Oh Lord, it’s that time again.
THE current devolved settlement is becoming out of date and the UK should begin a serious debate about creating a “sensible alternative: a federal United Kingdom”, says Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
We’ve heard this so many times it’s getting beyond a joke. How many times? How many decades? How many people have tried this with us?
It’s easy to dismiss the words of a Johnson or Gove because what they say is so blindingly, obviously false, it’s almost like they’re daring you to challenge them on their outrageous lies. Mr. Rifkind is a different animal, because he sounds like he’s being serious. He talks the talk of being a person with actual ideas, with genuine concerns, and reasonable thoughts. But everything he says is just like anything his party’s boss in Number 10 says – noise. Meaningless, fruitless, pointless, useless, worthless noise.
I mean, we know that. Look who’s talking. Just five years ago he was telling us a Federal UK was unworkable “because England was too big.” And then he said the UK was already “quasi-federal“! For a such an eloquent man, he seems to be all over the place.
There are no details to his lofty proposals of “a federal United Kingdom.” There is no explanation as to how a new Federal United Kingdom can be the only Federation in the world that is composed of countries, rather than being a country itself.
Last post, I commented on how the United Kingdom appears to be the only entity in the world which refers to its devolved subsidiaries as “countries.” Here’s a list of Federations in the world today.
- Argentina: 23 provinces, 1 autonomous city
- Australia: 6 states, 3 internal territories, 7 external territories
- Austria: 9 states
- Belgium: 3 regions, 3 communities
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: 2 entities, 10 cantons, 1 self-governing district
- Brazil: 26 states
- Canada: 10 provinces, 3 territories
- Comoros: 3 islands
- Ethiopia: 10 regions, 2 chartered cities
- Germany: 16 states
- India: 28 states, 8 union territories
- Iraq: 19 governorates, 1 autonomous region
- Malaysia: 13 states, 3 federal territories
- Mexico: 31 states, 1 autonomous city
- Micronesia: 4 states
- Nepal: 7 provinces
- Nigeria: 36 states, 1 territory
- Pakistan: 4 provinces, 2 autonomous territories, 1 federal territory
- Russia: 46 oblasts, 22 republics, 9 krais, 4 autonomous okrugs, 3 federal cities, 1 autonomous oblast
- Saint Kitts and Nevis: 2 islands
- Somalia: 6 federal member states
- South Sudan: 10 states, 3 administrative areas
- Sudan: 18 states, 1 special administrative status area
- Switzerland: 26 cantons
- United Arab Emirates: 7 emirates
- United States: 50 states, 1 federal district, 1 incorporated territory, 13 unincorporated territories
- Venezuela: 23 states, 1 capital district, 1 federal dependency
Are we to expect a Federal United Kingdom to be the only federation in the world that has countries as constituents, rather than states, territories, oblasts, emirates, administrative areas, cities, regions, or provinces? Are we to believe that it will be the only one which could, at some point in the future, allow a member (say, Scotland, or Wales) to leave by democratic means, rather than forbidding it by constitution – thereby effectively ending Scotland’s nationhood as a result? To continue the fiction of the Country of Countries? How could this arrangement happen? There are no details. There never are.
There is no substance, no meat, no tangibility. It’s like saying you’re making a cake, & not only don’t tell us what the ingredients are, not only refuse to say what tools & appliances you’ll need, you aren’t even in the kitchen to begin with.
There is no cake.
There never will be cake.
The cake is a lie.
You know this is the case, because Rifkind – again, like all his predecessors – pretends that none of the previous calls for change happened at all.
However, he noted that if indyref2 were ever to take place, then the choice on the ballot must not be between independence and the status quo but between leaving the United Kingdom or remaining in a new federal Union.
The absolute brass neck.
Did I somehow imagine that David Cameron was bending over backwards promising “faster, better, safer change within the UK” – which, by definition, is not the status quo? Did I hallucinate Gordon Brown telling the people of Scotland that voting No was a vote for “a modern form of Home Rule,” “the closest you could get to federalism,” and explicit promises that it was not a vote for the status quo? Was the Vow – co-signed by the three then-largest party leaders – some sort of an elaborate hoax document that never existed?
But this is not to say that the Rifkind noise is completely without interest. For example, we see that even with his protestations that we must recognise Scotland’s status as a country, he cannot help but compare Scotland’s political setup to regions and cities:
But the PM later insisted he was fully supportive of devolution – he was, after all, mayor of London for eight years…
“We now, constantly, even in London, hear people talk about the four nations, which was a term we didn’t used to use except in regard to rugby … Coronavirus has shown the success of devolution, not just as between Scotland and England but between different parts of Scotland and of England,”
Because, as we already know, Rifkind & his ilk consider Scotland a country in the same way they consider Suffolk “Constable Country.” They talk a lot about identity & aspirations without giving any concrete examples of what they mean by that. Noise.
And, most tellingly, is an admission that the “Equal Partnership” so earnestly promoted by former Prime Ministers and party leaders is in itself a fiction, and that Devolution was always about concessions to “the periphery,” not acknowledgement of a nation’s rightful ownership of its own legislation:
“Devolution is a system based on Westminster conceding power to the periphery rather than the four nations of the United Kingdom deciding we have a lot in common which justifies, on an island such as ours, having a UK Government but with maximum national control by each nation of its own domestic affairs.
“If we created a federal Union, we would have a new United Kingdom of the four nations based on a federal principle instead of London conceding degrees of devolution to each of them.”
It’s infuriating, because you can tell Rifkind has read the words, but doesn’t understand – or doesn’t care about – what the words mean. Take his appraisal of The Problem of Scotland:
“If I’m correct, and I may not be, the issue in Scotland is about identity; that Scotland is a nation, it’s not just a region, and that devolution helps deal with that but it does not entirely respect the national identity of Scotland because it’s devolution conceded by London rather than something in its own right.”
This could’ve come from the mouth of just about any Scottish independence supporter, myself included. But that’s the problem – it sounds like he’s just repeating a soundbyte without giving the slightest thought or consideration as to why devolution “does not entirely respect” the national identity of Scotland, never mind how to actually deal with it.
Because, ultimately, Mr Rifkind doesn’t care about the people of Scotland at all. He cares only about the perpetuation of his Precious Union, and how to stop those horrible Scots from breaking it up. The focus is not on “how can we help the people of Scotland get what they want?”; it’s on “how can we get the people of Scotland to do what we want?”
So they’ll say any old noise to keep us sedated. They’ll cajole us with magic words like Federalism and Devomax and Home Rule, whisper tenderly that they know Scotland Is A Nation while never proving they believe it, soothe our benighted communities with promises that things will get better while continuing to bleed us dry. And any real change, any true debate or discussion, is drowned out by these transmissions of garbage.