In the late 1990s when Labour decided to offer considerable devolution to Scotland and a little devolution to Wales I wrote a book warning that such changes would fuel Scottish nationalism, not undermine it. “The death of Britain?” set out how Labour’s constitutional revolution would damage our democracy. I wrote it as a Unionist, wanting to keep our country together.
During the bruising referendum on Scottish independence last year I explained that my view now is I only support a Union of the willing. I wanted Scotland to have a good debate and make up their mind. Instead they had a huge debate, but have not really made up their mind. I fear the offer of more devolution powers has unsettled the Union further.
Labour and some others belong to the appeasement school. They believe that if they keep on offering new and greater powers to Scotland for more self government, they will keep the union together. I wanted the parties of the Union last year to say to Scotland ” We would like you to stay. You are most welcome as part of our joint country. We only want volunteers in our union, so of course you are free to leave on fair terms if that is your wish. You know what the union is like. We wish to keep it broadly the same”.
That would have prevented what happened – the outbreak of a bidding war to see who could offer more powers to Scotland. It would have told moderate SNP voters and politicians that they could not endlessly play the game of demanding independence, asking for a back up position of more home rule, and getting more powers from such a tactic. Offering more powers has reaffirmed that the Union is very fluid, that the parties of the Union lack confidence in it, and has given every reason to people in Scotland to keep seeing how far they can push it without leaving.
Appeasement has not worked as a political strategy. Far from making Labour the regular choice in Scotland, Labour’s devolution settlement created a platform for the SNP, who seized it and became the majority government in Edinburgh. Now Labour’s appeasement policy in the referendum campaign – led by Gordon Brown – has undermined support for Labour in Scotland even more. Instead of gratitude for Gordon’s Home Rule cocktail, there is a spirit abroad that too little too late was offered and there is more to be had by voting SNP.
When it comes to considering English votes for English issues, some think we should go for a watered down version for fear of upsetting the Scots. I find many Scots agree with English votes for English issues. They do not want their UK MPs to be spending time on English issues. They just want them to secure a better deal for Scotland. There is no need to appease Scotland by giving England a rotten deal. The looser federal union which Labour has brought on us has to be fair to both Scotland and England. Being unfair to England will not solve the problem of Scotland, nor win anyone any extra votes north of the border.