My last post and associated comments defended a blogger with a relatively simple core message from those who would insist on seeing essential complexity and mystery in his subject area. This related to a fictive contemporary history of parts of northern New Jersey, the analysis of which – though fascinating – may not be essentially important.
The Scottish Independence Referendum, being real and imminent, probably is.
As economic scare stories have failed to stop the ‘Yes’ poll results increasing to threatening levels, so the left-wing version of the ‘No’ case has been pushed forward. Sudden promises of new powers for Scotland following a ‘No’ vote have been wheeled out, the Conservative Prime Minister has been put in the perverse position of begging the Scottish not to vote for independence just because they want to give him a kicking, socialists who were recently fake-reality-tv courting pariahs have come in from the cold. And the Labour Party, which formally abandoned its commitments to the working-class in 1995, has rediscovered proletarian internationalism for the first time since Nye Bevan called the Tories ‘vermin’ in 1948.
All of which is exactly what you would expect, given the historical association of Scotland with the Labour Party. There’s no lack of material out there on all these points. I’ve nothing to add, except to point you towards the often wonderful writing of wee ginger dug and Irvine Welsh’s surprisingly measured reply to the patent nonsenses of socialist internationalist nay-sayers.
More dangerous, as far as I’m concerned, is Will Hutton’s constitutionally modified version of the left-wing version of the ‘no’ case:
The only offer that can now persuade Scotland not to secede is to trump that half-cock quasi-federalism [his term for Scottish independence] with a proper version. Westminster’s party leaders must offer to create a federal Britain and irrevocably commit to a constitutional convention to discuss its implementation if Scotland votes no.
(You really want to see more of that writing style? Really? Here’s the link then.)
It’s not dangerous because of its beauty (obviously) or its vagueness. It’s not even dangerous because it’s the same thing Will Hutton has said about everything since he first published The State We’re In to great New Labour acclaim in 1995.
It is dangerous solely because of its complexity.
If you want Scottish independence, and you live in Scotland, you have the option of voting for it. That’s a ‘yes’. It may not be as good as you hope, and it may not solve all your problems, but you are likely to get something like independence. When the conditions of independence prove difficult and the constitutional guarantees your government made to the UK prove awkward, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll renegotiate. Meaning that you’ll have … independence. I think you get the point. Simples.
On the other hand, if you want a ‘Federal Britain’, you do not have any option on the ballot paper to indicate this. By voting ‘no’ in the hope of achieving federalism, you are voting to let other people decide whether to give you federalism. Unnecessary complexity number one.
By this being ‘offered by Westminster’s party leaders’ rather than simply chosen by the people, we have entered another area of unnecessary complexity. In fact, we have entered as many areas of unnecessary complexity as there are party leaders. Is Caroline Lucas a ‘leader’, or a whole party in herself? Should her view have the same weight as David Cameron’s? As Alex Salmond’s? Is Douglas Carswell the UKIP leader in Westminster since his defection from the Tories? Or should his seat at the negotiating table be taken by his party leader, who is not an MP? Maybe these complications could be overcome if we ignored Hutton’s wording and took him to mean that the government and official opposition should together offer to create a federal Britain.
That would mean asking the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain to offer something like the opposite of what his party exists for. The clues are, you’ll have noticed, in the name. That’s three more areas of unnecessary complexity depending on how his members and voters and pet tabloids react to the implications of Federalism. The Labour Party is ambivalent about federalism, and contains a number of habitually ineffectual ‘left-wingers’ who turn into raging lions when the powers of the House of Commons are in doubt. Remember Leo Abse? Exactly. That’s an unforseeable number more areas of unnecessary complexity.
Constitutional convention. I’m not entirely sure what a constitutional convention would look like. Or who would be in it. Or where it would be (surely not London, that would be a bit weird). Or what would be done about the people who were in it to wreck it from the start. Like David Cameron… Only joking. Oh, actually, I’m not. That’s at least four more areas of unnecessary complexity. Even before we ask who would make the tea. Or get the contract for the internet connection. Or go to the supermarket for the bogroll. Or provide the security. Or plan the opening ceremony.
Not that it would happen anyway. After all, it would require ‘irrevocable commitment’. An unbreakable promise, in everyday language. From politicians. Frankly, I’m not sure whether this is another unnecessary complexity or just downright stupid.
There are no third options in this referendum. Anyone who votes “No” in the hope that working-class solidarity will make nation-states outdated is making life just a bit too complicated. And anyone who votes “No” in the hope of witnessing the birth of Hutton’s utopian pipedream of mild constitutional reform needs their nut examined.