It's about re-shaping the Union

devolution and localism, England, Scotland, UK politics

Author(s):  Nick Pearce
Published date:  21 Feb 2012
Source:  OpenDemocracy

Cameron’s speech was important for two reasons, one tactical and one substantive. As a matter of political tactics, he has abandoned  the rough wooing with which he started the year in favour of a more humble appeal to Scottish sentiment.

He has now fallen into line with the other party leaders, who realised some time ago that the Scottish people would look dimly upon scaremongering or lectures about how weak, vulnerable and isolated they would be in an independent Scotland. Cameron has accepted that unionists must campaign on the positive virtues of the United Kingdom, and the importance of the democratic right of the Scottish people to determine their own destiny. Last week, his Whiggish speechwriters duly obliged with a well-crafted paean to the union.

More substantively, the Prime Minister has obliquely acknowledged that  the United Kingdom has embarked on a new process of evolution, in which further devolution of power and responsibility to Scotland are inevitable. It is too early to claim the United Kingdom is dead, even if teleological historians one day point to 1922 as the year in which the end-game started. But some form of “devo-more” or “devo-max” to Scotland is now certain.  That is to be welcomed. The current devolution settlement does not give Scotland the economic powers it needs or the ability to match its spending to the taxes required to finance it.  Nor should the UK and its nations stand on the ground of centralised state forms invented for the 20th century.

As others have written, English political and cultural identities must not be the residual in this seismic process of change. English self-awareness is on the rise.  Its articulation should not be surrendered to those on the right-wing margins of politics. Just as Scottish nationalism has been reinvented as a capacious, civic force, so too Englishness is capable of articulation into an open, broadly based progressive politics.  That will demand more devolution within England as well as a new settlement at Westminster. Alex Salmond’s most lasting achievement may turn out to be, not Scottish independence, but a reshaping of the union in which the democratic energies of the English are released.

This is an extract from Cameron and the future of the Union: a forum.


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