Orkney’s leaders recently raised the prospect of secession from Scotland, prompting Prof James Mitchell to look back over half a century of constitutional musing and political leverage.
The SNP leadership’s power-hoarding, lack of accountability and secrecy does not augur well for the kind of independent state they wanted to achieve. The SNP has become a very British party.
James Mitchell’s survey of Scotland and its centres of power ends with reflections on the glaring need for reforming Holyrood after two decades of devolution. “The Scottish Parliament is not a delicate flower that needs protection but a robust institution that required robust critiques, especially from those who support it.”
“No progress can be made so long as the governments – the centres – remained unreformed. No amount of new machinery of Intergovernmental Relations will work – indeed it could make matters worse – if centres are looking for a fight. Providing a gladiatorial arena for constitutional one-upmanship is counter-productive.”
“The SNP has dug itself into a fundamentalist hole and will need a dramatic pragmatic turn to hope to take advantage of the changing political context. Its best hope under its current fundamentalist leadership remains that the Tories win the next general election, opinion remains polarised and might finally shift decisively in favour of independence.”
“The process of recovery has begun for Scottish Labour. It can now focus on winning back what Anas Sarwar describes as ‘soft SNP’ voters. This will not be plain sailing. The SNP remains a formidable campaign organisation…” Prof James Mitchell on how Labour’s revival has put the SNP on the defensive.
“The issues are whether and how an independent Scotland would make the transition, at what cost, paid for by whom, over how long and, crucially, what policies would be needed to get to a position where people are at least no worse off. These are not insurmountable but they are challenging. But the SNP, as the main advocates of independence, does not appear up to the challenge.”
“Opportunities for Labour arise from an SNP that excels in performative politics but fails in policy performance. The respective and competing nationalisms of Edinburgh and London governments are shrill and limited in their understanding of self-government. You cannot ‘take back control’ by focusing on empowering London or Edinburgh at the cost to all else. Labour has some way to go but with an independence referendum unlikely any time soon it does have some time.”
“The failure to reduce demand in acute services through prevention is evident in the increasing proportion of Scottish budget spend on the National Health Service. This has had many consequences. Money required for acute services means less for other services.” A member of the Christie Commission on delivering public services in Scotland looks back/forward in sorrow
‘If the 2021 Holyrood election is remembered as a turning point it will be because it was the catalyst for a referendum. The manifesto and style of politics adopted by the SNP do not suggest that Scotland is about to be transformed in any way comparable to critical elections of the past in terms of public policy.’