Saturday, January 14, 2012

Farewell Christmas, Arise Scotland

Farewell, Christmastide, till next year! – or so I thought, having done with the last of the Christmastide Offices (that of the Octave of the Epiphany, and the Lord's Baptism), and now this morning reading Lauds of St Hilary; but of course Candlemas, due in a few weeks, is the last echo of Christmas, 40 days after...


On a political note, I am delighted to read that a referendum on independence for Scotland will be held within the next few years; being of Scottish descent, I would counsel voters to say "aye".  Whatever benefits being part of the U.K. has brought will still be provided by the membership of both in the E.U.; I read that Scotland would remain part of the Queen's dominions, and that they would keep the pound (the Euro being about to collapse, as all men know), while of course free trade would be assured.

The current position of Scotland (and, in a sense, of Wales and Northern Ireland), with a devolved legislature still subordinate to the national Parliament, a Parliament whose primary concern is with, and whose vast majority of Members represent, a country – England – with no legislature of its own, and in which therefore the strange spectacle exists of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish M.P.'s having a vote on bills governing English affairs only, since in their own countries local legislatures deal with such questions instead (famously termed the "West Lothian question"), is anomalous: such a lopsided quasi-federal structure is inherently unstable.  Devolution – granting legislatures to Scotland and Wales (N. Ireland already having had one, on and off, for most complex reasons) – far from killing nationalism, has enlivened it; when the United Kingdom had but one Parliament to legislate for all parts, due consideration given to the differing arrangements in each, matters were stable; now they are not.  The logical alternatives are independence or unitary government; devolution is a half-way house at best.

The reason Australia works as a federation is that no one State contains a majority of the population, each State has its own Parliament and powers, and the federal Parliament legislates on national affairs equally for all.  If, say, Victoria and Queensland had never seceded from New South Wales, and as a result Australia consisted of only four States, one of which contained three-quarters of the population, and furthermore the Australian Parliament was simply the N.S.W. Parliament supplemented by a few extra Members from the other three smaller States, then there would be just such a strange quasi-federal imbalance: the three smaller States would legislate for some of their own affairs, but would chafe at the fact that "national" laws were made by a body in which their representatives were a perpetual minority; while the people of such a greater N.S.W. would find it irritating that their State laws were made by the national Parliament, a body in which numbers of "foreigners" had a say.  Or to look at matters in another light, it is unlikely that New Zealand would ever take up the standing offer in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia to join as a State: though New Zealanders and Australians are very close in so many ways, they are distinct peoples, and it would seem to Kiwis that to join a federation in which they would be the minority, to be dominated by Aussies for ever, perceiving the other six States as one foreign land as they would, would be repellent.

To point the moral further: the Federation of the West Indies collapsed because Jamaica, by far the largest of its members by population, withdrew rather than be dominated by a congeries of small island states, in a move rather the reverse of what is now contemplated in the U.K. – it was as if England left the Union!  And, if Québec should ever secede from Canada, the remainder would be both geographically divided, and dominated by Ontario (which would have a majority of the remaining population) – so it seems all too likely that the other provinces would choose to break with confederation themselves, even going so far as to look south...

Lopsided federations or quasi-federal bodies do not last: Nigeria barely survived the Biafran bid for independence, and has hardly been a beacon of democracy or of federalism; the Federation of Central Africa collapsed in the lead up to the Rhodesian U.D.I; examples could be multiplied.  Only in the case of very lopsided quasi-federal arrangements, such as that permitting autonomy from Finland to the Åland Islands, or the autonomy afforded the few remaining British colonies such as Bermuda, do the interests of the metropolitan power and its associated autonomous region(s) coincide.   It is indeed staggering that the Union has lasted so long between Scotland and England, and now that Scotland has had a Parliament again for more than a decade, the centrifugal forces are ineluctably building: Scotland is neither so small by comparison to the rest of the U.K. (in other words, to England, the other parts being really negligible) that it will be for ever content to be a specially autonomous outlier, nor of rough equality with the other parts of the Union so as to permit a true federal arrangement (as if England were not so much more populous than all the rest combined).

All that said, Scottish independence is still not a foregone conclusion, but the mere fact that what once was but a fantasy of a few in that land is now the settled policy of the party with an absolute majority in its Parliament seems to suggest that the momentum of history is with Salmond – as he, canny man, never ceases to imply.  I read that the First Minister is a keen and talented gambler on the horses: may his pick romp home!  


David O'Neill said...

Most of we English would echo your "Aye" to Scottish independence as the UK contributes excessively to Scotland at present. No doubt the fact that Scottish MPs have felt compelled to vote on purely English matters in Westminster contributes to our wish to be "rid of this troublesome area" (to paraphrase King Henry's wish to be rid of the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

Joshua said...

My own home, Tasmania, is known in Australia as "the mendicant state", and not for the number of Dominicans and Franciscans gracing its shores! For every $1 raised in taxes here, $1.58 of government revenue is spent here - in other words, the other states, more prosperous than this one, subsidize us. The fear is that this is about to change - Western Australia is very unhappy that 25% of the revenue collected within its borders goes east, so as to rain down upon the impecunious Tasmanians (and some others). If Tasmania were ever to speak of secession, I suspect no one would mind!

Instead, the idea of secession lies dormant in W.A. - back in the Depresssion, they actually voted overwhelmingly to do so, but the Imperial Parliament rejected their petition (Australia and her states then being still under the jurisdiction of Westminster in some matters, the Statute of Westminster being then as yet unadopted Downunder).

But what you say is the truth: it is ridiculous for Scottish MPs to vote on English matters.