allow population growth , even although she had NO mandate or agreement from the electorate to propose that and it was directly contradictory to the remain vote , and even that capitulation was dismissed without any discussion


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