Alex Massie

Who Governs Scotland?

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Not to harp on about this too much, but this item from Benedict Brogan's (excellent) blog deserves a response:

About 10 years ago a friend and I were discussing Scotland with Tony Blair. We asked him who was the leader of the Scottish Labour party. He looked puzzled and said "Donald Dewar?" Alastair Campbell, who was there, shot back "No, you are". My friend reminded me of the exchange earlier today as we tried to make sense of the row over the Wendyendum. Ms Alexander leads the Labour group in the Scottish parliament, but Gordon Brown is the leader of the Labour party, and that includes Scotland. And constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster and the Prime Minister, as Ms Alexander well knows given that she wrote the White Paper that set up the "wee pretendy" parliament a decade ago. Objectively, she has no authority to set policy on this either politically or legally.

Objectively speaking, that may be the case. But be that as it may, the political reality is very different. Alastair Campbell was wrong then, just as anyone who claims Gordon Brown is also Scottish Labour's leader is wrong now. Firstly, it is Wendy Alexander, not Gordon Brown, who has to respond to Alex Salmond on a daily basis. Secondly, Scotland's future will be decided in Scotland not London, no matter how unfair on England or illogical that may be.  To pretend, or worse, insist, otherwise is to play into the SNP's hands.

As evryone knows, Scotland is, politically speaking, semi-detached from the rest of the UK already. The question that has yet to be decided is whether or not Scotland settles for what one might call 75% independence (which can be arranged, obviously, in myriad ways) or will, in the end, plump for complete independence (albeit, equally obviously, within the EU). I doubt many of us can predict which will happen. Salmond is sensible enough to know that gradualism is his friend and that he can't get too far ahead of the electorate but the point at which the electorate - and what one might call a national sensibility - decides that the country has enough control over its affairs without needing to go any further remains to be determined.

It's in this context that Conservatives in London need to - or rather, should - acknowledge that increased powers in Edinburgh can be Unionism's friend, not its enemy. (A secondary point for Scots Tories, of course, is whether they calue the Union more than a revival of centre-right politics in Scotland). Subject to certain obvious anomalies (hello West Lothian!) being settled, a fiscally autonomous Scotland might, in the end, be the best way of preserving the Union, not a stepping stone to "divorce".

That's a gamble, of course, but what isn't these days? Equally, arrangements of this sort would seem most likely to insulate the Union from the threat posed by a Tory government in London and an SNP (or Labour) ministry in Edinburgh. Such a Union would necessarily be looser than the pre-1997 article, but that's the way the oatcake crumbles isn't it?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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