Separation by Stealth? The Danger of Devolution

January 13, 2017




It has been an incontestable fact amongst honest observers of the reality of legislative devolution that the various UK executives have, virtually since the beginning, been engaged in a process of illegally expanding the limits of their devolved remit by demanding, and getting, more and more powers transferred to them from the House of Commons. It’s now got to the point that Scotland now has the largest amount of power of any devolved region anywhere in the world now that the 2016 Scotland Act has been passed through the Commons. The province of Northern Ireland is on a similar, though slightly less accelerated, path of illegal expansion of its executive power. Wales too has seen a large increase in powers being transferred to its Assembly in the Bay. All these alleged ‘limited power’ assemblies are engaged upon a stealth programme of the incremental increase of their executive power.


Why? What’s the real agenda? It would probably seem to most observers that the obvious danger to the UK’s integrity comes from the nationalists holding, and winning, an independence referendum. After all, real experience would appear to bear this out as there was such a poll in Scotland in 2014. Of course, there is a very large degree of danger from such polls and Unionists would obviously be very well advised to prepare to counter this threat. Eternal vigilance (of nationalist attempts to break up the UK) is the price of maintaining the Union. We, as true Unionists, must never forget this or become complacent.


However, a deeper look into this matter reveals another, more worrying, reason behind all this. You have to think outside the box and more deeply about their motives. Of course, the nationalists will always attempt to force their part of the UK towards independence by the obvious referendum route. But if you think about past history, certain parts of countries have become independent from each other by simply declaring themselves to be so, without being formally granted this status by the other part of the country they are splitting from. In other word they’ve made a Unilateral Declaration of independence: they’ve declared UDI.


There’s a substantial danger of this happening in the UK. By far the greatest threat of this comes from Scotland. Legislative devolution was always presented by it’s supporters as just a one off event. Scotland would be given a parliament that had certain limited powers devolved to it by the House of Commons. However, reality has been very different. In the intervening years since devolution has been enacted a more or less continuous process of various powers being devolved to Holyrood has occurred. Indeed, Scotland has the highest amount of autonomous power of any devolved region anywhere in the world. This includes Catalonia in Spain.


However, that’s not the end of it. There doesn’t appear to be an end to this process. There appears to be no will In Westminster to ensure that the Scottish executive acts with propriety. It’s now clear that what happens in reality is that Holyrood asks for power to be given to it and it is simply granted to them without any thought being given to the constitutional ramifications of doing so. It’s makes no difference who is in control in Holyrood, Labour or the SNP, both abuse their remit and attempt to grab power away from the House of Commons, although the SNP are particularly bad in this respect.


With this in mind, it is easy to countenance a very likely scenario where the SNP don’t have to bother winning an independence referendum. All they’d need to do is to continue to pursue this policy of accreting more and more powers to Holyrood until it effectively has all the necessary powers needed to rule independently. The SNP, or whoever was in charge at that time, could simply declare UDI: a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Scotland would just declare itself an independent country and as it would have all the powers necessary for self-government there is nothing that could be done to prevent this.


An unlikely scenario? There’s increasing evidence that this is a distinct danger. The most obvious piece of evidence is the lack, in both the UK Government and the Scottish executive, of any real political will to halt the process of power transferal. Holyrood just asks for powers to be transferred and it gets them. There’s no attempt by Westminster to question Holyrood as to why they need to get so many powers transferred to them. If devolution was just supposed to be autonomy within the UK as its supporters have always claimed, then why does the Scottish executive need so many powers? It seems increasingly likely that this is a deliberate policy on the part of the SNP. In their hearts, they know that the Scots are too intelligent and sensible to fall for their ill-conceived plans for independence and won't vote ‘yes’ in any formal referendum. The SNP have no concrete plans for an independent Scotland and they know that they’ve been rumbled by the Scots public. This was amply displayed by the through rejection of separation in the 2014 referendum. Realizing this, the nationalists decided to pursue an alternative course to force through their agenda: independence by stealth.


The establishment at Westminster has written off the Union and has embraced federalism. This is an extremely alarming development as federalism is, like legislative devolution, a stepping stone towards further fragmentation and would lead to independence. Indeed, the lesson of legislative devolution is that power corrupts and makes its holders hungry for more and more. It can't be contained and mushrooms in an out of control manner towards independence. All the leaders of the major Westminster parties have shown by their actions that they are not really Unionists. Theresa May, whilst making insipid public pronouncements supporting the Union, has not really displayed any real fight in her efforts to oppose nationalism. In fact, far from this she has aided the cause of independence by letting it be known that Whitehall is minded to issuing a Section 30 Order granting Holyrood the power to hold a referendum. She knows she has the legal authority under the original devolution acts and the Smith Commission recommendations to simply deny Sturgeon any future referenda and that all the recent opinion polls show that the Scottish public simply doesn’t want independence, but she won’t emphatically rule out another poll. May appears to be far too timid in the face of aggressive nationalist tactics. Walking disaster Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has admitted that he is not a Unionist:


‘I…am not a Unionist’ he is quoted as saying. Added to this, his party is known to contain Irish republican supporters in the rank and file and the top echelon who can hardly inspire confidence that Labour would maintain the Union. Let’s not forget also that it was Labour that began the process of national disintegration by granting legislative devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the first place. Labour definitely can’t be trusted on constitutional matters. The Liberal Democrats are just as useless at constitutional matters as they are on everything else. They profess to be Unionists, but in practice they subscribe to the federalist agenda. They can be discounted. Irrefutable proof of Westminster's rejection of Unionism and embrace of federalism can be found in the fact that the 2016 Scotland Act contains a clause that states emphatically that the UK Government accepts unequivocally that legislative devolution is permanent. There is no real Unionist party in Westminster and one is sorely needed.


This is severely compounded by the lack of any real opposition to the SNP’s agenda in Holyrood. The traditional political power in Scotland, Labour, was wiped out in the 2015 general election by the SNP. They’re now impotent and can be discounted as any credible opposition to the nationalists. Turning to the so called ‘Conservative and Unionist’ Party, under Ruth Davidson, there appears to be an equally alarming lack of will to (effectively) oppose the SNP. The problem here appears to be with the leadership. Whilst there has been a slight increase in both voting for and membership of the Conservative Party under Davidson, this hasn’t led to any really effective opposition to the nationalist agenda. A confused and confusing policy towards the SNP has been adopted by Davidson. She's talks the talk, but rarely walks the walk. She often issues strong condemnations of SNP policies then just falls back into inaction. In some cases, she actually cooperates with Sturgeon, standing shoulder to shoulder with her and aiding the SNP cause.


A good example of this was the call by Sturgeon for the power to initiate referenda to be devolved to Holyrood. This idea is utter madness. Surely if devolution is just ‘autonomy within the UK’ then why do the nationalists want this power? It would appear obvious that the starting point of the SNP is independence, despite their repeated denial of this. Did Davidson fiercely oppose this as she repeatedly claimed? No, she didn’t. Her response was to immediately issue a statement in which she stood shoulder to shoulder with Sturgeon in demanding that Holyrood is handed the referenda enabling power. If we can’t trust Davidson's Tories on such an important matter then how can we be expected to trust her at all? On several other matters, Davidson has proved to be weak and unable to oppose the nationalists. She, or her party, can’t be trusted to provide a strong, positive case for the Union. The Liberal Democrats are a useless rump in Holyrood so they too can be discounted. As it stands, there is no effective opposition to the SNP in Holyrood. The only cure for this is the abolition of legislative devolution.


This depressing state of affairs doesn’t look like coming to an end any time soon. Complacency is not an option. The SNP have proved to be ruthless in their pursuit of their goal of independence by any means, irrespective of the cost to the livelihood of ordinary Scots. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. Whether it’s directly through a referendum, or indirectly through the accretion of powers, there is a great danger to the Union. The established parties have accepted devolution as a permanent fact and can’t be relied upon to oppose the nationalist agenda. We need a new force to stand up for the Union.


‘(c) 2017 Stephen Bailey’

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