Boris Johnson is correct! From a British Nationalist perspective devolution has been a disaster. A worsening disaster. Not for Scotland, but for the Union. Devolution has been seriously disrupted the ‘Greater England’ project of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists. It has become necessary to resort to drastic measures in the hope of rescuing that project.
Perhaps we should better say that devolution has been a near-disaster from a British establishment point of view. Because they’re not done yet. Not by a long way. The Union is essential to England-as-Britain’s conceit of itself as a significant player on the world stage. It will not be given up easily. The British will fight with every claw and sinew to maintain England-as-Britain’s dominion over the annexed territory of Scotland. To lose that fight would be disastrous for the British every bit as much as failure to restore independence will be disastrous for Scotland.
SNP MP Stephen Flynn considers it ludicrous that “The Tories think that our Scottish Parliament was a bigger mistake than the Iraq War.” But is no exaggeration to say that from where Boris Johnson stands, devolution was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake. Obscene as the invasion of Iraq was, neither the war nor its aftermath threatened the existence of the British state as it is imagined by British Nationalists. Their Britain survived and may even be said to have enhanced the status it perceives for itself simply by having been a ‘player’ in such world-shaking events.
Devolution didn’t cause what the British regard as the ‘Scottish Problem’. The origins of that lie so far distant in the mists of history as to be indistinguishable. The ‘problem’ was – and remains – power. Managing power relationships is what politics is all about. It’s what politics does. It’s what politics is. Imposing the Union on Scotland was a deft political maneuver. The Union solved the problem of power relationships between Scotland and England by giving the latter a permanent and unassailable advantage. Scotland effectively came under English rule. Scotland was effectively annexed by England and it is a measure of how successful the Union has been from that British Nationalist perspective that Scotland remains annexed territory to this day.
Enough was left of the ancient nation of Scotland – church, law, education etc. – to allow the illusion that the ancient nation of Scotland still existed within the new entity created by the Union. It is a measure of how powerfully the Union worked to the advantage of England that it was felt safe to allow even this latitude. The choke-chain was considered sufficiently effective that it could be left loose. Loose enough to be barely noticeable to the people of Scotland.
Some noticed. There was always an undercurrent of anti-Union sentiment in Scotland. It wasn’t ‘invented’ by the SNP. In the age of democracy the SNP came into being as the means by which those who saw the Union for what it was and is could fight to throw off the choke-chain. It says something about the persistence of national identity that the ancient nation of Scotland survived the Union as more than just an annexed territory of England-as-Britain. More than just a premium brand and a tourist destination. More than merely a source of labour, skills and fodder for the British war machine.
Even when the determination to restore Scotland’s independence ebbed more than it flowed, the idea of Scotland as a nation never died. It lived on, always looking for new and better means of expression.
The SNP was one such means of expression. The party gave a voice to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. What was lacking was a place where that voice could be used to effect. The reconvened Scottish Parliament provided the perfect venue. It’s potential as the locus of Scotland’s politics was not realised immediately. For that to happen, effective political power had to be wrested from the grasp of the British parties squatting in Scotland’s principal democratic institution. It was when this happened that devolution became a serious problem for England-as-Britain. The election wins for the SNP in 2007 and more particularly in 2011 made Holyrood a dangerous place as far as the British were concerned. The ‘Scottish Problem’ was back with a vengeance. A final solution was required. It is that final solution which is being implemented right now.
The final solution is to lock Scotland into a new Union on terms imposed by England-as-Britain using the power afforded it by the existing Union. This ‘reformed’ Union will subsume Scotland into the British state being shaped by British Nationalists on terms that are neither negotiated with Scotland’s democratically elected representative nor approved by Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament nor consented by the sovereign people of Scotland.
Crucially, not even the tokens of Scotland’s national identity are to be allowed to survive. All that is now Scottish is destined to be rebranded British. Again, this is happening even as I write. The final solution to the ‘Scottish Problem’ is the eradication of all distinctiveness and the absorption of whatever remains into a ‘Greater England-as-Britain’. It is happening now. It is happening because in 2014 the people of Scotland voted to permit it. The turkeys voted to make it Christmas every day.
Devolution has been a near-disaster for the British state. To that extent Boris Johnson is correct. Steps are now being taken to avert the disaster for British Nationalist pretensions of Scotland restoring its independence by a democratic process that is democratic because it is outwith the control of the British political elite. The disaster for Scotland will be if we let the British finish applying their final solution to the ‘Scottish Problem’.