Monday, April 28, 2008

Why Thatcher's Solution made Sense

MARGARET Thatcher wanted to prevent the creation of a Scottish assembly by amending Labour legislation to allow the English to vote in the 1979 referendum on devolution, The Scotsman can reveal.

The then leader of the opposition was urged by the Tory peer Lord Boyd-Carpenter to amend the Scotland Bill to enable all voters in the United Kingdom to have a say on devolution for Scotland. Mrs. Thatcher supported the idea and consulted colleagues.

Cue squeals of outrage from the Cybernats in The Scotsman’s comments section.

But actually, what Mrs. Thatcher was suggesting contained a great deal more logic and fairness than what Labour finally delivered in the late 1990s.

Has devolution for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales occurred in a vacuum, with no financial or political effect on the English? Quite clearly not and the rules of democracy dictate then that the English voter should have had the right to vote in such a referendum. I’ll go further and utter what may be a heresy for a Unionist- the English should also have had the right to vote on whether or not to have their own parliament.

That’s not to say that I agree with the concept of devolution in the United Kingdom; regular readers here will know that, for a number of reasons, I believe it has been a disaster for our nation. But its inherent weaknesses have been intensified by the inefficient, unfair and blatantly partisan way Labour introduced and has operated it. I’m confident that once the implications of an, to all intents and purposes, federal governmental system had sunk in after a truly nationwide debate, the following referendum on this question would have delivered different results to what we finally got in Scotland and Wales. I also believe that the rest of the UK electorate, like their counterparts in the Republic, should have been given the right to vote on the Belfast Agreement and the subsequent devolution of powers to Stormont...but that's, perhaps, another argument for another day.


The Aberdonian said...

Teddy Taylor was right on this one. He knew that giving England something along the lines of a veto over devolution would have probably done much more damage to Anglo-Scottish relations than you can ever imagine.

Should the English have a right to a referendum for an English Parliament? - yes that is fair.

Labour implementing devolution in a partisan way - to be expected. Part of the conversion of the likes of Robin Cook and Brian Wilson to devolution was their party being locked out of power in the UK when devolution could give them power in Scotland and Wales.

Much of the problems surrounding reform of the UK constitution is that is has always been on partisan or half-arsed lines. The Liberals in the 1900s wanted to castrate the Lords and put forward the "People's Budget" knowing fine it would be rejected and therefore give the Liberals the raison de'terre to push through the Parliament Act to end the fustration of their policies in the Lords - such as Irish Home Rule.

That constant frustration was to aid the people Parnell called "Captain Moonlight" - the men of violence.

The rest as they say is history.

Talking of unfairness, there has been a lot made about advantages Scotland has vis a vis England concerning student funding. This has been well publicised.

However what about the advantages that middle England would envy about NI's education system. Please correct me if I am wrong but I understand NI has the following:-

Taking a Kelvin MacKenzie view to be provocative:-

1- School starts at the age of four (Hard working people in middle England have to rush around trying to find place for child in nursery at that age, probably a fee-paying one. NI parents have children in school, getting educated on middle English tax revenues while NI parents work for the state or not at all.)

2- Grammar school education system still in place - for the moment anyway (Middle English parents have to scrimp and save to live near a "good school" or have to bus their children daily to the other side of town to do so. Of course there is also private education with the fees. On the other hand NI parents who have bright offspring do not have to make these sacrafices and send them to grammar schools away from the riff-raff, neds, bahms, scallies and the general underclass you find any many comprehensives - all subsidised by the Middle English tax payer)

God I am sounding like Jenny Hjul.

3 - Education in NI would still be pricer than the mainland as there is a culture of segregated schooling (Middle English taxpayers pay for sectarian divide which brings about less efficient use of resources - duplication of everything and probably the class sizes are smaller!!!!)

Obviously apart from 3, 1+2 might be two features you would not want to lose. Do you think NI should be brought into line with the UK on issues 1 and 2 (barring talk of City Academies etc).

O'Neill said...

Do you think NI should be brought into line with the UK on issues 1 and 2 (barring talk of City Academies etc).

Broadly speaking yes to both.

4 is far too young an age for children to commence formal education. On the continent, the average age is 6 (in some countries even 7), yet by the age of 11, the children there have caught up with and in some disclipines even passed the average N.Irish child.

Regarding point 2), I was extremely lucky to have motivated parents who were prepared to push me and my siblings to the limit of our ability in order to attend a grammar school.

But very few children from my kind of background (my father would be probably what you'd define as skilled working-class) had the same priviledge; plenty of sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, accountants, civil servants etc, not so many off-spring of manual workers and the unemployed- I refuse to believe that is simply down to the fact that the middle-class are naturally born more intelligent.

My preference would be to extend the primary/elementary school age limit to 14; by that age children have a much clearer idea of what they want to get out of their education and are more capable of making the mature choice of whether to follow a more academic or vocational line of education for the remaining 4 years until their 18th birthday and they then head off to third level or (hopefully) gainful employment.

I should say that my opinion on this runs contrary to that of most NI Unionists (eg both Chekov and Beano who comment on here occasionally would support the present status quo), but whilst the present system works fine for about 20% of the population, the other 80% are basically being consigned to the scrapheap at the age of 11, which is a terrible waste of human resources whatever way you look at it.

wildgoose said...

O'Neill, I agree with both your original post and your education comment above.

Aberdonian, you say that "Teddy Taylor was right...that giving England something along the lines of a veto over devolution would have probably done much more damage to Anglo-Scottish relations".

More damage than what has happened? Surely you cannot be serious! By not allowing England any voice we have in a space of just 10 years arrived at the situation whereby around 1 in 2 of the English want Scotland out of the Union, (a higher percentage than that of the Scots I might add), and 15% want a completely independent England shorn of Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

With the greatest respect, you are just repeating the classic Scottish line that matters between England and Scotland should always be determined by Scotland alone and that doing otherwise would "damage the relationship".

I would want out of a marriage like that. Most people would. So perhaps the opinion polls aren't that surprising when you get down to it.

The Aberdonian said...

Believe me the present situation is heaven to what would have happened if Scotland voted "yes" and England voted "no" in a measure only effecting Scotland.

If it was "lets go federal" referendum, then yes I can see the definite point in a UK-wide referendum. However despite Asquith's eloquent pre-war "Home Rule all round" speech in the closing of the World War I era, no UK government has ever given that serious thought. The UK system of government was very centralised by the 1980's by developed countries standards, even by smaller countries standards.

Andrew Marr (hardly a screaming nationalist) pointed this out in his 1992 tome "The Battle for Scotland", reviewing the post-1992 election situation. He said that imperialist, unionist ancestor worship was no more forward looking than the least forgiving strain of nationalism. He said if I remember that the Gothic buttresses of the Palace of Westminster reminded him of the imperial grandnuer of Westminister/Whitehall to have absolute power throughout the UK, a power butressed and centralised to a remarkable degree.

He said that many inhabitants in Westminster, in their palace built upon a mudbank lapped by the Thames, looked at the Royal High School with the same irritation as a symbol of Scottish nationhood as past Platagenet monarchs had looked upon Edinburgh Castle.

If there had been a "federal" referendum and the English had voted against it and Scotland had voted for it then one party would make political capital from it - the SNP.

wildgoose said...

You're right that the SNP would have made hay from an English No, Scottish Yes. But you're forgetting Wales and Northern Ireland. If those two had voted for federalism then England would have been outvoted fair and square. After all, there's supposed to be 4 members of the Unionist family. (And No, I can't comment on a 2-2 vote, that would have needed discussing further).

But the Devolution Acts in the first NuLabour government deliberately and contemptuously ignored England. In just 10 years opinion has hardened in England so far that a sizeable minority now want outright independence. These attitudes are growing. 10 years ago nobody would have even thought to ask if the English would want to break up the Union. Now it's a serious question.

And yet Westminster MPs (in an act of blatant self-interest) have forced the people of England into a second-class status and are determined to keep us that way.

I was a lifelong Unionist but I cannot see anyway out other than joining that percentage agitating for outright independence. Maybe the message will get through to the Westminster Quislings and they will put the UK before their own interests. But personally, I doubt it.