This is a quote from Liz Rawlings, Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA) President.
“We are marching to show our Scottish MPs that we expect them to vote against increased tuition fees in England.
“Tuition fee increases in England will be disastrous for students in Scotland. Fees of up to £9000 in England will create a huge funding gap and Scottish institutions will struggle to compete with their wealthier counterparts south of the border.
It's difficult to know whether to feel touched by that display of cross-border solidarity (though English students at Edinburgh University will, of course, be affected) or whether to be annoyed that Rawlings is encouraging democratically unaccountable MPs to vote on English matters.
The complexities of the student fees debate are such that it will be used as the scenario by which the West Lothian Commission's recommendations are judged. I remain convinced that there is no satisfactory Parliamentary solution to the West Lothian Question for so long as the Barnett Formula is in situ and Scottish funding is determined as a proportion of what the UK Government spends in England. It's the knock-on effect on Scottish funding that provides the only justifiable excuse that Scottish MPs have for voting on English education. Other excuses are offered (such as the one above from Liz Rawlings) but they are a complete nonsense.
The non-Parliamentary solution is to create an English parliament so that each nation of the UK finances its own students and decides democratically its own mechanism for funding university education. That would be the sensible, democratic and equitable way of doing things. Needless to say that is the one solution that the Government won't be considering.
It has been suggested to me that it is desirable for non-English MPs to vote in the debate on university funding because it is only with the help of non-English MPs that the Government can be defeated on student fees; and I've been told that my opposition to non-English MPs voting on English matters should be put aside in this instance for the sake of political expediency.
No. It was political expediency (Tony Blair's use of Scottish MPs to inflict tuition fees on English students) that got English students into this situation. What Tony Blair's government did to English students was inexcusable, so those Labour MPs who are today gloating about the position that the Lib Dems find themselves in, revelling in self-righteousness and a smug holier-than-thou-ness, should remember that the Labour government lied about fees (Wikipedia terms it a "non-denial denial" but it was a lie).
Another example, characterized by the BBC as a "non-denial denial," was provided by Tony Blair, who was interviewed in 1997, just before the general election, by the British newspaper Evening Standard. The question was: "Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education?" Blair's answer was: "Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education." No plans does not mean no tuition fees. The Labour Party used the same ambiguous wording in its manifesto for the election in 2001, writing: "We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them." The increase of university fees up to £3000 was voted for before the next election in 2005 but implemented in 2006. Therefore the British government explained that the manifesto in 2001 was only valid for the period up to the election in 2005.
On reflection I'm with Ian Bell:
...this is, beyond argument, an English matter. Whatever the outcome, Mr Clegg and David Cameron have a West Lothian question to answer. Why should Scotland’s LibDems play any role in this argument when Scottish students are not affected? Why should they exercise any sort of vote when the Scottish Parliament is likely to follow the Welsh Assembly in devising a solution to university funding that does not, with luck, wreck the system?
The Welsh solution that Ian mentions is a system by which English students are fleeced to subsidise Welsh students.
THE tuition fee deal for Welsh students that has left commentators in England green with envy will be funded by cutting the general level of grant to universities in Wales, it has been confirmed.
But the Assembly Government said the reduction would be offset by increasing fees to students from England studying at Welsh universities.
Someone far more intelligent and more erudite than myself informed me that Tony Blair comes across as a narcisistic lying twat (or words to that effect) in his memoirs. Based upon my previous knowledge of Tony Blair I'm prepared to take that as the definitive critique. I certainly won't be buying the book and contributing to the bastard's ego, even if the money does go to charity.
It seems as though the man who tried to be everything to everybody ended up as nothing to everybody, even his own people rejected him:
"I always thought it extraordinary; I was born in Scotland, my parents were raised there, we had lived there, I had been to school there, yet somehow - and this is the problem with nationalist sentiment unleashed - they [notice the 'they'] contrived me to feel alien."
What doesn't come as much of a surprise is Blair's confession that he was never that keen on devolution. We now have confirmation that for Blair devolution was simply a necessary evil.
"I was never a passionate devolutionist," he confessed. "It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins. I supported the UK, distrusted nationalism as a concept, and looked at the history books and worried whether we could get it through.
"However, though not passionate about it, I thought it inevitable."
For Blair devolution was about the "salvation of the UK", even if the asymmetric devolution plan that he inherited from John Smith was counterintuitive to his centralising instincts and his desire to preserve the UK:
You can't have Scotland doing something different from the rest of Britain... I am beginning to see the defects in all this devolution stuff. — Tony Blair, Ashdown Diaries
It is perhaps because devolution for Blair was pragmatic, rather than based on any high principle, that he never felt it necessary to explain why the same democratic principle - namely, popular sovereignty - should not be extended to England. If English separatism doesn't threaten the UK, then why should the English be consulted? The truth is that Blair never really believed in popular sovereignty. He was famously dismissive of Scottish autonomy, fatuously likening the powers of the Scottish Parliament to those of an English town council, and he remarked that "Sovereignty remains with me as an English MP and that is the way it will stay".
Of course, on the record he paid lip-service to the concept of Scottish popular sovereignty, but lip-service was all it was.
In respect of the Claim of Right and sovereignty of the Scottish people, what could be better than giving them the sovereign right to decide in a referendum whether they want a Scottish Parliament? — Tony Blair, Hansard, 11 June 1997
Of course sovereignty does rest with the people, which is why we gave them the chance to vote in a referendum in Scotland, which personally I always thought was a good idea. — Tony Blair, Hansard, 17 Dec 1997
I trust that historians will record him as the anti-democratic shit that he was.
It's worth bearing in mind, before you embark on reading what is to follow, that the idea of 'shared values' that Labour tried to encourage were 'shared British values' (you may remember that funny looking Scottish bloke called Gordon banging on about Britishness) rather than 'shared English values'.
Are there common threads of nationality which bind us? Labour, when in government, tried to encourage the idea of ‘shared values’. There’s something in this. We are attached to our creaking old system of democracy, like the owner of a beat-up old car. We love our British institutions, from the army and the BBC, to the NHS and the local pub. We tut when people cut to the front of a queue. We enjoy a curry on a Friday and a roast on a Sunday. We get behind whichever lamentable team is representing us in international sport. We share a literature, a language and a popular culture. We can cheer when the Prime Minister in Love Actually stands up for the England of William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Beatles and David Beckham’s right foot (and Beckham’s left foot, come to that.) It’s not the England of the Last Night of the Proms and Royal Ascot, although there’s room for that. It’s the England of Brick Lane and the Glastonbury festival, of Marks & Spencer and the FA Cup. It’s a national identity that shifts through time, but is built on elemental decencies and kindnesses. It’s about being kind to animals, and talking to strangers on the bus, anywhere but London, naturally.
I'm not sure if Paul Richards is talking of England when he means Britain (as Orwell and Churchill sometimes did) or whether he's shifting the terms of reference from Britain to England in order to try and make Labour's 'shared values' idea coherent. It's a very confused piece.
It reminded me of something Tony Blair said a few years ago (Daily Express, 3rd January 1996).
Britain is a great nation. A country where we can watch the most exciting sport - Wimbledon, the FA Cup, Test Cricket. Where you can listen to the best pop music - the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red.
You can listen to the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red anywhere in the world if you have a iPod, and you can watch Wimbledon, the FA Cup, Test Cricket pretty much anywhere too. But they're English bands and English sporting events rather than British.
Writing in this month's Parliamentary Brief, Dr Simon Lee questions whether the constitutional settlement is 'fair and just'.
When Donald Dewar, the then Secretary of State for Scotland introduced the Blair government’s white paper, Scotland’s Parliament, he argued that the consequence of ‘Entrusting Scotland with control over her own domestic affairs’ would be ‘a fair and just settlement for Scotland’. Devolution would not only ‘strengthen democratic control and make government more accountable to the people of Scotland’, but would also ‘better allow the people of Scotland to benefit from, and contribute to, the unity of the United Kingdom’.
It is difficult to identify a legitimate political reason why England and its people should not be entrusted to exercise democratic control over her own domestic affairs, and thereby receive ‘a fair and just settlement’. If such a settlement is denied, then the political advantage for England of maintaining the British Union may come further into question.
As incredible as it may seem, Tony Blair believed that devolution to Scotland put England and Scotland on equal terms, as Donald Dewar's signed copy of the Scotland Act shows.
But then, Tony Blair always was a dick. The 'constitutional settlement' can only be fair and just when it is the settled will of the people, so until we ask England how England wants to be governed there can be no 'settlement', fair and just or otherwise.
There's an excellent letter to the Glasgow Herald, in response to Iain MacWhirter, in which Hugh Andrew describes the wearying 'British constitutional fudge' of the Scottish Parliament's legitimacy. You should read both.
The British political class are in a real mess over the question of Scottish sovereignty. In his speech to the English Constitutional Convention, Canon Kenyon Wright told us that the Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs that signed the Scottish Claim of Right "didn’t know what they were signing!" because "they were signing something which was a direct contradiction of the claim of Westminster to absolute sovereignty". Those MPs included Jim Wallace, now a member of the Calman Commission, and Gordon Brown, our glorious leader down in England.
Tom Nairn, not surprisingly, takes a similar view.
In 1988—the 300th anniversary of William’s accession— it [Scottish Constitutional Convention] also published a Scottish Claim of Right signed by most Labour and Liberal-Democrat MPs, which attributed all sovereign rights in Scotland to the Scottish people, rather than to the Crown in Westminster. Did they mean it? Well, presumably the signatories did mean it, at least while their pens were scratching the Declaration paper. Some of them may now be telling themselves it is irrelevant, or has been superseded by the newly Glorious & Bloodless Accession of 1997. If so, they are mistaken. - Tom Nairn, Sovereignty After the Election, New Left Review I/224, July-August 1997
And the SNP too, know that they can call upon the idea of popular sovereignty to win the referendum argument, as this old press release demonstrates.
Friday 4 April 1997 - For Immediate Release
"SOVEREIGNTY REVERSAL AT HEART OF LABOUR RETREAT"
SNP PUBLISH KEY CONVENTION QUOTES
Following the extraordinary remarks by Tony Blair in The Scotsman this morning - in which he proclaims the sovereignty of English MPs over Scotland - the Scottish National Party published a series of quotes which illustrate New Labour's retreat over the "Claim of Right" (the foundation document of the Constitutional Convention, which every Scottish Labour MP signed in 1989, proclaiming the sovereignty of the Scottish people), and Tony Blair's likening of the revenue raising powers of the proposed assembly to those of local authorities:
"We gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people" ("Claim of Right", 30 March 1989 - signed by every Scottish Labour MP, except Tam Dalyell).
The purpose of the 'Claim of Right', "was to root the Convention solidly in the historical and historic Scottish constitutional principle that power is . . . derived from the people" ("Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right", Constitutional Convention, 30 November 1995).
"Sovereignty rests with me as an English MP, and that's the way it will stay" (Tony Blair, Scotsman, 4 April 1997).
Referring to an assembly's tax powers, Blair said: "The powers are like those of any local authority . . . it's like any parish council" (Scotsman, 4 April 1997).
Speaking in Stornoway, SNP leader Mr Alex Salmond MP said:
"Tony Blair's reversal of Scottish sovereignty goes to the very heart of New Labour's retreat on the Scottish constitution. And likening the powers of an assembly to those of a local authority gives the game away about the weakness of devolution. The average local authority controls 15 per cent of its revenue - and is being squeezed dry of resources by the Tories at Westminster - and yet New Labour's proposed assembly could control only 3 per cent of its budget.
"Blair has blown the Scottish election wide open with these devastating remarks."
The latest YouGov poll (16.03.09) for the Sunday Times puts support for the principle of a referendum on Scottish independence at 57% (with 29% against), yet Tavish Scott has put the Liberal Democrats in a ludicrous position by calling on the SNP to cancel their planned referendum - even though the separatists would most probably lose. As MacWhirter points out the Lib Dems are in favour of referendums on Westminster reform, English regional government and over the question of the EU, so why not Scotland; why go against the principle of popular sovereignty that all your Scottish MPs put their names to in 1988?
A Scottish independence referendum would be great theatre, a real TV extraveganza. It would envigorate politics, which is so boring at present. And the debate on English self-governance, which Westminster is so keen to keep a lid on, would be uncontainable - and it's for this reason more than any other that I'm so keen to see a referendum for Scotland (the SNP might like to factor that into their equation).
I came across this article in the Indie and wondered if anyone knew if Blair's commission into the West Lothian Question did actually take place?
One possibility, discussed by the Kilbrandon Commission back in 1973, was not to have Scots MPs at all, leaving Westminster as an English, Welsh (and Northern Irish) parliament. But this would either deprive the Scots of a voice on defence and foreign policy, or would be tantamount to full independence. Another answer, posed by the Callaghan government in its ill-fated Scotland Act of 1978, was to have a two-week cooling- off period on any vote primarily affecting England and Wales, in which the votes of Scots MPs had been decisive. It is hard to imagine such a recipe for confusion finding favour now.
That was why Labour turned to regional assemblies for England. If the English were to have their own little parliaments, exercising local power, then all would be in balance. Londoners, Scots, the Welsh, West Country folk etc - all would enjoy similar autonomy, while sending MPs to the House to decide national policy. QED.
Except, as Labour finally admitted to itself last year, the English do not actually want a new tier of regional government. If anything, they fancy rather less government altogether.
Return to square one, then. This explains why Mr Blair is planning a new commission to think up some good answers to the West Lothian question in time for the next election. What might it come up with?
That was written in Dec 1995, and apparently Labour had admitted that the English didn't want regional assemblies the year prior. What happened?
Assuming that someone in the Labour Party had picked up a copy of the 1973 Kilbrandon Commission they would have read that “there is no public demand for English regional assemblies with legislative powers, whether under a federal system or otherwise”.
The Telegraph reports that Tony Blair, architect in chief of the break-up of Britain, has warned against petty nationalism:
He also challenged the unappealing "false patriotism" of the SNP case, and said England needed to take on the "little Englanders" who thought it clever to be anti-Scottish.
I've always liked Alex Salmond. It's astonishing that a politician can hold a consistent position for 30 minutes let alone 30 years, as Salmond has done.
All his life he has believed that Scotland should be an independent state. He has fought for it when it was hugely unfashionable and a liability to his career. To his credit he stayed with it, often lampooned but never dissuaded. I share Salmonds views, but for entirely different reasons.
At last his time has come. On May 3 the Scots will vote in their local elections and if his SNP are victorious they will hold a referendum in less than three years that will decide if the Scots will quit the United Kingdom.
It's a massive moment. The SNP is six points ahead of labour in the polls and with those clapped-out tartan tosspots Blair and brown campaigning north of the border, expect that gap to widen. For the English it's a big moment too. With a bit of luck we will soon be seeing the day when we stop writing a cheque for £34billion every year to prop up a country that consists almost entirely of golf courses and call centres.
We will also stop hearing foreign accents with foreign thoughts running our nation. I don't want Gordon Brown or Des "money for sailors" Browne deciding how much tax I should pay or where we should be fighting in the world I see myself as English, not British. I want English people to run my country. I hope and believe they will do it better. They certainly couldn't do worse than the shower that have been in charge for the past ten years.
Good luck to you, Alex. The English are right behind you.
That wasn't written by me by the way. I just received it via email, along with information that it was published in the paper edition of Wednesday's Sun newspaper. I have no way of checking that fact but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Readers in Scotland - who get Scottish versions of papers like the Sun - probably have little idea of the mood down here in England, so this is my wake up call to them.
Populist rags like the Sun - often referred to as barometers of public opinion - frequently go in for a spot of Jock bashing these days. I'm reminded of this, also from the Sun:
Tom Nairn warned of this in 2000:
Blair’s Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and to have their say. Democracy is constitutional or nothing.
We have the croaking tabloids, and the saloon-bar resentment has been apparent for years, so all we need now is a back-bench revolt against the Scottish Raj - and that will surely follow from what occurs in the tabloids and the pubs of England. The people in power are always the last to know, and the pro-Scottish, Unionist, tub-thumping antics of comedy Dave and dour Broon will only make things worse before they can get better.
So, to the people of Scotland, I can only apologise for the Jock bashing that's goes on down here before we get our parliament. It's not heartfelt, so don't worry. The greatest compliment that we can bestow upon Scotland is in adopting your techniques; bitching and moaning got Scotland where it is today, and we in England can only aspire to emulate your achievements.
I shall be up in Scotland at the end of May as it happens. I'm looking forward to it enormously.
A concise message to Blair from John McDonnell:
"New Labour has systematically alienated section after section of supporters: teachers, health workers, students, pensioners, public service workers, trade unionists and people committed to the environment, civil liberties and peace. Spin and allegations of sleaze are causing decent people to lose trust in our party. This is reflected in lost votes, lost elections, lost members and a Labour Prime Minister having to rely upon Conservative votes in Parliament to force through legislation."
Not to mention the need to rely on Scottish votes to force through English legislation.
I once met Nigel Farage and he seemed like a bit of a slimeball to me. Nevertheless he has done a job on the slimeball-in-chief here.
Blair's enemies are moblising; Spring is returning to Narnia.
Add my name to the list.
And this is just beautiful:
Last Friday Mr Blair attacked “the political and legal establishment”. He said that it “didn’t understand”, that it was “in denial”, that it was “out of touch”. And he argued the Establishment was letting down everyone else, “ordinary, decent, law-abiding folk”, and failing to get the balance right between victims and offenders.
It was a curious speech. But not because Mr Blair was wrong. Many of the things he said were right and needed saying. No, it was curious for entirely different reasons.
First, consider the man making it. Mr Blair is Prime Minister, a barrister, married to a human rights lawyer and best friend of the Lord Chancellor. Who, then, is the “political and legal establishment” exactly?
In my previous post I included a quote from the dishonourable John Prescott (philanderer, trustafarian, thug, champagne socialist and, unfortunately, MP). It went like this:
"Devolution has strengthened Britain because it has allowed the different parts of the UK to give expression to their diversity whilst celebrating the values that bind us together as a nation."
But has devolution really strengthened the Union? The Government go to great pains to tell us that it has.
Foreword by the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair:
The question is: is the UK stronger as a result of devolution or not? I think it is stronger, because people in Scotland say: 'Oh we have our parliament now, that is a fair settlement.' You will get the Tories and parts of the rightwing press trying to stoke up English nationalism, but my point to the English is we are 85% of the UK, we are the majority, we vote through the spending for Scotland and Wales. It is a fair settlement to have a Scottish parliament and my answer to English nationalism is the same as my answer to Scottish nationalism: it is foolish, and wrong and backward looking, and we can modernise the UK for today's world. But the fact that they take different positions on different issues is not a problem. --- Guardian; Friday September 24, 1999
"Our proposals have been designed to preserve the Union, the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers." - Lord Irvine of Lairg The Lord Chancellor, Opening Address to the Conference on Constitutional Reform in the UK, 17 January 1998
"I feel that devolution has strengthened the UK." - Alistair Campbell, Sunday Herald, 22 February 2004
"Devolution has strengthened the UK, preserving the union on the basis of a fairer partnership." - 2001 Labour Party Manifesto
"Devolution has strengthened Britain because it has allowed the different parts of the UK to give expression to their diversity whilst celebrating the values that bind us together as a nation." - Tony Blair, Foreword to Your Region,Your Choice, May 2002
"Empowering our regions does not mean the break-up of England, just as devolution has not meant the break-up of the UK. It makes our nation stronger and more dynamic." - John Prescott, Foreword to Your Region,Your Choice, May 2002
"Devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom, not weakened it, as opponents once claimed." - Peter Hain, Better Governance for Wales, June 2005
"It is increasingly clear that devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom." - Tony Blair, Hansard, 29 November 2000
"Devolution has created a system which better responds to and reflects the needs of the people and I believe that strengthens the United Kingdom." - Rhodri Morgan, address to the Oxford Union, 13 March 2003
"Devolution has strengthened that democracy, giving Scotland a fresh voice within the United Kingdom." - Jack McConnell, Speech at the Union of the Crowns Dinner, 01 July 2003
"devolution has strengthened their [the Welsh, Scots and Irish] sense of identity so we can now assert Englishness without in any way damaging Britain." - David Blunkett, The Telegraph, 15 March 2005
"Then devolution to Scotland and Wales was a threat to the United Kingdom. Today devolution has weakened the separatists and strengthened the United Kingdom. Then childcare was at the bottom of the political priority list." - Alan Milburn, Speech to the Fabian Society, 17 Jan 2005
It's tempting to think that such a fine upstanding body of men could only ever be correct but sometimes, just sometimes, politicians don't always tell the full story.
So, has devolution strengthened the United Kingdom? Let me know what you think: