Gordon Brown Square

The establishment Devo Nuts who think more devolution will ward off nationalism

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THE VIOLENT DEATH last week of Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, produced the briefest of flickers  in the news cycle. Rather unusually, the 68-year-old had died at the head of his troops while confronting an invading convoy which had crossed over from Libya.  

If it is hyperbole to suggest that the abrupt end to Déby’s 30 years in power can be traced back to the regional anarchy unleashed by the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011 it is surely not of the excessive kind. A decade of civil war has ensued. Islamist militants whom Gaddafi had kept a tight grip on have proliferated. Foreign countries have backed different armed groups. Erdogan’s Turkey has played its hand with the greatest skill, perhaps driven by dreams of re-establishing a neo-Ottoman presence in North Africa. 

Britain is on the sidelines but it is easy to forget that as Prime Minister, David Cameron (along with Nicolas Sarkozy of France) played a pivotal role in backing a rebellion against Gaddafi at the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ which he otherwise might have contained. He even paid a triumphant visit to Libya before  it plunged into a spiral of violent chaos. No lessons had been learned from Tony Blair’s disastrous Middle East interventions. Virtue-signalling and bold  stances in global politics have been the hallmarks of  successive European leaders in the early 21st century.  Angela Merkel’s sudden decision to encourage a mass influx of refugees from the Syrian conflict is one example. Earlier, the Swedish government of Fredrik Reinfeldt had vowed that there would be no limit on the  amount of refugees from conflict zones in Afghanistan or Somalia that the Scandinavian country could receive. No allowance was made for the effect the arrival of large numbers of traumatised people with cultural outlooks often different from those of the host society might have on ill-prepared citizens and institutions. Perhaps restless political classes imbued with radical instincts will only stop playing global policemen or naive humanitarians when several of their luminaries suffer the fate of the unfortunate Idriss Déby  (pictured below) and are fatally scorched by the blowback. 

 

But regrettably  it is proving a very slow learning curve. In Britain, it almost seems as ‘the great and the good’ of the political class are in a race to see who can come up with the most sweeping plans to refashion the territorial governance of the state. In his column in the Guardian, Sir Simon Jenkins, former chairman of the National Trust, last week unveiled a plan for a ‘Celtic Crescent’ of Scotland and ‘the two Irelands that would be part of the European Union’s single market’. He didn’t bother to mention that it was with England that these units conducted the bulk of their trade or in some cases received large injections of financial support vital for the maintenance of their public services.  

With his economic training and focus, former Labour prime Minister Gordon Brown might be expected to be less utopian and he is. His idée-fixe is more inter-governmentalism with regional tiers of self-government across the island ceasing to be under any formal obligation to adhere to any direction  from the centre. His ‘constitutional revolution’ envisages a form of de facto British federalism and is not deterred by how such experiments have foundered in Yugoslavia and, more recently, Ethiopia.  He expects that citizens in more economically dynamic areas will continue to endorse large transfer of funds to poorer parts even if they are run by politicians who will tolerate little central intervention about the uses the funding is put to. 

Brown is said to have been the moving force ensuring  that in June 2014 the leading Scottish academic historian Thomas Devine be awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s summer birthday honours.  Weeks later Devine started campaigning for Scottish independence in the referendum being held on 18 September and today he is the most vocal backer of retired senior mandarin Ciaran Martin’s  proposal to re-run the referendum on Scottish independence as soon as possible 

It doesn’t seem to matter for Martin that the polls show a strong disinclination on the part of Scottish voters to go down the referendum path again. Arguably, it will take Scotland many years to recover from the societal ill-will that polarised communities and families. When canvassed most voters either don’t want one for some time or else place it very low on their list of priorities. 

On 22 April, in the BBC Question Time show featuring the leaders of the main Scottish parties (Nicola Sturgeon declined to appear, sending someone else), a young audience member Ryan McGuigan eloquently pointed out the impracticality of holding such a referendum in the wake of a pandemic and with Scotland facing major economic challenges. But the signs are that Professor Martin, who has gone from being a senior civil-servant to being an Oxford don, is more at home with members of the political blob than with people whose jobs, household budgets, and health care ultimately depend on politicians not plunging the state into crisis and insolvency by taking ill-thought-out measures to alter its character.   He negotiated  with the nationalists back in 2012 over the terms of the referendum gifted to the SNP very much along the lines that they wanted. Pro-UK opinion in Scotland was not consulted even though it was the majority view as shown in 2014. It was remarked at the time that no other serious country would subject itself to a plebiscite on its dissolution in which  those urging separation got to decide the wording of the question, the duration of the campaign and the size of the electorate. 

Another don, this time at Cambridge has moved on from being in charge of the department overseeing Britain’s exit from the EU to compete with Professor Martin in how best to radically transform the Union into an archipelago of different territorial interests. Philip Rycroft has complained of the  British state’s “imperious disregard” for devolved policies. This remark was made upon the release of a paper he has co-written called Union at the Crossroads: Can the British State Handle the Challenges of Devolution? In it he urged greater engagement with the devolved administrations in UK policy. This advice is being offered to a government which could easily have cited the pandemic emergency as an important enough reason for taking charge of the NHS drive to defeat it across the whole UK. Instead, the Johnson government sought to work  with the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff only to be met, more often than not,  with obstruction and non-cooperation. It has channelled  £9.5 billion of emergency funding to the Sturgeon government much of which has been withheld from small businesses for which it was intended. In London the response has been one of puzzled disappointment rather than imperious anger.  

Scotland will receive more Covid money from the centre per head of population than England will.  Neither Rycroft nor Martin saw any need or inclination to audit twenty years of devolution. Has it been value-for-money? Have the new class of devolved politicians improved the policy areas they have been given charge of? Has power been brought closer to the citizen?  As a newly-released booklet packed with statistics on the impacts and outcomes of SNP Government Policies has shown, the record is a cause for dismay.  

Metropolitan evangelists for devolution, more accurately described as Devo Nuts, never seem to acknowledge what is staring them in their collective faces.  The SNP is a declared enemy of devolution. It has no wish to make any devolved system work (however modified to suit what are perceived to be its interests). Its preference is for a hyper-centralised form of rule from Edinburgh of the kind that has never been seen in Britain during its whole democratic history.  Rycroft and Martin represent  a large lobby in the world of academia, think-tanks, quangos, the media and the civil-service who acquire influence and professional advantage from endlessly dissecting the devolution creature and making ever more fanciful suggestions for endowing it with vigour. They embrace the nationalist narrative that in territorial politics Britain is automatically in the wrong and implicitly assume that the actions of the SNP never need to be placed under the microscope. These Devo Nuts are like progressive shrinks of the RD Laing school of psychiatry who insist that disruptive teenagers need to be humoured as they carry out their anti-social actions. 

Eddie Barnes, the chief spin doctor and strategist for Ruth Davidson during most of her period as  leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and now working for Gordon Brown’s ‘Our Scottish Future’ think tank, is perhaps the most indefatigable devocrat operating in the British policy field. He scoffs at the idea that an ill-devised roll-out of devolution to parts of Britain was one of the greatest blunders in British politics. He argued instead in January that, “the delivery and the development of the Scottish Parliament is something Unionists should be proud of… It suggests we’re a country still trying to push power down and out to communities across the country.” 

The political reality is more akin to regional territories (Wales, London, Scotland) dominated by bosses continually snatching powers and privileges from the centre.  If the inflation of the political class in the name of devolving power to the people continues, it is not far-fetched to imagine Manchester or East Anglia being given a quota of consols or honours to distribute. Of course, it won’t be done on the basis of merit. Naked patronage will instead prevail. 

The runaway fragmentation of power along very much these lines in Tito’s Yugoslavia helped ensure that it violently fell apart just a few years after his death.  Britain would struggle to avoid such a fate if it heeded restless ex-prime Ministers and retired mandarins insufficiently distracted by their  gold-plated pensions. 

The exposure which these arrogant fools are getting on the BBC  to promote the balkanisation of Britain may help explain why, in an Alliance 4 Unity speech at Lockerbie on 22 April, the party’s leader, Jamie Blackett  began by invoking the battle of Dryfesands of 1593. The town’s streets ran red with blood as two rival families and their followers hacked each other to death over  a trivial issue, leaving an estimated 700 dead. Only when steps were taken to unite first the crowns and  the parliaments of Scotland and England, did the border lands of Scotland know stability. 

But today territorial factionalism has returned with a vengeance as only posters for the SNP can be displayed in the locality. According to Blackett, windows with posters for the opposition are not likely to remain unbroken. Such intimidation has been the norm other parts of rural Scotland for almost a decade and has gone largely unreported in the media. Indeed, once balanced papers like the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser now amplify the division by refusing to take adverts for pro-Union parties which the nationalist-minded editor David Dick dislikes. [ 

Without any serious proposals to combine their fixation with identity politics with a development strategy to take forward the country, all the nationalists can do is double-down on othering the English and proclaiming the benefits of erecting barriers with a centuries-old British partner. On 21 April the very same Sturgeon who had just forced through a draconian hate law, warned off English visitors to Scotland from entering any cafes and bars.  No imagination is needed to see how some of her atavistic supporters might react upon hearing English accents in places their leader as said are ‘No Go’ areas.   

On the 22nd the SNP MSP Emma Harper, standing for re-election in a constituency adjacent to northern England even extolled the creation of a physical border on the grounds that jobs could be created as a result.   

Sturgeon tried unsuccessfully to kill the story about the rank economic illiteracy of one of her MSPs  but this election is not proving to be one that she relishes. People are showing  interest in the future economic prospects of devolved Scotland to an inconvenient extent. She has few answers and her refusal to take part in the BBC Question Time last week when she  would have been grilled by voters in Scotland about her record, suggests that she has been thrown onto the defensive. 

Scottish Nationalism, having misused power for the past 14 years is exhausted and now split into two parties. It is no surprise that Sturgeon and her nemesis Alex Salmond compete in the use of chauvinist imagery. As the fall of communism showed thirty years ago it is what bankrupt and stale regimes do. Let’s hope enough Scots wake up from their slumber to consign this miserable crew to opposition in ten-days time before far worse damage is done. 

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Photo of President Barack Obama meeting His Excellency Idriss Déby Itno of Chad with their respective first ladies in the White House in 2014 by Office of the White House (Amanda Lucidon) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/14860312283/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34570122 

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