Scotland isn’t Quebec. We don’t speak French, we think poutine is the homophobic president of Russia, and Celine Dion is not a national hero. And it’s because we’re not Quebec that Scottish independence is inevitable whereas Quebecois independence is far less certain. This is about the only observation that Gordie Broon got right in his article in the Guardian on Friday, in which he blamed the Tories for the impending demise of the United Kingdom. True to form, Gordie spectacularly failed to recognise his own role in bringing about the end of the Union, but we’ll get to that later.
Canada has very good reasons for wanting Quebec to remain a part of Canada. Without Quebec the future of Canada is gravely threatened. Without Quebec, Canada would be divided into two geographically distinct regions 1000 miles apart, and all they’d have to distinguish themselves from their southern neighbours in the USA would be Mounties and Dan Ackroyd.
Since all they’d have would be the less animated Blues Brother, the chances are that one or other of Canada’s bits would then decide they might as well apply to become the 51st state, assuming Puerto Rico doesn’t beat them to it. This simple geographic truth gives Ottawa an existential reason to want to make sure that Quebec stays Canadian. Existential, see, that’s all Jean Paul Satre-ish, and he was French too. So it’s all tres appropriate. Quebec is all that stops Canada from sitting morosely in a café with a croissant and a Gaulois and debating the meaning of existence.
This doesn’t hold true with Scotland and the UK. Should Scotland leave the UK, there is of course no UK anymore, seeing as how the UK was formed by the union of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England and its associated bits. Of course the rest of the UK might very well decide that they were still going to be the UK and no one in Scotland would really bat much of an eyelid. However due to the continuing confusion between the terms England and Britain, the loss of Scotland would not make the UK sit morosely in a café, or even a chip shop.
The point is that England, Wales and Northern Ireland remain England, Wales and Northern Ireland with or without Scotland. The independence of Scotland does not make it likely that Kent might apply to become a part of France. Although they should, if for no other reason than it would really piss off Nigel Farage.
Scottish independence might be a blow to the pride of Westminster, and the loss of Scottish resources a blow to the UK Treasury, but the continuance of Westminster and its Treasury are not threatened in the same way.
All this means that the stakes are far higher for the rest of Canada than they are for the rest of the UK. The Tories can afford to play fast and loose with the Union, and their voters will tolerate it, in a way that isn’t politically possible in Canada. Canada has to make accommodations to Quebec because it needs Quebec in order for there still to be a Canada. The UK doesn’t have to make the same accommodations to Scotland, and you only have to look at the actions of the Unionist parties over the past thirty years to see that they’ve given the least amount of devolution possible. And they’ve given it grudgingly, with immense ill will, and hedged about with caveats, booby traps and restrictions. The Unionist parties have never viewed devolution for Scotland as something that’s worthwhile, as something that is a response to the desire of the electorate of Scotland. They’ve only ever seen it as a political tool for defeating the SNP.
And they’re still doing it. Even though the voters of Scotland have dumped a bucket of ice cold SNP water over their heads, the Unionist parties have still not woken up. They’re still playing the party politics game, they’re still viewing devolution as a tool to use to defeat the SNP and not as an answer to the legitimate demands of the voters of Scotland. We’ve told them we want devo max, but they’re still not listening.
And that’s the big blind spot in Gordie’s rant that the Tories are risking the Union. Gordie has been equally guilty in Union risking. If he’d really been so concerned about the future of the UK you’d think that once he was no longer burdened with the demands of high office on his time and he returned to the back benches he might have made it his mission. But he didn’t. He couldn’t even be bothered to turn up. You’d think he might just have done something about it when he was Prime Minister, or when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. But he didn’t. He was too interested in plotting and smearing his way into the top job to worry about what he was going to do once he got there and was quite happy to impose a form of devolution that was designed to provide Labour with a Parliament it could still be in power in even if the Tories returned to power in Westminster. That was Labour’s thinking in 1997, and now Gordie is upset because it’s bit Labour on the bum.
Now that Gordie is no longer in office and no longer has to turn up to anything, he wants everyone else to turn up to a convention so everyone else can do what Gordie should have done twenty years ago, and devise a lasting settlement for the Union. He even thinks the SNP should be invited, so that’s nice. But it’s not going to happen, because the SNP have nothing to gain from helping Labour devise a constitutional settlement to keep the Union, the Lib Dems don’t exist any more, Labour is a headless chicken and the Tories still don’t need to listen. It’s too little, too late, parce que nous ne vivons pas au Québec.
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