True Unionists support devolution – we cannot restore a dead order
we must be wary of those who will unintentionally destroy Unionism in the name of saving it.
To say that true Unionists support devolution can seem counter-intuitive considering its fiercest opponents have usually argued that devolution undermined the Union. However, I believe true Unionists support devolution now, and I want to convince those Unionists who do not – decent people as they are – that they are currently Unionisms’ biggest threat.
Edmund Burke said that a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Burke recognised what too few conservatives and Unionists recognise today; things that don’t bend eventually break when put under sustained pressure.
Why were some Unionists opposed to devolution?
Had I been writing this article in the early 70s there is no question I would be opposing devolution like many Unionists at the time; including the late Baroness Thatcher, who fought a behind the scenes war in the Tory Party to prevent Scottish devolution.
The creation of devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales would have the effect of creating new constitutional allegiances, they said, which would, in time, erode the allegiance to the Union.
The main advocates for devolution were Republicans; Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, both of whom would relish the opportunity to abolish the Union and perhaps even behead the Queen – French Revolution style.
It would also have the effect of creating divergences of national interest; pitting Welsh against Scot and everyone against the English. No union can survive long if there’s no shared interest in preserving it.
But just how much of this actually came into being?
I concede that some of these things have followed, though not to the extent that was envisaged by some of the more pessimistic Unionists, which is precisely my point.
There’s no denying that the Welsh & Scottish Parliament’s have created with them stronger national allegiances. For my part the Welsh Assembly has attached an institution to an identity – and the institution now sees its role very much as protecting and moulding that identity.
In Scotland the Socialist SNP now govern, to the detriment of the personal and family liberty of the Scots. However, despite Unionist fears of waking up after the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum to a smug and egotistic Alex Salmond laughing in their faces as he burns Unionist flags, Unionism won, rather convincingly. It’s also worth noting that Unionists are now the official opposition in Holyrood while nationalism is on the decline.
In Wales the prophesies of doom were even more over-stated; support for independence remains in single digits when devolution is prompted, and Wales has elected more Conservatives than Welsh nationalists. This point is key because polling seems to indicate that the existence of the Welsh Parliament is actually having a dampening effect on support for independence; contrary to the claims of the anti-devolutionists.
Devolution is Unionisms’ lesser evil
You’d be forgiven for wondering if I really did support devolution at this point, but rest assured; Unionists support devolution because, quite simply, it’s less damaging than trying to restore a dead arrangement.
Despite Unionist voices against devolution in Wales and Scotland, the biggest Unionist party in the UK – the Conservative Party – officially supported devolution, no doubt for the same reason I do now.
I cannot imagine a single more damaging act to Unionism in Scotland than to abolish the Scottish Parliament. When 45% of Scottish voters only recently said they wanted Holyrood to be the supreme Parliament of Scotland, it seems mad to go to them demanding not that Holyrood shouldn’t be supreme, but that it shouldn’t even exist.
In Wales the same applies. The initial referendum on devolution may have been close, with only around 7000 votes in it, but the 2011 referendum was overwhelmingly in favour of a stronger Welsh Parliament. I’ve heard that the 2011 referendum doesn’t count because abolishing devolution wasn’t an option – though I’d like those people to explain to me why people who opposed devolution would vote to give devolved administrations more power. It doesn’t make sense, because their arguments don’t make sense.
The positive, conservative principles for devolution
Aside from supporting devolution as a lesser evil than trying to rewind time, there are a host of genuinely conservative principles that devolution nurtures, especially so, thanks to Brexit.
My dealings with devolution has convinced me that Westminster cannot adequately provide the localism that conservatives have always sought. Despite the poor performance of the Welsh Socialist Government, who have allowed Wales to stagnate economically while continuing to indulge in public sector profligacy and pie in the sky state spending plans, power remains absolutely closer to the people it affects. Far from being rid of it altogether, Unionists support devolution to ensure that power doesn’t centralise in the Senedd and Holyrood but works its way to the people yet further.
The voting system, while not allowing for strong government in the way Westminster does, is far more democratic. It’s ironic actually that UKIP are considering turning on devolution when it’s the only reason they’ve had any domestic success in elections. It’s also ironic that they may well become the party of overturning recently held referendums – I’m sure the People’s Vote campaign have infiltrated the leadership, its the only reason I can think of for the complete short-sightedness that the party hierarchy have taken on this.
I can’t think of much that would have annoyed the Welsh more than to have an Englishman come to Wales to demand we have a referendum on devolution so he can cure a split in his own party. Thanks, but no thanks, Gerard. There’s no appetite for a referendum in Wales, there isn’t actually much appetite for this debate, I hadn’t expected to have to worry about it.
Unionists support devolution reluctantly, but cleverly
I’ve sought to address some of the points made by Unionists currently arguing to abolish devolution. I’m not a fervent Devolutionist, but I am a fervent Unionist. British is my identity, over all else, which is why I am so scared of the current debate in UKIP.
To try and restore a bygone political order under the pretext of preserving the UK is a laughable proposition. I’ve acknowledged the difficulties devolution has for the Union, which while not easy are manageable, provably. But of far greater threat to Unionism in the UK is the belief that you can come to Scotland and Wales, take away our democracies and expect us to swallow it. It’ll end the Union overnight.
Unionists support devolution for these reasons and I just hope enough of us can see that before we end up destroying the thing we most love, for good. As Milton Friedman once said; I’m on your side, but you’re not. It’s time for Unionists to get on the right side of this debate, the survival of the Union may depend on it – regardless of whether UKIP chooses this as its hole to die in.