Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
Nigel has given up: “Whatever happens, it’s over,” he says, meaning the integrated nature of our two nations/one nation constitutional engine. The rush of new Devo Max proposals may have caused more damage to the Union in England than it had positive impact in Scotland. Certainly, had you offered me odds this time last year against my entirely non-political southern friend (the sort of man who struggles to identify his MP’s name) uttering the phrase “West Lothian Question” – well, had I not been a Presbyterian Scot with an aversion to gambling, I’d have accepted your bet. And lost.
Entropy increases, things fall apart. No man-made machine can escape a universal law, and what is the Union, if not man-made? A machine for living, and living well, but a machine nonetheless, not an immutable act of Creation.
The referendum has made us aware of the machine’s suprastructure, to see that Union’s architecture is constructed of fragile glass, not ancient rock; that the wishes of the long-dead and not-yet generations may count for nothing, against a demagogue and a few hundred thousand voters. That the “eternal magic” of the British constitution was, like the reveal moment in the Wizard of Oz, just a man, behind a curtain, pulling levers.
I’m a poor friend of Dorothy, so it took me years to get the point of that film: it’s not, of course, a let-down to discover that an amazing structure can be conjured by some guy behind a curtain. It’s a miracle. Thus the man-made machine approaches and resembles Creation/Perfection: it’s as close as we can get, but there’s always a gap between God’s finger and Adam’s. The British constitution is the wizardry of “us”, because it’s ours. Our machine, which is why the English are becoming angry that only those north of the border have a say today, in Mr Salmond’s plebiscite.
Now we must look at the wizard’s face – something most of us were content never to do – and consider what changes we’d like, what changes we’ll need (not necessarily the same thing), if Scotland leaves – or if she stays,
The main question has been phrased by John Redwood already: Who shall speak for England? (and Wales, and Northern Ireland, presumably. But it’s “Whither England?” I pick up from the wireless.)
Based on my Nigel-sized sample of one, English voters will not tolerate increased autonomy for Scotland within the Union, aka Devo Max (wasn’t he in Blake’s 7?), without consequent changes for the rest of us/them (pronouns, just the latest casualty of this unnecessary debacle).
Should a Devo-Maxed Union continue, Scotland will have to reduce the number of MPs it sends to Westminster. England will need a First Minister, a parliament, and her own government. A federal UK is the least-worst outcome – though we must stamp to death any idea of an England-of-the-regions, otherwise known as euro-constituency-sized, proportionally-represented horror monsters, of the sort the North East resoundingly rejected just a few years ago. I’m enticed by the organic proposal I’ve seen (I think from BrightBlue) of forcing city-state status onto the large cities beyond London.
The first step could be to designate the English and Welsh members returned next year as a “UK Constitutional Convention”, and charge them with making proposals for the rest of us to vote on by 2017. No Scottish member – or voter – will be able to participate, presuming that Salmond is defeated, and Devo Max implemented.
Just my suggestions, but we must all start to make our own, if we want any sort of Union to continue. Jump up to your necks into the details of proposals, and debate them, endlessly. The temptation (are you reading, Nigel?) will be to look away; the devil’s in the details: let some committee of the Great and Good sort it out.
But the phrase is wrong. The devil isn’t in detail – he avoids it, for he hates to be pinned down in words, knowing that scrutiny disperses evil. Wickedness much prefers the fictitious “big picture” blethering of those who want to destroy our machines, but never offer a definite proposal as to their replacement. You might as well try and wrap your arms around a cloud as to follow the detail of what constitutional settlement is envisaged by a Salmond. (Or a Farage. Or a Blair: the origin of this constitutional mess lies at his door, after all, back when “West Lothian Question” would have struck Nigel as something to do with football.)
At the end of the Wizard of Oz, Glinda tells Dorothy to tap her heels together and repeat, “There’s no place like home.” Say that phrase out loud, as if for the first time. The poll today could make correct the good witch’s unintended meaning: “home” will be no place, “home” might be gone. But even if that despairing outcome is avoided, we need to install a new wizard to live behind our constitutional curtain. We’re about to live through the time of the details. The angels, it seems, have gone.