Musings on the Referendum Result and the Future

21 Sep

I generally prefer to wait a few days before commenting on anything, no matter how important. It adds a certain perspective – and besides, the first reports, no matter how optimistic or dire, may be wrong. This time, however, two interesting and quite significant events have taken place, both of which bear examination.

Scotland voted NO. And Alex Salmond, the driving force behind the referendum, has resigned.

I have no doubt that people will be arguing for years over why the vote went the way it did. Did the YES campaign overplay its hand? Did the case they made for Scottish independence prove unconvincing? Did Salmond’s lustful grab for power put more voters than just myself off voting him into the position of President of Scotland? Or was it his unfortunate resemblance to Tony Blair, another politician who preferred style over substance, that deterred the voters from supporting him? Or was it the activities of thugs on the streets of Scotland who tried to silence NO supporters who turned voters against independence?

It is quite possible, of course, that one or more of those answers are correct, but I suspect we will never truly know.

Salmond’s resignation is interesting in and of itself. Did Salmond feel he should no longer lead Scotland when his cause was defeated so comprehensively? Or did he want to jump before he was pushed? The SNP would not be kind to a leader who suffered such an agonising defeat, one that calls the very existence of the SNP into question. Or, perhaps most depressing of all, is he hoping to remain in the background and wait to see what happens?

If Salmond leaves politics for good, he will finally win some of my respect. The cynical side of my nature, however, suggests that Salmond is merely waiting to see if there will be an opportunity to re-enter politics.

And David Cameron may well have given him the opportunity.

The NO campaign’s panic, when the polls started to suggest that the YES campaign would win, led them to make all sorts of promises. Those promises must now be carried out, or the politicians who made them will be exposed as liars. I have no doubt that certain politicians in Scotland are already contemplating the prospects for a second referendum, should those promises not be kept. They will make it seem, rightly or wrongly, that Scotland’s choice to remain in the Union was conditional on those promises being kept. If they are not kept, they will start to agitate for a second referendum.

But keeping the promises will cause other problems for the UK.

Put bluntly, the post-Act of Union Parliament largely abolished the independent nations of Scotland and England. Politically, Scotland and England were effectively part of the same country. There was no such thing as a Scottish MP, merely an MP who happened to represent a Scottish constituency. The argument put forward by YES campaigners that Scotland voted against the Iraq War, but got the war anyway, is essentially nonsense. British MPs voted in favour of the war.

The Scottish Parliament’s creation by New Labour was, at least in part, caused by the belief that Labour could rely on Scottish voters (and, to be fair, there were few Conservative voters in Scotland after the Poll Tax.) This had the accidental effect of creating a democratic headache where Scottish MPs could vote on English matters, without English MPs having similar rights in Scotland. England, you see, did not have a separate Parliament; Westminster was effectively both the British Parliament and the English Parliament. This was bitterly resented in England, for obvious reasons.

As such, granting Scotland additional powers will cause considerable resentment in England.

There is a way forward – actually, two ways forward.

The first would be to create an English Parliament, which the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. I suspect this will be opposed by both Labour and Liberal Democrats, as both parties may benefit more from Scottish MPs than the Conservatives.

The second would be to seek near-total devolution, for everyone.

As I see it, the core problem with large organisations – and governments are VERY large organisations – is that they have serious problems dealing with little details. This leads to rules and regulations that are actively harmful, because the laws cannot be adapted to suit every situation. The rule-makers may have the best intentions in the world. They simply lack the omnipotent perspective to see just how their ideas work in the real world.

I used to work as a drone in a very large organisation. The guys at the top would issue directives that made no sense to us, at ground-level. But none of our arguments could get them changed.

Let me suggest something like this.

Take a school, for example, or a hospital. Make the headteacher or director (whatever one calls the boss of a hospital) responsible for running his building, but also grant him the powers to actually handle the job. For example, headteachers actually have very limited powers over everything from staffing to discipline. Give them the ability to tackle problems without having to appeal up the chain. In fact, extend this principle to everywhere. Put matters concerning Edinburgh in the hands of Edinburgh City Council; matters concerning Glasgow in the hands of Glasgow Council, etc, etc. Devolution to the max!

But would this work in real life?

I don’t know. But I suspect that reducing the distance between politicians and the people on the ground would make it easier for them to concentrate on important matters – and, just incidentally, understand what effects their decisions are having.

YMMV, of course.

13 Responses to “Musings on the Referendum Result and the Future”

  1. telastx September 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Yes, it would work. That’s how most countries ran themselves for centuries.

    No, it’s not politically feasible. Government, just like large business, tends towards a top-down hierarchy as the incentive for bureaucrats is to increase one’s domain.

  2. Foolish Pride September 21, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    If Labour’s goal was to hurt British unity they did so exceptionally well.

    Ironically, immigrants tend to vote Labour and consider themselves more British than the English do. Or at least that’s what I heard once. At the very least British immigrants aren’t susceptible to English nationalism.

    That doesn’t change that once a seperate Scottish parliament was formed it made it that much harder to maintain unity.

    • Foolish Pride September 21, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

      Anyways, the UK isn’t the US. It’s not supposed to be a federation. Elizabeth II’s title is thus: “Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”

      Note that you don’t see England, Scotland, or Wales listed on there.

    • chrishanger September 23, 2014 at 12:09 am #

      That was partly the problem. Labour underestimated the SNPs ability to capitalise on the Scottish parliament.


      Sent from my iPad


  3. Tim September 22, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Hm. You have roughly described the original imaginings behind Federalism in the United States. The idea of local “political issues” being handled exclusively by the locals is one that appealed (and appeals) to many people. However, in the modern world, it certainly does *NOT* appeal to the Big-Staters — whether they are liberal or conservative.

    Hence why I utterly despise the Big-Staters, and would love to put them to the sword (so to speak).

  4. voradams September 22, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    If anything, Australia is pulling the opposite direction.

    The Commonwealth was formed from individual colonies, and since 1940 power has devolved from the states to Federal parliament.

    Partly from the foreign treaty powers and partly because the states surrender taxation to the Federal government as a temporary war expediency, Federal parliament has a lot more power than envisioned in s51 of the constitution.

    There has been push to abolish the states. However, the states fill a lot of services that local councils have in the UK. So there is a lot of duplication between federal departments (who have money but do not provide services) and state departments (that provide services but are dependent on federal money to function)

  5. James September 22, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    It would work brilliantly, for some people in some areas, until things like major infrastructure need to be put in at which point it would just get in the way. Also we are not the states even though we like think of ourselves as similar and we would quite happily fit in the majority of the us states multiple times over.

  6. Dennis The Menace September 23, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    “Those promises must now be carried out, or the politicians who made them will be exposed as liars.”

    So? Obama did just that and got re-elected and is even impeachment proof no matter what?

    Obama aside and just looking at politicians and their promises in general, this won’t amount to a hill of beans no matter what.

    The problem is the Scotts who were suckers in believing in those promises, as will become quite apparent soon, I bet.

    • chrishanger September 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

      I won’t disagree that many modern politicians are known for bending the truth. However, Obama is in a different situation to David Cameron. There’s no party bent on separating the US at the moment. It’s more like the era prior to the US Civil War. Chris

      Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2014 01:04:17 +0000 To:

  7. Les Barrie September 26, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    The dream will NEVER end,in less than a decade a large part of the aged population will have left us and a new generation of hopefully much more politically involved and astute young people will be voting,they will not be bribed again by a Westminster labour party who is only interested in retaining control,labour looks to have lost Dundee and Glasgow already and their contingent of MP’s will be severely cut from the current 41,SNP and tory scottish MP’s do not currently vote on English bills which is as it should be.

  8. Charlie Thurman September 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    I don’t have a dog in that fight, but I will make a couple of unsolicited comments. I do not see a lot of effort within those nations that have seperated politically from the UK to rejoin ‘Most of them seem quite happy manageing their own affairs. I don’t know if it’s true,, but I found it rather interesting that English people living in Scotland were allowed to vote, but Scottish people liveing in England were not. American citizens living abroad are still allowed to vote, and foreigners living here are not. (excudeing of course several million illegal Mexicans, and dead people who seem to find their way to the voting booth every two years)

  9. thyrobocop September 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    While I do agree that the official Yes campaign wasn’t really that good at convincing people to vote Yes (based on the pamphlets and the advertising I’ve seen), and that Alex Salmond may have been more of a hindrance to the campaign than a help, given just how many people dislike him, I don’t think the factors you mentioned were ultimately responsible for the defeat of the Yes campaign. If they were, then there wouldn’t have been such a big turnout at the elections, and there wouldn’t have been such a big support for Yes, at 45% of the vote. And it certainly wouldn’t have converted Glasgow and Dundee, traditional Labour heartlands, to Yes.

    The reason the Yes vote got as high as it did was because the SNP and the Yes campaign weren’t the only ones campaigning for independence. There were a couple of other parties, a lot of grassroot campaigns, and many more blogs and social media that were trying to convince people of the benefits of independence, often with much more solid and convincing arguments. I’ve already mentioned Wings over Scotland, authors of the Wee Blue Book, in one of my earlier replies, and I think I may have mentioned the likes of the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, National Collective, Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland, and a few others besides. From the material they have produced, they weren’t pulling any punches with providing a convincing case for independence and hard facts and figures to back it up. And seeing as neither the Yes campaign nor the SNP had any control over them, they weren’t required to sing from the same hymnbook as the SNP, as it were. If the Yes campaign won as much as 45%, it is largely thanks to them.

    Really, the biggest reason why the Yes campaign “lost” it in the end was the strong bias against independence from the BBC and all the daily newspapers, with the notable exception of the Sunday Herald, which happens to be a weekly newspaper. With no one to support the other side of the argument, there was no one trying to debunk the scare stories and lies that the media printed in the papers or showed on TV. There was no one to reveal that the mainstream media was omitting lots of information out there to give a balanced view of the issue, often rather blatantly, as in the case with Nick Robinson and his edit of the conference with Alex Salmond, but also in other cases, like failing to report the protest in London against the privatization of the NHS. Worse, there was no one to question the validity and workability of the promises that the No campaign offered, which would not have caused the problems the politicians in Westminster are force to face now. And with the mainstream media’s focus against the SNP and Alex Salmond, painting them as the sole supporters of independence, there was no one to give voice to the grassroot campaigns and the other parties that were also campaigning for a Yes vote. This has left them with only the internet, door-to-door canvassing, and stalls around the cities to present their case, and each of those methods don’t have the extensive reach that newspapers and TV broadcasters have. Even so, the fact that they managed to convince 45% of the voters who turned out at the referendum, and the fact that they have engaged so many people into politics in the process of doing so, is a massive achievement on their part.

    As for Alex Salmond, I don’t think he felt the need to resigned because of the defeat. In fact, I’d say that the referendum has been a massive success for him in everything except for actually obtaining independence. It got people engaged in politics again, it spawned a lot of grassroot movements and social media groups who are now organizing to continue to campaign for a better deal for Scotland (whether via Devo Max or independence), it has forced Westminister to promise Devo Max (which a lot of Scottish people would have voted for if the option was on the ballot paper), and it has doubled the membership of the SNP (and quadrupled the membership of the Scottish Greens!!!). The SNP membership is now larger than that of the Liberal Democrats in the entire UK, and I’m pretty sure the number is still growing as we speak.

    I think Alex Salmond resigned because he may have felt that he’s taken the campaign as far as he possibly could, and in order to win, he has to remove himself from the leader role to allow for the much stronger voices for independence to come to the forefront and be heard. Doing so would also remove the “I don’t like Alex Salmond” excuse from No voters, and it could have an added bonus in making the media look quite silly, if they continue attacking him as the “leader” of the independence campaign when he’s no longer relevant (the “Blow for Salmond” headlines were becoming quite silly, IMHO…)

    (Some feel that he should have resigned much sooner for those very reasons, but then again, that would have distracted the SNP from the campaign when it needed it the most, and besides, the media’s focus and attacks against Alex Salmond has allowed the grassroot movements to campaign relatively undisturbed.)

    Another reason could be that he’ll be 60 this year, and has been campaigning for this cause for close to 30 years now. I think he’s given the best he has got to get to this point, and he may be thinking that he’s getting too old to continue, and that it’s best to leave the final push to the stronger voices that this campaign has built. Nicola Sturgeon has proven to be a far better debater than Alex Salmond on many occasions, and it’s likely she will take over and finish what he started, whether that leads to Devo Max or independence.

    So yeah, rather than putting the matter to rest for good for at least another generation, I think the referendum debate has made matters even worse for the politicians at Westminster, particularly for Labour. And it may have put the idea of federalism or Devo Max in the minds of many English people, who would want, and vote for, an English parliament with the same powers as Scotland will be getting. And with the people who voted Yes organizing themselves to keep the pressure on the Westminster politicians to give Devo Max or trigger a second referendum, UK politics has just become a lot more interesting. XD

    As for your Devo Max proposals, I think making an English parliament with the same powers as the other devolved administrations would be an excellent place to start. And while I do agree with the principle behind your second idea, I think it’s a bit too extreme. A better solution would be to divide England into regions containing up to 10 million people each, and give each region the same powers as the devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales. In either case, the London area should also have its own assembly, as the needs of the London economy are very different from the needs of England and the UK as a whole, and part of the problem which caused the referendum in the first place is Westminister trying to adapt the UK’s policies to favour London over everyone else.

    But well, we’ll see how things go in the run up to the General Elections in 2015.

  10. Otter Shackleton September 27, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    As an outsider. May I add s much simpler plausibility with the high rate of ” welfare” and reliance on government entitlement programs. The stupid and the lazy. Are still able to vote to that which still keeps handing them what they want ( I say want because most don’t need it if they just accept that sacrifice hurts and they could probably do for themselves) I validate the legal and long winded versions of the issue. But often. The simplest answer is the truest. Just a thought

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