by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 18
November 2020
Response
15:15

I disagree: there’s still time to save the Union

The government must resist another referendum on independence
by Henry Hill
Can a referendum be put off?

Boris Johnson’s unguarded admission that devolution to Scotland has been a ‘disaster’ has blown the lid off a rift which has been opening up inside unionism for some time.

At the top (except, it seems, the very top), the articles of faith of devolutionary unionism still hold. These are essentially that whatever happens, it would have been worse if devolution hadn’t taken place; that standing up to the nationalists is generally counter-productive; and that the path to saving the Union lies through giving away powers and weakening the centre.

But to a rising generation of unionists who weren’t active (or alive) during the last great debate on devolution in the 1990s, these are increasingly unconvincing. There is now a sort of generational horseshoe of attitudes, with old-guard figures such as Lord Forsyth winning new supporters among millennial unionists.

The trouble is that acknowledging that devolution has been a disaster is not a strategy —especially if the Government intends to concede a second referendum in the next few years. Instead, the logical conclusion from the Prime Minister’s — correct — understanding of devolution surely requires that unionists grant themselves the generation-sized breather they won in 2014.

Can a referendum be put off? In an essay published today, Aris Roussinos suggests not. He argues that the only pathway it offers is Westminster exercising its sovereign power to unilaterally abolish Holyrood, which even I concede is not realistic. The alternatives are ‘loveless cohabitation’, ‘full confederalisation’, or separation.

Bleak. But an incomplete picture.

The alternative is a full-spectrum constitutional and cultural strategy aimed at containing the damage in the short term, strengthening the social and economic bonds of Britishness in the medium term, and only in the long term countenancing a final assault on Holyrood itself.

Such a strategy should involve greater activity by HM Government in areas of devolved competence (let the ‘devocrats’ try and whip up anger at Scotland or Wales receiving extra money for centrally-funded projects), as well as initiatives aimed at encouraging cross-border movement and mixing such as the ‘Union bursary’ for students’ floated in January. Were Britain another country in a poorer part of the world, we would probably call this ‘nation-building’.

It should also involve unionist campaigners and donors setting up bodies to combat the tendency of devolved politicians to hide behind poor public understanding of who is responsible for what — local equivalents of the TaxPayers’ Alliance to root out and broadcast devolved failure.

Of course, all of this depends on having the power to refuse a referendum. But here again the news is better than Aris suggests. Beyond the ‘once in a generation’ mantra, there is a full arsenal of solid arguments for not allowing independence to be re-litigated.

And if the SNP proceeded with an illegal referendum, there would be no need for ministers to take any action against it. Pro-UK lawyer Ian Smart has pointed out that any member of the public could take the Scottish Government to court, and then the (Scottish) police would be obliged to take action by the automatic operation of the law. Such a wildcat vote could only work if Westminster actively facilitated it, which is a contradiction in terms.

There is no denying that both resisting a swift re-run of 2014 and making good use of the time this buys us will take both strength and wisdom. But it is not the impossible task it might appear.

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charltonman
charltonman
2 years ago

The UK Govt and Civil Service have a responsibility to all of its citizens.
The SNP have spent millions on anti English propaganda, vanity projects, ultra vires activities, subverted the UK and now are curtailing basic free speech. They control the Scottish media ruthlessly and treat the assembly with disdain (Salmond farce, latest travel) .
A proper assault on these issues is urgently required.
It won’t win over the woad painted loons and England haters, but their posturing as the authoritative “voice of Scotland” must be closed down.
Hatred sells but sense must prevail.

namelsss me
namelsss me
2 years ago
Reply to  charltonman

The English have spent millions of London money on vanity projects elsewhere, anti-London propaganda (vide Cummings), etc. They expect London to pay for their follies but have deprived it of much of the means of continuing to do so. In the couple of days after the 2016 referendum the LIP got 200,000 ‘expressions of interest’, as Farage calls them – as much as the Brexit party got in a month a year or two ago. Of course the organiser turned out to be a Tory provocateur pretending to be a snowflake.

charltonman
charltonman
2 years ago
Reply to  namelsss me

Your point ? And “the English” – really?

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago
Reply to  namelsss me

LOndon is part of England, end of. If it tried to decalre independence, we would strve it in a week, especially as so many of it’s workers don’t even live there. And how have we deprived them of anything economocally? As for the LIP getting expressions of interest, that’s no different than all those people reporting the referendum result as a hate crime – childish tantrums

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  charltonman

The 44.3% share in the referendum fell to under 38% share in the 2017 election (widely regarded as Mrs May’s disaster) the fact is in every election and vote since 2014 Nicola Sturgeon has been explicit in saying a vote for me (the usual wording) or the SNP is not a vote for either independence or a second referendum.

Every vote including the one only last december.

She does this for a reason because she knows the actual facts , the truths and realities are so awful for her she needs a shroud to keep distracting people..whether *Thatcher* (yep she still bangs on..but then again 1414, 1320 and all points inbetween get an airing) *Toarries* (invariably evil or scum…although she is careful to not say these things herself and leaves her followers to fill in those dots, *Brexit* and now *Covid19*…

So I agree with the article a considered and strategic approach is needed to strengthen the UK (BTW the best country in the world) and weaken separatism…and done properly there is no reason the decline in support for the SNP cannot be encouraged to resume it’s natural decline.

As well as the things the writer lists I actually feel encouraged by the advent of the new News Channel in January (not simply because Andre Neill’s on it..and he really knows how to put lightweight SNP politicians in their place) but because it promises a different focus and tone from Sky, C4 and most of the BBC output which shamefully sees Scottish nationalism as only a source for antir Brexit and Anti Boril quotes to lend spurious legitimacy to whatever knowcking story they want to push.

I actually think opening up the issue of the disaster devolution has been , although probably done unintentionally by the usual Boris wooly blustering, is a good thing.

It has been weaponised and used by the SNP to push their obsession…and at already great cost to Scotland.

Vicki Robinson
Vicki Robinson
2 years ago

I agree, though it requires Westminster to put up a fight and show it cares — something it hasn’t been very good at. The real issue is lopsided devolution, which has created the false impression that England is happy with the status quo. In reality, England wants change as much as Scotland.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

Henry Hill should perhaps add to his list changing the name of the UK central bank from the Bank of England to the Bank of the United Kingdom. Britons’ love of tradition is one of their endearing traits, but the Bank of England designation is simply an anachronism.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago

“…not allowing independence to be re-litigated.”

can’t wait to see how that opinion will change after Scotland and Northern Ireland assert their independence and Wales joins the exodus.

Well what do you know I didn’t need to wait, just read to the end of the post…re-litigate you say?

“And if the SNP proceeded with an illegal referendum, there would be no need for ministers to take any action against it. Pro-UK lawyer Ian Smart has pointed out that any member of the public could take the Scottish Government to court, and then the (Scottish) police would be obliged to take action by the automatic operation of the law. Such a wildcat vote could only work if Westminster actively facilitated it, which is a contradiction in terms.”

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago

This is a good article, and we should try to sort this out as best we can. There is still hope for the Union.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
2 years ago

I hope you are correct, but I fear that there is such a swell of opinion against you.

James Moss
James Moss
2 years ago

Taxpayers’ Alliance. Lol. Lost credibility for me at that point.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

“I disagree: there’s still time to save the Union”

40,000 jobs on the Clyde building ships for the Navy is going to help.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago

too bad there isn’t the political will or competence

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

You look nothing like Ray Liotta

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 years ago

I rarely read Aris because all he ever offers is a choice between gloom, doom and despondency. He may well be right in a lot of what he says, but his articles need to offer the occasional ray of sunshine.

Personally I think the English ought to get a vote on whether we really want to keep the miserable fat bastards in our union.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago

The rise of the SNP is most easily understood as the fall of Labour.

Until now an older generation of *never could vote Tory* people would never vote Tory.

In England and Wales that’s gone… whatever happens from here on, the old *traditional* heartlands thing is over.

In the SNP now, and just see their policies and policy proposals , the old hard left Red Clydeside entryists are gaining greater and greater traction. These people who were happy to abandon Labour because they see dominating a smaller party in a smaller country as easier to achieve (and they’re not wrong…pace: Corbyn 14/12/2020) will never vote Conservative.

But there are around 15 basis points at least in a Yellow wall…who are obviously not dyed in the wool, inde-at-all-costs Nats, but have broken the habit of voting Labour, and might be persuaded to break the far weaker habit of voting Yellow…especially if they had it demonstrated over and aover again that things like *currency* are labels for talking about their wage falling, there job heading south, and their pensions shrinking…not in some focus group-ed, pundit land..but in their real lives.

That isn’t project Fear…its Project Hope and Reassurance…all they have do to improve their wages, pensions and job prospects is vote anything else but Yellow (or the crazily subservient Green, in SCotland).

The burst of SNP polls from Progress Scotland (the SNP sponsored outfit run by Angus Robertson..who he?) are designed to create an idea of permanence… they produce 55% headlines…but bury the 44% figure that (if you couldn’t use the £ would you be in favour of independence)..and the latest one already shows that burgeoning lead down again to 51/49…

I don’t think the task of strengthening the Union and reinvorating the whole country post Brexit is half as difficult as the SNP propaganda tries to make out…though it does get easier the more competent the taks is addressed with.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago

let me see if I’ve got this straight.

re-litigating Brexit is anti-democratic but England re-litigating a successful independence vote by Scotland is the Divine Right of England.

“And if the SNP proceeded with an illegal referendum, there would be no need for ministers to take any action against it. Pro-UK lawyer Ian Smart has pointed out that any member of the public could take the Scottish Government to court, and then the (Scottish) police would be obliged to take action by the automatic operation of the law. Such a wildcat vote could only work if Westminster actively facilitated it, which is a contradiction in terms.”

oh the hypocrisy!

ropey72
ropey72
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

You’re confusing England with the UK. Or is that a deliberate ‘error’ on your part?

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  ropey72

It isn’t for me to say but the empirical evidence of history argues the UK has always been England first, last and always.

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Braveheart. Is. Not. A. Documentary.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  William Cable

said the guy who wraps himself in his St. George’s Cross flag when commenting

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

When have I done that?!

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

And so it should be. England has always been the most populous, the largest and richest of all the countries of the UK.

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Nope no hypocrisy, just you, like most cybernats, being willfully dishonest – Hill is referring to a wildcat referendum called by Holyrood without Westminster’s permission something they have no legal authority to do. It would therefore be illegal by definition, and taking them to be court would not be ‘re-litigation’ but straightforward litigation of an illegal act. The Brexit referendum by contrast, was called by a body with the authority to do so, so trying to undermine via litigation was anti-democratic.

It’s really not that difficult.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  William Cable

sorry…that is subject to litigation

F Wallace
F Wallace
2 years ago

Could you people stop saying “nationalists” as if unionists aren’t the exact same. You can’t wave union flags everywhere and define your very existence through your “Britishness” and deny this same concept to others.

Angus MacCoinneach
Angus MacCoinneach
2 years ago

Scary stuff. Imagine that England had voted Remain in euref, after which the EU had banned any further referendums, while UKIP won every election with a manifesto commitment to holding one. EU federalists’ solution to this dilemma was then to introduce measures to assimilate the English via population transfers of the middle classes and a program of financial aid to England to seduce to separatists.
I don’t think that would work either. It would probably be counterproductive. Hill clearly sees Scots as a second class population to be managed, rather than equals.

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago

The EU does not have the power to ban referendums, it is not yet, a sovereign entity. The UK is. IT would be well within it’s rights to refuse any part of it’s territory to secede, just as Spain or the US had. And whereas in your scenario the Eu would be trying to manufacture an identity where none had previously existed, Hill would just be restoring that which you Cybernats have led to artificially destroy

Peter Ashby
Peter Ashby
2 years ago

This is so ignorant of the real situation here in Scotland. More Metropolitan missing the point.

Those getting what is devolved and what isn’t mixed up is a unionist speciality. It’s a peculiarity of things up here that SLAB in particular is fond of fighting Holyrood elections on Reserved issues, General elections on local issues and local elections on Holyrood issues. It is unclear if this is wrong headed, ignorant or simply confused.

Scotgov in FMQ’s is regularly asked to address stuff which is reserved. This is softball stuff which Sturgeon can bat back with ease. The opposition at Holyrood is a joke, literally in the case of Wee Willy Rennie.

Those of us in the ISP are looking forward to providing a proper, constructively critical opposition at Holyrood after May’s election. That will be after removing no hoper unionists from List seats.

Peter Ashby
Peter Ashby
2 years ago

I recommend Henry Hill to read the Scotland Act 1998, in it he will find that Holyrood has the right to run referenda. The question is over what questions it can ask in any referendum.

But by union law we can hold a referendum without it being immediately a priori deemed to be ‘illegal’.

namelsss me
namelsss me
2 years ago

Let’s recall how in Ireland the Tories tried to kill Home Rule by ‘kindness’, and then by stirring up a rebellion against it in 1912. That didn’t end well. In fact it hasn’t really ended. Why, even Brexit would be easier if they hadn’t done that.
What is the 1707 Union for? Originally it was about letting the Scots share in English colonies etc, not just in central government, in return for not getting stroppy (took forty years to work, even then). With the dissolution of the empire, there had to be another point. That was access to Europe and influence there. Without Europe, we are back to the First English Empire, as under Edward I. Didn’t end well either.

Peter Ashby
Peter Ashby
2 years ago
Reply to  namelsss me

If we’re viewing things through a historical lens then Brexit turns centuries of English foreign policy on its head. Which was to prevent the Continent uniting against us. It was why we intervened in the War of the Spanish Succession. Why we opposed Napoleon. Why we those alliances at the start of WWI. Why Britain fought so hard to join the EEC in the first place.

To then leave the EU with now not just the Continent but Eire and the Scandinavians united against us is such a foreign policy disaster for England it beggars belief.

Brexit also looks likely to lead to the breakup of the UK. Support for Welsh Independence is moving apace and Welsh Labour seem not to be opposed to the question being addressed. The Welsh certainly won’t much fancy being shackled to England without Scotland or NI, will they?

Wales can be a happy successful small European country. We can run ferries direct between Holyhead and Cairnryan cutting out England.

namelsss me
namelsss me
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Ashby

Well said about foreign policy. But it goes even further back: the aim had always been to prevent a hostile power controlling the Low Countries. That goes back to Athelstan. Even Edward the Confessor tried it; he thought he had a friendly power in Normandy as well….
Brexiteers forget that when large units start to break up, the fragments, or some of them, break up as well. It is very difficult to make a consistent case for supporting one process but not the other.
The last time Britain left a large political unit it broke up into smaller and smaller fragments. Recent research concludes that there were up to 6 independent states in a small part of what’s now Herefordshire. It took the Anglo-Saxons nearly 400 years to put things together again.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
2 years ago
Reply to  namelsss me

6 independent states in a small part of Herefordshire.

Do you think Wales could break up to be in that way again? They would be better staying with England. Those 6 states couldn’t survive on their own.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

I think Wales’s big problems would be how Liverpoolshire, Bristolshire and Manchestershire would cope with commuting through a hard border… that’s nearly half the population.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Ashby

“Direct” is an adjective, used to describe a noun.
In this case (we can run ferries direct between ...) the word is used to qualify a verb, (run) and therefore an adverb should be used, that is, directly

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Ashby

It’s happening and none of your remoaning tears will stop it so get over it. That is the democratic process – a very simple question answered clearly, but people like you can’t accept it and lash out at the winners.

You might like to look at how any country outside the Franco-German nexus gets treated by the EU and consider how a tiny country of sheep shaggers would really fare. Your rugby team has gone down the lavatory too after Joe Marler gave Wyn Jones’s b***s a stroke. Time for him to retire and join a male voice choir or something, maybe that way your scrum won’t collapse under a little bit of paddy pressure.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Alan Wyn Jones has never been the same since…well worth a ten week ban..though , if only for the mullet faction in the England scrum, from which haircut it is now deriving awesome power, I’d like Marler back in.