Tony Blair’s Labour government legislated for devolved legislatures for Scotland, Wales and NI on the basis that England couldn’t have one. Instead, there was a token effort to create English regional assemblies. This was doomed to failure at the first hurdle, which is why John Prescott was put in charge of it.

The fundamental problem with a devolved English parliament was – and is – that with 85% of the UK population under its powers it would completely overwhelm the other UK nations and seriously undermine the UK parliament’s sovereignty into the bargain. This in turn would make the downward movement of powers under the principle of subsidiarity in Europe – which in theory balances the upward ‘pooling’ of sovereign powers – impossible. It would also mean that, for the large part, the English legislature would be running the UK. Under a UK Labour government, the notion of a Tory- dominated England having such powers was naturally very attractive to the Tories and that is why the call for an English parliament was always a pastime of the right.

If it seems odd that an English legislature exercising ‘devolved’ powers would stymie all the others in this way, the NHS provides a useful example of why. Health is devolved to Scotland, of course, but the Scottish government’s true powers are constrained by the way it is party to many decisions agreed by UK-led institutions. So the Royal Colleges make big decisions which govern professional standards and which in turn have a profound effect on the cost of Labour. Unions in Scotland unstandably combat substantial regional pay negotiations because it would likely mean less for their members by comparison to English colleagues. NICE effectively decides which medicines are used by the NHS and therefore controls price. The purchasing-power of English trusts and commissioning bodies are such that they essentially set the price of many goods and services. To the chagrin of the Scottish government, therefore, its powers over ostensibly devolved issues are much like an English school head who is told that she has 100% of her budget devolved but is in fact hedged-in by decisions which already account for over 90% of her apparent powers.

So, no English devolution then, while the UK parliament and, crucially, the powers pooled at the EU have together served to prevent English institutions from leaving the devolved legislatures with little more than the scraps.

Brexit has changed all of this in the most profound of ways by removing the EU as a guarantor of how subsidiarity will apply within the UK. Added to this, from a Westminster point of view there are no UK-wide parties any longer. Having a single MP in Scotland – and very little is like to change there – is no more politically relevant than having none at all. The Tory party in the UK’s parliament is all about the priorities of English Tory MPs. And, guess what? The same is true of Labour and the Lib Dems. All of these parties have ‘discounted’ Scotland – they all assume the SNP will continue to hold almost all the Scottish voting power at Westminster and so internal power-brokering and leadership contests are only truly concerned with the opinions of England’s and Wales’ representatives.

In other words, outside the EU context in which the UK’s present constitutional structure has been carefully put together, and in the face of the non-existence of any party with proper UK-wide representation at Westminster, the UK parliament is evolving into the English legislature officials and politicians have feared since devolution began in earnest. We do not even have to wait until Brexit officially takes place. Every single powerful cabinet minister responsible for Brexit negotiations – and therefore responsible for the most important legislation every put before the UK parliament – has been drawn from the English Tory Party’s Eurosceptic right. Their job is to drive through an agenda which cements the ascendancy of the English right in a long-term Tory country. Scotland’s distinctive social democratic culture is not simply an afterthought for these highly motivated and ideological people – it is an anathema. For them, the SNP government in Scotland represents what Labour does in England – an opposition to be defeated along with the core values of those they represent.

In these circumstances, the role of the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson cannot help but be to serve the UK Tory government’s interests in Scotland (her reversed position on Brexit is a perfect example of this). In the process, Davidson has in effect taken on governmental responsibilities at UK cabinet level (Theresa May will obviously regard Davidson – and not Scotland’s only MP who spends his week at Westminster – as her primary adviser on Scottish matters). Yet Davidson’s powerful new role has no checks and balances as she has never been elected in that capacity.

The terms upon which Scots collectively voted ‘No’ at the 2014 Scottish referendum – the defence of Scottish social democracy in partnership with a Westminster parliament constrained by the UK membership of Europe to acting in the UK as a whole’s best interest – have now been completely exploded. The profoundly undemocratic nature of UK governance, from the overwhelming dominance of the English right to the unelected powers of the Scottish Tories to the desire by the English right to reverse the social democratic choices of Scots have rendered the new status quo within the UK untenable and potentially monstrous. It simply cannot hold.

Nor, to be frank, do politicians in England expect it to. Most Labour members in England think Scots should preserve their social and political cultures through independence in Europe. And most Tories do not care much about Scotland at all other than to occasionally reflect, misty-eyed, about the role of Scotland in empire.

For Scotland’s great social-democratic middle, therefore, moving from No to Yes is not a question of whether they are being forced to support the SNP government. It is a question of existence. Without Scotland, Great Britain is no more and the notion of a United Kingdom becomes a sad and unintentional joke. There are two countries now – England/Wales and Scotland. The only thing to be done is to accept the moral force of that proposition and begin working for a new relationship  – one country of the right on the margins of Europe, the other social democratic and very much at Europe’s heart. Mutually-respecting, good neighbours of course. But certainly different.






27 Responses to BRITANNIA IS DEAD – England rules, but not for long.
  1. Eric, a very warm welcome aboard the good ship independence – you’ll find we are a welcoming bunch. More than half of all po-indies were once not. I have been impressed by your assessments and look forward to your contribution to Scottish politics in the future. The frustration you felt can now be stomped on and you can and are free to promote Scotland’s independence and we’ll all be the better for it. I’llshare your articles on FB and hope you continue to keep us focussed.

    Just one question about the referendum : I personally exêcted the BritNats to cry down and ridicule pro-indy arguments but even I (hardened to their excesses) found myself sickened by their contempt for Scotland and the Scots in the end; how did you feel about the Brit anti-indy campaign?

    • Thanks, Steven. I blogged a bit at the time about how awful the campaign was. It treated Scots like idiots and lost any moral credibility it might have started with.

  2. Dont care much about the blue tories Eric we have them exactly where we want them,they will soon find out that we were only playing with Slab when we turn the big cybernat spotlight on them.

    I would also agree with your comments about English Labour members though only those who do not back the right wing Blairites,a lot of these guys were in Scotland watching in 2013-2014 and to their credit they learned something and are now trying it out in England.

    Though i do think they have picked the wrong party to try it with too many Blairite vermin in ermine,they would be smart to split the party and go looking for the English pro EU vote,there is a referendum backlash coming and any party that can grab either the brexit or remain vote could sweep into power in westminster,i just cant see that happening inside Labour while the PLP and peers join forces with the blue tories to attack any kind of progressive politics coming out the Labour membership.

    I like JC but he has to understand he is the leader of a westminster establishment party even if he is not establishment himself ,and that the monstering he has been given will not stop as long as he has a chance of being PM,he really is a lot more dangerous to the neo liberal agenda than they would like everybody to think.

    Either way i wish him luck but we Scots are not going to hang about to see if he changes Labour or not,but i do hope one day we can invite him as PM of England to a state visit of Scotland where we can discuss the future of both our countries and the island we share rationally instead of the usual westminster doom gloom and disaster big book of dirty lies.

    • The Tories are a very long way ahead of Labour in the English polls, at a time when oppositions are typically well in front. There is no chance whatever that Labour can win a UK election. For Corbyn supporters in Scotland who don’t fancy an English Tory government running Scotland, they can either choose to help it or to support independence and work for ways of expressing their politics in an independent Scotland. That’s really the only choice they have.

      • Dont discount the possible referendum backlash Eric ,the UK political system until 2014 had never experienced the fall out of a constitutional referendum before.

        Like in Scotland if a party can harness one side of the EU vote there is a potential 50% vote to be won and that in a UK general election will make you PM.

        Referendum have a funny way of producing unexpected post referendum election results,will it happen in England well with the Labour grassroots movement it certainly looks like it is and with the blue tories after desperatly trying to pass the buck on to UKIP are left holding the bag they could find themselves getting the Scottish Labour treatment as pro EU and anti EU tory voters move to both Labour and UKIP as the conservatives try to play both sides in the middle.

        If anything it is going to be interesting to see if the tories can keep both sides of the EU debate voting for them.

        • The Tories are going to scoop up quite a bit of the UKIP vote now (what’s UKIP for; note the roles of Fox, Davis, Johnson in the govt). Some Labour ‘Leave’ voters might to go UKIP, I guess. On the whole, though, folk don’t want a second referendum and seem very likely to vote the Tories back at a split Labour’s expense. For Scots on the left, unless they want to help out the English Tory ascendancy, their best bet is to choose independence.

  3. When I heard Ruth Davidson had been appointed to the Privy Council I thought that her role as an MSP would be compromised and as far as the Scottish Parliament was concerned it would cause a conflict of interest. How can she serve in
    the Scottish Parliament and serve in a UK government position, undermining our FM?

    • You’re quite right, Joyce. Nicola Sturgeon is a privy counsellor by virtue of being First Minister and technically an adviser to the Queen – who of course remains head of state in Scotland. Ruth Davidson’s role, though, is much more about having power within the UK government set-up. I hope MSPs tackle that conflict of interest whenever they can.

  4. I agree with much of what you say Eric but query your statement that “the notion of a United Kingdom becomes a sad and unintentional joke” – simply because you haven’t brought northern ireland into the equation. Have you any view on what to do with it – (rationally we all know it best path would be join the Republic within the EU as the majority voted for ) but more to the point how to do it?

    • Yeah, I left NI out of Britain. I think that’s already rolling along nicely. When the DUP are telling folk to get Irish passports,somethings on the move. Most NI residents will qualify to remain EU citizens for the purposes of travel, study, work and all the rest. They’ll have the protection of the ECHR when they’re not in NI, and much else besides. I guess demographics will give that part of the union the coup de grace one day. In the meantime, most NI folk just don’t face the same hazard re: Brexit which people do in Scotland.

    • I cant say I’m an expert on NI but it seems to me that you need the wisdom of Solomon to sort it out. Whilst there are 20metre walls between communities there can be no lasting peace. I would go for an independent NI within the EU as a first step and maybe in 50years if the walls are down they possibly could reunite. That way there is no need for a hard border on the island and both parties get something but neither gets everything.

      • Thanks, Kangaroo. Interesting. A key thing, I think, just now is that there’s no border posts. That was part of the Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement in 1923. They were put back in during The Troubles for security reasons, of course, and have now been removed. The reinstatement of hard borders would amount to a re-partitioning of Ireland at at time when many more NI folk are taking up Irish citizenship to remain part of the EU. An agreement to keep the border open now would, I understand, need the agreement of all the EU states. And yet this seems perfectly likely. No-one in the EU will wish to be accused of being cavalier with Ireland’s recent past. And if there can be an open border on the Island of Ireland there can certainly be one on mainland Britain. There would be choices for an independent Scotland, of course. An open border would likely entail an agreement on immigration policy.

  5. Great news Eric. I wish you all the luck with this. We need all the help we can get to ensure we get independence this time around with all the media, unionists and Westminster ganging up for Fear Campsign 2.

  6. I agree with the majority of this article but would mention that although the NHS in Scotland may take advice from NICE, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) is the decision maker for NHS Scotland.

    • Thanks for this, Richard. Funnily enough (!) I changed that last night but I see that one of the versions (there are two on the website) remains unchanged. I changed it to ‘Nice effectively decides’..on the basis that I think virtually all of NICE’s decisions are upheld by the SMC. I may be wrong (every possibility, frankly…) but my understanding is that the SMC in effect applies the odd variation to NICE decisions but the essential template is NICE’s. It’s a perfectly sensible model, I should say, and there’s no reason that Scotland would need to create brand new institutions in all areas under independence – it would make sense to collaborate in this way in all sorts of contexts. A critical thing under independence would be to be able to get more leverage over pricing. Changing the other version now…!

  7. A very thoughtful and well written article. Thanks

  8. Most labour members in England: interesting and do you believe that any are of influence? We await SLAB members to show their hand. Thank you for provoking thoughts .

    • It’s anecdotal, but yes I think so. Before Brexit, of course, many English members were sympathetic to the SNP. Post-Brexit, the folk I’ve spoken to think it’s pretty much a no-brainer. Perhaps Labour’s weakness in England is influenced their opinions, but in general I think English Labour members see in Scotland the kind of values they’d like to see reflected in England.

  9. You’re correct about the role Ruth Davidson will play. I believe that this is principally why she was made a Privvy Councillor. I fear that she will become the PM’s woman in Scotland and advancing the Tory agenda from Westminster. Labour are to feeble to spot this.

    I’m surprised that you’re the only person to have mentioned this role.

    • I think it’ll have to become a big issue over time. She’s in a kind of reverse Secretary of State position now. The risk is that she will in effect run ‘reserved’ Scotland while Nicola runs ‘devolved Scotland’ – except she hasn’t been elected. She’ll be able to stymie Scottish legislation by affecting the reserved stuff. It’s really quite dysfunctional.

      • That’s a rather scary notion, Eric, but I wonder if it is really any worse than having Mundell in that position. Let’s be honest, he was only narrowly elected and by only one constituency.

  10. It all appeared to be heading the way you describe, but already the overwhelming influence of right wing and anglo-centric media are ‘normalising’ the new status quo including hostility to the SNP.

    In Scotland, Labour and the LibDems are back to obsessing about the SNP obsessing about indyref2, and made it clear that for them, UK takes precedence no matter what.

    I fear that what you and others are pointing out is a whisper against this background and it’s vital that we all seek to counter this. Perhaps re-constituting Yes groups is one way. Some proved to be very effective gathering places in 2014.

    Why do you think Labour in London does not say to Scotland, go on and good luck to you. If you can create a social democracy through independence, we support you, and hope you inspire people throughout the UK. Better that 5 million achieve this in indy Scotland than none in a United Kingdom.

    • I think most English Labour members do see it that way – and the leadership at the moment has always been sympathetic to Irish nationalism in NI and are certainly sympathetic to the same in Scotland. In addition, there’s no voting benefit for the Labour leadership now; it makes more sense to go for a close short-term relationship with the SNP in order to harry (and perhaps even sometimes defeat) the Tories.

      It interesting, what you’re saying about the media. That would be the natural thing, I guess. There’s no intellectual validity at all in the old arguments now, though, so I do hope some media orgs will come over. You’re right, though, about working away over time. My own view is that there are quite a lot of folk who can be moved from No to Yes and they may in the end be decisive. It’s hard for Scotgov to call a new referendum, of course, but if we even get close to 60% over the next year or two then I think they’ll do it. It all has the feel of a very winnable battle.


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