How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.

Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?

I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:

One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution […] was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax.

When you’re trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it’s important to keep them all happy.

Let’s have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter’s Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):

What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists — who were weakened in the elections — are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn’t get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That’s why they’ll be expensive to include in the government.

I find it interesting to apply Dyremose’s advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)

It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Anyway, I don’t think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.

Godwin’s Law and Scotland on Sunday

Week 38: Godwin's Law
Week 38: Godwin’s Law, a photo by WilliamsProjects on Flickr.
Back in the 1990s, when Usenet was one of the most important parts of the Internet, I participated in several newsgroups that adhered to Godwin’s Law:

For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once [a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler] is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized corollary that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin’s law will be unsuccessful.

According to Godwin’s Law, Scotland on Sunday lost the independence debate by deciding to make comparisons between the SNP (an extremely tolerant party which favours civic nationalism) and the Nazis.

I believe in free speech, and while I will defend their right to publish what they want, I do think it was an appalling decision to publish this.

Of course it should be possible to discuss Scotland’s political history, including the role played by fascism, but it’s entirely clear that Scotland on Sunday tried to imply that current nationalist politicians have fascist sympathies, which is both wrong and offensive.

I thought the unionists wanted to win the referendum by debating the pros and cons of independence. Alas, I was wrong. If they want to win by making Nazi slurs, all rational debate becomes impossible, which is exactly why Godwin’s Law says that the debate ends here.