Saturday, 22 February 2014

Independence: slopes and wedges

On this weekend's Any Questions?, Frank Field repeated the view held by many that it was a mistake to grant devolution to national parliaments at the turn of the century because it put UK on a slippery slope leading to inevitable independence. Others have pointed to the thin edge of a nationalist wedge. My response is: nuts.

Those of us who were politically aware for the last half of the twentieth century realised (or should have realised, Mr Field) that the pressure for returning at least some power to the nations of Britain was irresistible. In Scotland, that pressure led to the setting up of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, comprising representatives of  not only political parties (excluding, younger readers may be surprised to know, the Scottish Nationalists, who boycotted it) but also the Scottish TUC, the churches and other movers and shakers. The template designed by the convention for the governance of Scotland was adopted by the Labour party in Westminster and adapted for Wales.

Wales is the living rebuttal to the slippery-slope argument. There is no great demand for independence. Even the nationalist party gives independence as a long-term ambition, not a central plank of its manifestos and Labour in government in Cardiff is actually resisting some of the appurtenances of national government recommended by the Silk Commission.

Admittedly, Scotland is different from Wales in two ways. First, she maintained her own legal system after the Act of Union; secondly, Edinburgh and Glasgow are more distant from London than Cardiff is. But I think the most significant factor is one of personality. Like him or loathe him, Alex Salmond must be the most charismatic political leader in Britain - and that includes Nigel Farage. As to whether the drive for Scottish independence can survive his departure from the political stage, ah hae me doots.

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