Legislative devolution is an ongoing process that will eventually lead to the break-up of the UK, UNLESS we abolish it – Stephen Bailey

By Stephen Bailey

Observers of the reality of legislative devolution can clearly see the various UK devolved executives (Holyrood in Scotland, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont in Northern Ireland) have been expanding the limits of their devolved remit by demanding and more often than not getting an increasing number of powers transferred to their remit from the House of Commons.

Wales too has seen a large increase in powers being transferred to its ‘parliament’ next to the bay at Cardiff.

The devolved executive in Northern Ireland (NI), Stormont, is on a similar, though slightly less accelerated path of expansion of its devolved executive’s power.

All these alleged ‘limited power’ executives are engaged in a programme of the incremental increase in their power. Why? What’s the real agenda?

It would probably seem to most observers that the obvious danger to the UK’s constitutional integrity comes from anti-UK nationalists (the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and IRA/Sinn Fein in NI) holding, and winning, an independence referendum. After all, real experience bears this out, as there was such a poll in Scotland in 2014.

Of course, there is a considerable degree of danger from such polls, and all those that want to maintain the Union would obviously be very well advised to prepare to counter this threat. Eternal vigilance of anti-UK nationalist attempts to break up the UK is the price of maintaining the Union, markedly so since legislative devolution has vastly increased their ability to pursue their separatist agenda by enabling them to rise to political dominance at the devolved executive and abuse their devolved remit to pursue separation from the rest of the UK, as in Scotland and NI especially.

All UK citizens who wish to maintain the Union must never forget this or become complacent. They must ALWAYS strive with the utmost vigour to put the positive case for the Union to the public and robustly counter the propaganda, lies and distortions that characterize anti-UK nationalism. To do otherwise is to gift those that want to break up the UK, who are red in tooth and claw, a free pass to pursue their separatist agenda, as they will just view this as weakness and they will just push on with their efforts to break up the UK.

However, a more profound look into this matter reveals another, more worrying, reason behind all this. It is necessary to think outside the box and more deeply about the anti-UK nationalists’ motives.

Of course, these anti-UK nationalists will always attempt to force their part of the UK out of the Union by the obvious referendum route, especially since the SNP managed to force the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron to hold one when they only won around a third of the vote at the Holyrood election AND most opinion polls showed a majority of Scots were AGAINST independence. The SNP’s abuse of their devolved remit (the Constitution is a matter reserved for Westminster’s consideration) has cased a knock-on ‘domino effect’ that has encouraged anti-UK nationalists in devolved NI and Wales to push their separatist agenda with much greater aggression.

But, if you consider history, certain parts of countries have become independent of each other by simply declaring themselves to be so, without being formally granted this status by the other part of the country they are splitting from. In other words, they’ve made a Unilateral Declaration of independence: they’ve declared U.I. The former Yugoslavia is a good recent example.

There is a substantial danger of this happening in the UK. By far the greatest threat of this comes from Holyrood in Scotland, especially SNP controlled Holyrood, although that devolved executive poses a threat to the constitutional integrity of the UK as,even if the SNP are thrown out of power by the electorate, there is always the threat that they could get back in power at a later date and continue their pursuit of separation-neverendum.

Legislative devolution was presented by most of its supporters as just a one-off event. Scotland would be given a devolved executive (a ‘parliament’) that had power over purely Scottish policy areas that weren’t reserved for Westminster’s consideration and Wales and Northern Ireland were given ‘assemblies’ that had control over certain purely local (to those parts of the UK) policy areas (their devolved remit) and all other areas of policy were reserved for Westminster’s consideration devolved to them by the House of Commons (though the Welsh Assembly/‘parliament’ initially didn’t have the ability to pass primary legislation. Also, the then Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, did publicity state before the referendum on devolution in Wales, held in 1997, that devolution would be a ‘process, not an event’, adding later ‘Devolution is a process. It is not an event and neither is it a journey with a fixed end-point.’ However, this was an exception, and such information had not been generally well disseminated among the public by New Labour.

However, reality has been very different. In the intervening quarter of a century since legislative devolution has been enacted, a more or less continuous process of various powers being devolved to Holyrood and the devolved executives in Wales and NI has occurred.

Since the 2016 Scotland Act became law, Scotland has had the largest amount of autonomous power of any devolved part of a nation anywhere in the world, including Quebec in Canada and Catalonia in Spain.

However, that’s not the end of the matter. There doesn’t appear to be an end to this process, it goes on more or less continuously in increments of varying degrees.

What’s more, there also appears to be no will in Westminster to ensure that the Scottish executive acts with propriety, within the limits of the devolution ‘settlement’ (a misnomer, as it has led to pronounced division in the societies of the devolved parts of the UK). It’s now clear that what happens in reality is that the devolved executives ask for power to be given to them, and it’s simply granted, without any proper consideration being given to the negative constitutional ramifications of doing so.

Added to this, anti-UK nationalists deliberately push to expand the scope of their part of the UK’s devolved executive, trying to transform a subnational layer of administration into the national government of a sovereign country. The Scottish National Party are particularly guilty in this regard, giving those involved in their Holyrood administration titles like ‘Minister’ for this and that and having a ‘National’ Cabinet (there is no cabinet government of ministers in a devolved administration), opening up foreign ‘hubs’ (read proto-Scottish embassies) and even a new ‘mini Scottish Home Office’.

It makes no difference who is in control at the devolved executive, Labour, the SNP, IRA/Sinn Fein, the Liberal Democrats, or even the Conservatives, they all abuse their remit and attempt to grab power away from the House of Commons and abrogate it to their devolved executive.

Added to this, anti-UK nationalism will NEVER be contented with ANY amount of devolved power. They are monomaniacal and pathological in their hankering for separation from the rest of the UK, which is all that will satisfy them. You can NEVER appease extremist anti-UK nationalism, it’s a ravening, careering Frankenstein’s monster that can’t be contained or controlled, no matter how many powers you throw at it.

With this in mind, it is easy to foresee an increasingly likely scenario where the SNP don’t have to bother winning a referendum on separation. All they’d need to do is continue pursuing this policy of accreting more and more powers to Holyrood until it effectively has all the necessary powers needed to rule independently.

The SNP, or whoever was in charge at that time, could simply declare U.I., a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Scotland would just declare itself an independent country and as it would have all the powers necessary for self-government, there is nothing that could be done to prevent this.

An unlikely scenario? There’s increasing evidence that this is a distinct danger. All the devolved executives in the UK have had several new powers transferred to them from the House of Commons. Once again, Scotland is the worst offender in this, followed by the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont in NI to a lesser degree.

The most obvious piece of evidence is the lack, in both the UK Government and the opposition in the devolved executives’ administration (including some that are pro-UK), of any real political will to halt this ongoing process of power transferral. The devolved executives just ask for powers to be transferred and mostly get them.

There’s no attempt by Westminster to question Holyrood as to why they need to get so many powers transferred to them. The opposition parties at Holyrood don’t attempt to question the SNP (or whoever’s in power) on this matter, either.

Westminster never questions the SNP’s attempts at building up its devolved administration into the proto-national government of a sovereign country (with the cabinet government, proto-embassies and new ‘mini-Scottish Home Office’ et al.)

If legislative devolution was just supposed to be ‘autonomy within the UK’, as its supporters have always and continue to claim, then why does the Scottish executive need so many powers and the trappings of a sovereign national government?

It seems increasingly likely that this is a deliberate policy on the part of the SNP. In their hearts, they know that the Scots are too intelligent and sensible to fall for their ill-conceived plans for separation from the rest of the UK and won’t vote ‘yes’ in any formal referendum. The SNP has never and never will, have a viable case for a successful and prosperous independent Scotland, knows it, knows that most Scots also know this and so has given up on trying to convince people to vote for separation and have fallen back on a policy of separation by the stealth accretion of powers to Holyrood in an attempt to have enough of them to eventually unilaterally declare independence.

The SNP have no viable, concrete plans on how to run an independent Scotland successfully, and they know that they’ve been rumbled by the Scottish public. This was amply displayed by the thorough rejection of separation in the 2014 referendum. Realizing this, the nationalists have decided to pursue an alternative course to force through their agenda: independence by stealth.

The establishment at Westminster has written off the (unitary or single) Union and has embraced federalism. This is an extremely alarming development as federalism is, like legislative devolution, a stepping stone towards further fragmentation and would lead to independence. Indeed, the lesson of legislative devolution is that power corrupts and makes its holders hungry for more and more. It can’t be contained, and mushrooms in an out of control manner towards separation.

All the leaders of the major Westminster parties have shown by their actions that they are not really willing to strongly maintain the Union.

The Conservatives, in both the UK and Scottish parties, whilst making insipid public pronouncements supporting the Union, have not really displayed any real fight in their efforts to oppose anti-UK nationalism and appear to be far too timid in the face of aggressive nationalist tactics.

Labour is similarly weak in both its broader UK party and in Scotland. Added to this, this party is known to contain Irish republican supporters in the rank and file and the top echelon, who can hardly inspire confidence that Labour would maintain the Union.

Let’s not forget also that it was Labour that began the process of national disintegration by proposing and enacting legislative devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the first place.

Labour definitely can’t be trusted to maintain the UK as a unitary (single) nation, as they would introduce federalism, which greatly increases the danger of breaking up the UK, though they are safer to have in power at Holyrood than the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats are just as useless at constitutional matters as they are on everything else. They profess to want to maintain the Union, but in practice they subscribe to the federalist agenda. They can be discounted as defenders of the Union. Irrefutable proof of Westminster’s rejection of Unionism and embrace of federalism can be found in the fact that the 2016 Scotland Act contains a clause that states emphatically that the UK Government accepts unequivocally that legislative devolution is permanent.

There is no party in Westminster that possesses a strong will to maintain the Union, and one is sorely needed.

This is severely compounded by the lack of any real opposition to the SNP’s agenda in Holyrood. The traditional political power in Scotland, Labour, was displaced by the SNP in 2007. It has revivified recently, but is still committed to a federalist policy that would be severely detrimental to the constitutional integrity of the UK. This is extremely concerning.

Turning to the so called ‘Conservative and Unionist’ Party, there appears to be an equally alarming lack of will to (effectively) oppose the SNP. A confused and confusing policy towards the SNP has been adopted.

They talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. They often issue strong condemnations of SNP policies, then just fall back into inaction.

In some cases, they actually cooperate with Sturgeon, standing shoulder to shoulder with them and aiding the SNP cause.

The Liberal Democrats are a useless rump in Holyrood, so they too can be discounted.

As it stands, there is no effective opposition to the SNP in Holyrood. The only solution for this is the abolition of legislative devolution, as it would put a permanent end to the ability of anti-UK nationalism to utilize their devolved executive as a mechanism to pursue independence, the major intrinsic flaw in legislative devolution.

This depressing state of affairs doesn’t look like coming to an end any time soon. Complacency is not an option. The SNP have proved to be ruthless in their pursuit of their goal of independence by any means, irrespective of the cost to the livelihood of ordinary Scots.

Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. Whether it’s directly through a referendum, or indirectly through the accretion of powers, there is a great danger to the Union.

The established parties have accepted devolution as a permanent fact and can’t be relied upon to oppose the nationalist agenda.

This situation is toxic and inimical to the maintenance of the Union. It can’t be allowed to go on and must be ended by abolishing legislative devolution

NB: The article does not represent the views of Scotland Matters.

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