By Stephen Bailey.

By the mid-1990s, it was obvious to anybody with a clear, objective view that the proposed constitutional reforms of the Labour Party were a recipe for disaster.

Whilst in no way reactionary, backward looking or hankering after some past golden era (real or imagined), it was completely apparent to the informed observer that Blair’s reforms were unworkable, impracticable, extremely unfair and simply designed to bolster Labour’s political power in Scotland.

Labour’s whole approach to constitutional reform was naïve and far from ‘killing nationalism stone dead’ as Labour politician George Robertson put it in 1995, they would be used as a mechanism by anti-British elements to break up the U.K.

It is now perfectly clear that the people of the U.K. have, by a substantial majority, rejected the concept of separatism.

It is now perfectly clear that the people of the U.K. have, by a substantial majority, rejected the concept of separatism.

In Scotland, the S.N.P.’s independence referendum was rejected decisively in September 2014. The people of Scotland clearly saw through Alex Salmond’s mad plans.

Added to this, the vast majority of Scots in the vast majority of opinion polls on independence in Scotland show a majority for keeping Scotland in the Union. If you analyse the voting patterns, it can be determined that independence is unpopular across most walks of society.

But did the S.N.P. accepts this? Some chance.

After initially accepting the decision and saying that settled the question ‘for a generation’, Alex Salmond reverted to type and simply began pushing his separatist agenda, effectively saying there would be one referendum after another until they got the result they wanted, a trend carried on by his successor as S.N.P. leader, Nicola Sturgeon.

The S.N.P., as well as the wider nationalist and pro-independence movement needs to listen to the electorate and accept their settled will, expressed through the ballot box.

Turning to England, it must be remembered that separatist constitutional arrangements have also been massively rejected, as very clearly displayed by the huge ‘no’ vote to the setting up of regional assemblies in North East England by the referendum held in 2004.

During the ill-conceived attempt at constitutional change during the Callaghan Labour Government of the mid to late 70s, there was a referendum in Wales for a devolved assembly with limited powers. The idea was virtually unanimously rejected by the Welsh by an enormous 79.7% ‘no’ vote, and the plans for devolution were dropped. When asked why they had voted ‘no’, most of the voters stated that they didn’t want yet another layer of administration, but more efficient and responsive governance. Given the chance, the evidence from various sources is that the Welsh still feel like this. There’s even an ‘Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party’ whose aim is to do just that-abolish the Welsh ‘parliament’.

The current devolution ‘settlement’ has created a complete mess. It’s created more problems than it’s solved, and bred inequalities between the constituent parts of the U.K.

One of the most infamous of these is the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish M.P.s can vote on matters solely affecting England, but English (and Welsh and N.I.) MPs are barred from voting on Scottish matters.

Legislative devolution’s supporters just ignore such difficulties and insist that we must ‘make it work’. Ignoring such concerns won’t make it go away. And this is just one of the issues making legislative devolution untenable.  

Recently the people of the U.K. have expressed their settled will against foolish, ill-conceived changes to the constitution of this country. Separatist constitutional change has been decisively rejected. It is now crystal clear what the correct path to take is. The U.K. has demonstrated that it desires more unity, not separatism, and that Tony Blair’s legislative devolution experiment has failed to deliver good government. As a consequence, his constitutional reforms need to be scrapped. Legislative devolution should be abolished, and a better system put in its place. A system that delivers localism and decentralisation of power (where necessary) but absolutely maintains the integrity of the U.K.

One way of doing this would be to replace legislative devolution with administrative devolution-abolish the Scottish parliament, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont then give their powers to local councils, other organisations (such as the Scottish, Welsh and N.I. Offices) and individuals (such as the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and N.I.).

This way such bodies and individuals have powers relevant to their part of the U.K. de-centralised and localised to them, but the constitutional integrity of the U.K. is completely safeguarded as anti-U.K. nationalism (the S.N.P., Plaid Cymru, I.R.A./ Sinn Fein plus the S.D.L.P.) would have no power over constitutional matters. Meaning they would have no ability to break up the U.K. as the S.N.P. and I.R.A / Sinn Fein have abused their devolved powers by doing.

It also avoids the travesty of unrepresentative, minority extremists gaining power in the devolved legislatures (Holyrood, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont) and forcing through their unwanted agenda against the manifest will of the majority.

Unity and shared values are the key to framing a successful, viable, practicable and fair U.K. Constitution. Separatism and nationalism, whilst appealing to the short-sighted and selfish aims of pedagogues and extremists (like the S.N.P., Plaid Cymru and Irish nationalism) never produce anything of enduring value.

The governance of the U.K. can be much better by making it smaller, more efficient and responsive to its citizen’s needs, not by adding more layers.

Bloated administrations lead to slow to respond, inefficient, overly bureaucratic and sometimes even corrupt government. Look at the last 15 years of S.N.P. misrule at Holyrood.

Whilst emphatically not advocating the centralised imposition of values from one part of the U.K., there should be certain shared values between all parts of the U.K.

Not the values of one dominant group, but certain values that can be subscribed to by the reasonable consensus of the majority of U.K. citizens, based on shared history and the outlook that stems from that shared experience. Within that set of shared values, the various traditions of the U.K. can co-exist.

There is a great danger, inherent in regionalism, of breeding an insular attitude, which leads to the much greater danger of balkanising the U.K. and encouraging national fragmentation.

Local traditions are important, but not to the point that they sponsor antagonism toward other parts of the country, as this promotes national disintegration. Regional devolved assemblies would greatly promote such balkanisation. Third, regional devolved assemblies lead to overly ambitious politicians abusing local issues to make a name for themselves (like Salmond and Sturgeon have). They only interest themselves in local matters that further their careers and ignore other significant issues, leading to a decline in shared national values and aiding the break-up of the UK.

All in all, devolved regional assemblies create problems and promote division. It’s time to realise this and remedy the situation by abolishing the root cause of the problem-legislative devolution.  

In order to achieve the abolition of legislative devolution, it is essential to create a strong Pan-Unionism in the U.K. One essential aspect of this is cooperation between all those who want to maintain the Union.

It’s not at all being suggesting that one person or group’s views should be imposed on everybody else. People’s views on how to maintain the Union differ. In the past, it has been the case that Unionist opinion has been very differentiated. Whilst the Union was more or less safe, this didn’t really matter. However, the introduction of legislative devolution by Blair in the late 90s has led to the rise of anti-British nationalism which has now put the U.K. in the position that her very survival is in danger.

In these changed circumstances, division among those that want to maintain the Union is dangerous as it lets anti-U.K. nationalism divide and conquer which leads to the advancing of their agenda to break up the U.K.

To counter this, all those that want to maintain the Union need to find common ground that they can agree on and put this over to the U.K. public with a strong, coherent, positive message as part of a pan-U.K. Unionist voice that reaches across all parts of the nation, not just one or a few.

Those that want to maintain the Union are in a sizeable majority in the U.K. so if they all speak with a coherent voice their message will be heard and the Union will be maintained, something ALL those that want to maintain the Union want.

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© 2022 Stephen Bailey



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