Nous ne vivons pas au Québec

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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25 comments on “Nous ne vivons pas au Québec

  1. Gordie missed the bus, and will be walking home alone.

  2. daibhidhdeux says:

    Pas sur son bicyclette?

    The Onion Johnnies over from Belgium or France in days long gone had more integrity and nous than Le Broon.

    Where will he continue to flog his mouton come the day his beloved Union ends?

  3. […] Nous ne vivons pas au Québec […]

  4. Alan says:

    And another difference is that Quebec is hardly in need of independence. Canada is a federation of provinces with a relatively weak central government. The provincial leaders, the premiers, have very substantial powers. And they aren’t devolved powers. They are powers that were written in from the beginning into the constitution and can’t be taken away by the federal government.

    • Massimo Grazzione says:

      Funnily enough, scant few of the former British colonies have adopted all of the strange attributes of the UK’s reformed ancien regime system of government. Most of the Commonwealth nations have written constitutions and clearer separations of power between federal and state/provincial governments.

      It’s really a mark of the Unionists’ historical pig-headedness and fanatical conservatism that they didn’t embrace federalism in the 19th Century. While the federal unions of Australia and Canada were being formed within the British Empire, British politicians dragged their feet on even requests for a bit more autonomy within the UK.

      I used to support the formation of a British federation but it’s increasingly clear that there’s no chance of one forming, let alone one lasting. The Canadian government is not the Ontarian government even if it’s based there, but the UK government and the English government are one and the same. The two are inseparable and the formation of a British federation would require the current Westminster to give up its power, whether by becoming an English government and relinquishing power over pan-UK/external affairs to a new UK federal government, or by relinquishing domestic policy fiefdoms to a new English government. Even devolving powers to the Celtic nations was done grudgingly, so that’s not likely to happen.

      Even assuming that a federation actually forms, it requires good will to maintain, and that should really be visible now in the current UK. Brown is right to remark that there is none in the Tory Party, but Paul is right to put the spotlight on Labour. I see little good will in Labour either. They claim to be loyal to the Union but they’re transparently power-hungry, seeing Scotland only as a block vote source. There is no imagination about the future of the UK in British Unionist politics, just cynical lust for power. The lofty talk from Cameron and Brown about British unity now seems empty.

      Unionists now cling to the notion that Scotland is like Quebec and the UK is like Canada because they’re desperate to believe that the long nightmare that began in 2007 will just go away. Just before last September’s referendum, David Miliband even likened the independence debate to the US Civil War – a most reassuring analogy for Unionists, as the secessionist faction in that conflict was so cartoonishly evil and petulant that the Union in question is extremely easy to defend morally.

      They delve into politics across the Atlantic, which they understand little of, to reassure themselves.

      • Alan says:

        Yes, next time they say the UK and Scotland are like Canada and Quebec we should demand that we have what Canada and the Canadian provinces have. I agree that neither Labour nor the Tories have any intention of offering this. Brown’s calling for a constitutional convention. I think that boat sailed a long time ago and Brown missed it. And now he’s desperately shouting for it to return to shore. As the Open Democracy blog points out, our dear UK government is actually heading full-steam ahead in the opposite direction: they just abolished the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. That tells you everything you need to know about the potential for constitutional reform.

        The essence, not the ephemera: on the loss of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee

        Abolition of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is a loss to British democracy

      • platinum says:

        I remember a Derek Bateman article pubished not long after last September, the gist of which was that the only way of saving the union was to transform it into a federation. I said then, and I still say now, that in that case I am entirely relaxed about the fact that Scottish independence is, almost by definition, inevitable.

        • Alan says:

          It’s just a matter of how much time is necessary to aggravate the population in Scotland sufficiently that, no matter how great the fear-mongering, getting over the 50% mark on a yes for independence vote is almost a dead certainty. It probably won’t be a long given the Tory penchant for giving Scots the finger at every opportunity and Labour not giving a toss.

  5. smilingvulture says:

    The Sunday Times

    Brown snubs opening of parliament

    Joanne Robertson

    Published: 29 August 2004

    GORDON Brown, the chancellor and a lifelong campaigner for devolution, is to snub the opening of the new Scottish parliament building.

    Despite receiving an invitation to the ceremony next month, Brown has failed to respond and friends say he does not want to be seen celebrating the opening of a £431m “white elephant”.

    “Frankly, there are a lot of MPs who do not want to touch the Holyrood building

    SV—-Gordon now talking about setting up a new all party convention,something that happened over 40 years ago,to save the Union.Sad thing is,he’s talking to himself,Scots respect the parliament he detests,and want the full powers that go with it.

  6. macart763 says:

    Gordon Brown.

    Whenever I hear that name it conjures certain words, phrases and images. Economic carnage, banking deregulation, political machination and manipulation, duplicity, pomposity, arrogance, negligence and of course betrayal.

    What he has done to all the nation partners, to the peoples of these islands and in particular to the Scottish electorate should be noted as the darkest of points in our political history.

    We’re done with his ‘vision’ and his politics.

  7. Loki says:

    Actually “Nous n’habitons pas le Quebec” should be the headline. But excellent post just the same!

  8. dennis mclaughlin says:

    How Now, Brown Vow?…..

  9. England (incorporating Wales and NI) would indeed continue to exist, but would have no legitimate government or parliament.

  10. arthur thomson says:

    A good post. I thought I was reading the Dug.

    Brown is a very sad/bad case. He will go DOWN in history, having been duped into serving the interests of the greedy to the detriment of the needy. But maybe he was just so self-interested that he didn’t actually care. He surely must be wallowing in bitterness by this time. I hope he has plenty time left to contemplate what might have been.

  11. bjsalba says:

    Aaaaahhh poutine – yes I remember my first encounter with that at a roadside diner in rural Quebec.

  12. Broon is an arsehole. End of.

  13. brewsed says:

    The second last paragraph in the Broon’s Grauniad rant reads as a rather sad plaintiff cry of missed opportunities. “we should”, should we? I think not. We, as in the people of Scotland, may decide differently and it will be our decision, made on our own, by ourselves, in our own country, so (expletive deletive) off while we get on with it. Thank you. I feel better now.

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