By Stephen Bailey.

Devolution has enabled anti-UK nationalists (the SNP primarily) to rise to power, ignore reserved limitations on their remit and use their devolved executive to pursue independence / re-unification referenda.

This has encouraged nationalists in other devolved parts of the UK, notably Wales and Northern Ireland, but even England itself, to pursue independence / devolution much more aggressively in a kind of ‘Domino Effect’.

Take Wales, for instance. The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, have existed since 1925 (nine years before the formation of the SNP). But in their early years they had been more of a cultural nationalist movement, trying to promote Welsh language and culture.

However, following the introduction of legislative devolution in the late 1990s by Tony Blair’s New Labour and influenced by the SNP’s aggressive campaign for independence, their stance began to change and Plaid began to adopt a much more militant and bellicose pro-independence agenda.

Emboldened by the successful attempts of the SNP to hold an independence referendum, Plaid began trying to jump on the bandwagon and have intimated a few times now that they would push for an independence referendum in Wales if they felt the conditions were right (i.e. that they would win).

Emboldened by the successful attempts of the SNP to hold an independence referendum, Plaid began trying to jump on the bandwagon and have intimated a few times now that they would push for an independence referendum in Wales if they felt the conditions were right (i.e. that they would win).

They’ve also suggested that they would definitely push for an independence referendum in Wales if there is another one in Scotland, a clear example of devolution’s domino effect.

A similar, though markedly more pronounced, effect is in evidence in Northern Ireland. The introduction of legislative devolution there has witnessed a rising tide of anti-UK nationalist sentiment and a volumetric increase in calls for re-unification with Eire from Irish nationalists (IRA/ Sinn Fein and the SDLP). Although it must be pointed out that an extensive survey taken on the subject of Irish re-unification recently shows almost twice as many NI voters who expressed a preference want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

These clarion calls for re-unification have been magnified by the megaphone of devolution, which has brought the topic very much into the forefront of the public’s eye, something that just wouldn’t have been anywhere so acute without devolution.

Nationalist and even some ‘mainstream’ politicians in England have been affected by these phenomena as well. Even though the idea of English regional assemblies was conclusively defeated in a referendum held in North-East England on 4th November 2004 by a margin of 77.9% to 22.1%, the knock on effect of legislative devolution in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has led to a resurgence in the concept of English regional government.

The extreme South-West of England has added another domino to the chain.

The Duchy of Cornwall has, for a long time, had a history of a small minority of residents asserting that they have a separate cultural identity to the rest of England. They had a different language and certain elements considered themselves to be of different ethnic origin. However, Cornish became a dead language by the end of the Nineteenth Century having essentially ceased to be used by the vast majority of the population and the concept of a separate Cornish identity as a political issue declined and fell into abeyance as a result.

Despite Mebyon Kernow, (‘The sons of Cornwall’), a political party that pushed for Cornish autonomy (i.e., a Cornish assembly), being formed in 1951, it was the introduction of Scottish, Welsh, and NI legislative devolution in the late 1990s that really sparked interest in devolution in Cornwall.

The Cornish Constitutional Convention launched a campaign for a devolved Cornish legislature on the back of the referenda in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that led to the setting up of devolved institutions in these parts of the UK. In October 2007, Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat MP stated:

‘If Scotland is benefitting from devolution, then Cornwall should learn from this and increase the intensity of its campaign for devolution to a Cornish Assembly’.

Clearly, the Domino Effect was spreading further in England, thanks to devolution in other parts of the country.

In 2009, Liberal Democrat MP William Rogerson presented a ‘Government of Cornwall’ Bill before the House of Commons which argued for a devolved Cornish assembly that was very similar in set up to the Scots and Welsh legislatures. The Domino Effect-like influence of Scots, Welsh, and Northern Ireland devolution is clear from the following statement made by Rogerson:

‘Cornwall is entitled to a level of self-government. If the Government is going to recognise the right of Scotland and Wales to greater self-determination because of their unique cultural and political positions, then they should recognise ours.’

There has now been further developments in this area. The UK Government has now offered Cornwall a new devolved constitutional deal in which the county will be handed a raft of new money and powers over local matters. There is, however, a sticking point on the matter of a directly elected mayor.

London is also undergoing the same process of travelling down the devolutionary, constitutionally fragmenting road. An assembly was set up with powers over many matters affecting the capital and also had a directly elected mayor who answered to this assembly.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has ignored the remit of devolution in London (just like the SNP has in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and IRA / Sinn Fein / SDLP in NI) to look after the capital’s local affairs. This is clearly seen in Khan getting involved in matters that are the business of the UK Government at Westminster, such as Brexit. For example, he approached a foreign country, Germany in this case, during the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit and asked for London to be treated as a separate case from the rest of the UK in the post-Brexit arrangements.

He’s acting as if he’s the Prime Minister of a sovereign, independent city state of London, whose affairs are totally separate from the rest of the UK.

If matters follow the same trajectory as Scotland (especially), Wales and Northern Ireland, this tendency to consider London to be somehow different and separate from the UK will get worse and would pose an obvious, clear and present danger to the constitutional integrity of the UK, as has undeniably been the case in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Recently, the Mayoral Office even acquired an official website with an an address of ‘LGOV’, or ‘London Government’, a clear indication that the Mayor sees himself as the Prime Minister of the city state of London and the Greater London Assembly as the seat of the Capital’s ‘national’ government.

Recently, the Mayoral Office even acquired an official website with an an address of ‘LGOV’, or ‘London Government’, a clear indication that the Mayor sees himself as the Prime Minister of the city state of London and the Greater London Assembly as the seat of the Capital’s ‘national’ government.

These developments in Cornwall and London are clearly a step in the direction of further fracturing the unitary constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

It’s already been seen in Scotland, Wales, and NI that devolution is a process, not a single, or few, events. In Scotland, it started out as that part of the UK having a devolved legislature (Holyrood) set up with power over all Scottish matters not reserved for Westminster. But it didn’t stop there. Over the years following its inception twenty plus years ago, Holyrood has been handed a high number of further new powers from Westminster, with the result that it is now the most powerful devolved legislature in the World, including Catalonia in Spain and Quebec in Canada.

This same process is likely to happen in Cornwall and London.

The devolution process starts off as a relatively minor event, with these parts of the UK getting comparatively modest powers of autonomy. It was portrayed as nothing to worry about as far as threatening the constitutional integrity of the UK was concerned (just like the legislative devolution ‘settlement’ in Scotland, Wales and NI was).

However, in reality, the devolution domino effect will strike and devolution will become an ongoing process that sees more and more powers being transferred to these areas until they effectively have all the necessary powers needed to rule independently. Whoever’s in charge in these parts of the UK at that time could simply unilaterally declare independence from the UK-a UDI.

London and Cornwall would just declare themselves independent (London as a city state perhaps and Cornwall as a country) and as they would have all the powers necessary for self-government there is nothing that could be done to prevent this.

An unlikely scenario? There’s increasing evidence from Scotland, Wales and NI that devolution has made this a distinct danger.

For more from Stephen Bailey please visit: https://ukunionism.wordpress.com/blog-2/

© 2022 Stephen Bailey

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