Monday, November 27, 2006


Labour's Devolution Strategy in Danger of Unravelling?

It must be a worry to Gordon Brown that his party's strategy for his home country is in danger of coming apart. Until the sixties home rule for Wales and Scotland was regarded as something of an eccentric diversion. But when MPs started to be elected for both Plaid Cymru and the SNP both main parties began to take notice. The Kilbrandon Report(1969-73) was the result. This considered independence and federalism but opted for devolution, initiating the tangled course taken to New Labour's implementation of this original vision shortly after 1997. But a major part of this vision was purely political. Labour felt that potentially nationalist Celts could be 'bought off' with a solution which provided a fair degree of autonomy backed up by legislative accountability.

After uncertain starts both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have become established if not warmly accepted by their respective countries. But the trouble with democracy is that eventually opposition parties tend to gather support and win elections. For years it seemed that neither national constituencies favoured independence and supporters of the union hoped it would become one of those formal shibboleths that meant little in practice, like Labour's Clause Four for example. When nationalist results seemed to indicate falling support at the last set of elections in 2003, some commentatotors concluded Labour's ploy of emasculating their appeal had succeeded. It had, but only for a while.

Recent polls show over half of Scots voters(52%) want independence and a real possibility exists of the SNP winning power in May 2007. What would they do next? It is unlikely they will sit on their hands and do nothing; we have to assume they mean what they say. A referendum would reveal how willing voters are north of the border to cast themselves adrift from England and Westminster and join the smaller nations of the EU. It would be a huge gamble for them as they currently receive a £10bn public spending surplus- courtesy of the ancient Barnett Formula- compared with England.

Unsurprisingly, this disproportionate distribution is one of the reasons why 59% of English voters also favour independence for Scotland. Yes, the unthinkable has become the thinkable and both Brown and Blair are seriously worried. They are right to be alarmed as England voted narrowly more Conservative than Labour at the last election. Scottish Labour seats are vital if Labour is to remain in power after 2009. Meawhile the Conservatives, lacking Scottish support and keener on exploiting English dissatisfactions with Scotland's extra handouts, are not too worried. Hence we saw Brown and Blair lashing out at the SNP at Labour's Oban conference over the weekend. Labour's smooth solution to the famously intractable devolution issue always seemed a bit too good to be true. Some critics said Labour had not thought it through properly; recent developments suggest those critics might have been right.

Parties really shouldn't think in short term gains, and this goes for Labour's current constitutional developments too. but I'm not sure that (a) the SNP will win the next election, (b) they will have a sufficient electoral mandate and electoral support to secede from the union (lets not forget that a "no" vote could kill off independence for a long time to come, even if its close), or (c) that they have the power within the current constitutional framework to hold such a referendum in a binding sense (I genuinely dont know about this point, I'll post again if and when I can correct it).
Thanks, useful comment that. I'm lecturing on Devolution on Friday so will add your qualifying points.
ahhh..flattery sir skipper, a useful tactic........

I have been at work and in events this evening so have not had time to check said point (c), but I'll get back to you on it. I genuinely don't know about that, do you? what is the constitutional power to secede?

I do hope you don't add my qualifying comments, as I'm just a lowly PPE grad on a year out before begging for MPhil status, with a geeky interest in constitutional stuff.
meh. I actually meant to say sometinh along the lines of "should you have a copy of the lecture (in either .pdf, .doc, or.mp3 format), please do send it to me as I would genuinely be interesting to expand my knowledge in this area."

its hard being a constitutional geek and getting asked stuff you dont know about it, so I really would appreciate any copy you have of the lecture (since I'm in LDn I can hradly attend).
Well you certainly seem to keep eccentric hours- commenting at nearly 3.0am. If you want a more thorough treatment of devolution check out my chapter 14 in Politics UK or, better, read the new book on the topic by Russell deacon, Devolution in Britain Today.
an occasional inability to sleep, a hangover from my student days methinks. thanks for the bookr eferences - I'll try to gte hold of them to read in the next coule of weeks.

what do you think of the english democratic party? tom watson's blog ( mentions them. I'm in agreement with bogdanor on the idea of an english parliament - it would break up the union and is largely unnecessary.
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