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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Britons against Britain!

This
is an odd one. In the Scotsman a chap called Tony Banks stakes out the view that, far from being a nationalist, it is his belief in Britain and his British
identity that is making him vote for independence!

That
works about as well as you’d think. Essentially, the argument is that the withdrawal
Scotland’s three-score deputation of left-wing MPs will be the catalyst that shifts
the rUK away from a “London-centric” economy, diminishes the political power of
the South East, and turns us wayward South British back onto the righteous path
of social democracy. No evidence is proffered to support this rather mystifying
conclusion.


This
salvo is just the latest in what strikes me as the rather surreal attempt by
elements on both sides of the referendum debate to act as if we’re not really
fighting over very much. Separatists like Banks claim that independence will
involve retaining all the benefits of the Union, whilst some in the pro-union
camp try to pretend that by turning a vote for the Union into a vote for “more
powers” Scotland can have all or nearly all the benefits of independence
without leaving the Union.

At
heart, both strategies are attempts to avoid creating clear lines of cleavage
and thus risking a decisive outcome which may be unfavourable, and Alistair
Darling is to be commended for recognising that there is “no more low-hanging fruit” for devolution and that more powers will
require a UK-wide, British mandate.

Voting
for independence means conceding that people south of the border are foreigners
and withdrawing from institutions legitimised by collective Britishness. Voting
for the Union means conceding that people south of the border are your
countrymen and women and that, even if you believe that devolution produces
good local government, decisions made in London by the collected
representatives of the entire British people are fundamentally legitimate. It’s
a big choice that will inevitably say a lot about whoever makes it. Both
referendum campaigns, if they have the courage of their convictions, should
face up to that.

More
on UKIP: Chances of success in NI Assembly…

Following
up from last week, it seems that UKIP might actually be in with a shot at a
second Northern Irish MLA. In addition to David McNarry defending his seat,
UKIP Northern Ireland chairman Henry Reilly apparently has a fair shot at taking the last mandate in South Down. Two of the
six South Down Assembly seats are unionist, and with John McCallister having
left the UUP and its attendant party marchine 
many NI Conservatives I spoke to did not dismiss the odds of Reilly, a
local councillor, translating his local following and UKIP resources into a
seat.

…but
Farage misreads Sinn Fein’s European policy

For
such an avowed unionist as Farage – determined as he is to fight for the Union against
the wishes
of the official pro-union campaign – paying a compliment to the Shinners was
always going to be tough. Sadly, it seems the basis for his praise of their “logical”
nationalist position – withdrawing from both the British and European unions –
is wrong: SF do not believe in withdrawal from the European Union.

Having
been in Ireland since the autumn, one of the strangest things about it is the
real commitment to the European Union by all save the far left. I attended one
slightly surreal Young Fine Gael meeting with the Europe Minister where there
was much earnest discussion about how to maintain support for the union and
stem the rise of nationalism across continent. Just don’t start calling them
European Unionists.

Around,
and around, and around we go…

As
I mentioned in my last column, I spent last week up in Belfast on an archival
placement for my Masters. In addition to getting to see some of the real
treasures in the Orange Order’s archive – including the Paymaster General’s
book recording the pay of the Williamite army in Ireland – I spent most of the
week buried in pamphlets debating Home Rule, which a century ago was the
pre-eminent issue in British politics. Everybody needs a hobby.

Naturally
a lot of this is probably of purely historical interest, so I won’t fill this
article with it. But one of the striking things I noticed was that all the
issues surrounding the various models of devolution, which we have been
rehearsing as if they were novel since the 1970s, were in fact being thrashed
out in a perfectly recognisable manner a full century earlier.

How
do you prevent, in a parliament where MPs are restricted to voting on
geographic grounds, the situation where you end up with two different parliamentary
majorities on domestic and foreign policy? How do you prevent new institutions,
created with a vision of limited power, from accruing more power to themselves?
Does devolution actually stop nationalism?

All
these questions, and more, were examined with no little clarity and skill by
the orators and pamphleteers of the last century. Someone ought to make the
history of Home Rule required reading for today’s devolution policy-makers.

The
great constituency MP

Another
part of my research this week involved reading the various speeches of Walter
Long
, a
prominent member of our party a century ago who, save Austen Chamberlain, might
have been leader. Whilst getting a bit of biographical background I came across
the astonishing fact that, in his four-decade parliamentary career between 1880
and 1921, he represented no less than seven constituencies. These
constituencies weren’t even remotely near each other, either. The list reads:
North Wiltshire, Devizes, Liverpool West Derby, Bristol South, South County
Dublin, Strand, and Westminster St George’s.

Is
there an example of an MP with so remotely varied a back-catalogue of
constituencies in modern times?

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