So far, only the nationalists have offered a sensible way to ensure
cohabitation between the Kingdom's nations, namely friendship based on
independence. Of course, this is hardly a way out that pleases
unionists. But if they continue to respond with their present
unintelligent conservatism, then the nationalists will win the argument.
I am in complete agreement that de facto independence, at least, is the only route to a stable democratic settlement. However, the strength of the case for Irish Home Rule in the late nineteenth century or for Scottish devolution in the 1970s, did not prevent the establishment temporising for a very long time. It will be interesting to see how it copes now that there is an English challenge to the status quo.
Here's a taster from my piece on OurKingdom today:
You wouldn’t know it from the debate about the future of North Sea oil, but the Labour Party has moved a long way towards accepting greater powers for the Scottish Parliament recently. In her first press conference
as Scottish Labour leader-elect, Wendy Alexander said she was prepared
to consider fiscal autonomy for Holyrood. “We need to look at how
politicians are more financially accountable,” she told reporters.
“This has to be a dialogue within the UK.” Greater tax powers were also
reportedly under discussion at a recent meeting between Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to discuss an alternative to the SNP’s National Conversation. (full article at OurKingdom)
Update: The SNP's Richard Thompson asks some searching questions about Labour's policy in the light of the oil issue:
The Institute for Public Policy Research has released details of a forthcoming study which shows that the North-South divide has grown during 10 years of Labour government:
ippr north’s report cites Government figures that measure the gap
between regions. These figures show that since 1997, the North East,
the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside and the Midlands have all
moved further away from the national average, on the Government’s
favoured measure of output per head (known to economists as ‘Gross
Value Added’). Over the same period, London has out paced the rest of
The figures in the release also appear to show that the positions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have deteriorated slightly as well.
Over at OurKingdom, Anthony Barnett pick up on the significance of the Labour-Plaid Cymru deal in Wales.
The Anglo-British political class in London should be sounding the
alarm, nationalists are now in government in all three of the ‘other
countries’ of Britain. More important, they have the initiative.
Salmond is getting on fine with the Queen and is flying off to talk
with Ian Paisley in Belfast who is nationalist enough without taking
into account his coalition partners Sinn Fein. (OurKingdom)
The Times today highlights an OECD report that perhaps explains some of the economic realities that have made this situation possible:
Britain emerges as having a much wider range of recent economic performance
between regions than almost all its main competitors, while the divergence
in regional living standards is wider than in any OECD member bar Turkey.
Between 1998 and 2003, economic growth around the UK spanned a huge range,
between minus 1.2 per cent and 9.6 per cent , widening the gap between the
country’s poorest and most prosperous areas. Gauged by GDP per head, the
nation’s richest area, the western part of inner London, was five times
better off than the national average. Yet, at the same time, GDP per head in
the poorest area, Anglesey, was barely more than half the national average. (The Times)
Plaid has opted to negotiate the One Wales deal even though it could have taken the First Minister's job by going for a rainbow alliance with the Tories and Lib Dems instead. Ieuan Wyn Jones said Plaid’s decision had been based on "two key elements".
"The first is we wanted to secure a stable government in the best interests of the people of Wales and we wanted to make sure that whatever arrangement we had had the ability to be sustained over a four-year period," he said. (ICWales)
It appears that the logic of stability doesn't appeal to all Welsh Labour MPs.
Asked what should happen
instead, [Labour MP Don]Touhig said: "We are the largest party in the assembly and
Rhodri Morgan should put his programme to the assembly.
"If they vote him down then they will have to take responsibility for the administration and I do not believe it would succeed." (ePolitix.com)
In Wales as in Scotland it is the nationalist parties which have taken the lead in seeking workable governments. In Scotland, the unionist parties opted for what they though would be a weak SNP minority administration. Now their Welsh counterparts want an unstable three-way coalition.
Jack McConnell bowed to this kind of Westminster pressure when he dropped his early talk of more powers for Holyrood in favour of Nat-bashing. Rhodri Morgan appears to have learned from his mistake, perhaps because one nationalist-led government is more than enough for Gordon Brown.
Update: Labour backed the deal by a margin of nearly four to one, in spite of heavyweight opposition from figures like Lord Kinnock and former Welsh (and NI) Secretary Paul Murphy.
Plaid has also voted in favour by more than 90 per cent, prompting this comment from the BBC:
Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones will be First Minister Rhodri Morgan's deputy and other Plaid AMs join the cabinet.
It also means that eight years after devolution began,
nationalists will be in government in Wales, Northern Ireland and
Scotland. (BBC Wales)
The Welsh Budget Minister today announced a review of tax and public funding for the Assembly:
The funding review announcement came during a debate on a Lib Dem motion calling for an independent commission to investigate issues relating to the funding and financial powers of the assembly government.
Ms Hutt responded to the call by saying: "We've concluded that the time has now come to put in place such an independent commission and I think the commission which we intend to appoint will not only review assembly funding and finance.
"But it will go further than that. It will also consider tax-varying powers including corporation tax... and importantly, borrowing powers.
"It's well-known that for the past two terms we didn't advocate such a commission. The time has now come for this to take place."
Ms Hutt also said that they could not establish a commission "with a pre-determined agenda which is why the independent review is so important". (BBC News)
This may be a holding exercise, but it looks more likely that whichever coalition emerges in Cardiff will join Scotland and Northern Ireland in seeking more fiscal powers.
Could events in Wales upset the rapprochement between Menzies Campbell and Gordon Brown?
It was strongly rumoured after the Scottish elections that Campbell was pressuring Scottish Lib Dems not go into Government with the SNP, after talks with Gordon Brown that raised the prospect of a Lib-Lab coalition at Westminster.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats' initally followed this pattern when they refused to go into a coalition with Plaid Cymru and the Tories. However, a grassroots rebellion means that the three parties may yet kick Labour out of power in Cardiff.
That prospect is bound to have an impact on the Brown-Campbell dialogue, and Labour's Westminster backbenchers haven't been backward in coming forward about the issue:
Today represents the biggest test of public opinion in Britain since the 2005 General Election.
All eyes will be on Scotland where the race between the SNP and Labour to be the largest party is looking increasingly tight. politicalbetting.com has a helpful summary of the final polls of the campaign. The two lastest polls tell very different stories
65 - Number of MSPs needed to provide an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. Neither Labour or the SNP are likely to reach this on their own, but the results will dictate likely coalition options.
31 - Numbers of Assembly Members needed for an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly. In the last Assembly labour ran a minority government with 29 votes. If it loses more seats, it may be forced to return to coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It's also conceivable that there could be a rainbow coalition of Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and the Tories, who between them also had 29 votes in the last Assembly.