“…suggestions of a return to ‘a government of all the talents’ with bells on and other ideas should form part of an honest Scottish/British conversation about the years ahead – and the best policies and institutions for achieving that rejuvenation and reinvention. One shorn of nostalgia and delusions….”
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.
“Labour took up the anti-centralising rhetoric originally coined by Unionists and turned it against the Thatcher government in the 1980s, portraying its neoliberal policies as an illegitimate affront to Scottish national traditions. At the same time, Labour in Scotland emphasised the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine whether they wanted to be governed by a devolved parliament within the UK. A rhetoric that had initially been coined to glue together an anti-Labour electoral coalition had now become a staple of the Scottish left.” No more?
“Voters still do not appear willing to desert an SNP that is mired in scandal, has lost its figurehead, and looks in no position to bring Scotland any closer to independence than it came in 2014. That is because voting SNP has become the partisan or electoral expression of support for independence.”
“Westminster has decided that all sovereignty rests with itself and it only lends powers to Holyrood – powers that these London-based pipsqueaks will now get to sit in judgement over. So much for the promise that Scotland would have “the most powerful devolved legislature in the world”.”
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 old saw that long periods of Conservative rule are a price worth paying to remain in the UK, and that Labour will fix everything when they get back in, has worn too thin for me. I want to see Scotland take responsibility for its own future, build and manage its own democratic institutions. So at some point, England will have to get ready to do the same.”
“History may judge the police search and arrests to be over the top – or justified. We don’t know yet. But I think the interests of justice would be best served by a speedy decision from the Procurator Fiscal on this.”
“Constitutional change is unfinished business in the UK and will remain so until a lasting settlement can be agreed. Any state where a significant portion of its territory votes in large numbers for parties that wish to leave it has to ask questions of itself and find ways of alleviating the concerns of those voters.”