Real home rule

Tory anti-Home Rule poster
Tory anti-Home Rule poster by Plashing Vole, on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering for a while whether modern Scottish Labour Unionists are right when they invoke the struggle for home rule by the founders of Labour in Scotland as an argument in favour of devolution and against independence, so I read George Kerevan’s article about Gordon Brown and James Maxton in The Scotsman with great interest:

Here is the authentic James Maxton speaking at a rally in Glasgow in support of the 1924 Scottish Home Rule Bill. Maxton declared that he asked “for no greater task in life than to make the English-ridden, capitalist-ridden, landowner-ridden Scotland into a free Scottish Socialist Commonwealth”. He went on to say that “with Scottish brains and courage … we could do more in five years in a Scottish parliament than would be produced by 25 or 30 years heartbreaking working in the British House of Commons”.

Just try referring to “English-ridden” Scotland today and you will be rightly ticked off. But James Maxton was an angry man. […] His anger was understandable to everyone in Glasgow. It expressed not an anti-Englishness, but a hatred of a class system run from London.

The Home Rule espoused by Maxton has nothing in common with the drip-feed of powers by London Labour. […] The Red Clydesiders […] wanted Home Rule in the sense of the full, de facto autonomy already enjoyed by Australia and New Zealand.

At the time, it made good sense to aspire to home rule like in Canada, Australia or New Zealand. These places had been running their own affairs for a while already. For instance, the modern-day Parliament of Canada came into existence in 1867 (and full legislative autonomy would be granted in 1931), and Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament was opened in 1901.

To a large extent, the British Empire consisted of countries that had a lot of independence (notable exceptions being foreign affairs, defence and international shipping). In other words, they had significantly more independence than Scotland has at the moment.

One could argue that the British Empire was the equivalent of EU and NATO of that era, maintaining an internal market with free movement of goods and people while providing a reciprocal security guarantee.

It made sense to want independence within the Empire. It wasn’t easy being a fully independent small country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To take but one example, Denmark got her capital bombarded and the fleet confiscated in 1807, went bankrupt in 1813, lost Norway in 1814, lost Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1945 without being able to liberate herself. If Scotland had remained an independent country instead of forming a political union with England in 1707, it’s quite possible similar national disasters would have occurred.

To return to the present, it’s still the case that most Scots want the Scottish Parliament to handle everything with the possible exception of defence and foreign affairs. (According to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (PDF), 32% of Scots agree that “the UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else”, and another 31% want all decisions to be made in Scotland.)

The various devolution plans put forward by the three main Unionist parties don’t go nearly far enough. They’re mainly concerned with letting the Scottish Parliament collect a few more taxes, but they’re not even close to offering Devo Max along the lines outlined by the SSAS.

To be honest, I’m not sure many Scots really want Westminster to make decisions about defence and foreign affairs (gauging from the Scottish reaction to the Iraq War and all that). What people want is to make sure Scotland won’t get attacked by foreign countries and that we can continue to trade and travel freely.

In fact, a large majority of the Scottish population agrees with Keir Hardie, James Maxton and other early Scottish Labour politicians. We want real home rule, meaning independence with free international trade, the ability to travel and work abroad and a security guarantee. That’s what we’ll get by voting Yes.

4 thoughts on “Real home rule

  • 04/06/2014 at 18:40
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    Err, “notable exceptions being foreign affairs, defence and international shipping”.
    Foreign affairs? Yes, but … The dominions did have “external affairs” departments, which mainly handled relations within the British Empire. But not entirely. They did, after all, sign the Treaty of Versailles (that didn’t make the Americans happy) and were represented in the League of Nations (even India, rather like Belarus and Ukraine were represented in the UN pre-1991 perhaps).
    Defence? That’s just a flat no. In both Canada and Australia the existence of ministers for defence and of local military forces even predates the establishment of Canadian and Australian federal government, never mind the Statute of Westminster.

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    • 05/06/2014 at 00:19
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      Thanks for the correction — I blame Wikipedia! So could they have decided to stay out of a war that Westminster wanted them to send troops to?

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  • 05/06/2014 at 10:53
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    Thomas they did establish they could stay out of a war when still not indy, they actually vetoed a British war with Turkey, in the Izmir crisis 1922. This led to Britain wanting them to go indy, so that it could control its own wars again – it was first proposed actually by the British Foreign Secretary at the 1926 Imperial Conference.

    The EU comparison is conceptually valuable. It shows that those countries, and all the families who have branches there and here, have suffered a big humanitarian loss by the loss of free movement and those countries’ adoption of the isolated border control that appeals to selfish mean spirit in every country. That did not necessarily go with indy, Australia retained a citizenship union with Britain for a long time, but inexorably pride in their own state was used as a device to put up a new wall in global apartheid and take free movement away from multi-country families, e.g. the many Scottish families who have branches in Australia dating from the early twentieth century.

    Independent government does not have to mean controlled closed doors to the rest of the world, that is a mean spirited assumption built into global apartheid and popular to ape level tribal emotion.

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  • 05/06/2014 at 11:03
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    And exactly what defence does Scotland get?

    No air or surface vessel maritime patrols and the outrageous price of replacing trident which is offensive not defensive..

    Reply

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