There’s a problem in all of this talk of ‘amending’ Brexit-related legislation. To be more accurate, there are a great many problems in all this. But I want to focus on just one. Or maybe two, if something else occurs to me while I’m writing, as often happens.
The problem I’m referring to is hinted at in the phrase “powers [the devolved parliaments] were given under the devolution settlements”. Language matters. Words have consequence. It would be gratifying if The National could eschew language quite so characteristic of the British state’s approved narrative. A more thoughtful formulation would refer to “powers acquired by the devolved parliaments”. See the difference?
Power is not given. Power is taken. It is only from the perspective of a mindset which regards the British state as a beneficent, paternalistic, divinely-ordained entity that power is granted as a boon to humble petitioners. Examined through the lens of ‘realpolitik’, it becomes clear that little packets of power are grudgingly conceded only where this is considered to ultimately benefit the ruling elites.
Devolution is not about giving power. It is about withholding power. It is entirely concerned with retaining the power to grant power. Or to withhold it. Or to unilaterally amend the terms on which it is granted. Or to withdraw it completely. Devolution within the British state is not intended to enhance democracy. It is intended to buttress and secure the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
The devolution process itself is an affirmation of conventional power’s claim to ultimate authority. To talk of power being “given” is to accept that claim. If we are to effect meaningful change, we would do well to first change the way we think about the way things are. We are unlikely to make much progress towards changing the way we think about things unless and until we learn to be more mindful of the words we use to describe those things. And a good place to start would be with the way we talk and write and think about the very essentials of our politics.
The change to which Scotland’s Yes movement aspires will only come about if and when we challenge and dismantle entrenched assumptions about the fundamental constitutional foundations on which the entire edifice of our politics is constructed. Anything else is mere constitutional tinkering. And we’ve had more than enough of that.
We see just how entrenched those assumptions are, not only in the notion of devolution being a process by which power is “given”, but also in the idea that there is a ‘fix’ for the defects and deficiencies of the Union. Devolution itself is, of course, sold on that basis. But we see the same mindset in, for example, the demand by Liz Murray of Global Justice Now that the Trade Bill be “amended to fix” legislation which, among other equally horrendous prospects, would let the British state flog off Scotland’s public health service to predatory corporations.
Such a ‘fix’ may be possible. But it would not be a real solution. Because the ‘fix’ would be entirely owned by established power. The British state would retain the power to alter or abolish the ‘fix’. Or to implement it in ways which were neither envisaged nor intended by those demanding the amendment to the legislation. So long as ultimate power lies with the British state, no ‘fix’ can be secure. Therefore, there can be no ‘fix’.
Just as there is no Brexit ‘deal’ which makes it OK to totally disregard Scotland’s 62% Remain vote in the EU referendum (the only real test of opinion we can have this side of Independence Day), so there is no ‘fix’ for any Brexit-related legislation proposed by the British government which can possibly be satisfactory.
If we really want to ‘fix’ things for Scotland, we must go much deeper than the political fudging, legislative fiddling and constitutional tinkering which is all that is on offer from those determined to preserve their power, privilege and patronage at any cost to the people of these islands. The ‘fix’ we need will not be given. It must be taken.
Devolution has become simply another weapon in the British state’s armoury. The existing constitutional arrangement is broken beyond repair. The Union must be dissolved.
Dissolving the Union is the starting point for genuine, meaningful, progressive change. Only when we rid ourselves of this grotesque constitutional anomaly will the people of Scotland be able to fully exercise the sovereignty that is ours by right.
Only by asserting and affirming our sovereignty through the agency of the Scottish Government and the authority of the Scottish Parliament will we be able to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.
It’s time to stop thinking in terms of what the British state might be prepared to give us. It’s time to start working on taking what is ours.
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