Thursday 3 September 2020

There will be no 'new' union

A number of Unionists have been suggesting recently that the ‘Union’ should be reformed in some way, on the basis of an understanding (which I think entirely correct) that the current situation is not going to last for much longer and the choice facing the UK is reform or collapse. Amongst them this week was the ever-thoughtful David Melding MS. Unlike many others who are proposing changes, Melding does at least touch on the how as well as the what, with his reference to a referendum. I can’t help feeling that most of the others, when talking about a new Act of Union defining the relationship between the parts of the UK, are assuming that the Westminster parliament can simply pass such an Act and it would then come into force. In strict legal terms, they may be right, but any new Act of Union which does not have the consent, both individually and collectively, of the participating nations will not solve the perceived problem.
The Union with Wales is the exception: it never involved any consent, it was simply an incorporation of Wales into England. But the Union with Scotland was implemented by resolution of the parliaments of both countries acting separately. (Northern Ireland, as ever, is a rather more complicated situation.) It is entirely possible that a new Act of Union would pass though Westminster with majority support from MPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the latter aided by the fact that most nationalist MPs don’t take their seats), but I can see no electoral outcome in Scotland in anything like the near term (Melding expects the union to end before the end of the decade without reform) which will lead to a majority of Scottish MPs supporting such a new Act. What then? Imposition on the basis of a majority in Westminster does nothing to resolve anything. Indeed, it would serve only to highlight the problem with the current situation.
Melding suggests that Boris Johnson should call a referendum in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland on the terms of an alternative model at the same time as the second Scottish independence referendum. It’s an interesting suggestion, but it throws up a number of potential problems. If Scotland were to vote against independence but hadn’t been part of the referendum on the new form of the union, where does that leave them? Alternatively, if Scotland votes for independence, might that not change the dynamic in both Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning that the result of a referendum held at the same time might look rather different than the result of a referendum held at a later date? After all, the 'union' would look very different in the different scenarios. And then – the really big question – what if Wales, Northern Ireland, or even both, voted in a different way to England – how is the result then decided? Is a rejection of the new alternative to be interpreted as a vote for retaining the status quo or for something different again? Any serious attempt at designing a ‘new’ union must involve the freely given consent of all the parties to it; by its very nature it thus recognises the sovereignty of the different nations to enter freely into union or not.
That, of course, is one of the reasons why it won’t happen. Outside a thoughtful few who really do understand the need for change, the prevailing view amongst unionists is that there’s nothing wrong with the current arrangements, it’s just the whingeing Celtic fringes who are unable to understand that they owe everything to generous and civilising rule from London. That’s why the biggest threat to the union comes from the unionists themselves. And, fortunately, they’re mostly beyond help.

1 comment:

CapM said...

The Deckchair arrangers continue with their efforts.