After Scottish shock, reshape Britain!

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2014 - 5:32 Author: Editorial

See also the response here


Scotland is not settled. The whole British political system has been unsettled.

The majority on 18 September against separation — 55 to 45 per cent — was bigger than expected, and Solidarity is glad the vote went that way. We said “reduce borders, not raise them”.

But the Scottish National Party reports an influx of 10,000 new members. There is a storm on Twitter with the #45 hashtag, with which the 18 September percentage for separation spookily link their cause to the feudal-reactionary revolt of 1745, which started in Scotland.

The frantic promises of further devolution given to Scotland by Cameron when he feared a No vote have made the Rube Goldberg contraptions of the British constitution untenable. They subsisted for ages only because they seemed to work and it would be troublesome to rationalise them. Now they are exposed for the nonsense they are.

The SNP has plenty of meat to chew on as it campaigns to pin down Cameron’s promises.

A new referendum may be a while off. The 1995 referendum on separation in Quebec has not followed by another, even though it rejected separation by only 1.2% and the separatist Parti Québecois remains strong. But Scotland may be different. In any case, the constitutional questions have been unfrozen.

As socialists we want a response which minimises barriers while giving no nation or markedly distinct population good grounds for feeling that it has been unjustly overridden. We want a response which maximises democracy and working-class unity.

The old United Kingdom system was never rational. Scotland had distinct systems of education and law even while all the decisions on them were made by an all-British parliament.

In his comments on the German socialists’ Erfurt Programme of 1891, Frederick Engels advocated “the one and indivisible republic” as the general socialist approach. For Britain, though, he argued that “a federal republic... would be a step forward... where the two islands are peopled by four nations and in spite of a single parliament three different systems of legislation already exist side by side”. (He was reckoning Ireland as the fourth nation and the third system).

The same principle holds today. More patchworkery and ad hoc contrivance will only make more grievances stew and more petty localism flourish.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for a constitutional convention. That is good. But his plan is for a from-above consultation with “ordinary citizens and civil society” in “every nation or region”, followed by a “convention”, apparently unelected, and then recommendations to Parliament: a sort of giant focus-group exercise.

Democracy is better. We demand a full-scale elected Constituent Assembly.

It should include representatives from the whole of the British Isles, including the Irish Republic as well as Northern Ireland. It should not take the existing partition of Ireland as a fixed axiom. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has kept that partition going for a while — but only the basis of “peace walls” and permanent, simmering, bureaucratically-institutionalised sectarianism.

Of course the Constituent Assembly need not produce uniform proposals all across the islands. The Irish people may not want closer confederal links with Britain than they have now, through the European Union and the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. But all options should be up for discussion.

Open discussion of options will immediately discredit much of what exists. The House of Lords, for example.

Reformed, adapted, tinkered with as you like, it can still have no validity in a democratic constitution. The middle-of-the-road journalist Will Hutton pointed that out in the Observer before the referendum. If there is to be a second house of parliament, it has to be a federally-based house, on the model of the Senate in the USA or Australia, or the Bundesrat in Germany.

And the monarchy? The servile SNP wanted to keep the British monarchy as a dual monarchy supreme also in Scotland. But it makes no sense.

In the island of Britain, there should be a democratic federal republic, as Engels proposed.

The campaign for an English parliament has been driven mainly by sour, revenge-minded right-wingers. The Labour Party tried to sidestep them by advocating regional assemblies which would divide England into units comparable in population to Scotland.

The effort failed. Under legislation put through by Blair and Prescott, there were to be referendums to create eight elected assemblies. The first referendum, in November 2004 in the north-east, rejected an elected regional assembly by a majority of 7:2.

Further referendums were abandoned. The regional assemblies were set up only as shadowy unelected bodies, and eventually abolished by the Labour government in its last days (2008-10).

In any case the last thing we want artificial new mini-frontiers. Like it or not, England is a nation, and with a long-standing identity. The offset to an English parliament is not an artificial and disliked parcellisation: it is integrating it into a democratic federal republic, with genuine local government below it, and a democratic federal united Europe above it.

We should reverse the expansion of central control and extinction of local autonomy pushed through since the early days of the Thatcher government.

Along with this democratic programme, we want a drive to secure and increase labour movement unity across the territory.

If the #45 campaigners seek to separate off Scottish trade union organisation from British, they should be resisted. All-British trade unions, instead of haggling for little concessions from Scotland or Wales which then license them to exclude those areas from big strikes like 13 and 14 October, should fight to level up conditions across the territory to the best won anywhere, or better.

Level up, don’t separate off!

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Submitted by AWL on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 12:00

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