The UK is no longer a united, mature, stable democracy due the instability and division caused by legislative devolution – Stephen Bailey

ANYBODY over forty years of age will have been brought up in an era when the concept of a unitary UK with the House of Commons as its national legislature and the Lords as the revising chamber was a fairly solid concept (with perhaps the exception of Northern Ireland, where a minority of the population wanted reunification with the Republic).

On the mainland UK there was occasional constitutional uncertainty and danger. For example, the debates on devolution in the mid to late 70s, during the Callaghan Labour administration, provided an occasional moment of uncertainty over the status of the UK Constitution. There had also been some committees set up in Parliament in the 1960s to look into constitutional change which were not acted on. But by and large, the constitutional question was settled. Except for a few minority extremists, eccentrics and cranks, this situation persisted up until the late 1990s.

There were some people who weren’t satisfied with the UK’s constitutional make-up like the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and the SDLP in Northern Ireland (plus the IRA/Sinn Fein), but they were composed of fringe eccentrics and student ideologues with no experience of how the real world works.

Consequently, these people enjoyed risible levels of support from the UK public and were no more credible than the Monster Raving Loony Party. They were consigned to the margins of UK politics. The vast majority of people in the UK either believed, or acquiesced, in a unitary United Kingdom (i.e. a single nation) with sovereignty invested in the House of Commons and the Lords.

So, up to the late 1990s, the UK’s constitutional arrangements were very stable and whilst some minority dissent existed, the vast majority of the public were either happy with, or acquiesced in, these arrangements. They worked well, with perhaps a few caveats here and there, but nothing was seriously wrong with the UK’s Constitution.

That isn’t to imply that there wasn’t a very healthy debate going on in the UK over the Constitution, as there often was, but the majority of people felt that there was no need for any radical overhaul of the Union, and the tiny percentage of people who did think something was wrong were political extremists whose ideas were unworkable nonsense and so were dismissed with contempt by the sensible UK public.

During the period before the introduction of legislative devolution in the late 1990s, the whole of UK culture and politics was, in the main, reflective of a pan-UK ethos. In schools, colleges, and universities, young UK citizens were taught about the UK’s millennia old history and traditions. Even though there are some local differences within the Anglo-Celtic story of the British Isles, generally speaking, there was a homologous UK culture and historical narrative that the vast majority of UK citizens subscribed to in varying degrees.

There were other versions of UK history and of course, since the 1960s, the left had been increasingly active in their attempts to demolish what they sneeringly dismissed as the ‘Whig myth’ version of UK history, but the majority of UK citizens saw the UK as a single unitary entity with a common UK-wide culture, some regional variations not withstanding.

Importantly, this belief in a pan-UK culture was transmitted from the older generations down to the young, and so in this way, the UK remained a unified political entity as the young learnt what it meant to be a UK citizen and were imbued with a sense of, and a healthy (but not excessive or disproportionate) pride in, a concept of a unified United Kingdom, rather than just their own particular part of it.

Anti-UK nationalism has existed since the Union’s inception, but before the advent of legislative devolution in the late 1990s it was a tiny, extremely unimportant group of extremists and eccentrics, and was perceived as such by the vast majority of people in the UK.

These anti-UK extremists made attempts to get their ideas across, but got more or less nowhere as people in the UK were generally far too sensible to believe what were (and still are), just unrealistic theories with no chance of working in practice.

They had limited electoral success (extremely limited in Plaid Cymru’s case in Wales) and were prevented from forcing their unwanted ideas on an unwilling UK public by the nature of the UK’s legislature – the Houses of Commons and Lords were the only law making and revising chambers and the few nationalists that got elected to office in the Commons were contained by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MP’s in the Chamber.

It was the introduction of legislative devolution by Tony Blair’s New Labour in the late 1990s that signalled the end of this era of enviable stability and unity.

The introduction of legislative devolution changed this situation alarmingly. In Scotland, it has enabled the SNP to rise to power at Holyrood, so providing them with a platform, a megaphone, to pursue independence to a vastly enhanced degree. Without this, they would be an impotent rump of MP’s in the Commons whose proposals for independence could just be voted down by the 600 other Unionist MPs in the House. It wouldn’t matter how many seats they won in Scotland. In overview, during the pre-legislative devolutionary era, the UK could be described as a stable, more or less homologous society and polity.

New Labour ushered in a period of unparalleled instability and ill-considered constitutional change (in reality just vandalism) that was to have an extremely negative effect on the UK’s politics and society. It has provoked a constitutional crisis which is a clear and present danger to the existence of the UK.

The New Labour government, which came into power after the General Election of 1997, was under the severely mistaken impression that the constitution of the UK was broken and needed fixing, a view that was not shared by the vast majority of the UK’s public.

Overall, they wanted to gerrymander the UK’s elections by giving Scotland its own assembly, so ensuring that she would vote Labour in perpetuity (Scotland’s voting power in the UK Union is decisive – like California’s in the USA – it often decides who will govern the entire UK).

They quickly set about putting their plans into action. After a softening up campaign in which the real issues behind legislative devolution were either fudged or omitted completely (the most obvious of which was Labour politician George Robertson promising that legislative devolution would ‘… kill nationalism stone dead’) three referenda were held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which, not surprisingly considering the preceding propaganda and misinformation campaign, returned ‘yes’ results.

All three constituent parts of the UK were then given their own executives – Scotland received a parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland got assemblies (Wales’ was later upgraded to a parliament). Interestingly, this plan to secure perpetual political hegemony backfired on Labour as they were displaced as the dominant force in Scottish politics by the anti-UK Scottish National Party in the Holyrood election of 2007, as well as being all but wiped out in the House of Commons, where they were reduced to one MP.

It’s at this juncture that the UK’s democratic traditions of mature stability and unitary government, described above, began to become increasingly seriously eroded by anti-UK nationalist forces that deliberately set out to destroy the UK identity because they desired to loosen the bonds of Union, and eventually completely destroy, the UK.

These nationalists adopted an extremely aggressive approach towards their goal of independence.

The same is true of the other parts of the UK in which legislative devolution has been set up – the nationalists of those regions began to propagate a sense of false grievance towards the English to advance their agenda.

After twenty-six years of this process, the cumulative effect has been that the sense of UK national identity has been severely eroded and has been largely replaced by a manufactured composite of nationalist lies, distortions and grievance (historical and modern), at least in a proportion of the population.

The same is true in England, where there has also been a notable diminution in the sense of a unified UK identity, largely due to legislative devolution’s effect of polarizing opinion in the constituent parts of the UK (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) into supporting a false sense of being separate nationalities and resentment based on an erroneously perceived sense that these regions of the UK are receiving better treatment in terms of resources than England.

This bodes poorly for the future of a unified (unitary) UK (a single country) and is extremely worrying for all who want to maintain the Union.

Inaction and complacency on this issue in the face of anti-UK nationalism’s red in tooth and claw approach to breaking up the UK are just not options.

Complacency and inaction are extremely dangerous attitudes to adopt towards anti-UK nationalism. It’s the urgent task of all who would like to maintain the Union to stand up and challenge this pernicious, cultish attempt by modern aggressive nationalism to subvert our country by destabilizing the UK and undermining belief in her future.

[Does not represent the views of Scotland Matters]

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