• John Mortimer

Abolish Devolution and Save the Union

This article by Abolish leader John Mortimer was originally published by The Conservative Woman.

The Blair era was undoubtedly one of the most damaging and transformatory in our nation’s history. Britain: once a proud, unified, homogenous, industrial, sovereign and parliamentary nation; was consigned to a new condition as a federalised, secularised, multicultural, service sector region of the Eurostate by the end of the Blair era.

The consequences of this transformation permeate our everyday lives in ways that are too deep and total to begin to describe. For many years the core tenets of Blairism were almost unchallenged by the political and media establishment, and it is only in recent years that a serious pushback has begun. The most significant victory was undoubtedly achieving an exit of sorts from the EU, and social conservatives are finally finding their voice on the social and cultural front. Yet there is one legacy from the Blair era that remains almost unchallenged, and it is perhaps Blair’s worst constitutional vandalism of all: legislative devolution.

As somebody who is proud to be Scottish and British, I urge all within the United Kingdom who cherish our British nationhood to take the issue of devolution seriously. It is not merely a dry, constitutional matter; it strikes at the very heart of our national character. For centuries Britain was a sovereign nation represented by one parliament; the Union of 1707 established it as such. Yet through devolution Britain is being reduced to a collection of four largely self-governing nations, and is now routinely spoken of in those terms even by the UK Government itself. As a Scot living under a devolved SNP ‘government’ at Holyrood, I witness everyday first-hand how devolution is tearing our United Kingdom apart.

When Scotland has its own separate legislature, laws, regulations and quasi-national leader in the form of the First Minister, we cease to share these things in common with the rest of our British family. The stark reality of this has been made clear during the coronavirus crisis. We now have to endure daily political broadcasts from the First Minister, who has set entirely different laws, guidelines and even international travel arrangements from the rest of the United Kingdom. The Union, and any concept of a shared British experience, is totally marginalised by devolution.

Health, education, policing, welfare, employment… the fundamental areas of governance are now dealt with entirely separately in Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom as a consequence of devolution. The transfer of power to the Scottish parliament has been one way, and gone massively beyond what was instituted on the back of the 1997 referendum. The railways in 2005; conservation, fishing, wind and wave energy in 2008; borrowing, spending and a host of taxation powers through the Scotland Act 2012; the Crown Estate, welfare and everything from road signs to gas extraction to the franchise through the Scotland Act 2016.

Devolution has hollowed out the Union and robbed it of the foundations, of the fabric and of the common bonds that sustain it. Devolution is the discarding of the constitutional, democratic, governmental, social and economic bonds of nationhood. Separate parliaments, laws, regulations and civil societies inevitably lead to separate identities and - significantly - separate party systems. The 2015 General Election was the first in history in which a different political party won most votes in each of the UK’s four home nations; two of which were not even national, UK-level parties. Through the chaotic politics of devolution and referenda, we are witnessing the rapid dissolution of the British political nation.

At the Holyrood elections next May, all major parties – whether nationalist or nominally unionist – will be standing on pro-devolution manifestos. This is the stifling consensus that has gone unchallenged in Scottish politics for many years. Devolution has become deeply entrenched in the political landscape, and it will not disappear overnight.

We can, however, begin to push back against the tide and stop the slow road to separation. At next May’s Holyrood elections I will be standing for Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party. A major 2019 Panelbase poll authorised by the Sunday Times placed support for abolition at 22%; for context just 6% of the list vote in any region will be sufficient for Abolish to elect an MSP and deliver a vital anti-devolution voice. It is through this list mechanism that small left-wing parties and even a pensioners’ party have in the past won seats at Holyrood and exerted a significance influence at the assembly.

With even a handful of MSPs, Abolish could support a unionist coalition to remove the SNP and the Greens from power. And in doing so we would bring our own demands to the table, which would include a moratorium on any further devolution from Westminster to Holyrood, pay cuts for all MSPs and office holders, and the return to local government of powers that were centralised by the devolved assembly. On the other hand, should the SNP be returned to power, Abolish could provide a strong opposition voice and also challenge the lazy attitude of the mainstream unionist parties, who have attempted to appease the SNP by constantly granting them more devolution and legislating for it both at Holyrood and at Westminster.

This is a very feasible short-term goal, and allows us to begin to build a devosceptic movement, establish our political presence, influence and shape public debate, and work towards our longer-term goal of abolishing the so-called Scottish parliament. Through the influence of Abolish, if powers are gradually returned from Holyrood variously to local government, the Scottish Office and the Scottish Grand Committee (the body of Scottish MPs which debated Scotland-only legislation prior to devolution), we can stem the slow move towards separation, begin to move towards closer unity and restore the political integrity of the Union and the United Kingdom. Strong local government backed by a robust Scottish Office and Grand Committee is a very viable and proven alternative to the model of legislative devolution; after all, it was this system that rebuilt all of Scotland’s post-war infrastructure, not to mention five new towns and the remarkable Cruachan Dam.

Such a constructive, cooperative model contrasts sharply with the pantomime of party politics at Holyrood. In just two decades, devolution has brought our centuries-old Union to the precipice and caused the four ‘home nations’ to spiral apart. Our United Kingdom may not survive another decade of this process if it continues unchallenged. We must recognise devolution for what it is: an expensive, failed, Blair-era experiment. It is time to stop the devo-bandwagon and save the Union from devolution.