To Be "Really British"

     Last week, there was some attention paid to a recently-opened store in north London called “Really British.” Its owner Chris Ostwald says that he is in the business of selling “quintessentially British items” made in the United Kingdom, such as traditional British condiments, Union Flag tea towels and pillows, miniature red telephone booths, models of the Queen, and socks made by a Welsh company which produces them for Prince Charles.

     However, he and his store have stood accused by local residents of racism and instilling hatred by having a name – Really British – which suggests an attempt to divide between British goods and foreign ones or provoking prejudice against foreign ones. Some people felt that this had something to do with promoting Brexit and raising a middle finger at those who voted to remain in the European Union and otherwise promoting anti-foreign behavior, along with being culturally insensitive.

     Now, perhaps it may well be that this man is taking advantage of Brexit in some way when he talks about the need to promote Britain in Britain following the EU referendum and show that there are British products that can make up for whatever loss or price hikes there may be in terms of items based in other countries, such as French wine. As he said: “It is to highlight what we can get that is in the UK, because after Brexit people were saying: ‘What are we going to do? Nothing’s made in the UK anymore’. “It’s all out of proportion – we can do very well ourselves. I just think, let's support ourselves a bit.”

     With that in mind, I believe there is nothing wrong with promoting the UK and expressing pride in it, especially within the country itself in or out of the EU. Indeed, through the last couple of years, I have been disconcerted by the apparent reluctance of a substantial number of Britons to show some pride and appreciation in their country and worse, who are very cynical, dismissive, and ashamed of its heritage, institutions, and symbols which have contributed to its character, way of life, and how it is seen at home and abroad.

     As a foreigner looking in from across the Pond, I have spent much of life being heavily interested in the UK from a variety of angles: historical, societal and cultural, political and constitutional, the Special Relationship with the United States, and among other things. It started with the great British ocean liners and Harry Potter, and has come a long way from there. Nowadays, I have become so deeply immersed from afar that I have “adopted” the UK as my second country for which there is an appreciation, respect, and love rivaled only by that which have I for my own country.

     It is therefore dispiriting to see the lack of such feeling in Britons themselves. At best this has resulted in somber indifference and at worst, a corrosive cynicism which actively mocks and looks down upon the country and everything about it to the point where people are ashamed of the country and come very close to feeling that it has no worth, value, or redeeming qualities. Without these attributes to pave the way for a healthy patriotism, there is a lack of emotional attachment to the country and hostility toward things such as the Union Flag, and at that point, how long before people come to the conclusion that perhaps the country should simply be cast into the dustbin of history? Indeed, I believe that this is one reason why the SNP has been able to take hold the way they have in Scotland and came close to breaking up the UK in the 2014 referendum.

     Having been closely involved in UK matters for the better part of the last 4-5 years in part because of the referendum and its aftermath, I can understand that the reluctance and even hostility to embrace Britishness – and for that matter feeling ashamed to be British – has to do in part with the rise of the far-right and its use of the Union Flag and other British symbols in their iconography, paraphernalia, and propaganda. It is also understandable that some people may be uncomfortable with Britishness because of the outcome of the EU referendum and the more unfortunate and deplorable events that have happened since and even during the referendum, such as the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox by a mentally disturbed white nationalist who is claimed to have shouted “Britain first” or “Put Britain first” as he carried out the attack.

     This and other actions directing hatred and malice toward others is unacceptable;  it does not represent the Britain I have come to know and is not a mark of showing pride in the country. Such individuals and groups may wave the Union Flag, sing the great national songs, and speak in the name of Queen and Country, but all they have done is help to give the Union Flag and other symbols of Britishness a bad name, even at home, which has lead to the reactions against the Really British shop.

     Now, it is my belief that Union Flag waving is not bad in and of itself, and I like it when watching special events such as the Last Night of the Proms, royal occasions, and Trooping the Colour. It is not necessary to do (and nobody ought to be forced to do so), but can be a healthy expression of patriotism so long as it is not used in an aggressive manner with the purpose of intimidating certain groups of people and attempting to divisively exclude them from society. For my part at home, I hardly wave a US flag during the year, not even on special days such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, and we don’t (as of now) have a flag pole at home. However, I do appreciate those who do decide to have a flag flying at their home or business, or wave it on certain occasions, and whenever I get in on the act, I do it – as so many others do – as an expression of love and appreciation for the land we call home and not hatred for anyone.

     Going along with this theme in the UK, there is also nothing wrong with singing the national anthem, God Save the Queen, or for that matter, Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, and I Vow to Thee My Country. All of them have their place in various events throughout the year, such as the first three at the Last Night of the Proms and the fourth one on Remembrance Sunday, and their own way, are positive expressions of British pride. I especially like I Vow to Thee for its touching, peaceful, and very thoughtful expression of love for country in much the same way as God Bless America.

     The point is that there is a difference between good-hearted patriotism and ugly nationalism, and a balance must be struck in showing ones appreciation and respect for the country that is the United Kingdom without devolving into that nationalism which divides and discriminates. If anything, I believe that it is past time for the vast majority of sensible Britons to reclaim their flag, monarchy, national songs, and other symbols from the far-right and they need to do so in a way which emphasizes that such things are for everyone who calls Britain home.

     Racists and white nationalists use our flag as well, but we as Americans – the vast majority of us – do not allow them to define who we are as a people and as a country; under no circumstances do they own them and nor do they have ownership of what it means to be American. This applies just as well to the UK with regard to how the country as a whole ought to deal with its symbols being hijacked by extremists.

     The British patriotism that I speak of and believe in is one which places faith in the country, and therefore acknowledges that the country is bigger and more consequential than any extremists claiming to speak for it. This patriotism is also bigger than the government of the day, so that there’s much more to the UK than Theresa May, just as there is more to the US than Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

     This leads to the ideal that patriotism is about the power of the individual and what he or she does to positively contribute to society, however big or small and regardless of where they come from, and therefore gets to the heart of the British patriotism I have in mind – one which combines the best of the UK’s traditions and heritage with the best of the modern culture in the country today, which has come by means of immigration and an increasingly interconnected world. After all, my deep and abiding interest in the United Kingdom and to connect with some of its citizens rests on the global nature of our world today.

     Make no mistake that when I think of the UK, I do indeed think of – in part, at least – things such as the monarchy and the Union Flag, Big Ben and Edinburgh Castle, hackney cabs and red telephone booths, bulldogs and tea, Burns and Shakespeare, and the Beatles. And I have to say that in my opinion, the ITV reporter was making too much of a big deal about the lack of diversity in the Really British shop by repeatedly commenting on it not reflective of modern Britain, and claiming that it was representing something of a stereotypical Britishness.

     However, the reality is that the things I’ve mentioned above are among the things many people look forward to when visiting the UK because that is partly what attracts them to the country in the first place. In fact, there was a black Briton who commented under the ITV video on Facebook with regard to the owner of the Really British shop: “Good for you!! It’s a lovely place with genuine ethical purpose and showcasing true British culture. No need to be ashamed of British culture after all, we are in Britain!!”

     Ostwald himself explained quite simply that: “There’s no race that isn’t British…whoever you, wherever you came from, you live in Britain, you’re British.”

     Those were very encouraging and positive statements about what it means to be “Really British” and proud of it in a way that is inclusive of all backgrounds and showing no malice toward others. Indeed, being British should be about bringing the people of the country together to find what they have in common and understand that they have much more that unites than divides them. In the course of time, I believe this means that the owner should include others things in his shop that are expressive of the United Kingdom in the 21st Century. Reading the Harry Potter books and watching the subsequent films during the last decade provided a glimpse into the reality that modern Britain is diverse place and his store should reflect that. However, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the shop as it is and at the end of the day, all the Otswald is doing is selling towels, tea, marmalade, and flags representing the country in which his store is located.

     At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with a healthy display of patriotism and this man appears to have achieved that with a shop peacefully promoting Britain to Britain, as well as to visitors (hopefully such as myself one day). He and everyone in the country can and should work together to help shape and define what being British means and take some pride and appreciation in that for themselves, the country, and future generations.

Question Devolution

     In recent times, it has become in vogue in British politics to talk about the need for political and constitutional reform. This particularly means the devolution of political power from the UK Parliament at Westminster to other governing administrations within the UK – namely the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as local council areas and regions within those areas and England, the largest part of the Union.

     With regard to Scotland in particular, politicians both nationalist and pro-union from all parties are of the opinion that more powers need to be exercised by the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in isolation from the rest of the UK. For nationalists, they see devolution as another stage towards their ultimate goal of breaking up Britain, but both they and some pro-union politicians use similar language about how Scotland needs more powers to provide Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, and improve outcomes in critical areas such as health and education. Indeed, one of the sentiments expressed here is that policies in Scotland are better made by the people of Scotland.

     This is a fair sentiment to hold, but it ignores the reality that issues that affect Scots are issues that affect all Britons throughout the United Kingdom. As much as there may be issues better decided by the people of Scotland through their elected representatives in Edinburgh alone, there are also matters that may be better decided on a UK-wide basis by the British people as a whole (including Scots) through their elected representatives in London.

     Some politicians and commentators – particularly the nationalist sort – will go on to say that “left-wing” Scotland and “right-wing” England are so different (and drifting apart) politically and culturally that Scotland must be able to decisions for itself in isolation from the rest of the UK in order to reflect the values and aspirations of the Scottish people.

     Not only are such claims of vast Anglo-Scottish differences questionable to say the least, but it must be said that the MP’s elected to the UK Parliament are there to represent the interests of the UK as a whole in conjunction with the interests of their local constituents. Attempting to break British MP’s down to being English or Scottish (with regard to how they vote on issues or their political philosophies) and to say that the Scots and English are monolithically and irreconcilably different in their socio-economic outlook risks pitting the constituent parts of the UK against each other. This ought to be avoided – especially by those who want the UK to stay together – lest it lead to unhelpful perceptions and stereotypes that put the Union at risk.

     There is no problem in acknowledging and celebrating the differences amongst the peoples in the United Kingdom, for there is strength in diversity that can actually lead to bringing the British people together, just as has been done for over 230 years in the United States with 50 states and various nationalities and ethnicities. These differences however, need not be politicized and over-hyped to the extent of driving wedges and dividing people against each other, which gnaws away at the fabric of the Union.

     There are no differences amongst the peoples of the UK that cannot be overcome by the bonds – political, social, cultural, and economic – which bind them together as one. Indeed, there are such things as British values and British aspirations which are derived from the UK’s constituent parts and reflected by its people.

     This does not necessarily mean that there should not be devolution at all, but it certainly should not be done in a way that shreds the critical relationships and structures that allow for all parts of the UK to have an active part in the governing of the country and its political system, or indeed, the ability of the UK Government to govern the UK in its entirety.

     You see, so long as Scotland remains part of the UK, the UK Government must be able to have the tools at its disposal to make the Union work, which means that it must continue to have substantial responsibility over matters such as trade and commerce, fiscal and monetary policy, and lawmaking and law enforcement within the UK. Some of these responsibilities can be shared with the devolved administrations and even local councils, so that each level of government within the United Kingdom has its own ability to set taxes, make laws, and do other things within certain parameters that respect the authority and competence of each level.

     Piecemeal and ad hoc devolution based on what is thought to be “necessary” for one part of the country at a particular time may have been well-intended, but to some degree, it has proven detrimental to the strength of the Union and has not necessarily led to better or more efficient outcomes for those particular areas.

     For example, university tuition fees have been abolished in Scotland on the basis that it helps those with the fewest resources, who come from the lower strata of society. However, in terms of university entry rate amongst such people, Scotland lags behind England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), England – with tuition fees – has an entry rate nearly two times greater than that of Scotland for those in the poorest quintile of the population. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that according to the Scottish Funding Council, only 6.7% of poor Scots attain the average exam grades required to earn a university place.

     Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s own survey on literacy amongst Scotland’s students (which was taken in May 2014 and released in April 2015) have revealed that literacy rates have fallen, and this is especially pronounced amongst pupils in the second year of secondary education (S2) from the most deprived backgrounds, where only 41% were performing well or very well in writing and 55% in reading.

     Given that education has been completely devolved to Holyrood since 1999 and that the SNP has been in government since 2007, it is an indictment against how education has been handled in Scotland in recent years. For some of the people I have come to know, the Scottish education system has not been served well under an SNP government that needs to do more (after eight years in office) to get more young people into higher education, but appears more interested in showing how different it is to the English system, even if the English system may produce better results, and therefore can provide at least some food for thought for what can be done in Scotland.

     In health – another critical area where Holyrood (not Westminster) has control, and where the SNP has been in charge of for eight years – real-term spending on the NHS rose by only one percent between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016, in contrast to the budget-cutting in Westminster that has seen a real-term rise in health spending in England to the tune of 6% in the same period, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

     Given that the mechanisms of the Barnett formula (which mean that whenever spending changes in England (for any department), it changes by a proportionate amount for the devolved administrations in the rest of the UK), it would stand that health spending would also go up in Scotland as well. But Holyrood is under no obligation to following in tandem with the spending decisions south of the Tweed when it receives the block grant from the UK Treasury. It could have spent an additional 5% on the NHS, but appear to have chosen not do to so, and instead spent the money elsewhere, like the “free” university tuition, “free” prescriptions, and the council tax freeze – all of which arguably and disproportionately benefit those who have the means to pay for them, while doing little for those most in need.

     Several of my friends and acquaintance in Scotland have spoken about long waiting times at the NHS, run-arounds with various doctors, and delays with getting treatments and surgeries. Now to be fair, it would be a mistake to continuously blame the SNP for all of these things. For example, it may well be – as the BBC's Nick Robinson pointed out – that spending for the Scottish NHS may be historically higher than in England (including before devolution), and that England is merely catching up. Nevertheless, it does appear that any budget cutting is due to the actions of the Scottish Government, and it is therefore disingenuous to blame the UK Government for their own problems with the NHS in Scotland, particularly with regard to missing their own targets for improving A&E waiting times.

     Again, this is not to say that powers should not be devolved absolutely, but rather that it should not happen so hastily, carelessly, and without thinking if it is really necessary or otherwise good for Scotland, for if the constitutional debates are about what is best for Scotland, should there not be a vigorous debate on the merits on the devolution of power – especially with regard to how devolved power has already been used (or not)? If it is natural to question the very existence of the UK, or at least the its constitutional structures, then there should also be questions about the devolution of political power, for it may not always lead to better results. (It is probably for this reason that Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie, a supporter of independence, has spoken out against the SNP's policy of achieving Full Fiscal Autonomy for Holyrood.)

     It is for this reason that devolution must be questioned at every stage, as opposed to being meekly accepted as an all-around good thing, and also why changing fundamental constitutional and political structures within the UK must be decided upon by all of the UK, for changing the machinery of the constitution in one part of the UK will have effects on the rest of the UK. This is why myself and others have been advocating for a constitutional convention to settle these matters of British governance, for the current model of piecemeal and ad hoc devolution results in a never-ending merry-go-round, in which one part of the UK receives a devolved power, and another part wonders why it doesn’t receive the same treatment. Such a constant rearranging of the constitutional jigsaw puzzle – almost living in a crisis by crisis scenario – does not bode well for good governance, and threatens to upset the stability of the Union.

     A convention would help to establish the powers and competencies of each level of government in the UK, as well as parameters that allow for the mutual respect of such competencies. Some responsibilities may be exclusive and reserved to a certain level of government, and others jointly shared. This points to federalism, which preserves a strong central government to handle matters and issues that require government action for the whole of the country – something which tends to get forgotten in the drive for devolution – while also featuring significant powers for the federated entities to do their own thing within a federal framework.

     But even if federalism is not the result of such a convention, the aim should be to at least provide a forum on what the British people as a whole want and expect in terms of their governing arraignments. It would be up to the people, with due and careful consideration and debate, to decide on the matter of which powers are better handled by, or otherwise require the action of, the central government. From here, there would be decisions on the powers of the devolved administrations and local government.

     Not everyone will agree – the members of the US Constitutional Convention certainly did not – but an effort ought to be made to forge some kind of settlement for the United Kingdom going forward that promotes stability, fairness, and the idea that the Union can be made more perfect.

     That would be a hell of a lot better than the seemingly constant and almost unquestioned flow of devolution, which as Tam Dalyell observed, runs the hazard of leading to the breakup of Britain. The people living there – from the most powerful politician to the postman – can and must do better, if for nothing else than the greater good and general welfare of all.

The Folly of Devolution Thus Far and (Worse) EVEL

The Parliament of the United Kingdom
(Credit: Jim Trodel via Flickr cc)

     Ever since the advent of devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the late 1990’s, there has not yet been an answer to the infamous West Lothian Question, whereby MP’s from those areas cannot vote on matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, or Northern Irish Assembly, but can vote on such issues in the British Parliament at Westminster – even though their own constituents are not directly affected.

     Devolution of certain issues to those legislatures meant that such issues – like health and education – were no longer issues of a UK-wide concern, and were now effectively English issues being decided by the UK Parliament at Westminster – including by Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MP’s, despite English MP’s having no such say over devolved matters in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

     The West Lothian Question is so named because it was brought up by Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for West Lothian during the parliamentary debates on devolution in the 1970’s. It was he who asked how such a then-hypothetical situation could be sustained, and as such, he was a prominent opponent of devolution because nobody could provide him with an answer to his question.

     Now with devolution entering a stage in which substantial legislative and fiscal powers are set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament (in fulfillment of the Vow made towards the end of the independence referendum campaign), there is an increasing need to answer Dalyell’s 40 year old question.

     Labour attempted to answer it by proposing regional devolution within England following the devolution it had established in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Tony Blair's government succeeded in a referendum to devolve power to Greater London, which involved the creation of the directly elected Mayor of London.

     However, the attempt to create a devolved assembly in North East England was so heavily defeated by the electorate of that region in a 2004 referendum, that the idea was shelved for all the other regions (bar London), and the government effectively kicked an answer to the WLQ into the long grass.

     The answer that is now set to be pursued by the current Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron appears to be English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). This has been Conservative Party policy since devolution came about, and it has different variants, but the gist of it is that the Speaker of the House of Commons will determine which bills going through the Commons are applicable only to England (or England and Wales), and therefore require a majority of only English (or English and Welsh) MP’s to pass such legislation. Some variants of EVEL call for an absolute “veto” in which relevant MP’s will have the ultimate say over such legislation, regardless of how other MP’s may vote. Others merely allow for those MP’s alone to vote at the committee stage (where amendments can be made), whilst allowing the full Commons to vote on the legislation at its final stage.

     Either way, EVEL will likely mean some dilution in the voice of Scottish MP’s in the British Parliament because it is simply becoming more difficult to justify their votes on issues that do not affect their constituents – issues which have essentially become English issues because of devolution.

     What’s ironic is that the Scottish National Party (SNP) campaigned heavily at the last election on a platform of “making Scotland’s voice heard” and “giving a louder voice for Scotland” at Westminster – as if to say that Scotland never had a voice there, which is plainly ludicrous, as Scotland as been sending MP’s to Parliament since the Union began in 1707. (Here, they engage in the art form of conflating Scotland with the SNP.)

     However, as an acquaintance of mine in Scotland – a gentleman named Graeme – has said, devolution has “turned the hypothetical ‘West Lothian Question’ into reality, creating a situation in which Scottish MPs were voting on English affairs that English MPs no longer had any say over in Scotland.” Furthermore, he adds that as devolution was being implemented during the last Labour government (1997-2010), the UK had a Scot – Gordon Brown – “representing a Scottish constituency [and] serving as Chancellor and then Prime Minister formulating policies on health, education, policing, etc in England that were no longer within the remit of the UK Government within Scotland.”

     Now with the recent extraordinary success of the SNP in winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats in the Commons and the prospect of further devolution (including the full devolution of setting income tax) to Holyrood, the constitutional anomaly of the WLQ has become “unsustainable” and EVEL “has more or less” become inevitable.

     However, Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman disagrees with such notions, and claims that for decades, Scotland has had to put up with “England’s political preferences.” But this attempt to say that “karma’s a b****” with regard to Scottish influence across the UK ignores the changes wrought by devolution. It also ignores the idea that British general elections ought to be about what the voters across the UK want, as opposed to attempting to break the votes down by certain areas. However, even when you do this, what you find is that since World War II, Scotland has gotten the government it wants more often than not, and indeed on two occasions – in 1964 and 1974 – Scotland voted for and got a Labour government, even though England voted Tory. In a democracy, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

     Nevertheless, devolution was brought about to address a “democratic deficit” with regard to Scotland’s place within the Union, and to lessen “English influence” on “Scottish affairs.” With this, logic follows that some people in England may wish to lessen “Scottish influence” on “English affairs.”

     McMillan says this ignores the “brute fact” that the UK is an asymmetrical union in which 85% of the population resides in one part of the country – England, and that EVEL will shut Scotland out of critical decisions that affect the UK as a whole – including Scotland.

     Unionists such as Graeme are then oft to point out that this is an admission that devolution – at the very least – is a flawed concept whose architects failed to think through its implications on Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole, and its implementation in a piecemeal manner failed to engage the UK as a whole on constitutional matters.

     They also contend that the asymmetry to which McMillan refers did not exist before devolution, for with a single sovereign parliament in London, all of the British people were represented by MP’s who could equally participate in the parliamentary process in full without question. This allowed for many Scots to take their rightful place in powerful and prominent positions in government – defense secretaries, home secretaries, foreign secretaries, chancellors of the Exchequer, and prime ministers – and representing the interests of the UK as a whole (including Scotland).

     Only after the high-charged and emotive rhetoric of “Tory government’s we didn’t vote for” and “English laws imposed on Scotland” (especially following the eleven years of Margaret Thatcher’s government – 1979-1990 – during which Scotland repeatedly voted Labour, though the UK as a whole voted Conservative) followed by devolution in 1999 did the fundamental nature of Scottish parliamentary representation come under question – first with the cutting of Scotland’s MP’s from 72 to 59, and now the proposals for EVEL.

     McMillan claims that this is “largely designed to massage the wounded pride of English Tory MPs by offering them a bump up the pecking-order in the public-school politics of Westminster.” However, with the West Lothian Question becoming a reality (as Tam Dalyell had warned), English MP’s – whatever their political stripe – have a legitimate constitutional issue. By attempting to solve one democratic deficit, another one was created in the process.

     This is not to say that EVEL is the optimal response, but after the clamor for “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament (including the prospect of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA), where all taxes raised in Scotland would go to Holyrood) should anyone be surprised?

     But realistically, given the geographic reality, England will never truly be free of Scottish influence, and Scotland will certainly never be free of English influence.

     Using veteran nationalist Paul Henderson Scott’s description of Scotland’s relationship with England as that of being in bed with an elephant – and the need to be free of the elephant, Kenny Farquharson wrote recently in The Times that this failed to “acknowledge basic geography and economics.” Without the United Kingdom holding them together, Scotland and England may well move to separate beds, but will still have to share the same room – the same island, Great Britain. Being ten times the size of Scotland, Farquharson notes that “England will always be our bigger, more populous, more powerful neighbor” and what it does “politically, economically, culturally — will always have a profound effect on us [in Scotland].”

     In other words – despite what some nationalists may want to believe – Scotland cannot ignore its big sister, the elephant. Farquharson goes on to mention that Scotland’s exports within the UK – to England, Northern Ireland, and Wales – amounted to £44.9 billion, which is a considerable sum when one considers that Scottish exports to the rest of the world combined was £22 billion (and less than half of this was with the European Union).

     Indeed, one of the flaws of EVEL is how to know what issues can be classified as “English only” or “English and Welsh only”, for even though a piece of paper may say that, members from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can also argue that because of England’s size, legislation that legally applies only to England can (and will) have affects – particularly financial – on the rest of the UK.

     This is why EVEL is quite controversial, for it would create two classes of MP’s – English MP’s with full time access to the Commons and all stages of the parliamentary process in the Commons, and non-English MP’s who would effectively be told to stay out of their own parliament on certain days, even though the legislation and issues debated on those days may indirectly affect their constituents.

     It is also why even though Yes Scotland and the SNP were campaigning on the idea of Scotland being master of its destiny, they were also trying to argue for a form of independence that would retain links with the rest of the UK, but leave it without the ability to shape it, as the continuing Union would continue to substantially influence Scotland – regardless of the constitutional arrangements.

     This points to the importance of maintaining the United Kingdom as something that is in Scotland’s best interests, and maintaining as firm a Union as possible with full and complete parliamentary representation in Parliament for everybody, rather than trying to unravel it and creating more grievances along the way.

     Indeed, one of the reasons for the merger of England and Scotland into the UK was to give Scotland access to the much larger English markets, and this – along with the much wider British Empire – proved to be highly beneficial to Scotland. But even without the Empire, being part of the United Kingdom, as Farquharson points out, has been beneficial to Scotland’s economic prospects more than anything else, and UK as a whole has benefited from Scottish contributions (in terms of human, social, financial, natural, and instructional capital) that have helped to make it a global leader and significant world power, which in turn provides benefits to the UK – including Scotland.

     Attempting to loosen the UK with well-meaning, but ill thought out devolution and EVEL threatens to upset these necessary bonds – political, economic, and social – which keep Britain together. Indeed, one of the disheartening prospects is that there may never again be a Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister from Scotland representing a Scottish constituency.

     On this point, my friend Graeme believes that:

“Nationalism and devolution has not increased Scotland's power and influence within the Union, it has significantly diminished it. It has rendered much of Scotland's influence within the wider UK intolerable to that part of the UK which forms the majority of its population, and has made it very difficult for it to be [constitutionally] acceptable for any Scottish MP to occupy any cabinet post other than that of Foreign or Defence Secratary, because any other cabinet position would make them responsible for policies in England over which the English have no say over in Scotland, which the English no longer consider to be either fair or acceptable.”

     He further laments that thanks to “poorly handled devolution and [acquiescence] to nationalist demands” Scotland and Scots, “once a powerful and disproportionately influential voice within the Union, have rendered themselves in some respects as bystanders to larger issues within the United Kingdom” – many of which will continue to affect Scotland.

     The result, he fears, will be that “England and the English will come to dominate the UK far more than they have ever done” and that this was perhaps the way the nationalists had planned it, for it certainly would give them “even more grievance fuel to further their agenda”, and that some Scots “will believe them when they say that England is unfairly denying Scotland a voice within the UK by freezing them out of influence at Westminster.” It would make the roar of the Scottish lion “sound more like a cat’s mewling.”

     McMillan attempts to get around this by saying that it would be rather pompous for English Tories to talk about “speaking for England”, as if England is a homogenous community when in fact it is not – pointing out that “the England of the 21st century is a vastly diverse nation, which contains millions of people – from Liverpool to Portsmouth, from Truro to South Shields – who are fully as exasperated with the current Westminster establishment, and its failed politics of austerity, as any Scottish voter.” Her solution is to use the House of Lords as a chamber that represents the nations of the UK, as well as the regions within England, which in her view, would meet the “standards of 21st-century democracy.”

     As it is, I have written on how the Lords can be reformed in such a way. Looking back, this probably should have been the way to go in addressing the asymmetries that she refers to, which have also been noted by many pro-Union politicians such as Gordon Brown. If this had been achieved long ago, it may have averted the need for devolution, because it would have guaranteed a level of Scottish representation in the upper house that would have been on par – or nearly on par – with England, so that Scotland’s voice (or rather voices, since Scotland is just as diverse as England) could be heard and provide wisdom and scrutiny to government legislation. Even if a reformed Lords did not have the absolute ability to block government legislation, it could – with substantial Scots influence – force the government to think again on its agenda.

     Indeed, perhaps another flaw in devolution was that it made changes along the edges of the British constitution without also making changes at the center, and this has left the country with an unbalanced governmental structure that is prone to misunderstandings and grievance-mongering.

     Of course, there would still be people making the case for devolution and decentralization from London. In fact, the idea of revamping the United Kingdom into a federal union like the United States has taken hold in some quarters in the wake of the referendum. But even Gordon Brown has remarked that federalism can only go but so far in a country where 85% of the population lives in one area, and most forms of federalism still mean having a strong central government with the ability to levy and collect taxes, and make an array of laws that directly apply to all people throughout the entire union.

     In essence, federalism means that there are some powers exclusively exercised by the federal government, some powers exclusively exercised by the federated governments, and some powers are exercised jointly. For example, in the US and Germany, the setting of income and corporate taxes are a joint responsibility of federal and state governments. The federal governments and legislatures in both countries are quite powerful – though their power is limited in certain areas.

     Indeed, the authority of the British Parliament at Westminster has already been limited in practice, regardless of the fact that it possesses ultimate sovereignty across the UK. The Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Irish Assembly are now semi-permanent institutions to the point where no prime minister or his/her government will dare contemplate abolishing them.

     The issue at hand now is how these institutions, the British Parliament, and potential institutions in England can fit into a federal framework for the United Kingdom as a whole. This will require an end to ad hoc devolution (including the proposal for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Holyrood) as well as the crude answers contained in the proposals for EVEL. Joyce McMillan herself acknowledged that the decision to devolve control of setting income tax rates was “strange and hasty”, for the income tax allows for one of the most transparent forms of redistribution from wealthier parts of a country to another, and the concept of pooling and sharing resources throughout the United Kingdom for the benefit of all was one of the main arguments used for keeping Scotland as part of the Union.

     If the Union is to survive at this point, there needs to be the establishment of a UK constitutional convention that will attempt to sort out the issues of British governance and forge a lasting constitutional settlement that is as “fair” as possible to everybody.  It means looking at the United Kingdom as a whole and having a firm understanding of how it ought to work going forward, which – among other things – means defining the powers of a federal UK Parliament (as Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution does for the US Congress), the limits on the federal parliament (Article 1, Section 9), and the powers and limitations on the federated governments of the nations and regions within the UK (Article 1, Section 10).

     It also means defining the values that bring Britain together as a country, and establishing principles upon which the people and their representatives can build on.

     This effort will require an enormous amount of good faith, tact, skill, statesmanship (likely in the face of political party interest), creative imagination, and a sense of vision and purpose to make such a settlement a success.

     It will also require the participation of people from all walks of life in Britain – including ordinary citizens, civic organizations, and faith groups in an expression of British civic participation that may also facilitate bringing people together and forging a sense of a common identity and common ideals for Britain going forward. 

     The brute reality is that Scotland and England have been “interfering” in each others affairs for centuries, and they really can't help it, given the island they share. The Union simply made it official, and in my opinion, it is in everyone’s interest for Britain to remain together, for Britain has so much collective potential, and its people can achieve much more together – not just for themselves, but for the world at large – than they could ever do apart.