9 May 2015

This Scottish disaster is Labour’s fault


Rejoice! Rejoice! There is much understandable jubilation on the free-market right that the Conservatives have not only seen off the threat of Ed Miliband’s neo-Marxist Labour challenge, but secured an overall majority, however precarious. The Bolivarian Revolution in Britain has been cancelled.

Once the effects of the champagne wear off, however, those of a more reflective disposition will see much to concern them in this UK general election result. It is, in fact, a disaster. The most obvious point is that a Conservative majority of around five, or slightly more, depending on Sinn Fein abstentions, is not a victory but a poisoned chalice. A minute majority will put the Government at the mercy of every dissident Tory faction, from the Eurosceptic right to the “modernising” left. But that is the least of it: the nightmare element in this Pyrrhic victory is that it comes with a complementary, full-blown constitutional crisis.

The election result in Scotland is beyond nightmare. With 56 seats out of 59, the SNP has effectively created a one-party state north of the Border. One Labour, one Lib Dem and one Conservative MP survive, like museum specimens of a past multi-party era. Even now, it is doubtful that metropolitan opinion fully appreciates the scale of the crisis that confronts the United Kingdom. You do not have to be an adherent of the Salmond/Sturgeon national socialist movement to complain legitimately that Westminster does not understand Scotland.

It is that reprehensible incomprehension of a key component of the United Kingdom that is to blame for the constitutional crisis we now face. This week’s debacle did not come as a thunderbolt out of the blue: it was manufactured and developed over decades, beginning with Edward Heath’s so-called Declaration of Perth in 1968. It was the Tories who first resurrected the nationalist corpse. Heath, whose contempt for the electorate and for democracy was palpable, as demonstrated by his European policy, did not consult his Scottish party before imposing devolution as Conservative policy.

Labour, to its credit, opposed this move and fought the Unionist corner. Then Margaret Thatcher became Conservative leader and sensibly junked devolution. Under the Callaghan administration a Scottish devolution referendum failed and resulted in the fall of the Labour government in 1979. That alone should have alerted Westminster politicians to the toxic potential of Scottish constitutional innovation. But Labour, appalled by Thatcher’s success in demolishing the post-war socialist state, then espoused devolution, as a perceived means of ring-fencing Scotland as an ideological Jurassic Park against free-market reforms.

Nevertheless, interest in devolution in Scotland had by then waned; it became the exclusive preserve of nerdy devo-geeks and a self-serving Scottish media that yearned to become bigger fish in a smaller pond by reporting the doings of a Scottish parliament. All might yet have been well, but for the intervention of two individuals, both political pygmies with egos that far overreached their intellects.

Donald Dewar, a locally overrated politician who specialised in rhetoric and little else, persuaded Tony Blair, a vacuous neophiliac that devolution would be a seismic reform. It was new, it would sunder the traditional coherence of the British constitution – which Blair hated – it would, in short, be cool. A further consideration was that a Scottish parliament would permanently be dominated by Labour, once its composition had been suitably gerrymandered by appointments of unelected MSPs off party leaders’ lists. What was not to like?

So Labour wrote its suicide note, the Scotland Act, and laid the seeds of its own destruction. Donald Dewar, fatuously dubbed “the Father of the Nation”, presided over the unwanted, unnecessary constitutional vandalism that was meant to secure Labour rule in Scotland for eternity and has now reduced his party to one Scottish seat. The Labour joke – “There are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs” – has now rebounded on them.

Scottish Labour was the architect of its own destruction: the party committed hara-kiri. We should now recall the solemn wisdom of George Robertson, later Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and secretary-general of Nato: “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead.”

Now 56 SNP MPs are set to make extravagant demands that, if granted, will unravel the whole of the United Kingdom, not just its Scottish component. We may be confident that they will be appeased. As early as 5am on Friday morning the familiar noises were coming out of 10 Downing Street. Do not be surprised if David Cameron offers these imperious mendicants Independence Plus.

In 2010 Cameron should have insisted on a Scottish independence referendum, run by Westminster, in September of that year, instead of allowing Alex Salmond to dictate the agenda and run a two-and-a-half year propaganda campaign to change Scottish opinion. Such a referendum would have resulted in a Unionist landslide and the extinction of the SNP. Margaret Thatcher would not have hesitated; but she, unlike Dave, was steady to tiger.

There is no demand for federalism in Britain. The United Kingdom is a free association all of whose members have equal rights. Why should England, Wales and Northern Ireland be subjected to escalating tiers of governance to appease Scottish nationalists? The Scottish electorate voted by a healthy 10 per cent margin just eight months ago to stay in the Union.

Now Scottish voters are twisting England’s tail, as part of their familiar ploy of pretending to threaten separatism while always stopping short of cutting loose and plunging themselves into a multi-billion pound deficit. With oil prices having been as low as $55 a barrel, no sane Scot would contemplate independence. So, Westminster should tell them: you made your bed last September as part of the Union – now lie in it. We wll not destroy the smooth-working constitutional fabric of the United Kingdom to satisfy your aggressive Braveheart fantasies.

Will Cameron say that? Don’t hold your breath. Last Thursday 1.4 million Scots (4.7 per cent of the vote) voted SNP and were rewarded with 56 parliamentary seats, while 3.8 million Britons (12.6 per cent of the vote) voted UKIP and were awarded one seat. That is the constitutional grievance that will overwhelm this government, not the unreasonable expectations of manipulative Scottish separatists.

Gerald Warner is a political commentator and writer.