Excitable Scribes

The constitutional commentators have been getting very excited recently. In response to an article by Kenny Farquharson in The Times which argued that ‘the prospect of Scottish independence is becoming more remote than ever’ John Ferry (Spectator and Lib Dems) writes:

“Isn’t it about time those who have campaigned to break up the UK accept this, and instead of trying to weaken the UK and end devolution work instead to make Scotland-in-the-UK a success? Isn’t that the best thing for Scotland?”

It was a classic ‘Eat Your Cereal’ moment. Pipe Down Jock. But also hilarious given the relentless attacks on ‘Scotland-in-the-UK’ which none of this group of men have anything to say about, ever. But the dire problems of the SNP – and the Labour Party riding high in the opinion polls has put a sense of glee into Scotland’s Uniform Unionist commentariat.

Ferry was responding to Kenny Farquharson’s observations as he attended the Break Up of Britain conference (which we covered here and here The Break up of Britain?). He writes: “What I found at the Assembly Rooms was a Scottish nationalist movement adrift, rancorous and at times bewildered.”

“Can independence supporters say, hand on heart, they are any closer to their goal? The polls suggest not.”

Surveying the wreckage Farquharson observes that the demographic shift – that older Unionist-supporting voters would die off and younger Independence-supporting voters would come through has not really come to pass. His answer?

“My own theory is this: the growing number of new immigrants to Scotland, many of them from England, tend to believe the UK should stick together. Immigration to Scotland is saving the Union.”

I’m not really sure that’s the winning argument you think it is.

One thing I would agree with him on is this. He writes: “On this last point I was heartened to see on the Nairn conference agenda a number of speakers from England. Yet when people such as Jamie Driscoll, independent mayor of England’s North of Tyne region, and Frances Foley, deputy director of the Compass think tank, spoke of transforming “our politics”, they were met with blank stares.”

It’s true. People like Frances Foley didn’t seem to know where they were, and some of the contributions assumed a shared political project ‘progressive politics in the UK’ that seems difficult to cohere. Britain has changed fundamentally, and people who don’t get that, or assume a common unified narrative are living in cloud cuckoo-land.

For Farquharson the contrast between the Break Up of Britain event was another he attended, the Scottish Fabian Conference, also in Edinburgh that weekend: “The Scottish Fabians event felt like a primer for power. Each session was focused on the practicalities of Labour moving from opposition into government next year.”

But for all the confidence and positivity there was nothing to say about Starmer’s policies, his Gaza disaster, his weekly disavowal of – well – anything that you might build a shared ‘progressive politics in the UK’ around …

It’s true that the independence movement has fundamental problems to overcome, and probably needs completely re-built. But the idea that there’s some progressive movement, or some radical incoming government doesn’t stand up to the briefest scrutiny.

There has been a lot of faith placed in Gordon Brown’s proposals for constitutional reform. Embarrassingly in an interview for The Scotsman before the conference Jamie Driscoll the Mayor of Newcastle said that the proposals had included the abolition of the House of Lords, since watered down by the leadership, as had been a binding veto for Holyrood over devolved issues.

Mr Driscoll, who was consulted as a regional leader while the report was being written, said early drafts had been “genuinely good” and “genuinely progressive”.

“Then it took ages and ages and ages,” he said. “Then there was various negotiations between Gordon and LOTO [Leader of the Opposition’s office] and when it came out, it was all about Lords reform.

“All the good stuff was stripped out about fiscal devolution. Since then, Keir’s even rowed back on the Lord’s reform.”

Asked if he believed it was worth the paper it is written on, Mr Driscoll said: “No.”.

He added: “It’s notable that all of the language on devolution has softened and disappeared. They will say things like ‘we’re going to give power to local communities’. Well, that’s meaningless.

The final version of Mr Brown’s report recommends Labour gives every town and city in England “the powers needed to draw together their own economic and social plan”.

It states this would be done by “mayors, combined authorities and local government in new economic partnerships”, and through dedicated economic growth or prosperity plans for each town and city.

The report also calls for directly elected mayors to be extended to Scotland.

This will be a surprise to absolutely no-one, but should finally put to bed the idea of Scottish Labour having influence, or of their being constitutional reform coming down the road to strengthen Holyrood. Starmer’s government is going to be reactionary, centralising and deeply disappointing.

Comments (14)

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  1. Hugh McShane says:

    Summarised by the last, unarguable, sentence…

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    “Starmer’s government is going to be reactionary, centralising and deeply disappointing.” An adequate & accurate summary.

  3. John Wood says:

    “My own theory is this: the growing number of new immigrants to Scotland, many of them from England, tend to believe the UK should stick together. Immigration to Scotland is saving the Union.” This looks to me like a deliberate attempt to build anti-immigrant rhetoric and portray Yes supporters as fascist blood and soil nationalists. That may well be how the Unionists see anyone who doesn’t support their position, because it’s how they see everything.

    It’s dangerous nonsense, an utter lie, and it needs calling out.

    1. John says:

      John – Kenny Farquarson’s comments are not isolated but a trend from certain sections of media. They are consistently trying to portray independence supporters as nativist and hateful in an effort to stir up this type of reaction.
      The truth is that the vast majority of independence supporters are not anti-immigrants nor are political parties supporting independence. Sections of media try to portray being anti Westminster and anti Tory as being anti English.
      The fact that it is reported that majority of people born in Scotland voted Yes but, quite rightly IMO, this is not raised as an issue by independence supporting parties is primary evidence that it is not a nativist movement. ( imagine if Brexit vote had been No in similar circumstances how Farage et al would have reacted.)
      These tactics from sections of unionist supporters show they are scared as they know the positive case for staying in union is difficult to sell and that younger people (regardless of background) are more supportive of independence.
      The media’s desperate rhetoric is evidence that while the outlook for independence in short term might look a bit bleak the outlook for maintaining union in medium term is worse.

      1. Niemand says:

        This is all very well but this journalist makes no comment about nationalists. What it is he may have been trying to do is therefore pure conjecture and to me looks quite paranoid. Factually, what he says about English migrants is quite probably true.

        As for the evidence a majority of ‘Scots’ voted Yes in 2014, that evidence is slim indeed (one smallish survey and that’s it) and it has now become an unconvincing mantra which is indeed used by nativist nationalists. But it sticks now as people keep repeating it again and again whilst providing zero evidence for it.

        1. Hugh McShane says:

          Thought the guru himself, Prof.Curtice, accepted it?

          1. I think its widely accepted as fact, the problem is what you do with that fact.

          2. Hugh McShane says:

            Niemand is slyly attempting to undermine, as in the old Liberty Valance quote about fact&legend- the good thing about EU in- migration of old was it was by-and-large useful & benign,whether in health/social care/hospitality- Eng-Brit in- migration is different, + dilutes long-established cultural/societal norms valued here. Ironically one suspects a driver of this is in part the dilution of an England /Englishness felt by the disaffected down South- the attitudes that Matthew Goodwin is mining relentlessly these days- but try telling that to ex-RAF personnel ,say,who stay on in Moray after their stint serving Queen&Country?

          3. John says:

            Reply to editors comment at 7.04pm 24/11
            The reason I quoted this statistic is that it has not been used by any leader in SNP or wider independence movement which is to their credit. This implies they consider every eligible voter as equal as are all citizens in country regardless of place of birth.
            I was pondering as to whether Farage, Johnson, Gove etc would have reacted the same in similar circumstances with Brexit vote?

          4. I think two things can be true here (or maybe three). First I think that stat is true, second I agree that every eligible voter is equal and you have to take your whole country with you and three I think Mr F was/is trying to elicit a reactionary response.

        2. Niemand says:

          Please provide the evidence that makes it ‘widely accepted as fact’. I am not denying it there is some evidence, but I have only seen the stats once and it is all based on one survey. That is not enough to make it ‘fact’. It is at best, an indication.

  4. Wul says:

    “Scotland-in-the-UK” can’t prosper. It isn’t meant to.

  5. James Mills says:

    ”’…make Scotland in the UK a success .”
    How’s that working out for us ?

    ”Lochaber no more , Linwood no more , Bathgate no more , Irvine no more , Methil no more …Grangemouth no more .”

  6. James Robertson says:

    Kenny Farquharson attended the Breakup of Britain conference for an hour or two in the afternoon, then scuttled off. 700 other people stayed for most of the day. I don’t know how many were at the Fabian Society’s do. Maybe thousands, but I can’t find any reports about it.

    Kenny’s comment that “What I found at the Assembly Rooms was a Scottish nationalist movement adrift, rancorous and at times bewildered” suggests to me that he was at a different conference to the one I was at. No rancour at all. A sense of solidarity across many issues, extending to an understanding that Scottish independence is not, and cannot be seen as being, in isolation from other developments across the UK and Ireland, Europe and further afield. A sense that we have lost momentum but, far from bewilderment, the obstacles in the way of independence are clearly seen as is the need for a fresh approach to how to overcome them. People departed not adrift and depressed but keen to take stock and plan next moves. None of that is easy and, as Mike says, we can all see that the independence movement has fundamental problems. We’d have to be deluded to think otherwise, but not as deluded (I believe) as those who put faith in a Starmer-led Labour government to sort it all out for us while we sit down, do as we’re told and eat our cereal.

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