Demanding Relatives

Scotland-map-web2By Mike Small

“If Scotland votes no, Westminster’s claim to undivided authority over the country? Dead and buried. After a no vote we’ll have a system of government as close to federalism as you can have in a nation where one part forms 85% of the population.” – Gordon Brown

The danger for the ongoing momentum of the Yes movement is that it infuses the General Election and the wider body politic of Westminster with more credibility than it deserves. Each day parties are announcing their roster of new candidates and battle will commence in the new terrain of multi-party politics and the most open election in decades.

As the new model Tartan Army gets set: Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East); Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire); Michelle Thomson (Edinburgh West); Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh SouthWest) amongst them, how is the new political landscape being viewed?

Rather than being grateful for the emergency blood transfusion that the candidates and leaders of the SNP, Greens and Plaid will bring to the debate, writing today, the Guardian’s executive editor, Jonathan Freedland, seems seriously freaked out (‘This pre-election jockeying could threaten the United Kingdom itself’):

“It’s a dispiriting sight. While the big forces that threaten Britain stretch far beyond these shores – an ailing global economy, climate change, violent jihadism – the nations of these small islands are turning against, not towards, each other. One of Labour’s more thoughtful politicians is watching this with alarm. If a country is defined as a community of shared sympathy, he tells me, then “at the moment politics is pulling those sympathies apart rather than pulling us together”.

Who is the Mystery Man?

I don’t think it’s TOO hard to figure that out, given Freedland’s frequent lavish praise on Kirkcaldy’s newly weaponised former PM. You may stifle a chuckle at the framing of the debate though. ‘If only those pesky Celts thought like Team GB then we’d be able to smite those Jihadists’ is a great way of ignoring the role that precisely that closed-thinking brought to a reckless foreign policy disaster, or, for example how Tory-Labour light-touch financial regulations created the playground for the super-rich and banking fiasco.

A ‘community of shared sympathy’ is one of those vague New Labour neologisms hanging around like a malodorous concept of political dithering. It’s only a focus group away from ‘pooling and sharing’.

In similar mysterious tone Freedland continues suggesting: “the UK has always been a union of four sometimes competing nations – but we’ve not been honest about it. Ours has been a “crypto-federalist” system, one that hides our true nature from ourselves.” We really have entered the twilight zone here with the rearing of the spectacularly misplaced idea that Britain has, is, or ever will be ‘Federal’ in nature.

It’s worth remembering what Federalism actually means. It is: ‘A system of government in which power is divided between a national (federal) government and various regional governments. Federalism is a system whereby the states are not merely regional representatives of the federal government, but are granted independent powers and responsibilities. With their own legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch, states are empowered to pass, enforce, and interpret laws, provided they do not violate the Constitution.’

Firstly we’re supposed to be a union of nations, not regions. Scotland’s not equivalent to Idaho. Second, the UK’s massive asymmetry – with one of the nations hugely different in numbers to all of the rest, makes such an arrangement ridiculous. Third, the idea of federalism is that the constituent parts offer a check and a balance on the central government. No such relationship does or ever will exist in Britain. Fourth, it’s clear from the Smith Commission process that devolution is something tolerated by the British State, not rooted in political culture. Fifth, without a written constitution, the tensions and complexities of any federal structure is meaningless.

Federalism, is, like ‘Home Rule’ and ‘sustainability’ one of those now catch-all phrases that has been drained of it’s meaning after long periods of abuse. This allows it to be brought up over and over like some kind of Pavlovan treat, always, but never quite achievable.

It fits beautifully with Labour’s recent messaging:

‘We never promised Home Rule’

‘We have delivered Home Rule’

‘We are going to deliver Home Rule’

But the true nature of how Freedland, and you suspect most of the London commentariat view the process, is revealed beautifully when he says: “Arguments between Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland that used to be buried are now being played out in public. For voters it’s probably a disconcerting experience, like a gathering of the extended family where you discover demanding relatives you only dimly knew you had.”

It’s a wonderful moment to realise that what you or I might think of as part of the democratic process that we have just been pleaded to stay part of, is, in fact, a ‘disconcerting experience’, and that rather than part of a ‘wonderful family of nations’ we are dimly-recollected distant relatives.

It’s a remainder of the wonderful quote from John Major back in 1991 when the Tories were opposing even the most basic forms of devolution:

“The Scots just feel left out of things up there, and I have a good deal of sympathy with that. I ought to go there much more often and so should the rest of the Cabinet. If they see us around more, they’ll feel a lot less cut off”.


Comments (46)

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  1. Geel says:

    “Our family of nations.” A family of equals?

    1. Frederick Robinson says:

      A family: parents, children, relatives. Scarcely equal….

  2. Aggie says:

    Where is the thought behind the thoughtful Labour politician? I would argue that those entering politics are bringing sympathy and experience and understanding of matters beyond serving the status quo .. we are seeing the re-emergence of sympathy in political activism, and the voices of people not career troughers

  3. Ysabelle Stewart says:

    Good article, and some very revealing quotes too. I particularly liked:

    “Arguments between Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland that used to be buried are now being played out in public. For voters it’s probably a disconcerting experience, like a gathering of the extended family where you discover demanding relatives you only dimly knew you had.”

    I’ll bet he doesn’t even understand what is wrong with this.

    1. JeanieDeans says:

      He makes our case for us, poor lamb.

  4. bringiton says:

    The unionists have the chicken before the egg.
    Responsibility comes from empowerment and not the other way round as they would have us believe.
    Until we have complete control over our income,we Scots will not have the power necessary to exercise responsibility in any meaningful way.
    Dependency is what they are really about,making sure we continue to depend on handouts from London and the cringe culture that that fosters.

  5. RDH says:

    The Guardian’s socio-political view of the world is exactly like that famous New Yorker magazine cover from 1976…

    “The work presents the view from
    Manhattan of the rest of the world showing
    Manhattan as the center of the world”

    Only that cover was ironic – with Freedland, White et al it’s organic and unquestioned. And with Freedland to be the next editor? Rejoice O liberati.

    1. Frederick Robinson says:

      Funny you should say that: in recent times I’ve had the distinct impression the Yes campaign thought IT was (in fact, is and will be, by their lights) ‘the centre of the world’ (British English spelling), with Alex Salmond once, and Nicola Sturgeon now, the epicentre…..

      1. Shaun says:

        There is certainly some truth to this.

        Even several months after the referendum, many nationalists still think that independence is the salient political issue within Scotland, even though most Scots would like nothing more than to move on from the issue now that the referendum is over with and try and tackle the issues that mean most to them.

      2. daviddynamo says:

        I disagree. The only way in which Scotland is ‘the centre of the world’ is due to many of our people having to leave Scotland & emigrate all around the world for employment. This is caused deliberately by the economic policies adopted by Westminster. to downgrade our industries and promote casino banking instead.

      3. daviddynamo says:

        Shaun, most of the ‘issues’ we have in Scotland are caused by political mis-management from Westminster. WM, helped by its ‘First Past The Post’ voting system, is the problem, not the solution. Labour and the Conservatives are indistinguishable, and interchangeable, nowadays. Neither party has policies that will help the people of Scotland. They both believe in ‘austerity’, and they both are filled with millionaires who care for nobody except themselves. Independence, or DevoMax, or Full Fiscal Autonomy, are the only ways out of the quicksand, and they can only be achieved by voting for SNP at the General Election. (Or Green if you live in Brighton.)

      4. Whereas you would be more comfortable if Scotland remained safely “peripheral”?

      5. Clootie says:

        I know it’s a waste of time explaining it to an angry unionist but the YES campaign was always about building a fairer society. Those who assert self interest by any of those involved is doing so for political reasons.
        It is normally those who make such claims who are usually driven by self interest – ” I have done OK out of the neo-liberal model of the West, why rock the boat”

        You consider a leader corrupt because we currently live in a society of greed. I am, so he must be.

        Do you never pause to think ” Is this the best we can do?”
        A measure of society is how we look after those in need and realise the potential of the young.

        You stick with Wars/Nukes and Greed.
        I’ll go with Free education/ Strong Welfare provision and rewarding careers.

        We currently pay the least to those professions that help develop and protect people and most to those who gamble money.

  6. Well, as I know, we don’t all hate each other and I get sooo annoyed at people telling me who I do (or don’t) hate. They don’t bother with who I, or you, might love, do they? That might present them with the wrong answers. But I think that the election in May – and we are not the only “country” holding elections in the next year or two – should make us think hard on what we all mean by “democracy”, and community, and sharing of power, and giving it away if necessary.

    I have friends in Wales, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I don’t have friends in Westminster. I am inspired, being a lover of Greece, by Syriza’s progress. As I was and still am by the independence debate in Scotland. I am looking forward to the same for Podemos. Where next I wonder will the people rise up?

    I don’t know and can’t forecast what the result will be, but I really hope the result will be a message that Westminster can no longer ignore or push aside. Then, just maybe, all of us, in our own separate ways, can create a better future.

    1. Frederick Robinson says:

      I wish you well, but would remind you of the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square.

      1. Are you suggesting that even in little Scotland the Americans will instigate a coup to overthrow a democratically elected government that doesn’t dance to their tune?
        I fully expect them to try.

  7. Clootie says:

    “…like a gathering of the extended family where you discover demanding relatives you only dimly knew you had”

    That was the ONE for me. It appears that we should know our place and enjoy the crumbs and be grateful.

    what next ” If we keep up this nonsense we will all suffer instead of just the remote bits!”

  8. fermerfaefife says:

    is there anywhere where we can get a list of the SNP candidates that have won thru the nominations?

  9. Frederick Robinson says:

    Anybody would think Scotland was the only part of the UK that suffers. The kind of views being expressed during the Referendum (with at least the opportunity to express them publicly/politically!) I remember being widespread in my East Midlands birthplace as long ago as the 1950s, when Alan Sillitoe, Stanley Middleton and – albeit revived – D.H. Lawrence were being lionised, along with Angry Young North of England writers, much as Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh et al, are celebrated now. And for much the same reasons – feelings of local pride, sense of being neglected, resentment at the pre-eminence of – not solely Westminster, but the South of England in general. ‘Demanding relatives’ are ubiquitous.

    1. Are you suggesting we should just shut up and take whatever half-hearted crumbs the British Establishment deems us worthy of?

      1. John says:

        Ignore him and he’ll go away.

      2. MBC says:

        Yeah, troll alert.

      3. Sarah says:

        He does have a bit of a point. Maybe we should offer to take the North and the Midlands with us….

    2. daviddynamo says:

      Agreed, Frederick, there are plenty of areas or regions in the rest of the UK that would be best served by demanding more autonomy from Westminster. That however, is a matter for the people in those areas. Bella Caledonia naturally has a focus on Scotland and the people who live in Scotland (including the many who chose to come here from elsewhere- all are welcome as long as they are not fuds.)

    3. kailyard rules says:

      Do you mean all that Kitchen Sink Romanticism ? “Oh look, that’s me up there on the silver screen,sinking fifteen pints of best and still making it into my sunday morning overtime shift at the lathe.” At least there was still a lathe to operate and a tool room for a trustee.
      Though not for those Welshian street entrepreneurs of some dark satanic highrises post Thatcher. As for Lawrence and Gray, well there is always a wee bit room at the top for bobos.

    4. Clootie says:

      No – we are suggesting that we do something about it, and since we cannot change Westminster, then we build a fairer society in Scotland.

      We could have had a fairer society across the UK if Labour and the LibDems had retained their principles instead of compromising them for power and party interest.

      A call for change only arises through injustice. If you keeping dragging the wealth and power to London it then generates more income than the regions. This is used to justify dragging more investment and power to London and the downward spiral continues. (Roman Empire / British Empire)
      The logic of your statement appears to be “all the regions are doing badly, why should we try to do better”. The main reason is that many of us consider Scotland to be a nation and not a region and feel capable of managing our affairs better, and more importanty FAIRER..

    5. Heidstaethefire says:

      You are half right. Scotland is not the only part of the U.K. to suffer under the neoliberal settlement, but we are in a position to do something about it. In doing so, we might finally put to rest the old Thatcher canard that there is no alternative – to rU.K’s long term good.

  10. John says:

    This says it all about labour.
    ‘We never promised Home Rule’

    ‘We have delivered Home Rule’

    ‘We are going to deliver Home Rule’

  11. BeattiePitlochry says:

    “Firstly we’re supposed to be a union of nations, not regions. Scotland’s not equivalent to Idaho. Second, the UK’s massive asymmetry – with one of the nations hugely different in numbers to all of the rest, makes such an arrangement ridiculous. Third, the idea of federalism is that the constituent parts offer a check and a balance on the central government. No such relationship does or ever will exist in Britain. Fourth, it’s clear from the Smith Commission process that devolution is something tolerated by the British State, not rooted in political culture. Fifth, without a written constitution, the tensions and complexities of any federal structure is meaningless.”

    The third point you’ve made here is pretty wide of the mark. You’ve claimed that the idea of federalism is that “the constituent parts offer a check and balance on the central government”. In reality, the point in federalism is that you have a division of powers between different levels of government, not that state-level administrations are simply keeping an eye on what the federal level does. In a federal system like that in the United States, for instance, there are clearly defined areas where the federal government has no right to exercise decision-making authority – because these areas are reserved for state-level institutions. You seem to be suggesting that federalism means that the federal government can legislate in all areas and that the role of state-level institutions is simply to check this power (in the way the House of Lords is supposed to function in the UK). Some federal systems *can* have a second chamber based on state-level representatives (this is how Germany works) but that’s not the idea behind federalism.

    The real reason why a federal system makes sense in cases like Germany is that you have a series of distinct territories who nevertheless have a level of integration that makes joint-decision making (in some areas, not all) beneficial. You’ve said Scotland isn’t the equivalent to Idaho, but you could equally cite somewhere like Bavaria, for instance, which has a long history of being independent, yet sits within a pretty reasonable federal structure. Whether Bavaria is a “nation” or a “region” (or a state) doesn’t really make a great deal of difference in terms of governance. The point is some shared decision-making is made at the federal level, while other decisions are made at the state level. What you call that system and the constituent parts within it is a bit of an irrelevance.

  12. Alex Wright says:

    I’m sorry you’re alarmed about this Gov. But I’m finding it quite difficult to doff my cap & pull my forelock with a brush handle up my arse at the same time. Sorry about that.

  13. Darien says:

    Personally I don’t believe that after May and a declaration of Scotland’s independence by the 40+ SNP MP’s that UK PM Cameron (or Millibland) will send north 600 armoured troop carriers to crush the rebellious Scots. These days are gone now…….and in the past…..they shall remain…. etc etc. So, declaration, followed by diplomacy, between equals. All frightfully democratic.

    1. Doon the A701 says:

      In that imaginary scenario the threat wouldn’t come from the south, it would come from within, i.e. the 55% who voted against independence. So in order to avoid the repeat of a Yogoslav-style civil war, here’s a suggestion on how to avoid any conflict. Divide Scotland into ‘old’ (British) and ‘new’ (Independent). But how? The northern and southern parts are easy (Orkney, Shetland, Borders, D&G) since they rejected independence by 2:1. They remain ‘old’ Scotland. The Lothians and the East coast were less in favour of independence than the national average so they remain ‘old’ Scotland as well. Of course Dundee is the exception (as is East Renfrewshire in the west), so we simply get them to swap over. So the West becomes ‘new’ Scotland. Not sure where the central north/south dividing line should be, but we can work that one out. Then the thorny issue of the Highlands who voted approx 50:50. Solution – we share that region. There you go, a wee bit of radical thinking!

      1. Darien says:

        Ah, the 55% who voted Naw. You mean the 1m auld folk, the 0.5m well healed, and the 0.5m English born – and the many across these groups who only registered via second homes in Scotland. Nah, these groups don’t do revolt. They are a ‘silent majority’, remember.

      2. Shaun says:

        A silent and civil majority. And one that will not be bullied by the minority.

      3. Darien says:

        That ‘minority’ is now a majority, as we will see in May. I hope you ‘No’ folks can respect that.

  14. Alistair Robertson says:

    They said we’d be ” Better Together” but what they meant was that we’d be better together with their ideals. What they face and what is making them so unnerved is the prospect that the “Better Together” won’t be theirs any longer and radically different to what they intended. I’m quite enjoying seeing them getting freaked out. {rubs hands enthusiastically}

  15. Roslyn says:

    Are we infusing the GE with more credibility than it deserves? Is this not Scotland’s opportunity to shake the branch the delusional London commentariat are sitting in squinting down at us from? Do many in Scotland believe it has any credibility ever? Except perhaps now in the context of changing European attitudes, adding our contribution to that growing picture of democracy in action is the biggest step towards credibility we can take?

  16. r baxter says:

    they have arrived military troll brigade.

  17. Dan Huil says:

    Red Tories, Blue Tories – they’re both the same. The people of Scotland have been faced with this pointless choice for too long. Time for change – time to elect as many SNP MPs as possible.

    1. Monty says:

      If you combine red Tories and blue tories you end up with tartan Tories

  18. Heather says:

    Its amazing how many are so deluded into thinking that we live in a democracy at all and that they will be looked after by westminster politicians. I was just reading up on sustainable development and came across the Sustainable Development Commission. (take a look they have an archive site, its v good). Ok they were set up by labour in the year 2000, but, they were a force to be reckoned with in steering, in some cases insisting and enforcing policy towards actually making a sustainable future and not destroying it. They were shut down March 2011, by the coaltion government, it must have taken less than a month for the coaltion to come to that remarkable and democratic decision while not bothering to ask any of the other three governments of teh so called uk, what they wanted. Scotland made a large contribution but had no say whatsoever, many other environmental organisations were shut down pretty soon after the last GE.

    It got me thinking, why, when a common sense approach to sustainable living is so crucial and integral to the future of the planet, are the westminster lot so keen to sweep this under the carpet? They cannot abide being held to account, what a disgrace indeed and very ‘alarming’ to use the words of guardian guy of above article.
    I started to think about how, with all the will in the world from the poeple who do care about the environment and the future, we are up against a westminster government who are intent on divide and rule and who are indeed pulling away from any notion of shared action on the things that mean we sink or swim, literally.
    Its westminster who are pulling us apart and away from what is right, what is moral and life affirming and life sustaining, no one else but them.

  19. Lochside says:

    ‘For voters it’s probably a disconcerting experience, like a gathering of the extended family where you discover demanding relatives you only dimly knew you had’…..This from Jonathan Freedland, , exec editor of that august and metropolitan organ, the Guardian’…. The English chattering classes think they have a monopoly on irony. How many times have you heard their zenophobic take on Americans, especially, not ‘getting’ irony.

    Well for the past few years we in the Country and ancient State( a thousand unbroken years) of Scotland, have had an object lesson in just how ironic that belief is. With pronouncements such as the above, by the personification of ‘imperial masters’ such as Freedland being spewed out by the UK media daily.

    ‘One of Labour’s more thoughtful politicians is watching this with alarm.’…for Freedland and others of his ilk to describe the same man that they decried as an abject failure and a brooding Caledonian boor whilst PM, to now describe in such respectful terms stinks of either idiocy or knavery.

    Either way, the irony is staggering.

  20. Pete Barton says:

    Heather, and all who make sense here – thank you.

    It may take a whole lot of money to change our structures, I know; the responsible people who administer our

    nations are well aware of that.

    So are we.

    ‘Keep calm and carry on’ no longer ticks the box in many peoples minds, and many votes will be cast to

    reflect that. Don’t expect our political leaders to know what to do; the Civil Service and Treasury/BOE are

    really running the show, but are beholden to an electorate that is fast catching up of how to make change

    happen through the ballot box.

    In this extreme case i.e. during and after the Referendum the Sir Humphries of Whitehall (who are the real

    power behind our 2 party state) view their unimpeachable position as rulers of the State as

    coming under threat.

    So we have not only our politicians being economical with the truth, but a civil service who have become

    corruptible in order to preserve the status quo.

    I trust they’ve read up on their Classics, and can influence those cartoons who purport to represent us before

    Rome burns yet again.

  21. gerard says:

    I have read the opening Godon Brown statement a dozen times and it makes absolutely no sense at all.

    1. Darien says:

      He is beginning to waffle badly, not that Labour folks or elderly voters Murphy is after would notice. Linguistic problems might suggest a similar ailment to former Labour PM Wilson. Labour party managers would be kinder not to wheel him out like this; but that is not in their nature.

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