Gavin Esler (2021)
An analysis of the state in which the UK finds itself, with some policy prescriptions as to how to address the issues without breaking-up the state.
If only the UK were a properly federal state! Many other countries have similar tensions, but have proper constitutional structures in place to balance them (and to adjust those structures over time). The UK, by contrast, relies on the “good chap” theory of governance by which role-holders’ actions are supposedly limited by their reverence for the norms and conventions of office. If people gain power who don’t respect these limits, there are no checks and balances to prevent their misbehaviour. The “unwritten constitution” seems like it should be flexible and able to juggle competing interests, but turns out to be rigid in the hands of those determined to force a chosen outcome.
Esler correctly identifies “the vow” as emblematic of the problems. This was a public undertaking, given by the leaders of all main all-UK political parties before the last Scottish independence referendum, to move towards greater devolution if independence was rejected (which it was). But the vow was jettisoned in the light of the changing circumstances that led to the EU referendum, leaving Scotland bound to the UK and not to the EU: exactly the situation that the independence vote sought to avoid.
Esler is a Unionist, and sees a constitutional convention and federalisation as the way to save the Union. It’s an opinion many have shared, but that many no longer do. His prescriptions strike me as logical, sensible – and unachievable given the history, politics, and individuals in play at the moment. And perhaps not even desirable given those constraints.
Finished Monday 16 August, 2021.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)