The 1998 Scotland Act that ushered in the era of devolution was a response to the failure of the Westminster system to meet the needs of Scotland. Westminster had failed on two primary counts. It had proven incapable of reviving the economy of Scotland, even with the vast bounty of oil and gas revenues pouring into Whitehall’s coffers from Scottish waters.
Despite the tremendous efforts of local authorities, the Scottish Development Agency and business organisations, post-Thatcher Scotland was a land of too many towns blighted by lack of jobs, lack of dynamic businesses and lack of hope. The second failing was one of political legitimacy. A great many Scots simply did not see Westminster acting in their interests or the interests of Scotland.
The feeling that Westminster is not acting on the interests of ordinary people has now spread far beyond Scotland. Voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland look at Westminster and see a government with an 80-seat majority, having secured only 46% of the votes. The public see a prime minister with no mandate from the electorate, who succeeded another prime minister who had no mandate from the electorate. Both succeeded a prime minister driven from office by his own party, having succeeded in being the only serving prime minister convicted of breaking the law. He also stuffed the House of Lords with a motely mix of old pals, dodgy donors, slippery media hacks and relations of Russians once prominent in the Soviet State Security machine.
People of a reforming mind set had hoped that Keir Starmer might follow the instruction of his party conference and make the adoption of fair voting, via proportional representation (PR), a key manifesto commitment. It didn’t happen and the best Sir Keir can do about reform of the Lords is “consultation.” Nor has Starmer been notably supportive of the institution of the Scottish parliament. Its creation was surely one of the high-water marks of Tony Blair’s years as a Labour prime minister.
Brexit disaster and Labour’s complicity
Now let us come to Brexit. That Brexit is an unmitigated disaster is now no longer open to question. It is the settled view of the majority of UK voters. Yet, Westminster failed and continues to fail to protect the people from the widely forecast, massive and devastating consequences of Brexit. We have got poorer and will get poorer still. Rather than smell the coffee and argue for a return to the EU fold, Labour has embraced the creed, thereby giving succor to the Tory party and its greatest ever mistake.
Is it any surprise that the World Values Survey, published by The Guardian on 30th March, found that British confidence in the Westminster parliament has shrunk from just 32% to 22%. So, from around a third to just 22% now think Westminster is worthy of their confidence. Neither Tory nor Labour appears to have any clue how to rectify this, and that may explain why nasty politics is now so much a part of our public dialogue. If you can’t win by ideas, policies and visions then win by attacking the man, not the ball. Win by marginalising and demonising. Succeed by encouraging citizens to see fault with their fellows, not their institutions and politicians.
Westminster: Crumbling before our eyes
You don’t need to be a professor of political science, the editor of a great newspaper or the King in his castle to see the stark reality that our national way of government is crumbling before our eyes. Our union is crumbling with it. Support for Welsh independence is at an all time high. Northern Ireland’s ancient divisions have resurfaced with Brexit and the six counties have the option of a reunification “Border poll” in their back pocket. Scotland, despite the current travails of the SNP, remains almost equally divided on independence.
More worrying is the divisions in England. The extreme Right has established itself in communities across the land. It is organised and knows how to raise money and raise the political temperature. This branch of the Right gets comfort and solace from the modern Tory party. If you don’t believe me ask former Tory party chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. She has accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of “racist rhetoric.”
Britain is not a pretty picture. The Conservative Party knows it presides over a weakened land. It knows the next election may see it dashed from power, its Brexit dreams soon melting away. Its power will slip into history if PR ends the old way of voting that has always favoured the big parties. It knows the Scots are enthusiasts for Europe and becoming increasingly fed up with paying huge energy bills for electricity that is produced in rich abundance by the wind that blows and the lochs that drive hydro turbines. A tip over the edge into the independence camp is far from unlikely.
The creaking Tory party that is in charge of a creaking polity now sees the people as the enemy. If you are not a supporter of its policies or its language you are not “one of us.” They fear the public gaze. They fear transparency. They fear people who think differently. They fear free speech, even as they proclaim it. They have captured the BBC and now that once great independent broadcaster has become a part of the government’s PR machine. Alongside the editors of The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph and a dozen Tory supporting dailies across the UK, you can add the name of the BBC’s chair, Richard Sharp.
So afraid of the people is the Tory government that it refuses to reveal what was said at a meeting between then prime minister Boris Johnson and bosses from oil giant BP. “Not in the public interest,” is the excuse. Oh, and where is the Sue Gray report into Johnson’s No10 lockdown parties and the report about Russian interference in Brexit?
Scotland could vanish into history
All this is small beer compared with the refusal of London to publish a report on safety incidents at the Royal Navy’s submarine base at Loch Long on the Clyde. It is home to all the UK’s nuclear armed and nuclear-fueled submarines. Britain’s inter-continental ballistic missiles are stored a few miles away.
The reason given by the Ministry of Defence for not publishing the safety figures is that it may prejudice relations between Westminster and Holyrood. If that doesn’t worry you then little will. It might worry you more if you are part of the 80% of the Scottish population that lives within 40 miles of the Faslane base. It is quite simply one of the deadliest places on earth. A nuclear strike on it could wipe out much of central Scotland. Our nation, as we know it, and most of its people, would vanish into history, as surely as ancient Rome, Tyre or Petra.
In a further demonstration of how much it hates not to be in complete control, the Tory government has now told Foreign Office officials that ministers of the Scottish Government must not be left alone with senior figures from foreign governments. In an act of remarkable arrogance, Foreign Secretary James Cleverley has instructed British diplomats to tell foreign governments they must seek consent from London before meeting Scottish ministers. Most of what Scottish ministers do on overseas trips is promote Scottish food and drink, Scottish tourism, Scottish manufacturing, the services sector and universities and colleges. Afraid the Scots might mention independence, the Tories are now clamping down on Scotland looking after Scotland’s economic interests and the jobs and taxes that comes with economic success.
Paranoia has entered the soul of the Tory party. It is behaving like all power-crazed political machines facing imminent wipeout. It grows more authoritarian, more afraid and angrier by the day. It lies as easily as it enables shady supporters. It grows more irrational and ever-less competent. The more it fails the more paranoid it gets. And we are still 18 months from a general election. Some of you must be thinking there has to be a better way. You’d be right.
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