It was twenty years ago today

It’s a birthday today. It’s my birthday, and I’m trying to forget that I’m an even older and more cynical git than I was this time last year. More importantly however, it’s also the birthday of Scottish devolution. It was 20 years ago today that the Scottish people taught the devolution band to play. 20 years ago, 11 September 1997, Scotland held a referendum that produced a massive and definitive majority in favour of restoring a parliament to Edinburgh.

That decision changed Scotland forever. This is no longer the same country that it was back then, a country which was firmly under the boot of a Westminster Parliament that had the unchecked and unchallenged ability to law down the Scots law. Scotland is still in thrall to the Westminster Parliament. Scotland is still subject to decisions and policies that the people of this country rejected at the ballot box. The crucial difference however is that there is now an alternative power base to Westminster, and that power base is situated within Scotland where it is answerable to the voters of Scotland. Challenges to Westminster rule may all too often be unsuccessful, but they can at least now be made. Scotland possesses a voice it didn’t have all the way through the Thatcher regime. Scotland can protest. Scotland can articulate a vision of a better future. Scotland can define itself without reference to the Westminster Parliament or the British state. No wonder so many British nationalists hate devolution.

It’s only the frothier end of British nationalism in Scotland that would like to see the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. They’re a small but noisy faction who have as much chance of seeing their submissive fantasies becoming reality as there is of Donald Trump going down in history as one of America’s greatest statesmen. However there is a much larger contingent of British nationalists who are unhappy with how devolution has worked out. The truth is, they’ve only got their British nationalist parties to blame for that.

Devolution hasn’t achieved what some British nationalists wanted it to achieve. They saw devolution as a means of “killing Scottish nationalism stone dead”, in the infamous words of George Robertson. For the Labour party, setting up a Scottish Parliament wasn’t really about fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the people of Scotland, it was about out-manoeuvering the SNP. Labour had previously been lukewarm at best about proposals for devolution. It took that party’s exclusion from power for the best part of 20 years for it to come around to the idea, and then – with some honourable exceptions – its leading lights did so only grudgingly, reluctantly, and with bad faith.

Labour in particular was bruised and bitter by the experience of the Thatcher era when it was shut out of power for almost two decades. Scotland was near despair. It didn’t matter how Scotland voted, we got a Tory government anyway. Labour saw devolution primarily as a means of ensuring that there would be a Labour power base in Scotland even during periods of Conservative rule in Westminster. That’s why Labour and the Lib Dems had a cosy wee conversation about the voting system to be used in the new Scottish Parliament, and came up with the D’Hondt method. It was the voting method most likely to produce the outcome desired by Labour and the Lib Dems, a Scottish Parliament that was permanently ruled by a coalition between those two parties. So how’s that working out for you boys and girls?

When devolution was being debated in the 1990s, the proposals envisaged a much more powerful Scottish Parliament than the one that we ended up with. Scotland was supposed to have control over broadcasting and the ability to set up a Scottish public service broadcaster. That amongst other powers was included on the list of powers to be retained for Westminster at the insistence of powerful figures within the Labour party. There was so much opposition from within the Labour government that Tony Blair was reduced to claiming that the new Scottish Parliament would have little more power than a parish council.

The new Parliament wasn’t given powers to raise its own revenue, it was an is to be dependent on a block grant from Westminster. Its only significant tax raising power was a half-baked ability to raise income tax across all bands simultaneously, yet doing so would have seen the Scottish block grant reduced by the equivalent amount. It was a power which was designed to be unusable and designed never to be used. Its purpose was as mere window dressing, to give the illusion that the Scottish Parliament was more powerful than it really was, and to act as a stick which the opposition parties could use to attack the Scottish government of the day.

More seriously devolution was never extended to England. Westminster saw, and sees, the establishment of an English Parliament as an unacceptable challenge to its own power. Besides, the idea that Westminster is the English Parliament is deeply entrenched. The result was asymmetric devolution, and the rise of issues like the West Lothian Question. Scottish MPs could vote on matters in England which were devolved in Scotland, meaning that English and Welsh MPs couldn’t wield an equivalent vote. This only produced animosity and resentment from English politicians and an English public. It has created a flood of Scottophobia in the British press, a tide of racism which is still all too often dismissed as “banter”. It has created English Votes for English Laws, so that Scottish MPs in Westminster now have fewer rights and less power than their English counterparts. Scotland’s Westminster MPs are second class MPs because Westminster granted Scotland a second class parliament in Edinburgh. Devolution was never about fulfilling the legitimate claim of the Scottish people to popular sovereignty as set out in the Scottish Claim of Right, it was always about preserving the power of the Westminster Parliament. That is what will be its downfall.

The entire concept of “devolution” arises from Westminster’s notion that it is the sole source of sovereignty in the UK. All power rests with Westminster, it merely “devolves” some of that power to Edinburgh or Cardiff, like a homeowner giving a loan of their lawnmower. It can take that power back whenever it wants. We discovered recently that the provision in the Scotland Act 2016 that Westminster will not “normally” enact legislation which impacts on devolved competencies without the consent of the Scottish Parliament is a fiction without any legal basis. Devolution has no answer to questions like Brexit. Devolution cannot protect Scotland from the consequences of Westminster decisions which were and are damaging to Scottish interests.

The devolution that Scotland ended up with was a short term solution to the short term political need of the Labour party. It was a means to an end for Labour, it was asymmetric and unstable. Devolution can never fulfil the legitimate demand of the people of Scotland for popular sovereignty, only independence can do that. Twenty years ago today the people of Scotland embarked upon a road that will only end with Scotland becoming once again an independent state. The inherent instability and dishonesty of a devolution settlement imposed by the Westminster parties for their own short-term gain ensure that.  Twenty years on, Scotland is more confident, more self-assured, more at ease with itself. The Cringe lingers on, but it’s no longer unchallenged. No wonder British nationalists are unhappy with devolution, but they’ve only got themselves to blame.

The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. You can now access this blog simply by typing into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.

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0 thoughts on “It was twenty years ago today

  1. Happy Birthday Paul. How cool is that, sharing your birthday with devolution? How about 11th September next year for Independence Day?

  2. Pingback: It was twenty years ago today | speymouth

  3. Many happy returns, Paul. And many happy returns to the Scottish Government – perhaps by the time it attains its majority (the old majority of 21, that is) it will evolve into a fully-fledged, grown-up Independent entity. Here’s hoping!

  4. Happy birthday to you Paul, and also to our devolved Parliament.

    It may not do the job that many of us want but it has allowed those of us who want to understand what is actually going on with UK politics to see that it has allowed some level of standing on your own feet and has shown that we can manage ourselves within the constraints put on us by Westminster. It has allowed the SNP to form the SG since 2007. It has allowed one Indyref. It has allowed an awakening for many.

    Onwards and upwards for the right for our own sovereign parliament soon. Freedom for all of us.

    It is depressing that the British Nationalist press has decided to attack it so much today. What a let down to us they all are. They seem to forget every story has two or more sides to it. I am so frustrated. If I had the money I would give a lot of it, not all to fighting this biased twisted aggressive media.

  5. Happy birthday Paul. 🙂

    Our devolution is twenty years old. Yep. Twenty years. Twenty years of ‘power retained, not ceded’. Twenty years of not having control over our resources and energy policy, our economy, our foreign affairs, our benefits and social security, our pensions, our broadcasting, our immigration policy, our trade and industry, our defence or our constitution. They’re reserved matters for proper parliaments and proper government apparently and absolutely cannot be trusted in the hands of the weans.

    According to those who lack aspiration, imagination, independent thought and some would unkindly say a spine, Scotland will never be worthy of grown up, full self government. So far as anyone can make out, it’s mainly because we’re Scottish and reasons.

    I think they’re wrong. Most creatures on getting older tend to take on responsibility for themselves. They also have aspirations, dreams they want to achieve and require the freedom to choose their own path. Pretty natural state of affairs so far as I’m aware.

    Personally, I’d say twenty is a good age to really set about building a life of your own.

  6. These britnat cringers are so pissed off because devolution was meant to kill Scottish nationalism stone dead. Oh, and they’re also pissed off because the rabid britnat press is losing readers. Many happy returns.

  7. A family friend once told me that she was impatient with stupidity in others when she was a young woman, but hoped, then, she would become more patient as she grew older.

    “Doug,” she said to me, “I’m now in my late 60’s, and I am even less patient with stupid people than I ever was as a young women. The main change in me is that I now embrace my impatience!”

    A toast to your birthday, sir, and embrace your cynicism! You are more mature now than you were on the 11th of September 1997, and have more reason to view life the way you do!

  8. September is a good month to be born, Paul. I turn 70 later this month, one of the accursed legion of Baby Boomers who are described as a ‘demographic time bomb’ for having the temerity to live this long.
    NS called for cross party unity at Holyrood on Brexit, particularly on post Brexit Immigration, Social Security and future Scottish relations with the EU.
    BBC PQ duly obliged. Davidson accused our FM of ‘scaremongering’, and assured us all that WM would eventually devolve clawed back EU powers to Scotland, and that’s a gilt edged promise from Rape Clause Two Children TC Ruth.
    Well, Davidson, that’s not what your boss, David Mundell is saying. He thinks it would be daft to have four separate Agriculture and Fisheries bodies within the ‘take back control’ UK post Brexit.
    From that Unionist stance is not too big a leap to reintegrate Health, Education, and the Police/ Emergency Services into England’s Empire 2 of post Brexit.
    Rennie was given a wee spot babbling on about the constitution, and Rowley banged his gums to little effect. Patrick Harvie needs to get a grip.
    Is he a parish councillor, or does he want to sup at the big table and fight for Independence within the EU, which would reflect the ‘democratic wishes’ of the citizens of Scotland?
    You are portrayed as siding with Ruth and The Blue Tories, Patrick.
    So the British Nationalists are not taking up NS offer to work collaboratively, despite the fact that their Big Brother WM colleagues will join the SNP tonight and vote against the Henry VIII power grab.
    Do Rowley and Rennie really know what’s happening in the world out there?
    Pissoirs and potholes. The wee parish council which Blair dubbed Holyrood 20 years ago.
    Cole Hamilton got a wee live spot moaning about the New Bridge.There are of course perfectly good reasons why the old bridge cannot be reopened, as this popinjay demands.
    It is undergoing essential repairs and upgrades and will open as a public service route which in turn will ease the teething problems on the new bridge.
    Cole Hamilton knows this, but it doesn’t stop him getting in front of a BBC Brit Nationalist Camera and talking absolute Bad Bridge rot.
    BBC PQ, whit ur ye like?
    Brian Taylor interviewing Tony Boom Boom Blair who was pathologically opposed to any form of devolved administration was just, well, a sick joke. East Stirling versus Kettering would realyy merge the two countries’ cultures, Tony.

    Keep it up, BBC PQ. Your audience must number in the thousands by now.
    What’s that on the wall behind you, Jackie?
    Oh, I see now, it’s your career.
    A tremendous piece of writing, Paul.
    21 again? Ah, but you were so much older then, you’re younger than that now.

    • Yes, Jack. Cole Hamilton + assistance from the GMS wee worthies made Radio Scotland totally unacceptable this morning. I was forced to switch to Radio 4. At least there you get an honest picture (more or less) of the disastrous Tory rule in England.

      Many happy returns of the day, Paul.

    • I always thought Tony Blair was utterly out of touch but his comments about how he wanted to join English and Scottish football league’s together to promote cultural ties was astounding. Typical posh boy who went to a private school- clueless. Yeah football is a major cultural issue for Scotland is it hell I and many others can’t stand football. Thankfully he didnt suggest this at the time.
      Belated Happy Birthday to you Paul and of course to our Scottish parliament

  9. Well said Paul.
    We are about to arrive at a situation in Scotland where Scots are going to have to decide what purpose Holyrood serves.
    Is it to represent the democratic will of Scottish voters or to represent the will of the Tories in England by implementing policies we have rejected.
    Time for grown up thinking.

  10. The irony is that if the British Nationalists (not least Labour all those years in power in WM and then again in their last chance saloon in the Smith Commission) had treated devolution as something more significant than a cynical attempt to divert and defuse a rising sense of Scottish self-awareness, the Union would (all other things being equal*) be in a far better condition today.

    Oh, and it should never have been called “The West Lothian Question”, with a nod to arch-Unionist Tam Dalyell, it should have been called “The Westminster Question”. Because that is where all the anomaly lies, and always has. And has always had the power to put right, but never has.

    *(Ie. excluding constitutional outrages such as Brexit.)

  11. Happy Happy Paul bet you think you’re doing well getting this far ha ha .
    A bit late ,watching the English parliament at work, so far the Tory party have scraped through, a second vote on the bill itself is a waste of time as it will follow the first , so we have a fascist Tory government with no control on them about to do exactly what they want,
    A big thank you to all those who voted NO in 2014 it looks like your dreams are about to come true .

    • Robert bad news the damn great repeal bill pasted stage 1 easy this time 7 years of stopping that bill again and again and now its past the 1st stage this is why i dont the english at all they always fuck everything up GRRR

    • Stephen Kinnock describes it as a silent ‘coup d’etat’, a ‘Cabinet of Kings.’ Democracy is dead in their crumbling UK.
      There is now literally Nothing to stop the British Nationalists imposing their Iron Heel Will on Scotland, Wales, and the North Of Ireland.
      That’s what ‘taking back control’ really means to the Old Etonians like Johnson and Co.
      Fropm April 2019, we Scots will be held prisoner in our own country, barred from leaving by a London Oligarchy.
      Now is the time, May, Davidson.
      WE are leaving England and Wales to their isolationist fate.
      Ruth Davidson’s schizophrenia may be catching over the next few weeks as arch Tories Up Here try to opt out of the No Deal Fox and Davis will impose on the English.
      Voting in 13 Blue Tories, 7 Red Tories, and 4 Yellow Bellies swung it for the British Nationalists.
      Not one stood up for the rights and democratic wishes of their constituents.
      TRaitors one and all.
      Hang your Judas heads in shame.

  12. You’re wondering why SNP bad, Scottish parly bad on steroids over the past couple of days?


    It appears ‘Better Together’ really does mean ‘dae as yer telt’. Democracy really is what they say it is and you’ll have had your ‘partnership’ reassessed then.

    That’s pretty much the vote where the idea of the UK died and it wasn’t an indyref or an EU ref. It wasn’t a ballot of or for the people. It was held in a chamber with 616 votes counted. No Tories rebelled (including our own). The Tories who would stand for the union and Scotland’s place in the ‘union’. Scotland’s place being…. inconsequential to Conservative needs and wants.

    • The die is cast, Sam.
      I doubt that Davidson or Rowley wilbe flooding the airwaves with pro Brexit Better Together No Second Indyref tosh this morning.
      The British Nationalist Unionist MPs defied the democratic will of the people who elected them into power in June.
      62% Remain completely ignored by the Gravy Trainers.
      There’s gonna be a revolution, oh yeah.

      • No, they won’t be doing the broadcast rounds today Jack. They will, however, return in the not too distant future. The strategy now would be to sideline and trash Scotland’s parliament and Scotland’s democracy. They need that parly gone and any chance for Scotland’s electorate to choose differently.

        That would be why there’s been a ramping up of anti parliament, anti devolution rhetoric. They want to convinvce Scots to give away their right to choose. They can’t and in the short term, won’t, simply take it away. They’ll trash it to the point where Scots would be willing to give it away.

        The greatest trick parliament ever pulled… etc.

  13. Let’s go back to basics. The 1707 union was a treaty between two sovereign parliaments. Not an Act as many people refer to it. An Act can only apply to a current political body. So as we are in the process of repealing the treaty of union with the EU and the UK lets be trendy and copy this. Let’s repeal the treaty between Scotland and England.

  14. Happy birthday, Paul.

    I think we have to remember that 300 years’ worth of propaganda can’t be undone as rapidly as we’d like. A good start has been made over the last twenty years, however. The TWiTPiTS (too wee, too poor, too stupid) argument has now been pretty comprehensively debunked.

    In the run-up to Indyref 2, I’d like to see the Yes campaign take the initiative much more in putting pressure on Unionists to try to sell us any good points they see in their beloved Union. This would then force them to reveal the paucity of their arguments (to themselves as much as to anyone else)..

    • A very astute move in making sure the union have 99.99% control of the media ,headed by the BBC , this on its own guarantees a daily top up of rubbish is delivered to people who have no interest in what is actually happening , I believe even now a lot of people here dont know what little powers Holyrood have in order to make real changes , and by christ the media are making sure it stays that way , as they say in the dark and a daily dose of manure works wonders .

  15. Here’s your Birthday present! You are not cynical. You are merely adept at pointing out the cynicism of others! All the best. (Now I can read the rest of the article).

    • At my Spanish class this morning I said to the teacher that, as a Scot, I was watching events in Catalonia with interest. He said that, if the vote was given to the rest of Spain, the Catalans would get their independence in a heartbeat.

      I suspect that the same would apply in the UK. It’s only the respective governments who realise how important Catalonia and Scotland are to the economies of their countries.

  16. Well, I never thought any different, but this proves that Scottish Tory MPs do NOT have the best interests of Scotland at heart. (MSPs either, but they don’t count in this instance).

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