Stephen Bailey: Who cares about the ‘wee pretendy parliament?’


Answer: Anybody who wants to maintain the Union.

By Stephen Bailey.

It’s often asserted by certain people, from nationalists, the pro-legislative devolutionary left and even some Unionists, who keep trying to mollify concerns about Holyrood and its increasing role in enabling nationalism to break up the U.K., that Holyrood is nothing but a powerless irrelevance – a ‘wee pretendy parliament.’

When arguments for abolition are presented they often assert in a dismissive tone: “Surely you’re not really worried about that ‘wee pretendy parliament’ that you [the English] allow us [the Scots] to have?”

A look at the current extent of the powers possessed by Holyrood shows it clearly isn’t just a powerless irrelevance.

At its inception, twenty years ago, the proponents of legislative devolution assured the U.K. public that devolution would be a one off event.

Westminster would reserve certain matters for its attention (the reserved remit) and everything else would be within the power of the devolved legislatures, Holyrood, the Welsh Assembly (as it was then) and Stormont, to legislate on (their devolved remit) and that would be the end of it.

In reality, there has been a devolution process in which a raft of powers have been passed from Westminster to the devolved legislatures.

In the case of Scotland this transfer has been very substantial and Holyrood is now the most powerful devolved legislature in the world, including the Quebec and Catalonian Parliaments in Canada and Spain.

A ‘wee pretendy parliament?’ No.

An exceptionally powerful tool for nationalists to use in the pursuit of their independence obsessions, as clearly shown by the actions of the S.N.P. since they eclipsed Labour as the dominant power at Holyrood in 2007.

An added element of concern emerges when it’s realised that this process could (and probably will) lead to a situation where the devolved legislatures have accrued so many powers and competencies that they achieve de facto independence as the devolved parts of the U.K. will have enough powers to govern themselves and nationalism could use this situation to achieve separation by unilaterally declaring independence. This shouldn’t be dismissed as unlikely. Nothing should be put past nationalism, which has clearly shown that it will use every and any method to achieve its ends.  

It’s a self evident fact that, under the nationalists, Holyrood has been steered in the direction of becoming a sovereign national parliament, not just a junior tier of devolved administration.

Nearly every day there is a stream of interference from Holyrood in policy areas on several matters that are outside its devolved remit, but most worryingly the Constitution and Brexit. This interference is increasing, not declining and shows no signs of stopping.

It’s time for Unionism to take its head out of the sand and wake up.

Holyrood is not, and never will be, just a ‘wee pretendy parliament’ but a serious threat to the unitary integrity of the U.K. and should be abolished.

What’s more, this ongoing process of the accretion of powers and competencies by the devolved legislatures from Westminster is happening in Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

Looking at the example of Scotland, the concern is that this trajectory will lead them to the same destination – a nominally limited power local executive that in reality is an extremely powerful instrument which could be utilised by modern aggressive nationalism, as personified by the S.N.P., to break up the U.K.

Legislative devolution is a failure of containment. The main objection to legislative devolution is that it doesn’t work. It’s had twenty long years to be fine tuned and it’s still just a mess. The S.N.P. in Scotland are using it as a vehicle to pursue independence, Plaid Cymru in Wales are increasingly becoming a bellicose and aggressively separatist party (which wasn’t the case in the past when it pushed a cultural nationalist agenda like spreading the speaking of Welsh and reinstating the Eisteddfod) and Stormont in Northern Ireland has also been a complete mess with legislative devolution making N.I. politically unstable due to being ruled by shaky coalition administrations coming and going with alarming regularity (plus, during the last twenty years of devolved government, Stormont has broken down and N.I. has been ruled directly from London for five of those years?

Hardly inspires confidence does it?

The intent behind legislative devolution was to create a layer of regional government below that of the U.K. national Parliament, the Commons. It’s remit was to deal with regional, i.e. purely Scottish, Welsh and N. I., matters, not larger issues like the Constitution.

It was supposed to be ‘autonomy within the U.K.’ and was meant to counter nationalist sentiment. Indeed, it was supposed to ‘…kill Nationalism stone dead’ as one of its original proponents, Labour M.P. George Robertson, put it.

In reality, it’s had the exact opposite effect of enabling modern aggressive nationalism to rise to power in the devolved executives in Scotland and Northern Ireland (but not Wales), displace Labour (in Scotland), and pursue independence and re-unification. This has undeniably been the case in Scotland.

As often occurs in real life, theories don’t always work as they’re meant to in practice. The reality has been that legislative devolution has enabled the U.K.’s nationalist parties to use their executives as vehicles for pursuing independence and the idea that the devolved bodies are just local executives is dead.

In Scotland, the S.N.P. openly admit that they will just keep holding one referendum after another until they get the result they want (one senior S.N.P.  M.S.P. has publicly admitted as much.)

The nationalists in the other parts of the U.K., encouraged by the success of the S.N.P.’s tactics of ignoring their devolved remit and using Holyrood as a tool to pursue independence, have adopted an increasingly aggressively separatist approach, ignoring the point of devolution and pushing for independence in Wales and re-unification in Northern Ireland.

To those Unionists who still believe that they can solve this problem by repealing all the devolution acts except the ones that set it up originally (i.e. keep the 1998 Scotland Act and the Northern Ireland and Government of Wales Acts, but repeal all other devolution acts) so as to leave the executives to deal with only local matters it should be pointed out that the last twenty years have proved that devolution is a continual process of powers being transferred from the Commons to the devolved legislatures that could easily end in independence and that the nationalist parties have proved time and time again that they won’t stay within their devolved remit.

It’s impossible to contain legislative devolution as purely just local executives dealing with purely local matters and that leave the larger issues to the national Parliament at Westminster.

Modern aggressive separatist nationalism is a rampaging monster that can’t be contained and it’s time to admit this is the reality.

It’s time to admit to this failure of the legislative devolutionary model to work as originally intended and stop pretending all is well, or capable of repair and realise that the devolved executives present a clear and present danger to the existence of the Union. The only viable solution to the current constitutional crisis is to completely repeal legislative devolution in all parts of the U.K. and replace it with a better system that keeps power localised to the regions but guarantees the Union such as administrative devolution.

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