What unites Thatcher’s man in Scotland Sir Malcolm Rifkind and left-wing, anti-Tory firebrand Labour MSP Neil Findlay? They’re both agreed – it’s time for a federal solution to the Scottish question.
In an interview yesterday, Rifkind, who was Scottish Secretary from 1986 to 1990 and was in charge of the notorious introduction of the Poll Tax in Scotland, said it was time for a “sensible alternative” to independence, that would respond to Scottish demands for their national identity to be respected within the UK.
“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,” he said.
Rifkind added that he was not in favour of an indyref being held at the moment, but if one was to be held in the future the options should be independence on one side of the ballot and a fully worked out federal solution on the other, rather than “independence or the status quo”.
Rifkind’s intervention comes after Findlay’s, Gordon Brown’s, Keir Starmer’s and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey’s all arguing for a federal UK. There is a convergence taking place among opponents of independence, one that under certain circumstances could become a serious option for the Prime Minister.
The voices of federalism represent no genuine social forces. There is no movement for a federal UK, in any part of Britain. No one is going to march for it, and people probably are not going to vote for a party because of it either. The federal case draws its strength from the strategic imperatives of the British establishment to find a constitutional fix to the democratic pressures of an independence movement which is now in the majority, but could be divided by a clever half-way house offer. It’s a technocratic wheeze to de-politicise the independence v union debate.
That’s exactly why David Cameron rejected it when Alex Salmond offered up the devo-max option on the ballot in negotiations over the 2014 independence referendum, because in 2012 Cameron was confident that independence was a minority pursuit (‘Yes’ was polling as low as 29 per cent at the time) and wanted a decisive referendum which would settle the issue for good. Post-indyref, with the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, the party has continued to hold out an extended devolution olive branch while advocating indyref. Could a middle-way option now suit all parties?
As David Jamieson has pointed out on Source, any attempt to muddy the waters of what should be a repeat of the 2014 question is “elite capture” of the constitutional process. Scotland’s right to decide on independence should not come with caveats and technocratic fixes attached. Rifkind is wrong about Scots’ simply seeking a parliament that is more clearly representative of their national identity. Independence is about where power is located and how it is used; it’s about having the sovereignty which is needed to break fully with the Westminster regime so we can end poverty and stand against British imperialism. Those are fundamental questions of state power that would not be resolved if the real control over Scotland remained with the Bank of England, the Treasury, the MoD and the City of London. We should see federal offers for what they are: a trap borne out of weakness, and not one that we should be lured in to.