Liberal Unionism in 2012

There’s no escaping history in our party, and current debates of nationalism, unionism and secession should prompt Liberal Democrats to delve back into the Gladstonian past.

The Liberal Party split over the Union. Gladstone favoured Home Rule for Ireland, Liberal Unionists didn’t, and ultimately joined the Conservative Party. This cemented the Conservative Party as the party of the Union, and it is a position the Conservative Party still holds.

The purpose of this article is, however, to challenge the Conservative Party’s stranglehold over being British.

The existing Conservative argument goes that a Conservative Britain is a Britainthat stands proud and takes no nonsense from anyone on the other side of the Channel. In contrast, Liberal Democrats, as a pro-European party, don’t stick up for Britain, they sell out, and they give away our national identity. It is a superficially compelling argument. It is a Conservative argument for a Conservative vision for a unionist Britain. It is certainly not the only unionist vision.

The rise of nationalist Scotland and the success of Ireland within Europe and the Euro demonstrate the problem of Conservative Unionism. Ireland has demonstrated the effectiveness of independence from Britain within Europe. The SNP share a similar vision for Scotland. The EU offers full national identity with the chance for economic self-determination. The EU, as a group of independent nations, respects and values national identity. Cross the Channel to France to see how they combine a full commitment to Europe with retaining their French identity.

For the Irish and for many Scots, identity is achieved by being Irish and Scottish within Europe. The flaw of Conservative Unionism is about the Scots being British rather than being Scottish. Britain is the identity, they say, and the Union is run from Westminster. The Conservative government of the 1980s and 1990s opposed devolution.

In contrast, Liberal Democrats are practical unionists. We share much with Labour, whose record under Blair has been impressive. We have supported the cause of devolution for decades. We have played a constructive and important part in setting up the Scottish Parliament. The new Home Rule Commission set up by Willie Rennie and chaired by Sir Menzies Campbell will work through how the Scots can further shape their own future while sharing risks, security and international relations in an uncertain world.

Liberal Democrats believe in the Union with devolution just as we believe in the EU with subsidiarity. We see a world with global, European, national, regional and local problems, and we seek to build political structures where decisions are taken by the right people in the right place. We are unionists because we believe in Britain with our shared language, our shared history and our shared culture.

The debate on Scottish independence gives the Liberal Democrats a golden opportunity to set out a distinctive unionist vision for Great Britain. Unionist within Europe. Pro-European, totally committed to being at the heart of the EU, sticking up for Britain and better preserving and enhancing our Scottish, Welsh, Irish, English and British identity.

* William Hobhouse is on the board of Liberal Reform and is co-founder of the Lib Dem Campaign for Manufacturing.

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26 Comments

  • What on earth are the Liberal democrates doing I am so upset.

    1. No Tuition Fees – Lets have £9000
    2. No Scottish Referendum – Now we must have a Scottish Referendum Now
    3. A Federalised Britain is the best structure to save the Union (The Steel Report) – Now no Devo-Max

    I do not know anymore what we believe in – Lets all vote Tory – We are doomed

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Jan '12 - 5:18pm

    @Nicola — there is precisely zero chance of resurrecting long-forgotten nations just to build a plausible model for a federal UK. (If Jedibeeftrix were here, I suspect he’d call this idea “pointyheaded”…) The imbalance in the size of the constituent nations is indeed a huge obstacle to a federal solution, but just wishing it away doesn’t solve it.

    @Andrew Drucker — thanks for that link. Very informative, for a native Scot long since gone native in England, to see what the debate actually looks like up there. I have to agree about the “positive case” — a fantastical beast, much talked about but never seen: a chimera, indeed. I have friends in the party who insist “we’re stronger together than separately” but I have never heard an explanation of why they think that.

  • Full independence for Greater London!

  • What it goes back to is that it is FPTP that is tearing the union apart. We lurch from extreme to extreme with governments led by parties with 35% of the vote taking control and so it is no wonder that whichever wins is roundly hated in two thirds of the UK and adopts extreme policies which end up hurting major regions of the UK and favouring their own special interest groups.

    Another question I would like to raise is the status of Northern Ireland and Wales in any post independence arrangement. They are hugely dependent on the public purse to survive. How could the Scots simply justify walking off and not contributing to their upkeep. Surely they would have to, or otherwise, why should England support these countries? After all, the Scots are going to be the wealthiest nation in the British Isles, according to the SNP and they are so much more imbued with solidarity and social conscience (again according to the SNP).

  • It’s all very well explaining what your position is, but if you want to convince anyone you’ll have to do a better job of explaining why it is.

    What’s your narrative? What is your compelling vision for the future of Scotland within the UK that you’re going to put up against the vision for the future of an independent Scotland being sold by the SNP? And how are you going to convince the Scots that your vision can be realised, that the future of the UK isn’t simply an extension of the status quo?

    The problem you’ve got is that you’re defending a system that has never been more discredited than it is at present, and, from the voter’s point of view, never more hopeless. I don’t think this feeling is confined to Scotland by any means, I think it goes right across these islands. The difference in Scotland is that there is a ready-made viable outlet for this frustration and protest, one that isn’t tainted in the same way that the Westminster parties are. The SNP have become the anti-establishment party north of the border and added those who have lost faith in Westminster to those who already believed in independence (which is why the surge in electoral support hasn’t translated into a similar surge in favour of independence). In England, where no such viable alternative exists, I suspect we’ll see turnout fall off a cliff over the next couple of elections.

    But the genie is out of the bottle now, there’s going to be a referendum and those of you who still favour the union are going to have to face down the perfect storm – a Tory government, austerity, three equally unpopular leaders of the main UK parties, the implosion of the once-mighty Labour in Scotland, and an opponent whose political skill is acknowledged and admired even by those who can’t stand him.

    You aren’t going to do that by just restating your position over and over as if the desirability of the union is somehow axiomatic.

  • The argument/narrative for union is the same as it was in 1707, and similar to the argument for staying in Europe:

    - access to a bigger market, but retaining the ability to discriminate against the English (eg lawyers/tuition fees)
    - an end to wars (Scotland is split along religious lines, and would you trust Cameron and Salmond not to go to war?)
    - a big brother to bail you out if you get into trouble (for Darien read RBS and HBOS) or come to your aid if one of your nuclear power stations blows up
    - protection from tyranny and corruption at home, but with devolution/subsidiarity to keep big brother at arms length.

    But Nicola is quite right: we should be going for a consultative referendum (not a binding referendum), and we should be supporting home rule within the union (ie devo-max) not an all-or-nothing referendum which will be incredibly destabilising and could easily be swayed by some irrelevant gaffe on either side. Above all, we should be standing up for Scotland against the Tories.

  • @Paulk

    Sorry, but this is one of the worst attempts at a defense of the union I’ve ever read. I’d have no trouble believing it was a parody written by a cheeky nationalist.

    The argument/narrative for union is the same as it was in 1707,
    There was no argument for the union in 1707, there was just a collusion between two sets of venal, self-interested aristocrats in two feudal, pre-democracy kingdoms.

    and similar to the argument for staying in Europe:
    - access to a bigger market,

    Europe already provides that market, the UK is irrelevant.

    but retaining the ability to discriminate against the English (eg lawyers/tuition fees)
    I don’t even understand what point you think you’re making here. Scottish independence would be to the advantage of English students who wish to study in Scotland, but I don’t understand why you think pointing this out would convince Scots to vote against independence. No one likes the current situation, but it’s entirely the result of the coalition. In my view that’s a subject the Lib Dems especially would do well to avoid.

    - an end to wars (Scotland is split along religious lines, and would you trust Cameron and Salmond not to go to war?)
    You can’t be serious. No, Scotland is not split along religious lines. Glasgow is, but these days the effects are basically confined to trouble between old firm fans. In what way does the union affect this situation one way or the other?

    As for Scotland and England going to war, I think that’s too silly to even respond to.

    - a big brother to bail you out if you get into trouble (for Darien read RBS and HBOS)
    Well gee, it’s nice to have someone offering to look after us, but I don’t understand what a botched commercial venture that lost a bunch of aristocrats a load of their personal wealth hundreds if years ago has to do with two multunational banks operating from and regulated in the City if London needing a tax-payer bailout, let alone what it’s git to do with Scottish independence.

    or come to your aid if one of your nuclear power stations blows up
    A strange point, given that an independent Scotland won’t have more nuclear power stations (or nuclear weapons) while a Scotland within the UK almost certainly will, and either way I don’t see why it would be harder for an independent Scotland to employ the necessary engineers than for any other part of the UK.

    - protection from tyranny and corruption at home, but with devolution/subsidiarity to keep big brother at arms length.
    I can’t even parse this. Protection from whose tyranny? Ze Germans? What does the UK do to protect Scotland from corruption and big brother that an independent Scotland couldn’t do for itself?

    Your case for the union basically boils down to “you’re too wee, too poor, and too stupid to be independent”, and if that’s indicative of the sort of case the Lib Dems are going to make then the nats have as good as won.

  • With it being full of such benevolance I wonder what The SNP position is regarding Burma?
    There were many Scots living in Burma during the colonial period-they ran the river ferries- and
    there are many Anglo-Burmese who are part Scottish.
    Burma has a Presbyterian Church.
    Since the SNP believes in independence,does it support an independent Karen State In SE Asia.
    After all the Karens have really struggled for independence in the last sixty years having suffered from
    real oppression.

  • @Ivan

    First point is one of information – you’re exclusively blaming the coalition for the situation where the English and Welsh pay for tuition in Scotland where everyone else in the EU doesn’t?

    I was paying for tuition in Scotland years before the coalition ever came along. Of course the coalition isn’t blameless for the current high costs, but I wouldn’t say its entirely their fault. Personally, I think Lord Browne has something to answer for, and I remain relieved that the party promising to implement his recommendations of a cap-less free market wasn’t invited to the coalition after all.

    But I am drifting off topic now. Back to the positive case for the union.

    Independence is flawed, it throws the baby out with the bathwater. Traditional unionism is flawed, it smothers local needs in a centralised Westminster-only construct. The solution is autonomy within the union.

    Scotland (and Wales, and the English regions) needs greater taxation and spending powers, to raise their own revenue and pay for the sorts of societies they want to see locally. Policy made locally can address the needs and ambitions of the people far better than something cooked up in distant Westminster.

    But that doesn’t mean we all should throw up the borders and become isolated little micro-nations.

    We need to share certain key areas of policy in a union, addressing them on an all-Britain level. Why? Because Britain is a sensible unit for administration, it being an island. Policy areas like grand infrastructure, the environment and mutual defence – how can a working policy on any of this be built if different parts of the island are going to be working to different plans?

    The only way to build a working, coherent plan is to co-operate. We also gain from speaking with a single voice on foreign policy. Split up, the British countries would have limited influence within the EU, resulting in our losing the argument against protectionism and failing to secure reforms to open up its institutions, and negligible ability to act outside of Europe.

    Of course independence won’t be the end of the world and there’s no use in either unionists or federalists trying to suggest it would be. But I see a brighter future if Britain can continue to co-operate on matters that affect us all – as long as it can also allow power to act on local matters to devolve down to the countries and regions within the union.

  • Richard Fife 15th Jan '12 - 10:44am

    Avoid possible confusion from historical reversal of the meaning of key terms: in 19th century politics, “Home Rule” meant devolution, for Ireland, not total independence. Unionism, Tory or Liberal, opposed any devolved assemblies.
    O’Connell, Parnell, Redmond, Gladstone etc. were entirely happy with the devolution concept, within the UK. As a UK citizen of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh ancestry, living in England, that is what I want. For me, Scotland is a different country, but not a foreign one, and I regret that I can’t, quite, say the same in Ireland. It was very much the fault of English and Scottish Unionists that they drove the Irish into separation and partition.

  • Steve Comer 15th Jan '12 - 1:29pm

    I really don’t understand:
    1) Why are the two main unionist parties are being so hysterical? Every day seems to bring more exaggerated over-reaction about the dire consequences of Scotland voting yes in an Independence Referendum. No wonder Alec Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon look so pleased with themselves. They can sit back and let Cameron, Hague and Darling make their case for them!
    2) Why Scottish Liberal Democrats have just said ‘me too’ to Labour and Tory Unionists in recent years. As I was at the count in May seeing the FPTP results coming in from Scotland it was clear that Centre-left votes had switched in large numbers from Lib Dem to SNP. What future do we have as the weakest Unionist party north of the border? Liberals have always supported Home Rule (long before it was renamed ‘Devo Max’ – which sounds like something vets inject into horses!). Scottish Liberal Democrats last year were saying there shouldn’t be a Referendum, this year they are saying it must be sooner than autumn 2014 – talk about inconsistency

    I’m relaxed about this referendum, as a Liberal I’m a believer in subsidiarity, Power should be exercised at the lowest possible level. So if Scotland wants to vote for a ‘velvet divorce’ as the Slovaks did in the 1990s, what is the problem? England will still have the economic ties with them as we do with Ireland, and we’ll all still be in the EU.

    The Scottish Parliament should be allowed to have its consultative referendum on the timetable it votes for. And if the Coalition carries on as it has this week, then I expect a few English Liberals like me might want to go up campaign for a ‘yes’ vote, if only as a protest against the Westminster village elite!

  • Angus McLellan 15th Jan '12 - 1:38pm

    As Richard Fife said, “avoid possible confusion from historical reversal of the meaning of key terms”. Liberal Unionists (mark one version, e.g. Joe Chamberlain) were so bitterly opposed to devolution that they were willing to split the Liberal Party and bring down the government over the issue.

  • david thorpe 15th Jan '12 - 1:46pm

    Unfortunatl;ey most of the irish young were fleeing Ireland before the EU was born or thought of.
    The only period in the history of Ireland from the 1840s to the present where the ‘children, like the cattele werent reared for export’ was during tghe celtic tiger era, and that would not have happened if it were not for the EU, on both a Micro and a Maxcro level.

    As fpr Scotland, the liberal position should be simple, its up to the people of Scotland, not politicans from anywhere, to decide thweir own fate.

    As for the EU, there are a very large number of Eurosceptics in the party, whose voice is alrgely ignored

  • Steve Comer 15th Jan '12 - 8:07pm

    @ david thorpe “there are a very large number of Eurosceptics in the party, whose voice is alrgely ignored”.
    So where are they then? Their presence has never been very strong in any party meeting or conference I’ve ever been at. As Liberal Democrats we want a more accountable and democratic EU, but we accept the principal of subsidiarity, and the need for co-operation in our common European homeland.
    And lets be clear ‘euro sceptic’ is a euphemism invented by right wing Tories. They are not “sceptical” about the European Union they are completely opposed to it.
    Opinion polls show that even during the height of the currency crisis 33% of the UK electorate are pro-European. We should be trying to get them to vote for us and not Labour, rather than pandering to the xenophobic rantings in the Daily Mail and its ilk.
    Last week Nick Clegg as Deputy PM hosted a meeting of Liberal Ministers, and EU Commissioners. Of course that went largely unreported in the UK media, but full details can be found here: http://www.eldr.eu/en/news/2012/01/jobs-and-growth-on-the-agenda-of-european-liberal-leaders-meeting

  • @T-J

    First point is one of information – you’re exclusively blaming the coalition for the situation where the English and Welsh pay for tuition in Scotland where everyone else in the EU doesn’t?

    No, you’re quite right, the current situation is not entirely the fault of the coalition and I didn’t mean to imply that it was. However, the now-common accusations of anti-English discrimination (and even racism) didn’t start until the Scottish government ramped up fees for non-resident Brits as a result of coalition vandalism of the education system in England, and it was this “discrimination” bit in PaulK’s post I was referring to.

    We need to share certain key areas of policy in a union, addressing them on an all-Britain level. Why? Because Britain is a sensible unit for administration, it being an island. Policy areas like grand infrastructure, the environment and mutual defence – how can a working policy on any of this be built if different parts of the island are going to be working to different plans?

    OK, lets take those one at a time:

    Grand infrastructure:
    Such as? I’ve tried and tried and I cannot think of any such project, either existing or imagined, that would require a British state.

    Environment:
    It seems to me that Scotland has already diverged and is further diverging from the rest of the UK on environmental issues, probably in the most part because its much lower population density makes NIMBYism that much less potent than it is in much of England. Does it matter whether they diverge under a single British state or under two (or more) smaller states? I concede that it might be harder for the rump UK to meet its targets on emissions and so on without being able to include Scottish contributions and deductions, but that’s a problem for the rump UK, not for Scotland.

    Mutual defence:
    I don’t see this as an insurmountable problem. The UK already cooperates with many other nations when it comes to defence, at every level, from precurement to operations. If we’re willing in principle to share aircraft carriers with France then surely cooperation between the UK and Scotland should be fairly straight-forward. Individually the UK may indeed have a diminished military and find it a bit harder to get involved in foreign adventurism at the drop of a hat, but in my view this would be no bad thing. In fact, my main objection to devo-max (however defined) is that it leaves the entirety of the current UK military machine and the right to deploy it exclusively in the hands of Westminster.

    The only way to build a working, coherent plan is to co-operate. We also gain from speaking with a single voice on foreign policy. Split up, the British countries would have limited influence within the EU, resulting in our losing the argument against protectionism and failing to secure reforms to open up its institutions, and negligible ability to act outside of Europe.

    I don’t accept this argument at all. At the EU especially, a separate Scotland and UK would have two seats in the European Council instead of one, and I believe that because of the way the European Parliament works we’d collectively have slightly more MEPs than at present too. So on areas where the two countries share interests we would have more of a voice than at present, not less. Of course there will be areas where our interests clash, but why the hell should one set of interests be subservient to another anyway?

    You see, when you say “we’ll have less of a voice”, I can’t help thinking that the “we” you’re talking about is Westminster, and whether or not Westminster has less of a voice in international affairds is of little concern to the people who will be voting in the referendum. What matters to them is that Scotland will clearly and unambiguously have a larger voice.

    Of course independence won’t be the end of the world and there’s no use in either unionists or federalists trying to suggest it would be. But I see a brighter future if Britain can continue to co-operate on matters that affect us all – as long as it can also allow power to act on local matters to devolve down to the countries and regions within the union.

    I’m not actually against federalism in principle, but I have never heard (or been able to imagine) a suggestion for one that might actually work. There is no way on God’s Green Earth you will ever convince Westminster to reform itself to the extent that would be necessary, and no way you’ll ever convince Middle England to force them to. Good luck, for example, in convincing Westminster to hand all of its domestic powers downwards to an English parliament, or all of its international powers upwards to some sort of federal government, or to dismember England into umpteen arbitrary regions at the behest of the Scots (which is how it would be presented in the right-wing press if it were ever seriously suggested).

    It seems to me that any level of federation would require such a root-and-branch reimagining of the UK that it would cease to be that which you were trying to save.

    If you know of one, I’m all ears.

  • Sorry, first paragraph of my previous post was a quote – I messed up my tags.

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jan '12 - 8:30pm

    @T-J “Because Britain is a sensible unit for administration, it being an island.”

    Do you support the reunification of Ireland outside the UK, then? Should the Portuguese apply to become part of Spain, since it would clearly make more sense for the whole Iberian peninsula to be under one government?

    Of course even “Britain” isn’t really an island — it’s a collection of islands, one large and many small; whilst the UK (which is the relevant point of comparison in this debate) isn’t even that: it’s one big island, part of a somewhat smaller island, and loads of little ones.

    @Steve Comer “‘Devo Max’ – which sounds like something vets inject into horses”
    Ah, thank you! I have been trying to work out what it is about this ugly new politerm that I find so disturbing — I think you’ve nailed it.

  • @Malcolm Todd

    On Ireland, yes. Actually, I do. As soon as there’s a democratic mandate to do so.

    On Spain and Portugal, I don’t know enough about their politics to really say, and it seems there’s a much bigger linguistic and cultural divide across that border than there is across the partition of Ireland. But in principle, a looser confederation in Iberia might be a possible solution to Spain’s failure to cohere as a nation-state, as well as a solution to Portugal’s failure to develop economically.

    Not that I believe for one moment that they’ll ever do it. Loose confederations tend to come about to save old unions, not to forge new ones.

    And on Britain, yes, its one big island and lots of little ones. Think about it though – one *really* big one, and lots of tiny ones completely dependent on the mainland for their economy. And in many cases, for their population. Some sort of efficiency of scale would be nice. I’m sure an independent Iona will appeal to some petty nationalist somewhere, but is it really practical?

    @Ivan

    Grand infrastructure – example: Salmond wants to establish a major new container port somewhere in Fife to rival Rotterdam. At the same time, London, Portsmouth and I believe Hull are also looking at doing the same thing.

    Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a federal government that would evaluate the case, economical and environmental, do a cost-benefit on each possible location and put one big one where it would be best sited, rather than build three or more and wait for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to make the decision for us?

    Its all about co-ordination. Sure, grand infrastructure *can* happen in a balkanised situation, you don’t *need* a British state. But you must see its easier and less wasteful, with less duplicated effort, when there’s a co-operating body overseeing it.

    The environment – the thrust of your argument seems to be ‘I’m alright, Jack’. Sounds like a nasty, selfish right-wing ‘English’ argument, and not a nice, caring, sharing ‘Scottish’ one. Perhaps there’s less difference between our two countries than you previously thought?

    But seriously – NIMBYism I would argue is in fact worse in Scotland, especially when you get into the Highlands. Any project that might alter the outline of a named hill is unthinkable, be it a quarry, a wind turbine, a railway electrification project…

    And the point is that no matter how possible it might be to have environmental policy in separate states, it would be far easier and more effective to build a single one that we all agree on. Having two completely separate states encourages one or the other to beggar its neighbour by having looser rules or more generous financial incentives, leaving one neighbour to deal with cross-border pollution and with the consequences of industry migrating away from sterner regulation.

    On defence, I’m going to keep it simple and ask why its in anybody’s interest to have different militaries and administrations across an island with no geographic barriers of any significance to a modern armed force?

    I would also argue that a Westminster whose primary remaining role in a federal union is foreign policy and defence, would be a very different place. Foreign policy credentials would be the main election issue, rather than a pleasant bonus as at present. The character (and size) of the chamber would be fundamentally altered by the nature of the powers limited to it.

    On to wider foreign policy. Scotland (and England or Wales) faces a choice between helping to define what is being said by a voice that will be heard on the world stage, or having complete control over a voice nobody’s listening to.

    Little countries only achieve influence when they band together. Salmond has explained that his Scotland would seek to join the ‘Nordic club’ as a bloc to help amplify its voice, so that’s an argument the SNP accepts even if you don’t. Unfortunately for the SNP, there’s already a case study of what happens when a country with spurious Nordic credentials tries to join that club. Estonia’s been trying to join for years now, and has only managed to achieve a kind of semi-detached status, regarded by the actual Nordics as an oddity at best, joke at worst.

    Of course, you may well retort with the likely route England will take, of isolation within Europe. But doesn’t that also smack of ‘I care not for your predicament…’?

    And finally, on federalism. I’ve stated my position repeatedly – federation of Scotland, Wales and the English regions. Its going to become necessary to address the regional divisions within England, even if we don’t worry about the nationalist elements elsewhere.

    This solution also addresses your concerns of English domination of the union by granting a voice to its regions – there is after all no such thing as ‘English interests’, because England is so disparate now that anything the Westminster bubble comes up with inevitably defends merely South East interests.

    Before you come back with the ‘it’ll never happen’ argument, I’d like to point out its already started. What’s the Greater London Assembly if its not a devolution to an English region? There’s also a lot of strong feeling about the issue in the North East and Yorkshire. Current spending proposals have raised serious questions in the West Country also. Regionalism is the growing trend in an England increasingly being failed by the centralised Westminster system.

    Also, on ‘it’ll never happen’, that’s what SNP fundamentalists said about devolution itself. It’ll never happen, Westminster will never let go of power, Middle England won’t allow it.

    Makes your predictions of inevitable defeat seem rather pessimistic now, from my point of view anyway.

  • T-J

    Grand infrastructure – example: Salmond wants to establish a major new container port somewhere in Fife to rival Rotterdam. At the same time, London, Portsmouth and I believe Hull are also looking at doing the same thing.

    Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a federal government that would evaluate the case, economical and environmental, do a cost-benefit on each possible location and put one big one where it would be best sited, rather than build three or more and wait for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to make the decision for us?

    It possibly would, yes, but is that what would happen? Or would whichever of the parties were in power in that federal Westminster just make a decision based on whatever they calculated was most electorally beneficial at that moment in time, as happens just now?

    Its all about co-ordination. Sure, grand infrastructure *can* happen in a balkanised situation, you don’t *need* a British state. But you must see its easier and less wasteful, with less duplicated effort, when there’s a co-operating body overseeing it.

    I just don’t see it as a big enough or common enough issue for it to affect the attractiveness or otherwise of Scottish independence.

    The environment – the thrust of your argument seems to be ‘I’m alright, Jack’. Sounds like a nasty, selfish right-wing ‘English’ argument, and not a nice, caring, sharing ‘Scottish’ one. Perhaps there’s less difference between our two countries than you previously thought?

    Firstly, no, that’s not the thrust of my argument at all. I just think that, given the way environmental policy in the two parts of the UK is already diverging, it’s pointless to argue that they’d diverge more.

    Secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever suggested that there are inherent differences between the two countries, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that from. In my view all the people of these islands are equally badly served by the system of government we have. The main difference is that there is a viable, credible alternative to the status quo in Scotland while for various reasons there isn’t elsewhere. Yet.

    And the point is that no matter how possible it might be to have environmental policy in separate states, it would be far easier and more effective to build a single one that we all agree on. Having two completely separate states encourages one or the other to beggar its neighbour by having looser rules or more generous financial incentives, leaving one neighbour to deal with cross-border pollution and with the consequences of industry migrating away from sterner regulation.

    And what if we can’t all agree on one? The Tories could well have a majority after the next election. Do you trust them to have a respondible environmental policy once they’re not constrained by the coalition? And if not, why shouldn’t the Scots conclude that it would be better to have their own?

    On defence, I’m going to keep it simple and ask why its in anybody’s interest to have different militaries and administrations across an island with no geographic barriers of any significance to a modern armed force?

    Your question assumes that we all want the same sort of military. If we do, then of course it’s in no ones interests. But we don’t all want the same sort of military, do we? Again, this isn’t necessarily a difference between the attitude of Scots vs The Rest, there are people all across these islands that think we should be pairing back our military, for example with less focus on dropping bombs on oil-rich deserts.

    I would also argue that a Westminster whose primary remaining role in a federal union is foreign policy and defence, would be a very different place. Foreign policy credentials would be the main election issue, rather than a pleasant bonus as at present. The character (and size) of the chamber would be fundamentally altered by the nature of the powers limited to it.

    It would need to be a very different place, but it’s such an unlikely scenario that it’s barely worth discussing. Remember, to make a coherent argument for the Union your vision doesn’t just have to be attractive, it has to be plausible too.

    On to wider foreign policy. Scotland (and England or Wales) faces a choice between helping to define what is being said by a voice that will be heard on the world stage, or having complete control over a voice nobody’s listening to.

    The majority of Scottish MPs are Labour. The majority of MSPs are SNP. In what way do the people of Scotland have a greater voice in international affairs by relying on English Tories to act in their interests than by their elected representatives having a voice of their own, however small?

    Little countries only achieve influence when they band together. Salmond has explained that his Scotland would seek to join the ‘Nordic club’ as a bloc to help amplify its voice, so that’s an argument the SNP accepts even if you don’t. Unfortunately for the SNP, there’s already a case study of what happens when a country with spurious Nordic credentials tries to join that club. Estonia’s been trying to join for years now, and has only managed to achieve a kind of semi-detached status, regarded by the actual Nordics as an oddity at best, joke at worst.

    Of course, you may well retort with the likely route England will take, of isolation within Europe. But doesn’t that also smack of ‘I care not for your predicament…’?

    No, it’s more a case of “I can’t affect your predicament, but I can demonstrate an alternative”.

    And finally, on federalism. I’ve stated my position repeatedly – federation of Scotland, Wales and the English regions. Its going to become necessary to address the regional divisions within England, even if we don’t worry about the nationalist elements elsewhere.

    This solution also addresses your concerns of English domination of the union by granting a voice to its regions – there is after all no such thing as ‘English interests’, because England is so disparate now that anything the Westminster bubble comes up with inevitably defends merely South East interests.

    If you think you can sell the idea of a Federal UK that includes an England split into regions in the face of opposition from, at the very least, the Tory party and most of the English press, then by all means go ahead. Given the way the AV referendum went I think it’s pure fantasy.

    Before you come back with the ‘it’ll never happen’ argument, I’d like to point out its already started. What’s the Greater London Assembly if its not a devolution to an English region? There’s also a lot of strong feeling about the issue in the North East and Yorkshire. Current spending proposals have raised serious questions in the West Country also. Regionalism is the growing trend in an England increasingly being failed by the centralised Westminster system.

    Sorry, but I can’t help it; It’ll never happen. In a piecemeal fashion in various little corners of England? Possibly. But in an organised manner right across the country as part of a federal project? Not a chance, not in a thousand years. The Tory party and their supporters would sooner lose everything than give up the Mother Of Parliaments and the nostalgic link to Great Power status that goes with it.

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