This year the Scottish Parliament becomes 20 years old. For the past 20 years Scotland has had a forum to express its national will, we have seen a parliament restored to our capital city and for the first time in the history of this ancient nation the people have enjoyed the exercise of mass democracy. Scotland has discovered that it is exceptionally good at the democratic process, that our democratic instincts run strong and deep. After all, this is a land which is able to conduct a debate about independence, a debate which in most countries is conducted with violence, states of emergency, disappearances, and bombs and bullets. Yet the complaints in Scotland centre largely on people being unpleasant to one another on social media.
In normal countries the anniversary of the re-establishment of the national parliament would be the occasion for celebration, for a spot of pride, for a little bit of back patting. But this is Scotland. Cue a predictable series of articles from British nationalist commentators about the problem with the Scottish Parliament, and that problem, they all agree, is the SNP.
The SNP, they claim, has used the Scottish Parliament as a platform from which to propagate invented and spurious complaints about a British state that’s only ever concerned itself with altruism and to fall over itself to bestow gifts and presents upon a Scottish populace. Scotland would tug its collective forelock in gratitude if it weren’t for that pesky SNP and its insistence on pointing out that being grudgingly granted a few more crumbs still doesn’t address the unfairness of not having a seat at the table. Look, you’ve got some more crumbs Scotland. Eat them and rejoice at the munificence.
A quick search on Google for the phrase “SNP grievance” returns thousands of results from anti-independence politicians and newspapers. The phrase implies that there’s not really anything for Scotland to get upset about, it’s all manufactured and invented. What they never do is to acknowledge that the reason why the SNP’s grievances gain traction with the electorate is because they’re justified. It’s not unreasonable to complain about a wrong. It’s unreasonable not to. Anyone can monger a grievance, but unless others agree with you, you’re going to be mongering alone. The repeated electoral success of the SNP proves that the shortcomings and failures of the British state which the party points out to the voters of Scotland have a basis in reality.
What the British nationalist apologists are really upset about is that for the first time in Scottish history there is an institution and a forum for highlighting the shortcomings of the British state and this pretendy Union that’s not really a Union. For decades, indeed hundreds of years, those shortcomings and failures were firmly shut inside the shortbread tin. Devolution shone a light on them. Devolution gave Scotland a wee taster of what it might be like to be a normal country, instead of being just the idea of a country comforting itself with the myth that it was a partner in the UK.
This is a Union in which one partner gets its way by virtue of its size and population, and the smaller partners have to suck it up without possessing any formal mechanisms to limit or constrain the actions of the largest partner irrespective of the negative effects upon them. Scotland could pretend to itself that it was in a genuine union as long as Scotland and England were politically on the same page, and following the post-war settlement they were. At least until Thatcher came along and cracked the facade. Brexit has brought the entire edifice tumbling down. Without devolution, Scotland would have had no political platform to highlight the myth of the British unitary state. Naturally British nationalists don’t like that. Naturally they’re going to complain about grievance mongering, because those who are always quickest to claim victim status are those who feel that their privileges are under threat. In their eyes it’s a greater wrong to highlight the myth of union than it is to propagate the lie in the first place.
But even most apologists for the British state can’t ignore the reality that while devolution has brought about greater participation in democracy within Scotland, that in Holyrood we have a Parliament which strives for modern standards and practices, imperfect as it may be, the devolution experiment takes place within a Britain which has stubbornly refused to reform the Westminster Parliament itself.
Those who seek to retain Scotland within the UK have no remedy for this. All they have is the fantasy of the federalism fairy, who will wave her magic wand and make everything equitable and just again. Then Scotland will once again return to the magic land beloved of British nationalists, when Scotland was content in its status as a part of the UK and that nasty SNP was no longer the dominant player on the political scene. The fairy made her most recent outing in an article in the Herald today. But the federalism fairy is a creature of the myth of union, it’s a fiction, a character in a story that British nationalists in Scotland tell themselves in order to square the circle of Scotland being a nation that’s not a nation, a country that’s not allowed to act like a country.
From a Scottish “Unionist” perspective, Brexit has made reform of the UK an imperative. It’s the only way that they can perpetuate their beloved myth. The truth is that Westminster will not reform itself because Scotland wants it to, and Scotland has no means of forcing it to. So instead we see blame being cast at the SNP. We see threats and scare stories about how dreadful independence would be. What we signally fail to see from supporters of the British state is any realistic prospectus or plan to improve Scotland’s lot within the UK. They can’t offer any such plan, because to do so runs straight into the central weakness of their position. Scotland isn’t a partner in a union at all, because the union is a fairy story. Within the UK Scotland gets what is in Westminster’s interests, not Scotland’s.
The problem with Holyrood isn’t the SNP, it’s the British state and the Westminster Parliament. There’s only one way to remedy that. It’s to make sure that by the time that the Scottish Parliament reaches its 21st birthday, it’s the grown up adult parliament of an independent nation.
My piece in today’s The National, about how the election of Jeremy Corbyn didn’t bring a fundamental change in the Labour party. It just gave them a new way to lie. https://www.thenational.scot/politics/17340770.jeremy-corbyn-has-turned-out-to-be-just-another-tony-blair/
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