An astute friend said to me the other day:
"Funny how George Robertson got it right, despite all the derision." He was referring to Lord Robertson's much mocked (in retrospect) statement to the effect that devolution would kill the independence movement stone dead.
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Well, that has not happened of course. But in a very important sense George Robertson was and is fundamentally right, and I write that as a supporter of independence.
The biggest single problem for the Yes camp in the referendum campaign is that the Scottish people have fallen in love with devolution. They realise that the Holyrood Parliament is not perfect - what parliament is? - but they are very content with it, and would certainly hate to see it abolished. The mindset seems to be: devolution is fine, so why go the whole hog? In that sense, the success of devolution has become a distinct impediment to independence.
If Scotland does vote No next year, there will immediately ensue a debate about how the devolution settlement can be improved. There will be more uncertainty, not less. The Unionist parties will be vying with each other in a race to promote more, better, stronger devolution. Anyone who suggests that devolution should be abandoned altogether will be a voice in the wilderness.
This enthusiastic national endorsement of devolution is a painful paradox for the SNP, who adeptly seized the opportunity offered by devolution to turn themselves from being a party of protest into a party of power. This possibility was foreseen by a far-sighted Scottish Labour politician, the late great Professor John P Mackintosh.
Mackintosh was possibly the most clever man to have lived, worked and written in post-war Scotland. A mercurial, glittering academic, politician and journalist, he became in the mid 1960s a fierce and forceful proponent of devolution. Almost singlehandedly he took a hitherto recondite constitutional notion and gave it purpose and shape in the Scottish context.
It was thanks to him more than any other individual that Scotland was presented with the opportunity of devolution in the 1979 referendum. Tragically, he had died a few months earlier, when he was just 48.
Although the Scottish people did duly vote for devolution, on a turnout of almost 65%, they could not pass the cynical test which had been introduced by another Scottish Labour MP (though he represented a London constituency).
This man, the thrawn George Cunningham, had cunningly managed to insert into the enabling legislation the need for 40% of the whole Scottish electorate to endorse devolution before it could become reality.
The Labour Government of the day reluctantly accepted this. In effect, one man managed to scupper a democratic referendum.
Shortly after this debacle, the then Labour government was dramatically defeated in Parliament, with the 11 SNP MPs voting with the Tories. In the consequent UK election the Tories swept to power. There followed 18 years of Tory rule. Then Labour, now led by Tony Blair, regained power in 1997. Blair entrusted the devolution cause to Donald Dewar (who had kept it alive during all the long years of opposition). Within a few months, in another referendum, the Scottish people enthusiastically voted for devolution.
Superficially, the long-term winners in all this seem to be the SNP. But are they? Devolution has become the proverbial fly in the independence ointment.
There is zero desire to scrap our devolved Scottish parliament. Many of those who virulently oppose independence would be content to see considerably more devolution.
If we Scots do vote No in next year's referendum that will not lead to any collapse of this continuing constitutional process. There will be an immediate drive to enhance the devolution we already enjoy.
All this has shoved independence into a corner. The SNP have done very well at Holyrood; maybe rather too well for their own long term good.
They have used the devolution process so effectively that it has somehow become the biggest obstacle to their great dream. What an irony that is.
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