25 Years of Devolution Is a Potion that Treats Unionism

The next in our series looking at devolution twenty-five years on.

Politics returned to Scotland 25 years ago. A fact that unionists have been keen to highlight on a sunny then wet Sunday. 

Of course, politics never left Scotland. Local authorities were governed by elected councillors, answerable to their constituents. And Scotland almost always sent a gaggle of MPs to Westminster. Just as we do now, we did then, before devolution.

Instead, this ‘return’ is supposed to soothe the Scottish nationalist. It is to say “look, England values you, we have given you a play centre for men and women in suits to speak loudly at one another. Isn’t that lovely?” And Scottish unionists are trumpeted across the airwaves to deliver this message in a lilting, recognisable brogue. 

To be fair, to an extent, it is lovely. It is right that Scotland has a parliament, and the subsequent powers that such a parliament yields have been beneficial. As our new First Minister has pointed out, the SNP, in government since 2007, have lifted more than 100,000 children out of poverty. Without the opportunity to govern in Scotland, in a parliament, this may not have been achieved. 

And, we have the best-paid NHS staff in the UK, a staff that haven’t taken industrial action, unlike south of the border. That is thanks to the outlook of Scotland’s government. Indeed, it is the effect of polar opposite government, of polar opposite political ideology, of polar opposite rhetoric. 

These are reminders of what a true government of a nation can do for its people. But that is not what unionists want to champion when they discuss Scottish politics in the context of this milestone. 

Instead, it is a ploy to make mischief of the spoken – or written – word. Through a thin veil, they are reminding Scotland that devolution was the result of lengthy debate, significant lobbying, and constituent pressure. It came thanks to a fight with a bully. The issue with winning a fight with a bully, though, is that they typically want revenge.

A realist might argue that devolution came with the aim of muffling the rising popularity of the Scottish nationalist movement. It has failed to do this. Now, unionists wish to use this anniversary as a reminder. It is a reminder that what came up can come down, that just as the Scottish Parliament has given a stymied system of government, so too can it be strangulated if it strays too far beyond what they deem acceptable. It is a reminder that a bully will punch back, and might do so when you’re not looking.

Of course, this isn’t new. The section 35 order issued by the UK Government, blocking Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, was issued under the guise that it may impact UK government policy. Scotland’s refusal to challenge this further in court suggests that this could be the case, but it also shows the willingness of a UK Government to clamp down on the liberties of Scotland’s legislative platform, irrespective of a Bill’s possession of parliament-wide support. 

And it feels natural that unionist Lord McConnell, when speaking to The Herald’s Andrew Learmonth about 25 years of devolution as a former First Minister, spoke of the parliament’s “shaky start”, before acknowledging a “few decent years” – when he was First Minister – before his rising climax suggested the SNP government doesn’t care for the real priorities of the people of Scotland. Perhaps, Lord McConnell’s commitment to such a tired trope proves Scottish Labour are unable to deliver the ‘real change Scotland needs.’

None of this is to say that the de facto position of the Scottish unionist is one from which they wish to see Scotland’s politics [sic devolution] fail. It is to say that if Scotland succeeds where the rest of the UK fails, they are uncomfortable. It challenges their inner desire to be close to a colonial privilege, one where robes and wigs debate upon red-leather benches, where a man carrying a gold mace convenes their parliament, and where their only permissible lie is committed by the naming of a provably corrupt parliamentarian as ‘the Honourable’. 

We should be extremely cognisant of this modern-day Scottish cringe. It is not going away, is the largest threat to Scotland’s devolution, and to any pursuit of Scottish independence. This is particularly true if, as it seems, there is no way of holding a legal independence referendum without the blessing of these people. 

The unionist political class will remain eternally convinced of Scottish independence, but there are enough people in Scotland who could be convinced by Scottish nationalism. It is worth exploring with these people, these winnable activists, why it is that so many of the unionist political class wish to disprove Scotland’s effectiveness at the art of self-governance. 

Perhaps it was in Lord McConnell’s self-aggrandising message to The Herald that highlights most effectively the unionist fear? I put it to you that, for this former First Minister, through Scotland’s successful and effective self-governance, the prestige of his political career, including that of his position in the House of Lords, has a prestige more akin to that of a Prius than a Lexus. I suspect his skin crawls.

To test this theory, close your eyes and think of the most prominent unionists across the media and elected politics. 

I put it to you that this argument – likely – stands up to them, too. 



Comments (6)

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  1. Robert says:

    A very interesting article. However, it is always a good idea to follow the money. A few years ago England and the unionists were worried about losing access to oil and it’s revenue. Is the current vociferous anti-independence by the unionist fractions a hangover from this period? Or , is there still a genuine case that they will be economically depleted by Scottish independence?

    1. John says:

      Robert – I would suggest from how Tories seem desperate to exploit North Sea oil reserves further the answer is yes.
      It is not just oil they want (need) Scotland has enormous renewable energy and water resources which will be of increasing importance and value in coming years.
      I think many people overlook the psychological impact on UK of Scotland becoming independent and UK ceasing to exist in current form. The UK holds itself in very high esteem on international stage and holds key positions in international bodies. This would all be called into question if Scotland became an independent country. The loss of the Union Jack would also be a massive psychological blow to many in UK establishment.

      1. Robert says:

        John. I absolutely agree with all you say as I was really just highlighting one small aspect.

        What I do find difficult to understand is the Scots born and bred who support the union and are prepared to criticise the Scottish government for its shortcomings. They are apparently blind to the abject incompetence of the UK government. While the Holyrood administration is not blameless many of its problems stem from the constrictions imposed from Westminster.

        The imperial myth of a nation boxing above its weight has caused me to wonder recently whether that story is of longer duration than generally supposed and the vision of a once great imperial power is also exaggerated. Were we ever what we like to imagine ourselves to have been?

        1. John says:

          Robert – I think there are a whole range of reasons why a section of society who consider themselves Scottish are opposed to independence.
          1)Older generations were brought up with a greater sense of being British and looking to Westminster as the natural seat of government. This explains the demographic opposition to independence in older people.
          2)Younger generations have the constant media bombardment of negative stories about Scotland and its government.
          3)Many Scots are cautious about change and the economic consequences of independence- especially during the current uncertain economic climate.
          Whatever the reason the independence movement needs to gain these people’s support (certainly groups 2&3) for independence to be achieved. We need to talk to these people and reassure them to gain their support as opposed to blaming them.
          There is a section of society who are virulently opposed to independence – those with a vested interest in status quo or who are emotionally more attached to union. There is no point in wasting energy and time in trying to change their viewpoint.

          1. Robert says:

            John – While I completely agree with you on an intellectual level, I am always amazed by the way supporters of the status quo cannot see how we now count for so little on the UK stage and how this is actually harmful to our society. The enormous propaganda machine would appear to be about the only thing that those in power are good at.

  2. Satan says:

    The victims of the Scottish nationalist blogoshpere are quite amusing. There seems to be an understanding that Scottish Water are going to pipe flouridated water to Blackpool, and Scottish oil companies amount to more than Cairn Energy, who mostly work in Gujerat. The repetitive reitteration of stupidity is just wierd.

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