Thursday 7 July 2011

It's our sovereignty

The Sunday Times carried an article at the weekend on a plan by senior Tories to push through legislation to outlaw what the paper called “anti-English discrimination” in relation to tuition fees at Scottish universities.  The move would also apply to the policy here in Wales although, as usual, the situation in Wales was barely mentioned.  The article was backed up by an editorial column which fulminated against “Scotland’s unfair penalty on the English”. 
The ‘senior Tories’ concerned are apparently considering amendments to equality legislation, since that is a reserved matter, to specify that devolved governments cannot treat residents of one part of the UK any differently from those of any other part.   It would effectively require either that Wales and Scotland follow the English line on fees, or else that we use our devolved budgets to pay for the education of those from outside the devolved nations studying in our institutions.
In essence, it undermines the whole concept of devolution.  Giving Wales and Scotland some powers and a budget necessarily means an acceptance that there will be differences in the way resources are allocated and priorities set.  But if there can be, effectively, no difference in outcome for citizens of the different countries of the UK, then decision-making capacity is seriously constrained.
The idea of using the Equalities legislation is akin to the earlier idea of using the Human Rights legislation, which was floated at the time of the debate about the LCO on presumed consent.  I noted at the time that it was a dangerous precedent, since it’s a route which can potentially be applied to a whole range of issues.
It would be easy, of course, to assume that this is just another case of ‘not getting’ devolution.  But at another level, it demonstrates only too well an understanding of the simple dictum that “power devolved is power retained”.  We can make any decisions we like, as long as those who have loaned us the power to make them don’t disagree.
And that goes to the heart of the difference between devolutionists and nationalists.  For them, power belongs to the crown-in-parliament, and can be loaned to us or taken back as and when they wish.  For us, it belongs to us as citizens, and we can decide to whom we delegate different elements of that power - and for how long.
The real counter-argument to the likes of those Tories who are seeking to re-assert central control isn’t simply about defending devolution – either as an event or a process.  We need to challenge their underlying assumptions and proclaim loudly and frequently that it is for us to decide where power lies. 
I’m well aware, of course, that if the people of Wales were given a choice today as to where power should lie, they would probably choose to leave most of it in Westminster, whilst beefing up the Assembly with come extra powers.  And probably withdraw from the EU as well.  I’d disagree with leaving so much power at Westminster, and want to remain in the EU, and I’d seek to persuade people otherwise. 
But persuading them otherwise has to start with convincing them that they have the right to make the decisions in the first place.  Devolutionism isn’t even trying to do that, let alone succeeding, and it’s time for nationalists to be more confident about explaining the difference.  Sovereignty belongs to the people, not parliament.  And certainly not to the Crown.


Cibwr said...

OF course in Scotland the constitutional convention is that sovereignty lies with the people, not with the crown. The assumption that the English practice applies in Scotland is a typical piece of ignorance from constitutionalists in England. We could argue that the Welsh situation is much the same as the Scottish one... certainly in a modern state the idea that sovereignty flows from the Crown in Parliament is fairly abhorrent to democratic principles.

Draig said...

Alex Salmond will have a field day with it. It's another pothole in the road to independence. Forget Wales.

Glyndo said...

Three out of three, obviously not trying hard enough!

Jeff Jones said...

What you forgot to mention John was that the only students in the EU who will pay fees whilst studying at a Scottish University are students from England and Wales. It might all be part of Salmond's masterplan for Independence but the Inverclyde result suggests that there is still a long way to go before the fatlady sings on that issue.

John Dixon said...


It's not a lapse of memory, but I agree that I didn't mention it. It's a constraint of EU law within which Scotland has to work - like Wales.

I'm not sure that I'd see the Scottish decision as part of a "master plan for Independence" (not least because it's not dissimilar to the decision taken by Carwyn Jones' government and there aren't many who'd claim that he was secretly working towards Independence), but the sort of reaction that we're seeing from the 'senior Tories' concerned might well assist that process.

And I'd tend to agree that, despite the hype, Scotland's independence isn't as close or as certain as some are assuming.

Unknown said...

It's in our tactical interests that these 'senior Tories' agitate as much as possible and lay down that amendment. The mere prospect of them succeeding would be a game changer in Scotland because education is seen there as a very Scottish issue, given their country's history in pioneering free education, it's woven in with the national story Salmond has been promoting.