By Stephen Bailey.

Observers of the reality of legislative devolution can clearly see the various U.K. devolved executives have been expanding the limits of their devolved remit by demanding and getting more and more powers transferred to them from the House of Commons.

It’s got to the point that Scotland now has the largest amount of power of any devolved part of a nation anywhere in the world since the 2016 Scotland Act has been passed through the Commons.

Northern Ireland is on a similar, though slightly less accelerated path of expansion of its devolved executive’s power. Wales too has seen a large increase in powers being transferred to its ‘parliament’ next to the Bay at Cardiff.

All these alleged ‘limited power’ legislatures are engaged upon a stealth programme of the incremental increase in their power. Why? What’s the real agenda?

It would probably seem to most observers that the obvious danger to the U.K.’s constitutional integrity comes from anti-U.K. nationalists holding, and winning, an independence referendum. After all, real experience would appear to bear this out, as there was such a poll in Scotland in 2014.

Of course, there is a very large degree of danger from such polls, and Unionists would obviously be very well advised to prepare to counter this threat. Eternal vigilance (of nationalist attempts to break up the U.K.) is the price of maintaining the Union.

All U.K. citizens that want to maintain the Union must never forget this or become complacent.

However, a more profound look into this matter reveals another, more worrying, reason behind all this. It is necessary to think outside the box and more deeply about the anti-U.K. nationalists’ (the S.N.P. in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and I.R.A. / Sinn Fein / the S.D.L.P. in Northern Ireland) motives.

Of course, the nationalists will always attempt to force their part of the U.K. towards independence by the obvious referendum route. But if you think about history, certain parts of countries have become independent of each other by simply declaring themselves to be so, without being formally granted this status by the other part of the country they are splitting from. In other words, they’ve made a Unilateral Declaration of independence: they’ve declared U.I.

There is a substantial danger of this happening in the U.K.

By far the greatest threat of this comes from Scotland. Legislative devolution was always presented by its supporters as just a one off event. Scotland would be given a devolved legislature (a ‘parliament’) that had power over certain purely Scottish policy areas that weren’t reserved for Westminster’s consideration and Wales and Northern Ireland were given ‘assemblies’ that had control over certain purely local (to those parts of the U.K.) policy areas (their devolved remit) and all other areas of policy were reserved for Westminster’s consideration devolved to them by the House of Commons.

However, reality has been very different. In the intervening years since devolution has been enacted, a more or less continuous process of various powers being devolved to Holyrood and the devolved legislatures in Wales and N.I. has occurred.

Indeed, Scotland has the highest amount of autonomous power of any devolved region anywhere in the world. This includes Catalonia in Spain and Quebec in Canada.

However, that’s not the end of the matter. There doesn’t appear to be an end to this process, it goes on more or less continuously in increments of varying degrees. What’s more, there appears to be no will in Westminster to ensure that the Scottish executive acts with propriety, within the limits of the devolution ‘settlement’ (a misnomer, as it has led to pronounced division in the societies of the devolved parts of the U.K.).

It’s now clear that what happens in reality is that Holyrood asks for power to be given to it, and it’s simply granted to them without any thought being given to the constitutional ramifications of doing so.

Added to this, anti-U.K. nationalists in the devolved legislatures deliberately push to expand the scope of their part of the U.K.’s devolved legislature, trying to transform a subnational layer of administration into the national government of a sovereign country. The Scottish National Party are particularly guilty in this regard, giving those involved in their Holyrood administration titles like ‘Minister’ for this and that and having a ‘National’ Cabinet (there is no cabinet government of ministers in a devolved administration), opening up foreign ‘hubs’ (read proto-Scottish embassies) and even a new ‘mini Scottish Home Office’.

It’s makes no difference who is in control in Holyrood, Labour or the S.N.P., or even the Conservatives, they all abuse their remit and attempt to grab power away from the House of Commons and abrogate it to their devolved legislature.

With this in mind, it is easy to foresee an increasingly likely scenario where the S.N.P. don’t have to bother winning an independence referendum. All they’d need to do is to continue to pursue this policy of accreting more and more powers to Holyrood until it effectively has all the necessary powers needed to rule independently.

The S.N.P. or whoever was in charge at that time, could simply declare U.I., a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Scotland would just declare itself an independent country and as it 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 that this is a distinct danger.

The most obvious piece of evidence is the lack, in both the U.K. Government and the Scottish executive, of any real political will to halt the process of power transferral. Holyrood just asks for powers to be transferred, and it gets them.

There’s no attempt by Westminster to question Holyrood as to why they need to get so many powers transferred to them.

Westminster never questions the S.N.P.’s attempts at building up its devolved administration into a quasi-national government (with the cabinet government, proto-embassies and new ‘mini-Scottish Home Office’ et al.).

If devolution was just supposed to be ‘autonomy within the U.K.’ as its supporters have always claimed, then why does the Scottish executive need so many powers and the trappings of a sovereign national government?

It seems increasingly likely that this is a deliberate policy on the part of the S.N.P. In their hearts, they know that the Scots are too intelligent and sensible to fall for their ill-conceived plans for independence and won’t vote ‘yes’ in any formal referendum.

The S.N.P. have no viable, concrete plans on how to successfully run an independent Scotland, and they know that they’ve been rumbled by the Scottish public. This was amply displayed by the thorough rejection of separation in the 2014 referendum. Realising this, the nationalists have decided to pursue an alternative course to force through their agenda: independence by stealth.

The establishment at Westminster has written off the Union and has embraced federalism. This is an extremely alarming development as federalism is, like legislative devolution, a stepping stone towards further fragmentation and would lead to independence. Indeed, the lesson of legislative devolution is that power corrupts and makes its holders hungry for more and more. It can’t be contained and mushrooms in an out of control manner towards independence.

All the leaders of the major Westminster parties have shown by their actions that they are not really willing to strongly maintain the Union.

The Conservatives, in both the U.K. and Scottish parties whilst making insipid public pronouncements supporting the Union, have not really displayed any real fight in their efforts to oppose anti-U.K. nationalism and appear to be far too timid in the face of aggressive nationalist tactics.

Labour is similarly weak in both its broader U.K. party and in Scotland. Added to this, this party is known to contain Irish republican supporters in the rank and file and the top echelon, who can hardly inspire confidence that Labour would maintain the Union.

Let’s not forget also that it was Labour that began the process of national disintegration by granting legislative devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the first place.

Labour definitely can’t be trusted on constitutional matters.

The Liberal Democrats are just as useless at constitutional matters as they are on everything else. They profess to want to maintain the Union, but in practice they subscribe to the federalist agenda. They can be discounted as defenders of the Union. Irrefutable proof of Westminster’s rejection of Unionism and embrace of federalism can be found in the fact that the 2016 Scotland Act contains a clause that states emphatically that the U.K. Government accepts unequivocally that legislative devolution is permanent.

There is no party in Westminster that possesses a strong will to maintain the Union and one is sorely needed.

This is severely compounded by the lack of any real opposition to the S.N.P.’s agenda in Holyrood. The traditional political power in Scotland, Labour, was displaced by the S.N.P. in 2007. They’re now impotent and can be discounted as any credible opposition to the nationalists. Turning to the so called ‘Conservative and Unionist’ Party, there appears to be an equally alarming lack of will to (effectively) oppose the S.N.P.

The problem here appears to be with the leadership. Whilst there has been a slight increase in both voting for and membership of the Conservative Party, this hasn’t led to any really effective opposition to the nationalist agenda. A confused and confusing policy towards the S.N.P. has been adopted.

They talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. They often issue strong condemnations of S.N.P. policies, then just fall back into inaction.

In some cases, they actually cooperate with Sturgeon, standing shoulder to shoulder with them and aiding the S.N.P. cause.

The Liberal Democrats are a useless rump in Holyrood, so they too can be discounted. As it stands, there is no effective opposition to the S.N.P. in Holyrood. The only solution for this is the abolition of legislative devolution, as it would put a permanent end to the ability of anti-U.K. nationalism to utilise their devolved legislature a mechanism to pursue independence, the major intrinsic flaw in legislative devolution.

This depressing state of affairs doesn’t look like coming to an end any time soon. Complacency is not an option. The S.N.P. have proved to be ruthless in their pursuit of their goal of independence by any means, irrespective of the cost to the livelihood of ordinary Scots.

Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. Whether it’s directly through a referendum, or indirectly through the accretion of powers, there is a great danger to the Union.

The established parties have accepted devolution as a permanent fact and can’t be relied upon to oppose the nationalist agenda.

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© 2022 Stephen Bailey


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