Tuesday, October 27, 2009

McLeish, Scottish Labour and the federalist bolt-hole

Labour in opposition for 'a generation', warns Henry McLeish

Labour could be out of government at Holyrood for decades unless the party finds an "intelligible" alternative to independence, a former First Minister has warned

McLeish: Labour Party 'in denial'

Labour, in trouble in Wales, in deeper trouble in Scotland, if these headlines from the BBC and Daily Telegraph are to be believed. They are based on an article written by the former First Minister Henry McLeish for the Holyrood magazine, an article which is much more nuanced than the screamers above would suggest:
Progressive politics in Scotland must confront the SNP with a constitutional alternative which appeals to Scots who are still lukewarm to the idea of independence, but may in the absence of a credible alternative start to warm to the softer, less aggressive and less anti-English tones of the SNP leadership.
He notes how far the SNP have apparently moved away from their "Brits Out" origins, e.g. Salmond would retain the monarchy, keep sterling, allow British troops to stay in Scotland, he’d even “permit” Scots to retain their British citizenship.

McLeish is arguing that because of this strategical softening the SNP’s appeal beyond their traditional voter base is growing. The fact that Scottish Labour (which, remember, has only one Holyrood seat less than the SNP) is running around like the worst kind of a headless chicken (an "intellectually exhausted one",) clinging on to "an old political era that has passed and which has been overtaken by a set of new political realities and challenges" has also greatly helped the SNP.

His solution for Scottish Labour and the wider Union?
The tendency has been to muddle through with the Union and other political issues as they are. This no longer makes any sense. We should be talking about the "F" word – federalism, both as a workable option for the future of Scotland and the Union as well as an alternative to independence.
Well...it isn’t one I’d agree with, but I also think it’s an alternative which will come more to prominence in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the next five years or so- as much for purely partisan reasons as for any desire to genuinely take on the various nationalists.

The original devolution experiment had its roots in the dissatisfaction felt by Labour in Scotland and Wales during the Thatcher and Major governments; it was an attempt, despite the present professed Unionism of Brown & Co, to ensure that a United Kingdom Conservative government would never hold sway again over the Labour heartlands in those two countries. It was automatically and arrogantly assumed that the Nats and the electorate would read the script and allow Labour to reinforce and govern its fiefdoms there in perpetuity- an assumption which has come back and given them a big fat punch on the mouth.

Faced with a Conservative United Kingdom government would there not be the temptation once again for Labour in Scotland and Wales to tamper constitutionally with the Union? I fear there would and I also would not be at all surprised to see the DUP in Northern Ireland push for the similar kind of further autonomy from Westminster. The crunch question any unionist must ask themselves faced with that choice is why would the federalist solution being suggested by McLeish do any better kind of job than the one devolution was supposed to do over a decade ago?

Those famous last words from George Robertson, "Devolution will kill nationalism stone" dead...."


andrewg said...

Federalism, if implemented properly, would have enormous advantages over the current system. I think you do the idea a disservice by dismissing it as a "bolt-hole", as if it didn't have a tried and tested pedigree elsewhere.

O'Neill said...


I agree that the present system is a neither here nor there form of governance and in all honesty, even from a Unionist pov, a properly functioning federal UK couldn't do a worse a job of governance and keeping the Union together. However, I want a form of government that improves the present state of governance and strengthens (not just *defends*)_ the Union. None of the arguments made for the federal state have won me over in that regard.

Regarding "bolt-hole", if you read Mcleish's piece, in effect that's how he's selling it to Scottish labour; "devolution has proved to be a disaster for us as a party, a federal state might dig us out of the mess we've created for oursleves". Very little attention paid to the continuing actual integrity of the United Kingdom there.

wildgoose said...

Given that Devolution happened and that there is no appetite to get rid of it I believe the only form of Union that is compatible with it is a federal Union.

To separate what divides us from what unites us.

Either that or recognise that Anglophobia is so entrenched in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the Union is finished.

Federalism or Independence. I don't personally see any other realistic choices available.

Word Verification: "unations" - if only!

DougtheDug said...

Federalism in the UK is a non-starter, a Norwegian Blue, an ex-parrot.

Devolution was able to be implemented because devolution is a provincial form of Government and the core principle of devolution is that the functions and procedures of central government remain unchanged.

The philosophy of devolution is of provinces devolved from a unitary Anglo-Britain. Devolution for England as a single unit was never considered because the centre devolving power to the centre is pointless.

"Four Nation", federalism would result in two things. The first would be the recognition that England and Britain are separate and that Britain is a political union not a nation. The second would be the complete reorganisation of Government in the UK. The role and powers of Westminster would be broken up into four federal parliaments and a single UK parliament. It would be a complete restructuring of the UK system of Government.

The unionist parties in Scotland had a chance with the Calman Commission to do something radical but they came up with a dog's breakfast of a funding solution and no real transfer of powers. Given the opportunity they blew it. There will also be the fear that a federalist state will make it easier for the SNP to convince the Scots about independence the more marked the divisions are between the constituent nations of the UK.

We should be talking about the "F" word - federalism, both as a workable option for the future of Scotland and the Union as well as an alternative to independence.

McLeish hasn't worked out that federalism in the context of four national parliaments and a UK parliament is never going to get past the fear, paralysis and the, "one unitary Britain", viewpoint of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems.

Don't worry about Federalism, it'll never happen.

tony said...

I actually agree with you *again* Oneil, twice in the wan month. Shocking isn't it!

tony said...

>>Either that or recognise that Anglophobia is so entrenched in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the Union is finished.<<

I have challenged you repeatedly on these accusations Wildgoose, time to put up or shut up. How is the English defence league this weather anyhow?

wildgoose said...


Prolonged celebration of Bannockburn shows SNP’s Anglophobia.

There, I've put up so now you can shut up.

As for the EDL, I am a Rugby man who doesn't know the first thing about football fan offshoots, so you can drop your pathetic insinuations.

tony said...


>>so you can drop your pathetic insinuations.<<

*thwackkkkk* Just the very point I am making at you. ;¬)

tony said...

Wildgoose, re-your link

Teaching us Scottish history is bad?!?! and remembering Bannockburn is anti-English?!?!

As grown ups we require evidence to back up wild generalisations, thank you. Of course it is obvious to the educated just why my generation and all those before were not taught Scottish history in Schools. Unfortunately for you imperialist types we are no longer willing to be treated like mushrooms. Kept in the dark and fed shit.

Be a proud Englishman without always having to look to your betters for faults, there's a good chap! There are better searchers than you who have yet to discover if there are any.

wildgoose said...

Unfortunately for you imperialist types...

*thwackkkkk* As you promptly prove my point.

Last I noticed England does not have a Parliament of her own (unlike Scotland) instead suffering the colonial misrule of a Scottish imposition. Gordon Brown is not answerable to a single English constituent. In this matter, Scotland is the Imperial Power and England the abused colony. And yet you love to insinuate otherwise....

tony said...

Typical Englishman!

Steal my patter as well as my country.

Notice that you have yet to put up, so perhaps you should shut your geggie regarding all the sad nonsense regarding Scotland. Wee Gordy and the sad new age new Labour 'Unionists' are a disgrace and will never be forgotten once our objectives have been achieved. Happy to sell out their country for the sake of their careers, you are welcome to them!

Anonymous said...

Anglophobia is endemic in possibly 10-20% of the population up here I would guess but I have know idea really. You know David opinion polls always show a large majority actually like English people.

As the English are our colonial slaves, we think we treat you quite well.

tony said...

To add to annoymous's point I reckon that we are very friendly. A poll on Scots supporting teams at the last Euro championships had a majority going to lend their support to England. Mind you I heard that they conducted the survey at castle greyskull, the home of Rangers fc.

Never has there been so much mopery based on so little substance Wildgoose.