Federalism: or, Deconstructing Unionism
Within the same 24 hour period Murdo Fraser proposes Federalism within Britain and David Cameron refuses to support the principle of Federalism in Europe by declining to endorse Jean-Claude Junckers’ nomination for Presidency of the EU Commission (a past Prime Minister of a very small European country – Luxembourg, who is disdainfully regarded as a ‘Federalist’ by Conservative Home, and therefore is unacceptable). If these two propositions together do not seem to make a great deal of sense, or even offer minimal internal intellectual coherence, that is because they do not make sense, and they are not coherent. After all, this is the Conservative Party: intellectual coherence is never a high priority.
Juncker’s nomination is supported by the European Parliament and probably all but Britain and Hungary among the European Union nation states. In a vote on the Council of Ministers, if forced to such an outcome by Cameron’s intransigence, Britain’s defeat is likely to be a humiliating 26-2. The British Eurosceptic media is already writing this up as ‘plucky Britain’, robbed by the reactionary forces of what may be considered a faintly malevolent and certainly insidious endeavour to create in Europe the scourge of ‘Universal Federalism’. Britain has thus managed to place itself in the invidious position of being almost friendless in Europe (which from a Eurosceptic perspective, consists exclusively of countries that are all presumably either too stupid or too culpable to notice either the ill-disposition or the treachery). This Splendid Isolationism has only been achieved by Britain through the application of prodigious diplomatic and political effort to fall out virtually with everyone in Europe – no mean feat; out of pure (British Unionist) political ideology that everyone in the EU now increasingly believes is tantamount to a British rejection of the whole European idea. This is presumably the strong and convincing basis on which Cameron intends to launch his increasingly far-fetched (if not already doomed) renegotiation of Britain’s terms of EU membership.
David Cameron, the man who said this about the Westminster Government’s unrivalled capacity to represent Scotland’s interests in Europe better than Scotland itself; “We’re stronger because together we count for more in the world, with …. …. real clout in …. Europe” (16th February, 2012): I did not realise then by ‘clout’ Cameron meant an indefatigable capacity to knock himself clean out. Britain in consequence of possessing a hapless PM now finds itself completely isolated; a leader who compounded the blunder by revealing with relentlessly crass ineptitude what everyone in Europe long suspected but did not wish to articulate; that Britain is not a sincere European, and its reputation as being a sincere European, committed to the idea of the EU through thick-and-thin, through the real and unavoidable vicissitudes of life, has been seriously, perhaps finally and permanently undermined. A blunder committed by Cameron in order to defend a British theory of Europe that not only never, ever existed in Europe (the old ‘Common Market Only’ conception of the EU dourly and dimly held by Britain from 1948, that finally died when Britain signed the accession treaty in 1972, but that British Governments carefully avoided ever admitting to the British electorate, presumably on the principle that they could best destroy the European idea clandestinely from the inside); but a blunder that will now comprehensively be rejected both by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers: all that is left for Britain under the current orthodox, anti-Federalist British Unionist political ideology – is to find the nearest door marked Exit.
It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Murdo Fraser; for it seems that he has had an epiphany on the political ‘road to Damascus’, but yet does not understand the more obvious implications: the Conservative Party is not Federalist and he finds himself in the wrong party. Alternatively he is much closer to Cameron than perhaps even he consciously realises: his sudden and late Damascene conversion to Federalism is then mere political opportunism in Scotland as the penny tardily drops in Conservative Party ‘minds’ that what is actually happening through the grass-roots referendum debate, announces a growing and decisive transformation in both Scottish politics, and the rise of a newly engaged, acute, probing, thoroughly sceptical electorate; questioning even the credibility of Westminster governance, and the untouchable nature of Westminster sovereignty, whatever the final result (Yes or No) of the referendum. Politics will never quite be the same again; which means the writing is probably ‘on the wall’ for the current crop of only too seasoned, failed, spin-educated, Delphic, slippery, Unionist politicians.
The Scottish polity, it is now fairly clear, is no longer prepared simply to define its future prospects and prosperity as being permanently and indissolubly of secondary importance to the vested interests of the City of London; and stoically prepared, endlessly to continue deferring Scotland’s own urgent (and definably Scottish community) interests in all material matters, to the hubris and greed of a self-serving Metropolitan political (so-called) “elite”, in the despairing hope that anything outside the London financial, property or media bubble will ever (even condescendingly) either register, or be given serious political weight or still less, effective and focused economic attention.
Furthermore, the Scottish electorate has slowly discovered, only through the protracted nature of the referendum campaign, that the UK Unionist parties represent solely the interests, not of the the Scottish people, or any fair representation of their aspirations or needs, but exclusively the narrow vested, electoral and political interests of the Political Parties themselves; oh, and the small group of politicians, insiders and cronies that manage and manipulate the organisations; thus intuitively improbable bedfellows like Conservative/LibDem or even Labour/Conservative prefer to unite over the really, big, serious political issues in Better Together, or Coalition, dissolving the supposed major political differences between them in Westminster as being of relative (and in reality) trifling importance; in order to protect best their convenient, narrow, vested, self-promoting interests in the continuation of the Unionist status quo: no matter the cost to ordinary Scottish people.
Better Together has managed to prove beyond reasonable doubt one sobering real fact; that within the Union nothing material, nothing fundamental, nothing decisively life-changing in the aspirations of (especially) the hitherto deprived or alienated, will ever change in Scotland; at least as long as Unionism survives. The answer to the words of the Peggy Lee song ‘Is that all there is?’; in Better Together’s promise for Scotland, turns out to be ‘Yes – this really is all there is’.
Meanwhile the slightly bizarre Murdo Fraser “offer” to the Scottish people of Federalism as reward for a ‘No’ vote might have made sense if offered in 2009 or 2010; or even a little later; made sense perhaps even all the way up to the moment before the second question in the Referendum was rejected by all the Unionist parties; let us be candid – because Better Together in early 2013 thought they could win ‘in a canter’ and swiftly return to business as usual in Westminster without doing anything at all. Federalism is thus at best a second-thought, or rather an anxious afterthought, or perhaps a worried insurance-policy to stave off an even worse outcome – independence; but instead of presenting a striking example of Conservative wisdom, Fraser’s gesture towards Federalism is fated to be seen as uncannily reminiscent of 1979: vote ‘No’ for Alec Douglas-Home’s promise of devolution, only to discover that the electorate thus disarmed prepares the ground as nothing else could allow, for Westminster to do with Scotland whatever it saw fit; that an electorate induced to vote ‘No’ then, was rewarded with the tender embrace of Margaret Thatcher’s idea of political economy in action; the obliteration of industrial Scotland. Ironically; and how deep an irony it is: it was Margaret Thatcher who destroyed the electoral prospects of the Conservative-Progressive alliance she found within the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Party’s future in Scotland with it; annihilated not just for a generation, but perhaps forever. Maggie’s legacy to Unionism was to destroy her own party in Scotland: some legacy for the Union.
That was then; this is now. Murdo Fraser seemed to realise there was a political paradigm-shift happening in Scotland some time ago; when he proposed a completely new party to replace the intellectually moribund, jejune dregs of Scottish Conservatism that still inhabited the rank corpse of the old Scottish party: but that didn’t work either. You might think that Scottish Conservatives could prove capable of learning such a hard lesson; but ‘No’, it seems, is what Scottish Conservatives do best, and with the typically angry conviction notable of Irascible and Witless Conservatism; followed quickly by offering an idea of Federalism in which Conservatives have no plausible history, and less credibility.
So what will happen if the electorate buys this Fraser gift-horse of Last-Minute-Federalism, offered almost as the doors of the polling-stations open? If the Scots (improbably) take Fraser at his word, and post a ‘No’ vote in the referendum; only if they are very, very ‘lucky’ (!) will it be David Cameron’s comic version of Family-Unionism that they will find is being implemented in Unionist Britain post the 2014 referendum; but it is more likely to be something much colder, clinical and harsh: closer to Boris Johnson’s version of contemporary bullying, London-centric Unionism, where £1 spent on London by public or private sector is both asserted and assumed to be worth ten times, perhaps one hundred times what it is worthwhile spending anywhere else in the UK. The result is inevitable whether or not it is Boris Johnson who actually pulls the strings: indeed, whether Conservative, or Labour (improbably) or some spatchcocked ‘Coalition of the Indistinguishable’ wins the 2015 General Election: the result is always inevitably the same, London thrives and everywhere else is deprived; and that will never change in any plausible version of Unionism.
For the avoidance of doubt, a ‘No’ vote in the referendum means one thing only – the Scottish people will be seen by Unionists as having surrendered their once-in-a-lifetime political power back to the Westminster status quo (remember the Unionist emphasis on this ‘one-time-only’ offer, only made last year): Scottish opinion will swiftly be deconstructed and interpreted by the Unionist political parties in Westminster as a decisive triumph for intransigent Unionism (whether or not the result was decisive or hanging by a thread); and you can guarantee that the Unionist voices will be strongest, angriest, militant that ‘No’ means ‘No’; the Scottish electorate in voting ‘No’ will quickly be provided with a layered re-interpretation of the result, that implies a rejection of further devolution, or at least of any material devolution; still more of the noxious idea of ‘Federalism’. This is the story that will quickly be spun, spread out over the so-called ‘national’ media into an incontrovertible fact; undeniable, save – it will be claimed – by disgruntled nationalists who cannot take a defeat (even if narrow) well, and can now be ignored by all respectable Westminster opinion; the only opinion that matters.
Unionism is committed to a certain form of interpretation of ‘Westminster sovereignty’, in which only subordinate power can be gifted downwards through what is euphemistically called ‘devolution’, but on the implicit understanding that it is on a strictly grace-and-favour basis; and be in no doubt that the Unionist commitment to Westminster sovereignty is deep, primal and visceral, and if grandly dressed in the panoply of Unionist ‘law’, Unionists invest this quasi-mystical Parliamentary Sovereignty with the authority and power almost of a law of nature; it does not change, and it gives nothing of its essential sovereignty; ever.