By Stephen Bailey

The ‘Domino Effect’ can be defined in the following terms. Legislative devolution in one part of the U.K. (S.N.P. dominated devolved Scotland mostly) has enabled anti–U.K. nationalists (the S.N.P. 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 U.K. (Wales and Northern Ireland) and even England itself, to pursue independence much more aggressively when they wouldn’t have without this encouragement in a kind of knock on effect like a row of in line dominoes falling after being knocked over by the previous one, hence ‘Domino Effect’.

It is manifestly true that this has been the case throughout the entire U.K. Take Wales, for instance. The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, have existed since 1925 (nine years before the formation of the S.N.P.), but in their early years had been more of a cultural nationalist movement, trying to promote Welsh language and culture. They had promoted the speaking of Welsh and other Welsh cultural phenomena. They had desired independence from the U.K., but this was very much a longer term objective.

After the introduction of legislative devolution in the late 1990s and influenced by the S.N.P.’s aggressive campaign for independence, this stance began to change and Plaid began to adopt a much more militantly pro-independence agenda. The domino effect was beginning to come into play.

They pushed for new referenda on granting the then Welsh Assembly more and more powers, including one in 2011 that substantially increased the areas of its legislative competency.

Emboldened by the successful attempts of the S.N.P. 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).

In an ominous echo of the 2007 re-naming of the Scottish Executive to Scottish Government by the S.N.P., in 2017 the Welsh assembly announced that it now wished to be known as the Welsh parliament, a further ominous step in the direction of independence.

Added to all this, Plaid have recently intimated that they will definitely begin agitating for an independence referendum if there is another one in Scotland and Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister in the Welsh ‘parliament’ has tried to bribe the electorate by saying he will grant Plaid a referendum on independence if Labour are re-elected in the elections this year (2021) AND he will allow Adam Price, the Plaid leader, to be First Minister.

All of this resurgence of aggressive pro–independence nationalism has only come about as a knock on effect of the S.N.P.’s machinations in Scotland. Events would not have developed in this direction if legislative devolution hadn’t been introduced into Scotland.

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–Union nationalist sentiment and a volumetric increase in calls for re–unification with Eire. As with Wales, 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 this 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.

This idea was resurrected in 2012 when certain Northern English M.P.’s wrote a letter to ‘The Observer’ newspaper and openly stated that it was time to reconsider having Northern regional assemblies (in England). They were clearly inspired by Scottish devolution. Huddersfield M.P. Barry Sheerman wrote:

“The North has a much larger population than Scotland [which has an assembly]… We don’t have a body to deal with strategic problems and issues for the North [of England].”

The public in these areas of the North started to have concerns that devolution had left the northern regions of England as the poor relations of Scotland in terms of economic and political clout.

These concerns were magnified even more when Holyrood got more powers in 2016 and would be further exacerbated if (or it would be more correct to say ‘when’) more powers are added in the future.

The continual granting of new powers to the Welsh Assembly has, and will, continue to have the same effect on England. What’s more, this year (2021) has seen a further unsettling development with the formation of a political party dedicated to the political independence of the North of England from the rest of the U.K. Yorkshire also now has a political party that demands separation from the rest of the U.K. The balkanisation of the U.K., initiated and accelerated by the introduction of legislative devolution, continues to accelerate.

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 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 areas. In October 2007, Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat M.P. stated:

‘If Scotland is benefitting from devolution then Cornwall should learn from this and increase the intensity of its own 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 M.P. 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 has the right 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.’

But that’s not all. Not content with (trying) to break up the United Kingdom, Nicola Sturgeon and the S.N.P. are now imperilling the very existence of Scotland as a unitary political entity.

Recent developments have shown that the actions of the S.N.P. are having a type of domino effect within Scotland itself.

The Shetland Isles has voted to explore ways to become independent from Scotland. The Shetland Islands Council has overwhelmingly voted to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent from Scotland. Councillors voted 18 to 2 in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’. In a debate lasting more than an hour, members argued decision making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the island has been cut under the S.N.P. dominated Holyrood administration.

Councillor Steven Coutts stated that devolution has not benefited the area and said the Scottish Parliament feels ‘remote’ to islanders, who face some of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.

‘The status quo is not working’ he said, adding: ‘Devolution and the Islands Act have not made any tangible difference to the quality of life.’

With both Shetland and the Orkneys exploring options for independence from Scotland, Scotland would be cut off from the vast majority of her oil supplies further undermining the S.N.P.’s case for independence.

Other regions of Scotland (the Borders, Clydesdale, Tweeddale; Berwickshire, Roxburgh, Selkirk; Dumfries and Galloway) have expressed similar sentiments and the reason for it is invariably unhappiness at the way the S.N.P. is mismanaging their affairs. The S.N.P. and their misdeeds have had a knock on effect on Scotland itself similar to that they’ve had on the U.K. generally and England specifically. The S.N.P. and devolution has encouraged a previously unitary, cohesive country (the U.K.) and a part of that country (England) to fragment into a number of separate entities. It’s just extremely ironic that it’s the S.N.P.’s own actions that have led to this domino effect in Scotland itself.

Added to this, why is the U.K. Government not enforcing the remit system set up by the devolution ‘settlement’ in which the devolved legislatures (Holyrood, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont) can only debate and pass legislation on matters that aren’t reserved for Westminster’s consideration?

Why does it allow the anti–U.K. nationalists to abuse the remit system to such a monumental degree?

It’s totally irrelevant that independence is the raison d’être of the S.N.P. (or Plaid, or that re–unification is I.R.A/ Sinn Fein and the S.D.L.P.’s). They simply have no business getting involved in reserved matters.

The then Labour government did nothing to stop Alex Salmond changing the title of Holyrood from the ‘Scottish Executive’ to the ‘Scottish Government’, even though it was extremely obvious that this was a deliberate attempt to subvert the concept of devolution and move Holyrood towards a perceived equal status as a national government on a par with Westminster.

Added to this, the Welsh Assembly changing its title to ‘parliament’ is something that the U.K. Government does not appear to have wanted to stop.

All in all, there has been an apparent and palpable lack of interest and vigour from Westminster for defending the Union against these increasing encroachments by nationalism on U.K. sovereignty and their pretentious to being national governments, rather than just devolved administrations.

There is a clearly discernible pattern of legislative devolution in one part of the U.K., i.e. Scotland, having a knock on effect on other parts in a domino like effect. The S.N.P. in Scotland set the ball rolling by aggressively ignoring their devolved remit and this clearly encouraged other devolved regions like Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit and become more bellicose in their demands for more and more autonomy and even to push for full independence.

Moreover, this phenomena has spread to England, as seen in the North–East and the South–West of the country. It’s even threatening to break up Scotland as many areas of that part of the U.K. and it’s associated islands have strong links and sympathies with the U.K. and don’t feel much of a bond to Scotland, politically or culturally, and have either openly expressed a desire to remain in a constitutional arrangement with the U.K. or have the potential to do so.

Legislative devolution has unleashed an uncontrollable wave of copycat aggressive nationalism that threatens to throw the British Isles back to the early Tenth Century days of being a disunited, warring hodgepodge of fiefdoms and kingdoms.

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© 2020 Stephen Bailey


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