British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), Ian Murray, Gordon Brown, George Foulkes and federalism

Why am I writing about British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), Ian Murray, Gordon Brown, George Foulkes and the federalism fantasy when there’s actual important stuff going on?

To be honest, I thought I had a really witty opening – something about balloons trying to breathe life into horses that had long ago been flogged to death.

But then there just wasn’t anything more to say.



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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This is from an article written in May 2018 – please make allowances for the stuff that is out of date – in response to a piece by Kevin Pringle published in the Sunday Times; in particular, the following,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?
    NO CHANCE!
  • 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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Federalism fails

When British Labour brings out the ‘F’ word it’s because they fail to recognise three things.

  1. For any federal settlement to be acceptable to the people of Scotland it would have to be freely negotiated in a way that is not possible under the conditions imposed by the Union. Scotland’s independence would have to be restored first.
  2. No federal settlement can address the issue of asymmetry and be acceptable to the people of both Scotland and England. Parity would, with justification, be perceived as relegation by the people of England. Disparity would, by definition, fail to address one of the principal issues with the Union leaving Scotland no better off.
  3. No federal settlement can possibly achieve anything which couldn’t be better achieved by a new form of association freely negotiated between two nations in an atmosphere of parity of status, mutual respect and commonality of interest which can only exist with the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Federalism either couldn’t possibly be negotiated, couldn’t possibly resolve the main issues or would leave an evidently better settlement which the people of both England and Scotland must surely aspire to and strive for.



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Not good enough!

The LibDems are throwing vows at the Scottish electorate again. I’m sure we all remember the one that was signed by the then LibDem leader, Nick Clegg, a couple of days before the 2014 vote. Now Jo Swinson is promising “practical steps to ensure that Scotland and Wales both have strong voices in the future of the family of nations”. It’s déjà vu all over again!

Of course, Swinson could only sensibly make this promise if the one made more than five years ago hadn’t been honoured. Even in the crazy world of British politics it wouldn’t make any sense to offer in an election manifesto something that had already been delivered. In 2014 we were assured that Scotland would “lead” if we did not leave. The voters chose to accept that offer. But instead of the promised leading role, we got EVEL.

The promise to ensure that Scotland has a “strong voice” in the UK has to be treated with great scepticism. Even if it was possible, why would we want a “strong voice” in the UK when we can have a strong voice in the world simply by dissolving the Union and becoming a normal country once more?

But it isn’t possible. We know that Swinson’s promise won’t be kept for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that the LibDems are proven liars. Secondly, the fact that the main purpose of Union is to ensure that Scotland cannot have a meaningfully influential role in the UK.

The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their sovereignty. This, too, is proved by observable the reality. Scotland actually has a strong voice. The Scottish Parliament is our voice. But the British establishment parties deny the authority of the only parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland. When our Parliament. When our Parliament says there is a mandate for a new independence referendum, the British parties simply refuse to recognise the validity of that mandate.

Scotland has a strong voice in the large number of SNP MPs we elect. But when they try to speak in the British parliament they are treated with utter contempt.

Scotland has a strong voice in it’s people. But when the people of Scotland vote decisive in favour of remaining part of the EU, we are told our vote doesn’t count. It doesn’t count because the Union decrees that, no matter how strong it may be, Scotland’s can never be stronger than that of England-as-Britain.

On Thursday 12 December, we have an opportunity to speak loud and clear to Jo Swinson and her counterparts in the other British establishment parties. By voting in overwhelming numbers for SNP candidates in the coming UK general election we can send the message that we do not want a “strong voice!. We want an equal voice! And the only we can have an equal voice is by dissolving the archaic, anomalous, grotesquely asymmetric Union and restoring Scotland’s status as a normal independent nation.



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The impossible dream

fantasyKevin Pringle, a man who knows whereof he speaks, confirms in his final verdict on the feasibility and likelihood of a federal UK what many of us have been saying for a very long time,

I think that independence is more realistic.

The reason is simple. 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? No chance!

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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