Saturday, May 21, 2011

The fundamental reality

I may have had a small grumble the other day about Professor James Mitchell's lack of linguistic precision over the future of the "United Kingdom", but I certainly don't have any quibbles about his latest superb article for the Scotsman, in which he explains how pretty much all of the constitutional 'fundamentalists' are now to be found on the unionist side of the fence -

"Adding to this inhibition has been the tendency to try to re-build barriers that the electorate have smashed down again and again. The idea of unionism vs nationalism implies an alliance between Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats against the SNP. It is not unusual for an emerging political party to be treated as some kind of upstart and marginalised by more established parties but at some points the SNP's opponents will look around the Holyrood chamber and realize who the electorate deems marginal.

The most striking case is to be found in the Liberal Democrats, a party that was once more sophisticated than most in its understanding of the complexities of constitutional politics. Over forty years ago the Scottish Liberal Party passed a resolution demanding that "Scotland now have direct representation at all levels of the (European] Community". Few parties have managed to squander such a rich constitutional inheritance as the Liberal Democrats."

That, in a nutshell, is what was so wrong with Willie Rennie declaring within hours of becoming Lib Dem leader that there is a consensus "between the parties" for the Calman proposals as they stand. It was clinging to the comfort of the old days when the SNP could be safely ignored as the 'odd ones out' and you could still have your "consensus" without them. But how does that work now that the 'odd ones out' have an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament? And, in any case, where do the Greens and Margo fit in to all this? It seems to me that the only real question is whether what we are seeing from Rennie and others is just a temporary phase as they struggle to adjust to the new political environment, or whether they really do intend to remain in this state of obstructionist denial for the full five-year term.

1 comment:

  1. Probably the latter, which will be a great shame, especially as everything Salmond and the SNP has said so far has been in the spirit of trying to govern as a minority, despite their majority of seats. The six things he's picked so far to get into the Scotland Bill - corporation tax, borrowing powers, crown estate powers, broadcasting, excise duty and more say in EU matters - are all things that, on paper, should have support from other parties.

    It will be particularly disappointing if the Lib Dems don't back at least some of these, given that they seem to be the ones who have historically been in favour of most of these things. It will be disappointing for the party too, as performing as a constructive opposition these five years is the only way back for the Lib Dems in my eyes - another five years of opportunistic oppositionism could see them made virtually extinct in Scotland, which would be remarkable considering how many Scottish MPs have been leaders of the Lib Dems/Liberal Party.