“The traitor within is to be feared more than the foe without. It was not the legions of Rome which conquered me – it was the traitors within my gates. Not alone in swords and ships does Rome deal, but with the souls of men.”
– The Tall Stranger, “Delenda Est,” Robert E. Howard
There’s a phrase that kicks about in times of conflict and war – Delenda Est. It’s most often seen in the term Carthago Delenda Est, “Carthage Must Be Destroyed,” by modern scholars of classical antiquity in regards to Marcus Porcious Cato’s closing words during Senatorial debates between the 2nd and 3rd Punic Wars. The Carthaginian Empire were Rome’s great rivals to undisputed rule over the western Mediterranean Sea, and had been reduced to a corner of North Africa following the 2nd Punic War. The punitive peace treaty of 201 BC- which included losing almost all of its overseas territories to Rome, and barring Carthage from making war without Rome’s permission, even when being raided by aggressive neighbouring Numidia – meant that Carthage presented little danger.
But this was never enough for Rome, & it certainly was not enough for Cato, who viewed Carthage’s wealth & prosperity despite losing two wars in the last century as an outrageous threat to Roman security. Carthage must not only be defeated – it must be destroyed. When Carthage finally acted against the invading Numidians, Cato convinced the Senate to go to war – and Carthage was destroyed.
This phrase has been invoked many times in the past – sometimes in a purely symbolic tone, but frequently (and so gratingly, obnoxiously, painfully predictably) by people who seem to think the razing of the last remnants of a culture, the destruction of one of the great cities of the ancient world, and the massacre and enslavement of its people was something to be emulated. So we see people urging that many countries, states, organisations, or treaties “must be destroyed” – “Germania Delenda Est“; “Britannia Delenda Est“; “Unio Europaea delenda est“; “Pactio Olisipiensis censenda est“; “England Delenda Est“; “Baghdad Delenda Est“; “Londinio Delenda Est“; and so forth.
So, is it any surprise that the mask has slipped, and the UK Government makes plain their opinions on the Scottish Parliament?
Admitting he thought it was a good idea when he was Mayor of London, he told MPs he did not currently “see a case” for handing down more powers from Westminster to the nations.
He told a group of around 60 Tory MPs last night that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border” and it was “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”.
The Prime Minister stunned opponents by ruling out any further powers for Holyrood – at a time when more devolution is being floated as an idea to halt the SNP’s surge of support for independence.
It’s vitally important that Scots understand what devolution is.
Devolution is, according to the dictionary, “the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration.” This modern usage is descended from a 1540s usage in regards to property or qualities: “descent by natural or due succession,” with “act of transferring over” or “act of rolling down” found in the 1620s. The linked verb, “devolve,” goes all the way back to Latin – it means “to roll down.” (A secondary meaning equating to the opposite of evolution first appeared in the 19th century). Devolution is pointedly distinct from Federalism in that it is impermanent by design: any powers devolved can be rescinded by the sovereign authority. “Power devolved is power retained,” as someone once said.
When you look at devolution across the world, it’s always granted to regions of countries – not countries themselves. In Canada, the three territories – the Nunavut, Yukon, & the Northwest Territories – were devolved certain powers & responsibilities over time, without being granted the full status of Federal states. The Kingdom of Spain granted “autonomy” to the “nationalities and regions of Spain” in 1978 with the understanding that Spain was an indivisible, united state. The regions of Italy have different freedoms, from “regions with ordinary statutes” to autonomous regions with Home Rule.
Look at all the countries which have some form of devolution –
- The 10 autonomous units, 66 rayons, 77 cities, & single autonomous republic of Azerbaijan;
- the 9 departments of Bolivia;
- the 15 regions of Chile;
- the 22 provinces, 6 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, & 2 administrative regions of China;
- the 32 departments of Colombia;
- the 13 kraje of the Czech Republic;
- the 5 regions and 2 autonomous territories of Denmark;
- the 19 regions and islands of Finland;
- the 18 regions of France;
- the 9 regions, 2 autonomous republics, and 1 city of Georgia;
- the 13 regions & Mount Athos of Greece;
- the 29 provinces & 5 provinces with special statuses of Indonesia;
- the 15 regions, 5 special regions, & 2 autonomous provinces of Italy;
- the 47 prefectures of Japan;
- the 47 counties of Kenya;
- the 32 districts, 3 municipalities, & 2 provinces of Moldova;
- the 7 states, 7 divisions, and autonomous state of Myanmar;
- the 12 provinces and 3 special municipalities of the Netherlands;
- the 16 regions, 2 terrotories, & 2 dependencies of New Zealand;
- the 16 departaments & 2 autonomous regions of Nicaragua;
- the 20 provinces, 1 capital territory, & 1 autonomous region of Papua New Guinea;
- the 25 regions of Peru;
- the 17 regions, 81 provinces, 144, cities, 1,491 municipalities, and 42,028 barangays of the Philippines;
- the 308 municipalities of Portugal;
- the 138 municipalities & 23 cities of Serbia;
- the 9 provinces & capital territory of the Solomon Islands;
- the 9 provinces of South Africa;
- the 8 provinces & 6 cities of South Korea;
- the 15 autonomous communities & 2 tax raising autonomous communities of Spain;
- the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka;
- the 22 subdivisions of Taiwan;
- the 2 provinces, autonomous province, & autonomous city of Tajikistan;
- the 30 regions of Tanzania;
- the 9 regions and 5 municipalities of Trinidad & Tobago;
- the 24 oblasts & autonomous republic of Ukraine;
- the 9 provinces and independent city of Uzbekistan;
- and the 4 countries of the United Kingdom.
Why is it only one of of all these sovereign states considers “countries” to be subnational units? Why is it alone among the dozens of sovereign government apparatuses with regions, provinces, prefectures, municipalities, departments, states, divisions, dependencies, territories, cities, subdivisions – but not countries? Why is the United Kingdom the only entity in the world that pretends it’s a country of countries?
Simple: the UK Government’s idea of what a country is happens to be very different from what the people’s idea of a country is. To the UK Government, Scotland is no more distinctive or deserving of special consideration than a county council, or a historic portion of England, or even a suburb of one of its cities. They use country in the sense they use Black Country, or West Country, or Constable Country – a geographic & cultural area of interest, not a nation with its own laws and politics and ideas. They then treat Scotland accordingly.
From my perspective, calling Scotland regaining powers that were once its rightful laws “devolution” is an existential insult to the very nature of Scotland as a nation. By using the term “devolution,” we are buying into the idea that Scotland is not a country, and has to be granted powers from the “real” country which is the UK. To them, the Scottish Parliament is a 20-year-old failed experiment from a predecessor government: to most Scots, it is the re-establishment of a centuries-old institution after almost 300 years of sleep. If we’re going to abandon the patronising “Scottish Executive” in favour of the Scottish Government, then it’s high time we treat the term “devolution” with the relevance to Scotland’s political journey that it truly deserves – none. It is a word used by people who mean to control us, bind us, prevent us from any lofty ambitions of statehood. One of the most popular series on this very site, “The Devo Files,” uses the word. Perhaps it should be expunged from this post onward – to stop our opponents defining us.
From that perspective, perhaps there is a grain of truth in the idea that devolution was a mistake – though not for the reasons the Prime Moronster intended. The mistake was in treating Scotland’s cries for representation and democracy as not the voice of a nation, but just another English region with pretensions of special status. The very name of Devolution belies the contempt the UK Government – indeed, every anti-independence party in Westminster – holds for the nation and the people of Scotland.
It is clear, now, that Devolution must be destroyed – one way or another. The UK had plenty of opportunities for Federalism, Home Rule, Super-Devo-Max-Plus-Ultra, or any number of attempts to stem the tide of independence for over 300 years now. They promised as such 6 years ago, & what did we end up with? A pittance, scraps of legislation, which even now looks to be overwhelmed by a massive constitutional change the people of Scotland did not vote for. Devolution cannot be sustained: either Scotland is no longer part of a United Kingdom, or Scotland is no longer a country at all.
Devolution delenda est, indeed.