In 1999 I published “The death of Britain?”. In it I forecast that Labour’s large programme of constitutional change was misjudged, and would undermine the UK from within and from without. The current Parliament has to try to repair the damage. The modern Labour party is rapidly rethinking its stance on Scottish devolution, the problem of England, high levels of migration and the relationship with the EU. They need to do so as they examine the results of their handiwork in the electoral success of the SNP and the Conservatives, and UKIP’s move into second place in some former safe Labour seats, challenging them on migration and identity issues.
I argued in the book that lop sided devolution would fuel Scottish nationalism and pull the country apart. I argued that massive transfers of power to the EU would undermine people’s trust in our democratic system as they found they could change MPs and governments but in many areas we could not change policy and outcome owing to EU laws . So it has proved.
I pointed out that Labour decided to offer most self government to Scotland, where nationalist sentiment was strongest. “Usually the granting of more and more powers for separate development and separate government within a once unified state leads inexorably to stronger nationalist movements and often to eventual separation”. “Over the next few years the new settlement of evolved government….will sorely test the powers of cohesion of the Union”.
I saw this movement as part of the European EU of the regions agenda, where the EU has always wanted to regionalise the UK and always wanted to split up England. The strain was clearest when the EU is directly involved. “The White Paper (on devolution) offers a rosy prospect. It suggests the role of Scottish Ministers and officials will be to support and advance the single UK negotiating line (with the EU)which they played a part in developing…..The problem will arise if the Scottish Parliament has a different political balance from the Westminster one”. Labour legislated for a powerful Scottish Parliament in the belief that only they could win the elections to it!
Today we see that as feared greater devolution gave the SNP a bigger platform to advance their cause. We find that large areas of life from borders through welfare to energy and business are now substantially controlled or influenced from the EU. Though we do not have the extreme dislocation between election results and policy that we see daily in the Eurozone, we now have considerable difficulties as electing a new government may not fix all that we want fixed as the government is not able to carry out the people’s wishes in some areas, owing to overriding EU power.
The problem of England, the problem of damaged democracy from excess EU control, and the problem of Scottish nationalism were predictable results from Labour’s constitutional revolution. The 2015 Parliament has a mighty task to settle the kingdom and restore UK democracy. As Labour must now realise, the EU issue is not just some Conservative preoccupation. A future Labour government could find itself unable to pursue the policies it wanted under EU law. A future Labour government is also much less likely, all the time they lack a solution to Scottish nationalism on the one hand, and to the deep disillusion with the EU’s migration and welfare policies on the other. They lost heavily in Scotland because they were not left wing enough, and in England because they were too left wing and careless of England’s needs.