Devolution, the antidote to independence. At least it was supposed to be. George Robertson, who famously declared that “Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead” certainly thought so. There were others, perhaps most prominently Tam Dalyell who disagreed. Mr Dalyell was of the opinion that devolution is a “motorway to independence without any exits”. In 2014 he was very nearly proved right. He may yet be.
Here we are, some twenty years after Robertson made his arrogant and naive remark, and support for independence is stronger than at any time in living memory. The unionists need a new antidote, and Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish branch office of the Labour Party, believes they have found the very thing: Federalism.
Before I go any further, it must be said that what the Scottish Labour leader had to say, betrayed the low regard she and her party have for this country. Scotland it seems, is just another “component part” of the UK, to be grouped in with the “English regions” rather than an equal partner with the English nation. Similarly, she subscribes to the view that Scotland is dependent on our larger neighbour to get by, though she dresses this up as “redistribution of wealth” so that we might think of it as sharing rather than subsidy.
Because the Labour Party clearly sees Scotland as a mere region of the United Kingdom, rather than a nation like England or Norway or Cuba, there is no ambition to see the term “family of nations” become more than meaningless words. In Labour’s “new political settlement” the largest partner-England, will continue to dominate. The three smaller partners would remain subservient.
As is the way with Labour’s approach to constitutional reform, the proposals do not go far enough and lack coherence. They fail, for example, to include any measures to reform the House of Lords as was suggested by Broon the Bampot. It could be the case that fearful for their futures, Labour MSP’s wish to retain the possibility of joining Dodgy Darling and other failed, rejected and retired colleagues in the House of Turds, should the need arise.
Nor do the proposals address the “English Question” in any meaningful way. The UK can never be considered truly federal so long as Westminster has to double up as both the Parliament of the United Kingdom and of England. As we have seen, ill-conceived spiteful stupid measures like EVEL are inadequate and unworkable. The two functions need to be separated. It is all fine and well to talk of devolving power to the English regions, but that should come from an English Parliament as distinct from Westminster.
Where was the written constitution and proportional representation, or the disestablishment of the Church of England and the scaling back or scrapping of the Monarchy? Nowhere, because the establishment won't have it and the people have been conditioned to believe they don't want it.
So-called Scottish Labour had an opportunity to show imagination, to be true to their radical roots, to inspire and lead. Instead, they’ve offered up more timid tinkering around the edges. Enough they hope, to buy off the Scots but no so much as to frighten off the English. You will have noticed too, that the purse strings in Labour’s federal United Kingdom remain very much in the hands of Westminster. The unionists can’t afford too much by way of fiscal autonomy for Scotland, lest she make a success of it.
What we heard today wan't federalism, it was a fudge. None of it is likely to win back many of the voters who deserted Labour in their droves. Nor is it going to convince those of us who are committed to independence to give it all up. As I predicted, Kezia Dugdale's "major constitutional speech" was a third-rate effort from a third rate politician.