By the mid-1990's it was obvious to anybody who could see 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 off nationalism for good' as one Labour politician put it they would be used as a mechanism by anti-British elements to break up the UK.
It is now perfectly clear that the people of the UK have, by a substantial majority, rejected the concept of separatism. In Scotland the SNP's independence referendum was rejected decisively in September 2014. The Scots clearly saw through Alex Salmond's mad plans. If you analyse the voting patterns it can be discerned that independence was unpopular across the social spectrum from the young to the old. But did the SNP accepts this? Some chance. After initially accepting the decision and saying that settled the question 'for a generation', Alex Salmond (remember him?) reverted to type and simply began pushing his separatist agenda, saying there would be one referendum after another until they got the result they wanted. The SNP needs to listen to the electorate and accept their settled will, expressed through the ballot box. This highlights the flaws in referenda in general and shows that they can be manipulated by politicians who only use them if they back up their desired result. Parliamentary democracy is a far better device to deliver the will of the population.
Turning to England, it must be remembered that separatist constitutional arrangements have also been massively rejected, as amply displayed by the huge 'no' vote to the setting up of English regional assemblies in the referendum held in the dying days of the last Labour government.
During the last ill-conceived attempt at constitutional change during the Callaghan Labour government of the mid to late Seventies there was a referendum in Wales for a devolved assembly with limited powers. The idea was virtually unanimously rejected by the Welsh by an 80%+ '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 and, if given the chance, would vote to abolish the Cardiff Bay assembly. There's even an 'Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party' who's aim is to do just that.
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 UK. One of the most infamous of these is the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish MP's can vote on matters solely affecting England, but English(and Welsh and NI) MP's are barred from voting on Scottish matters. Devolution's supporters just ignore such problems and insist that we must 'make it work'. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. And this is just one of the problems making devolution untenable.
In recent years the people of the UK 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 UK has demonstrated that it desires more unity, not separatism and that the devolution experiment has failed to deliver good government. As a consequence, Blair's 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 decentralization of power (where necessary) but maintains the integrity of the UK.
One way of doing this would be to replace legislative devolution with administrative devolution-abolish the Scottish parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and give their powers to local councils or create new sub-national bodies. This way such bodies have powers relevant to their area de-centralized and localized to them but the integrity of the UK is safeguarded as they would have no power over constitutional matters so they would have no ability to break up the UK as the SNP have abused their devolved powers by doing. It also avoids the travesty of unrepresentative, minority extremists gaining power and forcing through their unwanted agenda against the manifest will of the majority (the SNP gained 17% in the 2011 Holyrood elections-hardly a democratic mandate in anybody's book).
Unity and shared values are the key to framing a successful, viable, practicable and fair UK constitution. Separatism and nationalism, whilst appealing to the short sighted and selfish aims of pedagogues and extremists (like the SNP and Paid Cymru) never produce anything of enduring value. We can make the governance of the UK much better by making it smaller and 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 EU.
Whilst emphatically not advocating the centralized imposition of values from one part of the UK, there has to be certain shared values between all parts of the UK. Not the values of one dominant group but certain values that can be subscribed to by the reasonable consensus of the majority of UK citizens, based perhaps on shared history and the outlook that follows from that shared narrative. Within that set of shared values the various traditions of the UK can co-exist. There is a great danger, inherent in regionalism of breeding an insular attitude, which leads to the much greater danger of balkanizing the UK 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 balkanization. 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 important 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 realize 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 UK. One essential aspect of this is cooperation between Unionists and Unionist groups.
I'm not at all suggesting at one person or group's views should be imposed on all other Unionist groups. I understand that people's views 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 90's has led to the rise of anti-British nationalism which has now put us in the position that the very survival of the UK is in danger.
In these changed circumstances division amongst Unionists is dangerous as it lets our opponents divide and conquer which leads to the advancing of their agenda to break up the UK.
To counter this, Unionists need to find common ground that they can all agree on and put this over to the UK public with a strong, coherent, positive message as part of a pan-UK Unionist voice that reaches across all parts of the Nation, not just one or a few. Unionists are in a sizable majority in the UK so if we all speak with a coherent voice our message will be heard and the Union will be maintained. And ALL Unionists want that.
(C) 2016 Stephen Bailey.