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.