We in UKIP have at last realised that we believe in Britain. Despite the weakness and sickness of the British present, we believe in the greatness of the British past and the greatness of the British future. How does our belief in Britain influence our thinking on devolution?
The political union of the two halves of the island of Britain has been a wonderful blessing, giving us three centuries of internal peace. But this blessing may be taken from us. Scotland and the Rest of the United Kingdom, earlier this year, appeared quite likely to become two independent countries. The whole thing happened to us like something in a dream, without anyone realising its appalling implications.
No responsible British government could permit it to happen. The possibility of Scotland, or any other constituent part of our island becoming separately independent, perhaps in the future to become part of a political grouping or alliance hostile to the remainder of the country, would be too dangerous to everyone in Britain. For three centuries, we have enjoyed the strategic benefits of living on an undivided island with a common loyalty. Unlike almost every other country in the world, we have lived in internal peace in that time. Rather than allow this island to be divided politically, we should be willing, if necessary, to fight, as the United States fought 150 years ago.
I’ve suggested in an earlier article that the current trend towards devolution did not arise because of an increase in the strength of Scottish and Welsh nationalism It was stimulated and drew strength from the nationalisms once it got going, but devolution was invented by two mischievous and irresponsible Labour governments – those of Harold Wilson and Tony Blair – with the party object of installing Labour as the permanent party of power in Scotland and Wales. This object, until the Nationalists came to power in Scotland, was successfully achieved. But now that an appetite for devolution has been aroused in many people in Scotland and some in Wales, we have to decide what future policy should be.
Our thinking on devolution in general needs to be guided by three considerations:
- It is inconceivable for strategic reasons that total political separation could ever be allowed to happen.
- Better government in London and a greater pride in our common identity as British will make the whole problem of devolution much easier to solve. The devolution we have experienced recently is not primarily inspired by positive feelings of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, but by Labour exploitation of a collapse of belief in British central government.
- Both these considerations apply to Scotland and Wales equally. But after that, it becomes pointless to discuss devolution in the abstract. Scotland and Wales have very little in common.
In 1707, England and Scotland already had the same monarch and this fact was far more important than it is now. The 1707 treaty united the two parliaments but also provided that the Scottish Legal System and the Scottish Church should continue. This meant that for most people in Britain at that time, little changed. England and Scotland remained two allied countries rather than a single country. The Union opened up great new commercial opportunities for Scotland and the people of our two countries exploited and colonised the world together. But on this island, they have not mixed much. One does not encounter very many Scots people in England, and even fewer English people in Scotland.
In the twentieth century, the disappearance of the Empire diminished the sense in Scotland of sharing a common destiny with England. At the same time, the power and scope of the British state expanded greatly. This expansion of the state has happened as a result of legislation by the Union Parliament in Westminster and Scotland increasingly found herself governed by systems emanating from London. This aroused anti-English feelings and these feelings have been greatly exacerbated by the Westminster arrogance and bad government against which we in UKIP also protest.
The two countries need each other and must not be separated, but the two national identities remain different and allowance needs to be made for the differences. Devolution may be necessary, so that we are not yoked together any more than we want to be, but the present system favours Scotland far more than England and this imbalance needs to be corrected. England’s viewpoint must be heard, England’s interests must be allowed for, and then the Scots should surely have as much of a separate identity (within the limits of a common sovereignty, defence and foreign policy) as they truly wish for.
Wales is quite unlike Scotland. Wales has its own language, but Welsh is only spoken by about 20% of the Welsh population: in the farms and villages of upland Wales and in a few small inland towns. The Welsh-speaking minority are intensely and justifiably proud of their language and of the cultural traditions that go with it; and their language and cultural traditions have much to contribute in a world where so much traditional culture has disappeared. But most people who live in Wales, and particularly those who live in the big centres of population in South Wales, speak only English and do not share the Welsh cultural identity. And of course the vast majority of Welsh speakers also demonstrate that they speak and understand English fluently.
Devolution in Wales is divisive, in the same way that multiculturalism is divisive in other places. Wales is ruled by a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition and the result of devolution is that the Welsh language is promoted at the expense of English. The non-Welsh speaker is at a disadvantage in schools and in the workplace. Welsh speakers are employed in large numbers as translators and interpreters (even though almost everyone in Wales speaks English) and it has become more and more difficult to get any job in the state sector in Wales if one does not speak Welsh. This disqualifies most of the Welsh population. The Welsh language and Welsh cultural traditions deserve to be perpetuated. Perhaps they deserve specific government subsidy. But they cannot be best perpetuated by antagonising the majority of the people of Wales. For this and other reasons, it seems likely that devolution in Wales has done more harm than good.
London is by far the most prosperous part of Britain. Without London, Britain’s commercial decline would be catastrophic. Increasingly, London is supporting Britain. But London happens to be in England. In a unified state, it is accepted that the parts of the country which happen to prosper are willing to assist the parts which are doing less well. It is not entirely acceptable that parts of the country which are heavily dependent on other parts nevertheless clamour to spend their share of the common purse in their own way. The more separate powers are given to the Scottish parliament, the more England may reasonably complain that Scotland must stand on its own feet economically.
At the same time, the increased powers which have been given to Scotland to rule itself have not in any way reduced the strong tendency for Scots to rule England. Scots have always been over-represented in British governments. No one in England objected because we thought we were all part of one country. But now, we have a situation in which a Scottish parliament makes laws for Scotland and a British parliament, in which Scotland is still proportionately represented, makes laws for England. Everyone knows that this is wrong, but nothing has been done about it.
The first priority of any UKIP administration must be the common good of the whole of Britain. This means that Britain must leave the EU, overcome any problems or obstacles which this involves, and re-establish Britain’s pride and prosperity. These things in themselves will reduce the urgency of the devolution issue. The next priority must be to address the bad effects of the devolved government we currently have. This means correcting the political and economic imbalances which currently make England a net loser from devolution, and the misuse of power which has occurred in Wales.
After that, provided it is clearly understood that sovereignty, foreign policy and defence must always remain one and indivisible, any part of Britain which wishes for devolution and fully accepts its negative as well as its positive implications should have as much of it as its people want. But surely the better governed we are as a unified country, the less any one of our parts will wish to organise its own affairs separately.