A few years ago I attended an event which included a talk on Westminster politics by Andrew Neil. He waxed lyrical about the internal politics of Westminster and the political manoeuvres of Boris Johnston wanting to become PM, and even suggested George Osborne might be about to be dumped as Chancellor and replaced by Vince Cable. A Westminster sycophant, Neil clearly found his own talk very interesting and made it sound like the plot of a Jeffery Archer novel – but the trouble was no one was listening. He was losing the room, and he later tweeted that “Scots don’t seem very interested in Westminster politics”.
He was right, the people of Scotland had been lulled into a false sense of security. With the Scottish Parliament performing reasonably well, albeit with limited powers, we had started to forget that Westminster represents a huge threat to our economic wellbeing, the social fabric of our society and even our safety. This is because Westminster is yesterday’s parliament, governing with delusions of grandeur of a Great Britain that refuses to accept the reality of its lowering rank in the modern world.
Westminster attracts the sort of politician who is drawn to personal power and influence, who is seduced by the idea of a militarily powerful nation, the myth that somehow Britain is still Great, if it ever was. The British Empire may not always have been ethically admirable by today’s standards, but it was certainly impressive in the distant past, arguably the world’s most dominant military and industrial superpower.
Now, however, the UK is simply out of touch, out of date and out of time. Politicians who are elected to Westminster thinking it is the mother of all parliaments are swiftly overwhelmed by the powerful influence of Westminster group-think, whereas those such as the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, who have a political and ethical core located elsewhere, find it easier to resist. Those in the Westminster-centric parties who remain loyal to non-standard ways of thinking are condemned to the back benches for the length of their career. Oddly enough, Labour recently elected one of them leader, but that won’t last. If Jeremy Corbyn is still leader at the next General Election, Labour will be routed; if they replace him before then, they will still be routed – and they may even struggle to remain in existence.
Wednesday’s vote on bombing Daesh in Syria is a case in point: British prime ministers are determined to hold on to the idea of Great Britain as a superpower, and feel they need a win in a foreign war in the same way as a Cub Scout needs an adventure badge: “Congratulations David, you have been awarded your Warmongering Badge”. The same dangerously flawed thinking leads the UK Government to feel that a seat at the UN Security Council is of vital importance and worth spending billions on nuclear weapons to ensure, even though it means our nation can’t afford essential social protections for our people or even a conventional Armed Forces that might actually be useful in helping to police our modern world.
Whereas Westminster is committed to continuously projecting power militarily, I would hope to see a future independent Scottish Defence Force adopt the mantra of protecting global justice and peace, having re-prioritised defence spending from nuclear to conventional. This would keep the people of Scotland safer and allow us to play a sensible ethical role in global affairs, relying more on smart thinking than smart bombs, as numerous other medium-sized European countries have.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no pacifist and I think Daesh deserve to be destroyed, but aggressive military action must always be legal and used as a tool to generate a strategic, military, and humanitarian outcome, be carried out in partnership with the local powers, and must include a plan to deal with the consequences when they arise. Wednesday night’s Syria vote satisfied none of these criteria. It was simply about establishing bombing bragging rights for Great Britain, and I think the people of Scotland care less and less about that sort of thinking with every day that passes.
Just as Andrew Neil pointed out that “Scots don’t seem very interested in Westminster politics”, on the same night he also told the audience “Devolution, the Calman Commission, the Scotland Bill, the Edinburgh Agreement – all of this and more you have, because Westminster parties are scared of the SNP. If you vote ‘No’ you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing, but will probably take powers away from the Scottish Parliament”. An insight that demonstrates the truth that Westminster exists for Westminster’s sake, not for Scotland’s.
The truth comes out when the Westminster influence slips and politically minded people, whose salaries depend on obsequiousness at the UK Parliament, try to engage a Scottish audience. Either they lose the audience or they accidentally tell the truth.
IT seems to me that there is a new class system emerging in Scotland, rather than the old-style three-tier Working, Middle and Upper Class system that has defined political arguments for generations. We now have a two-tier class system consisting of those who believe in Scotland and want what’s best for the people of Scotland and those who don’t. That became the defining political theme in the last few years and it will continue to dominate Scottish politics until the inevitable happens and Scotland becomes independent.
It doesn’t matter who runs Westminster, there is no political solution to its failings as a system and body of governance. Regardless of what political party you vote for, you are voting for a government that won’t put Scotland first.
Westminster governments of any colour are distant, disinterested and dysfunctional, and Scotland isn’t the only region of the UK to feel the pain of living under a system that isn’t fit for the modern world. If anything, I could argue that the north-east of England, where I was brought up, gets a rougher deal from Westminster than Scotland.
If there is any long-term future for the UK as a union in any form it is as a fully decentralised federal state with the English regions having their own assemblies with real power and each of the home nations having far more powerful devo-max style parliaments than now, with the option to declare independence within a UK trading and social union whilst also devolving power to the lowest possible structure of state within each region. You could wait a few lifetimes for that sort of enlightened constitutional change, especially while Westminster is focused on bombs, not bairns: smart bombs, maybe, but dumb strategy definitely.