15 August, 2020

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A New Place Called The United Kingdom

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Forty-five percent wanted independence; that is serious. Gordon Brown, the eminence grise of the No-campaign, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg panicked, and promised Scotland enhanced devolution in a whirlwind campaign. They will have to deliver. The English Question and a new structure for the UK will have to be worked out, but constitutional change takes time. De facto, if not by name, a federal structure will be the outcome, but beneath lies economic decline from the 1980s onwards – the Thacherite transformation of the economy. Without economic recovery, Scotland cannot swing back into the British mainstream; but how can there be economic renewal, how can Britain rise again, when global, European and American capitalism is gasping? The rebuff of separation by the people of Scotland only buys time. But there is this huge problem ahead; the economy not constitutional hurdles may prove insurmountable; entirely contra Sri Lanka

There are lessons for Lanka, most edifying is how civilised nations do it; real democracy in action. All of the UK has respected the Scottish people’s right to self-determination and done it in exemplary style, ensuring freedom of expression, the right to campaign, and freedom of choice. Britain has displayed extraordinary confidence in its own democratic chutzpah. I am delighted it accepted Scotland’s right to secede and I also hold that the decision the made by the Scots is spot-on for now. Both align with my stand on the national, or the Tamil question in Lanka. While lauding the practice of democracy in this referendum, I leave unsaid its subversion by people and state in Lanka. Unsaid speaks louder than anything I can put in words.

[Declaration of Interest: I hereby admit potential personal benefit in Scottish Independence. The price of whisky, especially quality malts would have declined as member state access rights to the EU ended and marketing networks in England were disrupted].

Electoral processes and economic prospects

The turn out in some counties was over 90% and the average 85%, the highest in the electoral history of Scotland and one of the highest anywhere in the world. There was passion in the air and Edinburgh was electric in the last days. People intensely believed in the truth of the referendum. Truth! What does that mean? A counter example will clarify. If you are familiar with polls in Lanka this spectacle would seem bizarre; no flagrant vote buying, no abuse of state resources, and no mob violence under a police umbrella. It is unthinkable to question the probity of Scottish election officials or their processes. The gigantic general election in India this year was untainted by Lanka style shenanigans. UVA-PC, the most recent is a procession of wickedness. Processes in Scotland or in Lanka are surreal; you choose.

There were other patterns; social class was of great importance. Working class, poor and impoverished constituencies voted in favour of independence; 53% of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city of past industrial glory, opted for independence. Of Scotland’s 32 counties only three more, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and Dundee voted Yes; these too are working class and depressed. The Scottish worker despite his former Labour Party (now Scottish Nationalist) allegiance has lost confidence in the economy and sees little future in the Union. Britain ceased to be an industrial power because the world moved on and Western capitalism declined. Thatcher was the human agent of a process that wrecked trade unions, binned social democracy and the welfare state, and took Britain into a tinsel age of markets, services and finance capital.

Scotland, home of ship building, iron and steel, coal mining and machine-making suffered grievously. The proud Scottish worker was dumped on the scrap heap and industrial cities and towns decayed; he sees no hope in the Union. I have no glib answers to this misfortune and whether Britain has a future of economic renewal, and whether there is hope for Scotland therein, is too big a question for this essay. What was clear is that breaking away offered no hope either. The Scots, like Lanka’s Tamils, are in a Catch-22 trap but for different reasons. The latter’s dystopia lies in the political and constitutional domain, the former’s in the relentless logic of global change.

A significant innovation was that the voting age was lowered to 16 enabling 16-18 year olds to participate. Young voters exercised their franchise with maturity and responsibility. I followed their discourses in the media and am convinced that the voting age must be permanently lowered in all countries for all elections (parliamentary and local government) to 16. If the geriatric and the senile, the corrupt and the selfish are allowed to deceive and defraud a nation, why should intelligent and idealistic young people be denied an opportunity to correct it?

The English Question and the Federal option

There is universal agreement in the Yes and No camps, among English, Welsh and Northern Irish political leaders and of course all Scottish leaders, that Britain will not and cannot be the same again. Something has changed and changed irreversibly. If it were simply a matter of devolving more power to Holyrood it would be simple. Already its powers are substantial (13A ++ and 10-times plus). Further devolution to change the tax rate up or down by 10%, stamp duty and landfill tax control, and the right to borrow up to 2.2 billion pounds, is already in the works. The rest of the UK is unfazed by the notion of substantially more power in Holyrood. In England, some 80% were laid back even by the prospect of Scottish independence: “Oh just let them do as they please”.

The problem lies elsewhere; it is called the English Question. The progress of devolution has created parliaments or assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but none in England. A survey in 2010 found that only 29% supported establishing a separate parliament for England and the idea was dropped. The incongruity is that while others have assemblies that legislate for and exercise power in their regions, legislation that affects England is enacted by the national parliament in Westminster by not only English MPs alone but by MPs from the other regions as well. That is the Scots, Welsh and N Irish participate in making laws and in running England. This did not matter thus far, but with the ramping up of the powers devolved or to be devolved to regional assemblies, the incongruity stands out like a sore thumb. Voices are raised in England (supported by the other three regions) for a separate English Assembly. It can share the Westminster building with parliament or can be housed in a different place – No don’t be funny; you can’t confine it to the Tower!

All this is easy in theory but the devil is in the details and requires constitutional amendments that take time to finalise, win public support and enact. Secondly this (one English Parliament or two or three regional assemblies in England) would de facto make the United Kingdom a federal state; not a federal republic but a federal monarchy. These constitutional changes are doable but need time. The other option being canvassed is to make no structural change but that English MPs sit alone excluding others when matters concerning England form the agenda. This too is doable but then the Executive Question has to be addressed. Will the UK’s Prime Minister and Cabinet simultaneously be the Prime Minister and Cabinet of England, like say Alex Salmond and his team in Scotland? This will lead to a crazy unbalance in the division of power between the central state and the regional governments.

The national question

There is no deep hostility between the peoples of Scotland and England; if anything there is affection and pride in the glory of empire and colonialism, a shared struggle against Nazism, the industrial revolution, the birth pangs of democracy, and Henry Higgins’ lyric “The majesty and grandeur of the English language” which speaks of shared poesy and prose. William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Falkirk, Bannockburn and Culloden have receded into subliminal memories as have our Elara and Dutugemunu. No, the Scottish case for independence is much simpler, intelligent and straightforward: “Scotland can best be administered by its own people right here, not by a remote establishment in Westminster and Whitehall”. This is logically impeccable but the counterargument that this could be done by fuller devolution while retaining the advantages of Union also makes sense. Hence there is universal commitment, in the broad sense, to far reaching devolution and a profound realisation that Britain can never be the same again. This is the greatest achievement of the Scottish referendum and the Scots could pose this challenge thanks to a democratic and tolerant national ethos.

Catalan, Flemish and Corsican delegations and a team from Quebec came to encourage the campaign and watch the voting. They have taken home positive messages about self-determination, free and democratic processes and respecting the people’s choice. The real lesson however is not for minority nations but the gargoyle known as the central state. Canada allowed French speaking Quebec to choose and it decided to stay put; Belgium I am sure will let the Flemish (Dutch speakers in Flanders) to decide; I don’t know much about Corsica. The dog in the manger is Madrid which rebuffs Catalonia. Will it relent? Unlikely; nor will Lanka’s obstinate citizenry learn, nor will Colombo’s bloody-minded regime see the light.

Oh would some power the giftie gie us,

To see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Now, now good Prof: David how dare you compare corrupt western democracy like the one in UK with Sri Lanka as of now country is following the democracy envy of the rest of the world led by devout Buddhist non drinking vegetarian a leading humanitarian who has tearlessly worked to bring his family friend and allies prosperity beyond their wildest dermas on the back of the rest of the Sri Lankan working class and he is aptly supported by his family members who sacrificed so much in the name of the country and his people. I understands you are commenting on a serious subject take this comment in jest.

    • 5
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      Another idiotic post by this failed leftist who is praising capitalist Britain now.

      He is a rampaging oxygen thef.

  • 0
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    [Declaration of Interest: I hereby admit potential personal benefit in Scottish Independence. The price of whisky, especially quality malts would have declined as member state access rights to the EU ended and marketing networks in England were disrupted].

    I would reason otherwise prof.The Union with England is now giving us synthetics as Whisky.It is just a matter of time when the problem hits that so called Quality Malts.

    My work indicate that the Quality Malts can be matched in Sri Lanka.The beer industry use rice as an adjunct.The substitute for Peat is easily found, that also as an agricultural discard that you and I are familiar with.

  • 3
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    Let alone the leaders, how great are these ordinary English people who have been so cool and tolerant about that referendum? That speaks a lot about their civilisation! We often boast of our 2,500 year old civilisation. Is it actually a 2,500 year old civilisation or 100 year civilisation 25 times over?

    Sengodan. M

  • 2
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    Dear Mr David, thanks. Another aspect of the Scottish referendum that stuck me most was the observation that you have summarised as “the turn out in some counties was over 90% and the average 85%, the highest in the electoral history of Scotland and one of the highest anywhere in the world. There was passion in the air and Edinburgh was electric in the last days”. This is in sharp contrast to what is seen either in the UK parliamentary elections, USA presidential elections or elections to the European Union. Does this mean that passion in the democratic process is maximal only when the issues at stake deal with some of the most ‘tribal instincts’ dormant in all of us – race, religion, ethnic superiority, historic injustice (‘eithihasika asadharanaya’ or ‘varalattu thavaru’)…..the list is endless. Projects that are meant to bring people together – the project of a ‘United Kingdom’, ‘the European family’, ‘the United Nations’, ‘the United States of America’ etc. etc., through appealing to the higher values that we have acquired through education and wider reading, are hardly ever successful in having the same effect……at least as an amateur observer of contemporary politics, that is how things seem to me. Is that an equally valid interpretation of the Scottish Referendum….will value your thoughts?

    Furthermore, as you have correctly pointed out, the Holyrood Parliament already enjoyed substantial powers. But this degree of devolution enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament, did not prevent the SNP from asking for more or the relentless march towards total independence. It was clearly not the sense of ‘discrimination’ or ‘marginalization’ that motivated the Scots in this direction but rather a historic sense of ‘pride’ and ‘identity’ of a proud people (giving it a more liberal interpretation) or the selfish need of a handful of SNP politicians who wanted to become bigger fishes in a smaller pond (giving it a more cynical interpretation). But whatever the motivation was, the fact remains substantial devolution of power to Smaller regional units – defined on the basis of ethnicity, has not been an effective way of arresting the tendency towards disintegration of larger countries. This – in my view, is the inescapable lesson both from Qubec, Scotland and Iraq….. In these examples ‘disintegration of the State’ may not have happened yet, but the process of devolution certainly has not led to integration of ‘a people’ or in Nation building. If this is the reality of devolution in countries such as the UK or Canada – where there is sufficient wealth and opportunities to go around all segments/strata of society, what chances will smaller and relatively poorer countries like Sri Lanka (or India) have in trying to achieve ‘Nation building’ through devolution. In calling for a similar referendum in the NE of Sri Lanka or for that matter in similar Regions in India – plagued by a variety of Socio-economic issues, are we all not pandering to these tribal instincts that are dormant within all of us…..and in the process unleash a ‘Genie’ that will be hard to pull back.
    Thanks and best wishes
    Dr Mahesan Nirmalan
    Manchester Medical School.

  • 0
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    Why cannot the Tamils from North and East demand for a referendum instead of the 13th Amendment to decide their fate. And that is democracy.

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    Prof. David’s capacity to write many papers or articles on the same set of facts is well known. He has written on this issue before.

    A federal structure within a monarchy exists in Australia. But the background of Australia is different to that of UK. Every country has its own background. Malaysia is another case where several Sultanates have got federated into one constitutional monarchy.

    One gets the impression that Prof. David is advocating federalism for Sri Lanka by implying that Britain now has no option but to go for federalism. I do admire Prof. David in outlining pros and cons of federalism for Britain.

    The crying need for Sri Lanka is not necessarily devolution or federalism based on land but to change the mindset of all communities to be and feel as Sri Lankans.

  • 0
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    I think, some one wrote this comment.

    there was a Scottish nation before the United Kingdom of Britian and those Scottish people talked Gaelic, and some other language until ENGLISH destroyed all those things.

    In the case, of Tamil where was the TAMIL-EELAM. Can any one write an article showing the MAP OF TAMIL-EELAM in the world map ?

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