When Tony Blair’s government launched their crusade to bring devolution to the United Kingdom after their landslide election in 1997, there was not shortage of voices urging caution. One of the most notable of these was the late Labour MP Tam Dalyell, most famous for coining the ‘West Lothian’ conundrum on the democratic deficit faced by England in the event of Scottish Home Rule. I argued frequently against the idea, being one of the most fervent advocates for UK Unionist integration it is possible to find. When the referenda in Scotland and Wales were won, Blair eagerly set about making real his pledge for devolved law-making powers in Edinburgh and Cardiff (the lesson of the last 25 years is that all governments are very quick to act on referendum results if the vote goes the way they desire). By May 1999, Scotland and Wales had their own devolved legislatures. Northern Ireland followed suit in December of that year (when the treaty legislation signed by the UK and Ireland regarding constitutional matters was signed into force), and by May of the Millennium ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone was master of all he surveyed in the capital.
With the exception of Northern Ireland, Labour’s propaganda centred on the need for devolution to ‘bring decision-making closer to the people’. In actual fact, it was an exercise of pure political cynicism designed to entrench Labour rule in parts of the Kingdom Blair thought his own party was forever unassailable. It also – he believed – would future-proof those places from a purely Conservative agenda once the electoral cycle had dumped his own party from power. In short, it would pit certain areas of the United Kingdom against the others (exemplified most potently in 2016, when the reality of the entire UK voting as one nation to leave the European Union, was instead subsumed beneath apocryphal arguments of balkanisation such as ‘Scotland voted to Remain’). The unity of the United Kingdom was sacrificed on the altar of ‘Project New Labour’ and it has never really recovered since.
Can anyone who believes in the UK as an indivisible nation-state possibly argue devolution is a good idea? It has created a whole generation of third-rate politicians always desperate to suck more powers away from Westminster to justify their jobs – even as they feather their own nests with expenses most ordinary folk would never dream of. In Wales it has ensconced a noted Corbynite (Mark Drakeford), whose knowledge of UK constitutional law looks as it’s come straight from a Richard Scarry book (https://metro.co.uk/2021/03/04/mark-drakeford-says-uk-is-over-and-union-should-be-voluntary-14190018/). In Northern Ireland it has emboldened those who luxuriate in the blood and soil nationalism of the IRA to such an extent, they’re now poised to be the dominant force in a neighbouring republic they barely accept as legitimate. London, thanks to Sadiq Khan and his war on the freedoms afforded by car ownership, is now one of the most daunting places on the planet if you want to get behind the wheel. Then there’s Scotland, where Blair’s calculation of Labour rule till the end of human existence was so far removed from reality, it resulted in a concerted effort to territorially behead a 300-year old country in 2014, the empowerment of a party with Anglophobia in its DNA, and sections of the Scottish government sucking in cash from UK taxpayers for the promotion of positions and policies outwith the competence of the parliament they lead (https://www.gov.scot/about/who-runs-government/cabinet-and-ministers/minister-for-independence/).
The United Kingdom is now facing attacks on its territorial integrity no other democracy would tolerate. Moreover, the government in London seems blasé about such attacks, whilst those sections of the media who hunger for the dismemberment of the country that delivered from the bosom of their beloved EU, hone in on any statement or news story to that end. If you want to know how much our current crop of politicians and civil servants have debased the very essence our of Union, just look at the invitations offered to Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and the SNP’s Humza Yousaf to attend the King’s Coronation. If the great mass of the British people can’t see the sickening irony of two individuals – whose political aim is to rupture the very Union of which Charles III was being crowned, with one of them even refusing to denounce 30 years of terrorism committed against the UK – attending that most special of historical ceremonies, then I honestly fear for their powers of intellectual perception!
Devolving powers down from central government (such as those in a federated system like Germany) only works when there is a specific constitutional prohibition on the secession of the subordinate territories. Both the German and Spanish constitutions, for example, forbid the break-up of those respective countries, with the Portuguese version even outlawing parties who only organise on a regional basis. But what do we have here? A weak David Cameron offering a binding ‘Scottish independence’ referendum on the basis of one parliamentary election. Tony Blair conciliating a heavily compromised IRA by promising Northern Ireland on a plate providing the votes stack up in their favour. Other countries don’t treat their integral components like this! I’d like to remind many of our supposedly great and powerful, who stand in front of the giant Union flag at the Cenotaph every Remembrance Sunday, that this is a United Kingdom millions of men in uniform have perished on battlefields in order to defend and protect. It should not be in the gift of any parliamentarian to have the power to eviscerate it – especially when those separatists would demand the same privileges after separation that are currently only available through the convenient reality of the UK constitutional settlement (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2023/07/27/scotland-independence-citizenship-passports-humza-yousaf/).
We are not the United States, Canada or Australia. We are an archipelago of 90,000 square miles that is perfectly capable of managing with one sovereign government. Devolution has fragmented this Kingdom- politically and emotionally – in ways that would never have been possible before Blair’s mendacious tinkering. It’s time to give devo the heave-ho! (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/05/31/devolution-has-been-a-disaster-yet-labour-hungers-for-more/)