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Bad Stars

Posted under Miscellanea at .
Tags:politics, Scotland, UK

So it seems Boris Johnson thinks that devolution and the return of the Scottish Parliament has been a disaster.

That’s somewhat curious, as my experience has been that since 1999 Scotland has been better governed than at any time in my life and probably better than any time in history. And this does not depend on a particular party or coalition being in government; it is a consequence of the existence and the structure of the modern Parliament. Scotland has for twenty years had a series of governments which have been more highly representative of the people, and more responsive to our concerns, than ever before. Which is a great deal more than can be said for the United Kingdom governments over that time.

So who exactly has this been disastrous for? Not for Scots; so, for English people perhaps? I rather doubt it. For the most part it has been irrelevant, but it is true that many English people have expressed a sense of envy, and of disappointment in Westminster. We make them look bad. But even so it is scarcely disastrous. Perhaps for the British establishment? But how? Has their ineptitude been shown up so critically? Well, yes, but even that has been simply by events rather than by the existence of a Scottish political system. Except perhaps just recently, in the comparative performance of the governments relating to the pandemic. Is that what he’s on about?

I kind of doubt it; the pandemic has been disastrous, clearly. Or if you want a human rather than viral disaster, consider Brexit.

But I think the problem that has Johnson worried is the existence of a challenge which won’t go away. The UK establishment has shown a perpetual inability to relate to Scotland (or Ireland, Wales, Cornwall or the Northern and Western English regions, for that matter) as anything other than a province without any meaningfully distinct identity, or as simply a jokebutt. Like any abuser, they cannot cope with self-control or even self-esteem in their victims. That any of us could be obviously better at the art of government is an additional threat. But as long as Westminster continues to be operated on the basis of an unrepresentative electoral system, it is structurally impossible for it to be as responsive as the Scottish (and I expect Welsh) government.

This is not a Scottish problem, and it cannot be fixed by either increasing or decreasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament. It cannot be fixed even by complete Scottish independence, nor by the abolition of Holyrood which Johnson seems to imply. It is a Westminster problem, and will only be fixed by reform of Westminster and the culture which surrounds it. And that is the disaster which has been slowly building for the last two centuries, since the Great Reform. A disaster that the conservative English political establishment, whether Labour or Tory by party, seems determined to cling to. Let Johnson squirm and whine about us all he likes; Scotland is not your problem. The British imperialist ego is. But somehow I don’t see the faulty stars of UK politics abandoning it any time soon.

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