Saturday, May 9, 2009

Breaking up Britain? Not so fast matey!

For reasons too boring to go into, my ordered copy of "Breaking up Britain" won't be with me for another couple of weeks at least; the author Mark Perryman however has been posting up extracts on Open Democracy to give us a bit of a taster of what will be on offer.

I realise as a Unionist by conviction the vast majority of the articles haven’t been written for my benefit or from my viewpoint, but even so, having looked at Perryman’s introduction, there is one fundamental weakness in his approach immediately apparent...Britain, at the ballot box, is showing no inclination whatsover to break up!:
"A civic nationalist politics now exists in Scotland and Wales prepared to push the devolution settlement to it limits, its breaking point."

It does, but in both cases this "politics" is still very much a minority viewpoint in terms of the total electorate opinion- in the last Assembly elections, the SNP gained 33% of the vote in Scotland, Plaid Cymru 25% in Wales.
Opinion polls show the percentage of the population in both countries in favour of independence as much lower-
Scotland: 21%
Wales: 15%

The mere existance of this "civic nationalist politics" is therefore nowhere near heralding the Break-up of Britain where it matters, ie at the ballot box.
"In Northern Ireland Irish Republicanism is now the majority party representing the nationalist community."

Again, yes. But again, as a percentage of the total population, their views on Irish "unity" are, according to opinion polls, held by about only a quarter of the population. The truth is that whilst Sinn Fein remain a party wedded to their philosophy of exclusive ethno-nationalism, their chances of persuading the numbers needed from outside their own (as they would define it) “community” remain as close to zero as to make no difference.

Which leaves England:
"In England a growing body of opinion and ideas demands that England must find a part to play in this process too."

It’s always hard to quantify bodies of "opinion" or "ideas" (back to a process being driven by the "chatterati" or the blogosphere again?) ; the only sure thing we can say at the moment is that it’s not a body of opinion or ideas which is finding its expression in terms of electoral power or success.

So, in terms of the numbers at the ballot-box or in the opinion polls, are we any nearer the "Break of Britain" than we were before the introduction of the devolution experiment? No, not really.
In terms of the damage already caused and the potential that could be caused by the separatist or even, (unbelievably) unionist parties pushing the present devolution system to its limit?
Well, that is something we who believe in the the continuance of a truly United Kingdom need to be very careful and aware of, the danger of us sleepwalking out of the Union is a much greater one than the risk of a majority in any part of the UK voting for separation. However, I feel the awareness of that potential danger is much higher now than it was at the instigation of devolution over a decade ago and I really think we are long way from stumbling in a:
"A direction towards states of independence in which we will surely witness a reformation of four nations after a Union that has run out of time."

Despite all that, this is still a book I'm looking forward to reading and hopefully being challenged by and I'll be reviewing other segments of the book over the next few days.


Patricia-Jane Wedge said...

Do yourself a favour.

Pour yourself a stiff drink then sit down and contemplate this little idea.

The expenses shenanagins of MPs has served one very important purpose, other than garnering public opprobrium and focussing the demand for change.

That other purpose is this.

It has accelerated the day when the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland say in increasing numbers:

"If that's what the Union means, then give us more devolution and give it us now!"

The events of recent days has loosened the Union more than any other event of the last two centuries.

We don't want 'London' anymore. We are sick of that centre of corrupt Unionist power. Enough is enough.

Now, if you take a different or contrary view, boy, I can't wait to hear why that is!

dona nobis pacem said...

O'Neill, you are correct in believing that the devolution settlements have aroused constitutional uncertainty, but I would attribute that not to the concept itself but to the half-baked Mrs Sunshine manner in which it was introduced. Devolution if effected in a coherent and logical execution has the potential to create a more cohesive and united United Kingdom. Blair's attempts may have had a noble grounding, but he ultimately made a dog's dinner of the whole affair, as one might expect from his less than rudimentary demeanor. You cannot have one constituent country such as Scotland governed by a disparate political framework from that of its fellow British nations. The additional automony this region enjoys has understandly given way to resentment among other subjects of the Kingdom, particularly on issues like top-up fees and prescription fees. The current arrangements were designed to assuage a growing appreciation of regional identity and the need to incorporate the concept of subsidiarity into Britain's political framework. They are predicated on the unwarranted assumption that nationalism and unionism are necessarily mutually exclusive (they're not) and as a result reflect unimaginative and mundane political thinking. Abolishing devolution is not an option: it is broadly popular and even the Tories have got in on the game. But there is no need to restrict ourselves to the type of union we have today. The United Kingdom is a continously evolving political entity. She has changed massively from her genesis in 1801, and has ever responded to her adversaries with untarnished durability. In order for unionism to have a future, the UK must again meet the challenge of the day. Instead of the disparate and unequal constitutinal status quo, whereby the different nations operate under different political frameworks (thereby necessarily alienating one from the other) the four nations should be given equal levels of automony under a federal government at Westminster. Preferably a written constitution should be drafted to effect these changes. The Victorian concept of Home Rule federalism should be resurrected for it is the conceivable mechanism whereby the two primary competing demands of unionism and nationalism (a united Ireland and pan-British rule respectively) can both be assuaged. The challanges to Gladstone's endeavours no longer have any relevance in the largely secularized society we live in today, and a somewhat self-governing united Ireland in the United Kingdom would have popular appeal in both 'communities', for it is effectively reconciles Irish nationalism and British unionism and does so in a way that gives both confidence and stability to the political arragements.

O'Neill said...

P-J W,

Thanks for the offer, but even for me it's a bit early for my favoured tipple of a pint of Bushmills with Guinness chaser;)

Regarding your main point: do I think the expenses scandal will have any effect on the devolution process? No. The Telegraph to a large degree has concentrated on labour and the Conservatives, but there are also MPs from the SNP, SDLP, SF, the DUP, UUP and plaid Cymru attending westminster. PC, the UUP and SDLP have been given either a clean bill of health or avoided for some other reason, but the other three parties have been caught up in the scandal and all three parties are prominent in their respective region's assmeblies/parliaments.

Secondly, you seem to be making the assumption that Belfast, cardiff and Edinburgh are all being run as tight ships- a click onto my "devolved absurdities" in the index will show that not to be the case- there have been more than a few highly publicised cases of (almost) criminal waste of money and dodgy expenses claims.

So away from the feverished atmospehre of the blogosphere I think most of the general public see only politicians be they at Westminster, Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh and the level of trust towards politicians is low wherever they may be stationed.

As the Westminster expenses scandal been the greatest danger to the Union for over 200 years? Nope, that "prize" has been clearly won by the devolution experiment.

O'Neill said...


A very interesting comment and I one that I'll answer in depth hopefully by the end of the week in a separate post.