Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Even a By-election Victory Won't Begin to Solve Labour's Devolution Dilemma

Saying that I think Labour will edge tomorrow's byelection is dangerously like Mike Atherton commentating that Strauss was at the 'top of his game' while batting at Headingley. He was out next ball. But the thoughtful piece by Tristram Hunt today explores its wider impications. He muses upon the 1707 union between Scotland and England, noting that Adam Smith, like his fellow product of Kirkaldy, was an enthusiast for the economic advantages of Anglo-Scottish cohabitation.

He notes that while Cameron pays lip service to the Union, the rank and file of his party seem quite sanguine about Scotland hiving off to become another Norway or Finland. Indeed, he reckons that the tide of history is moving away from Brown's position :

From Slovakia to Kosovo to the nation formerly known as Belgium, the trend is for smaller, ethnically codified national entities at the expense of broader civic federations.

This raises the scary sceptre for Labour of a truncated Britain- Wales to follow in fullness of time?- without those 39 Scottish Labour MPs who have so helpfully established Labour in power election after election since 1997. In the circumstances he suggests Labour could be more enterprising, for example basing party conferences in Scotland for once. He concludes:

But whatever its failings, it is the Labour party alone that will have to do the heavy lifting for the Act of Union. As the only cross-border party capable of forming a UK government, its lonely calling is to make the case for the economic, diplomatic and cultural benefits that still accrue from 1707. And, yes, with 39 Westminster MPs sitting for Scottish constituencies, the argument is based on crude political calculation. But so was the Act of Union.

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