Thursday, 14 July 2011

John Major, Nationalist Icon...

A recent speech at the Ditchley Foundation by John Major in which he appeared to endorse a sort "devolution max" approach to the constitution has been greeted with much excitement in Nationalist circles, and frenzied applause from nationalist bloggers and cybernats on the merits of Mr Major's arguments. "Look" they cry, "that wondeful Mr Major has come over to our side. How right and clever he is".

John Major himself must be a bit surprised by the praise, as he and other Prime Ministers, from whichever party, tend to be anti-Christs in Nationalist world-view. Mr Major is not as unpopular among Nats as Maggie or Tony, mainly because, until now, they wouldn't waste their energy having an opinion on the wimpish ex-PM, never nind envisage him as some sort of intellectual giant of the separatist movement. His fate has been to be not so much hated as derided.

Not now. Mr Major has, with one short speech, placed himself in the pantheon of Nationalist mythology as the Tory unionist who finally bought Nationalist separatism.

But has he? Mr Major's opinion on devolution is contained in this section of the speech;

"Devolution can also reduce the Westminster workload. But there is some groundwork to be cleared first. The present quasi-federalist settlement with Scotland is unsustainable. Each year of devolution has moved Scotland further from England. Scottish ambition is fraying English tolerance. This is a tie that will snap – unless the issue is resolved.
The Union between England and Scotland cannot be maintained by constant aggravation in Scotland and appeasement in London. I believe it is time to confront the argument head on. I opposed Devolution because I am a Unionist. I believed it would be a stepping stone to Separation.
That danger still exists. Separatists are proud Scots who believe Scotland can govern itself: in this, they are surely right. So they point up grievances because their case thrives on discontent with the status quo. But even master magicians need props for their illusions: remove the props, and the illusion vanishes.
The props are grievances about power retained at Westminster. The present Scotland Bill does offer more power to the Scottish Parliament. But why not go further? Why not devolve all responsibilities except foreign policy, defence and management of the economy?
Why not let Scotland have wider tax-raising powers to pay for their policies and, in return, abolish the present block grant settlement, reduce Scottish representation in the Commons, and cut the legislative burden at Westminster?
My own view on Scottish independence is very straightforward: it would be folly – bad for Scotland and bad for England – but, if Scots insist on it, England cannot – and should not – deny them. England is their partner in the Union, not their overlord. But Unionists have a responsibility to tell Scotland what independence entails.
A referendum in favour of separation is only the beginning. The terms must then be negotiated and a further referendum held.
These terms might deter many Scots. No Barnett Formula. No Block Grant. No more representation at Westminster. No automatic help with crises such as Royal Bank of Scotland. I daresay free prescriptions would end and tuition fees begin.
And there is no certainty of membership of the EU. Scotland would have to apply, meet tough criteria, await lengthy negotiations and would find countries like Spain – concerned at losing Catalonia – might not hold out a welcome for Separatists. And, even if Scotland were admitted, they would find their voice of 5 million is lost and powerless in a Union of 500 million."

The bold section is the bit that has the Nationalists excited. But it is a piece of rhetorical questioning to which Mr Major offers no detailed response, appearing only to see giving Holyrood more powers as a ploy to reduce the numbers of Scots MPs and the workload at Westminster. He follows it up with his opinion on "independence" which he sees, quite rightly IMO, as  a bad deal all round. Not surprisingly, this part of the speech gets a royal ignoral from our Nationalist brethren.

So does John Major deserve his newly acquired inclusion on the Nationalist  roll of honour?

Not IMHO. He may have placed a few rhetorical questions on the record, but he has no history as an envoy or forerunner for David Cameron, placing ideas in the public domain to road test them for popularity or viability. Nor is he a respected Tory "thinker" with a history of floating ideas that eventually become policy. He is not, as far as I know, particularly close to the present Tory leadership.

And crucially, his speech can in no way be interpreted as in support of the Nationalists real aims of breaking up the UK. In fact the speech shows an obvious and well expressed disdain for the notion that "independence" would be of any practical advantage to the people of Scotland or the rest of the UK.

So why have the Nationalists leapt on Mr Major with such alacrity? My own suspicion is that the enthusiasm has its roots in Nationalist self-doubt. Like a lot of Nationalist positions, "devolution max" is more of a slogan than a policy and they have no real conviction in it. When Nats promote devolution max, they describe it with the usual Nationalist broad brush..... nowhere is it explained in detail and nowhere is it shown that it will work at all, let alone be better than the current settlement. So they grab with glee the revelation that someone else has bought the idea. "Oh good", thinks your average Nationalist, "John Major understands it, even if I don't. Maybe it might work after all". 

Whatever the reasoning behind Mr Major's speech it seems to that his co-option into the Nationalist hall of fame the sort of surprise elevation that is followed by a swift fall from grace as the real meaning of his position is realised, understood, absorbed and rejected by both parties.

1 comment:

  1. Although you may not agree, Major's record is indeed respected (for a more independent view see Seldon), his economic legacy was the finest for a generation, and the policy of the current Government is generally a similar agenda to the 1990s.

    Indeed it seems to me that he in the speech had to specifically say the views were his own and his own alone, as otherwise they would have considered to have been from David Cameron.

    In my view, you have both mis-interpreted his speech and what he said in the 1990s, which are ultimately the same. Major is a unionist and doesn't believe Scottish or English interests are best served by an independent Scotland. That is a perfectly legitimate view to hold.

    He said though that if Scotland wanted to take that decision, they should be allowed to. That is a perfectly legitimate view to hold as well.

    His policy is unlikely to be rejected by both parties, it's likely to be followed by both parties. The SNP will likely force a referendum on independence at some level in the next few years, and the British Government will likely agree that they have the right to do so, and if the Scots agree to it (which I doubt they will) then the British Government shouldn't seek to stop them.

    Quite simply, as Major said, "it must, ultimately, be their choice."