We don't support any political party but we were interested in Ruth Davidson's latest speech to the Policy Exchange on 21 May, because she moved onto potentially fertile new ground (albeit ground we've been tilling for years now).
Some Things She Said which we Really Liked
"Nicola Sturgeon went on the Peston on Sunday program to say she was going to restart the debate on independence. This came as news to much of Scotland as we'd never heard her stop it."
We liked this way of putting things:
"And – despite the best attempts of those attempting our break up – the Union is not something that is done TO us. It is something that we have ownership of; that we've built and fashioned and sculpted again and again."
And she warned against complacency:
"Anywhere between 40 and 45 percent of my fellow country men and women currently say they do not want to be part of the United Kingdom. That our parliament in Edinburgh currently has a majority of MSPs who support independence and want the 300 year old Union to end. And that the SNP, having just completed its 11th year in power, continues to use all the muscle and measures and influence government provides to prise apart the UK ever further, every hour of every day. So: for all that independence seems to have lost momentum and may feel like yesterday's battle, it is still real and present. The Union continues to be under threat."
She stated correctly that Scotland and other parts of the UK "need more Union too".
In that regard, she spoke about the importance of "City Deals" (money partially coming from the rest of the UK to help areas of Scotland).
That's all good, but unless the British Government find a way of emphasising the fact that it is money coming from the rest of the UK, then everyone looking-on just presumes it comes from Holyrood, or from whatever "Scottish Government Minister", or devolved quango, ends up announcing the Deal.
An important point she raised is about making Britain less London-centric. For example:
"For our civil service and major cultural bodies to claim to be UK institutions, they need to represent and be present across our whole United Kingdom...Why is it we must come to London to see the wonders of the British Museum? Why not create a second home for the Museum nearer to where most of the rest of us live?"
"On Brexit. We know huge new powers will be repatriated to these shores. Should our newly empowered fisheries industry be run from London? Shouldn't it instead be based in Peterhead?"
"Instead of EU Structural Funds, poorer parts of the UK are to be supported by a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Shouldn't it therefore be based in one of the poorer parts of the UK, instead of one of the richest city's on the planet?"
She suggested that the entire UK could apply to be a World Cup venue. We proposed this excellent idea, among others, in our extensive London Speech back on the 7 June 2016.
She summarised all this well:
"The point is this: a country that spreads its power and culture networks across the country will ensure that all of us, no matter where we live, feel we have a real stake in it. Too many people feel that the Union is something projected onto them. Spreading its benefits around more evenly will ensure it is something they own; something they want to belong to."
Things We Did Not Like so Much!
She thinks the devolution of income tax and welfare are good things. They're not and they'll do nothing whatsoever to appease the fundamentalist nationalists who have no understanding about what is and is not devolved; and who will continue to blame "Westminster" for everything that goes wrong anyway.
Davidson also said that, "We are a Union of peoples, not of convenience." It's a good point, but we'd use the word "people" singular. That is a stronger frame than the idea that we are diverse "peoples"; which implies a difference which is not necessarily conducive to Union!
She refers to our "two governments" several times.
This is quite wrong (regardless of the fact that it's been written into law in the 2012 Scotland Act).
The word "government" is making an equivalence between the ruling group at Holyrood and the ruling group at Westminster; an equivalence which simply isn't there.
It is describing a reality which does not exist!
The dominant party at Holyrood does not have the power of an independent government.
When the SNP ruling group sits round a table and makes decisions – it is a subsidiary body of the British Parliament and Government (see explanation below).
It is better described as an Executive. "Executive" means a body with the power to put laws into effect; and so, yes, you can say that about the ruling SNP group...to an extent.
However, an even more accurate term for them would simply be "Scottish Administration". The SNP at Holyrood is "administering" the power which has been devolved to it by the British State.
One thing it is not, is a "government".
Firstly, why grant them such a lofty term when it is not even constitutionally accurate and utterly confuses the reality of the hierarchical relationship which exists in real life?
Secondly, it implies that Holyrood already has the power of an independent state with its own "government".
Thirdly, because it misrepresents the constitutional reality, it creates confrontation when the basic truth is revealed by events; such as we witnessed recently when Westminster did the correct constitutional thing, and simply over-ruled it.
"Union of Nations"
She talks about our "Union of Nations". We get it, but it is another weak frame.
It suggests that the Union is simply a provisional relationship – which can be broken on the momentary whim of one of the nations – rather than something integral. That's why we swop that around and emphasise the far stronger frame of a "Nation of Unions".
She spoke about more "joint working at official level"; whatever that means!
However, it's not going to save the Union – unless it also "jointly works" to deliberately exclude the nationalist trouble-makers from the table.
If it is intended to "make devolution work better", as she says, then a proper understanding of what devolution actually is will first be necessary!
Devolution is British State (Parliamentary and Governmental) Power which has been Devolved to a Subsidiary Body. It is British State Power Exercised by Subsidiary Bodies.
The absolutely wrong way of understanding it – which is how SNP/Green politicians twist it, and how most other politicians simply mis-understand it – is to imagine that devolution is a one-way process intended to create sovereign and autonomous, or quasi-independent, political bodies in and of themselves.
Devolution always means that power is retained by the centre – in this case the collective British Parliament which represents everyone in the UK.
Things She Said which are Just Plain Wrong
She stated, "We have created a genuinely autonomous and powerful Parliament for Scotland – something the country wanted."
An "autonomous" Parliament would be an independent one, not a devolved one. And no, the country didn't want that!
To misrepresent Holyrood as "autonomous" is, as above, to misunderstand and seriously misrepresent the nature of devolution.
This is a common problem right across all parties, and throughout the media in Scotland.
How many times do we have to say it!
Devolution does not create autonomy or independence. It creates bodies which administer political power which has been retained at the wider level by the collective British Parliament.
To try to pretend otherwise is to get yourself into all kinds of problems when the central power exercises its rightful duty to override a subsidiary body's decision – as the British Parliament did recently when Holyrood appeared to think it could act "autonomously".
She uses this old chestnut: "The settled will has been acted upon and it has changed the Union for good", she thinks!
There is no such thing as a "settled will" in politics. There never is! The political "will" of the people changes all the time based on new experiences and new information. That is the nature of life.
Also, devolution – as currently mis-understood and mis-exercised – has not changed the Union "for good", unless you think perpetual constitutional instability is "good".
Anyway, Davidson is to be congratulated for speaking about the Union in a manner in which Labour and Lib Dem politicians avoid – and she made some good points.
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