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This is from an article written in May 2018 – please make allowances for the stuff that is out of date – in response to a piece by Kevin Pringle published in the Sunday Times; in particular, the following,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?
DON’T BE SILLY!
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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