Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp may feel as if he has been banging his head against a brick wall as he warns about the constitutional threat to Scotland’s democracy posed by Brexit. He may take some comfort in the fact that he has not been entirely alone. Some of us have been issuing similar warnings since before the first independence referendum. Which may seem odd at first. After all, how could Brexit be a threat when the EU referendum was still 20 months away? And that brings us to a very important point.
It is necessary to understand, and convey to others, that Brexit is not the real issue here. It is merely the context in which the assault on Scotland’s devolution settlement is happening. And a symptom of the sickness afflicting the British state – which is the real threat to our distinctive political culture. The British state was always going to seek to undermine and delegitimise the Scottish Parliament. Brexit merely provides an opportunity to do something that the British political elite has been intending at least since 2007, when the SNP took power and set about making Holyrood the principal locus of Scottish politics and transforming the ‘glorified parish council’ of the ‘Scottish Executive’ into a real Scottish Government.
Devolution was always as doomed as the Union. It was always going to be too successful for the British state to be comfortable with, and not successful enough for the people of Scotland to be satisfied with. It was always going to bring into the light the fatal flaws which had lain at the heart of the Union since it was imposed on Scotland more than three centuries ago. The asymmetry of power and denial of popular sovereignty were only tolerated so long as the Union was never questioned. The seeds of the Union’s destruction lay dormant until the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament and the start of a ‘Scottish Spring’.
So long as Holyrood was dominated by the British parties, the situation could be controlled. Scotland could be kept in line, while the Scottish Parliament would serve as both a sop to those with greater ambitions for Scotland and as a scapegoat for policies imposed by Westminster. All that changed in 2007.
With hindsight, it all looks fated. The reconvening of the Scottish Parliament; the transformation brought about by the election of a minority SNP administration in 2007; the affirmation of that transformation in 2011; the first independence referendum in 2014; the SNP landslide of 2015 delivering a stinging rebuke to the UK Government for its failure to honour promises made during the first referendum campaign;. all seem part of a chain of events destined to lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence.
The British establishment could hardly be unaware of this. The ‘perfect storm’ of the Scottish Parliament, competent SNP administrations and the grass-roots Yes movement together have come to represent a serious and imminent threat to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Scotland’s increasingly distinctive political culture is an embarrassment to British politicians who seek to rationalise their incompetence with the mantra that ‘there’s no other way’. The activism of the Yes movement has brought about a revival of democratic engagement leading to a dawning realisation that devolution is not about a beneficent British ruling elite graciously granting powers to Scotland’s ‘pretendy wee parliament’, but about an imperious British state jealously guarding its power and status by withholding powers which rightfully belong with the only Parliament that can claim democratic legitimacy in Scotland.
Now, as Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, notes there is also a growing recognition that the British state is not prepared to tolerate the wave of democratic dissent which has risen in Scotland. People are becoming aware that the Union is increasingly detrimental to Scotland’s interests. And that ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists are determined to preserve that Union regardless of any economic, cultural or political damage done to Scotland and its people.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp argues powerfully and persuasively that “Brexit is actually incompatible with devolution”. He warns that, as Brexit is happening, it is devolution that must be destroyed. I would go further. I would contend that the nation Scotland has become since 1999 is incompatible with the British state. I would argue that the choice facing the people of Scotland is now stark and urgent. Either we bring all of Scotland’s government home, or we lose it completely. either we repatriate to the Scottish Parliament all the powers currently being withheld by the British state, or we see our Parliament reduced to less even than it was originally intended to be.
Either we restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, or we accept being absorbed into the ‘One Nation’ Britain envisaged by the same forces which are responsible for the Brexit fiasco.
We must make this choice soon. The British establishment’s plans are well advanced. If we are to thwart those plans then we must have a new independence referendum no later than September 2018. And this time we must vote. not only in the hope of a better, fairer, more prosperous Scotland, but in genuine and fully justified fear of forfeiting the progress we have made.Views: 2878
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