‘Better Together’ just circling the drain

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   By Mark McNaught

Last week the Queen gave her speech presenting the UK government’s manifesto for the next year.  As I watched it, I wondered to what degree she actually agrees with what she was proposing, or whether she was just channelling the neo-liberal think tanks that provide the Tories with their discredited intellectual architecture. 

The Queen’s Delphic treatment of the question of devolution was notably short on substance.

By Mark McNaught

Last week the Queen gave her speech presenting the UK government’s manifesto for the next year.  As I watched it, I wondered to what degree she actually agrees with what she was proposing, or whether she was just channelling the neo-liberal think tanks that provide the Tories with their discredited intellectual architecture. 

The Queen’s Delphic treatment of the question of devolution was notably short on substance.

My ministers will continue to work in co-operation with the devolved administrations.  A bill will be introduced to give effect to a number of institutional improvements in Northern Ireland.  Draft legislation will be published concerning the electoral arrangements for the national assembly for Wales.  My government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

While this aspect of constitutional change aroused little controversy, the lack of clauses proclaiming an EU in/out referendum caused consternation among Tory euro sceptics, who have been liberated to challenge David Cameron in the wake of the UKIP surge.

This contrast reflects the Westminster tradition of ignoring the effects their political tantrums have on ‘devolved administrations’, because they are consumed by extinguishing the fires from the latest political bomb.

What thoughts were given to whether the Welsh, Northern Irish, or Scots share this desire to tear away from the EU?  Not enough to respect their sovereignty.  Last week wiped out any doubt that the EU referendum debate will consume the Westminster parliament for the foreseeable future.  It also demolished any pretence that Scotland and the UK are ‘Better Together’.

We are witnessing the beginning of the perfect political storm that will doom the ‘Better Together’ campaign.  What possible benefits can they now claim for remaining in the UK?

They can no longer claim that an independent Scotland will be forced to leave the EU.  Now, remaining part of the UK is the greatest threat.

They can no longer claim that an independent Scotland’s credit rating would suffer, with only the UK government capable of fiscal rectitude.  This assertion was washed away by two credit downgrades, as well as the fact that George Osborne based the austerity program on fallacious studies.

The ‘bedroom tax’ and other welfare reforms enacted by Westminster demonstrate that only an independent Scotland will have the institutional capacity to structure Scots’ welfare benefits to actually improve society, rather than stoke the fires of class enmity.

Cloud Cuckoo Land turns out to be the origin of the notion that Scotland would be worse off controlling the revenue from its abundant natural resources.

The only barrier to Scotland maintaining the pound after independence will be Westminster bloody-mindedness, which the Edinburgh Agreement binds all parties to minimise.

Given the weak propositions in the Queen’s Speech regarding further devolution, any consensus on what powers could be devolved to governments by the three major parties is unattainable.  The Liberal Democrats, who have thus far provided the most detailed proposal, may become extinct in the next parliament, and thus unable to advocate their policies.

The success of UKIP clearly demonstrates the perils of Scotland remaining in the union.  ‘Faragisme’ could make Thatcherism look benign by comparison; they are not even in favour of the devolved parliaments.  Who knows how much damage they could do to the legitimacy of the UK state, to the extent an archaic monarchy actually confers it.

The obliteration of the ‘Better Together’ negative case for continued UK adhesion is now complete.  If they have any positive case to make, they should do it now if they are to have any chance of convincing Scots to remain in the dysfunctional union.  Instead, they ineffectively respond to questions about why they won’t return £500,000 of ‘dirty money’ campaign donations.  This does not inspire confidence.

As the September 2014 referendum rapidly approaches, expect ‘Better Together’ to dig deeper into its grab bag of scare stories.  They have no alternative, because there is no positive case to make.  With every passing day, ‘Better Together’ becomes increasingly oxymoronic.

As I said when I was a Texan, “Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done”.  Conversely, it’s time for the ‘yes’ campaign to “open up a big ‘ol can of whupass”, and provide a positive vision of  Scotland’s future.

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.