The current devolved declaration is out of date and Britain should start a serious debate about creating a “plausible alternative: federal Britain”, said Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
The former Secretary of State, who also served between 1986 and 1990 as Scottish Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, believes that “there is no revolutionary air” in Scotland about the dissolution of Great Britain and that the recent polls – which favor the struggle for independence – are not conclusions about leaving Britain, but, rather, an expression of a “developing” mood against the constitutional status quo; and also against Boris Johnson.
In an interview with The Herald, Rifkind explained that he does not support a second independence referendum and does not believe it will happen anytime soon even if the SNP wins a majority in May’s Holyrood election.
However, he noted that if indyref2 ever took place, then the choice on the ballot could not be between independence and the status quo but between leaving Britain or remaining in the new federal Union. He felt that, if that was the choice given to Scotland, most would have voted for the latter and thus retained the 313-year-old Union.
This week, the constitutional settlement made headlines after the Prime Minister privately told Conservative lawmakers that devolution had been a “disaster” in Scotland, branding it as Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake.”
The SNP took the statement as clear evidence that Johnson was fundamentally opposed to devolution, insisting “the Tory mask has fallen off”. But the PM later insisted that he fully supported devolution – he was mayor of London for eight years after all – and that the “catastrophe” was how the SNP Government armed devolution to advance its independence goals.
Rifkind, who served for 23 years as a member of parliament for the Edinburgh Pentlands, argues that the constitutional tectonic plates have shifted since devolution was created a generation ago and refers to the new “kingdom of four nations”.
“We are now, constantly, even in London, hearing people talk about the four countries, which is a term we don’t normally use except in terms of rugby … Corona virus “has shown successful devolution, not only between Scotland and England but between different parts of Scotland and England,” he said.
“Perhaps devolution will soon reach its time and it may deserve to be replaced by something more radical, which recognizes the national identity of the four countries and provides a system of government befitting the new aspirations not only in Scotland but in Wales and England as well.
“Devolution is a system based on Westminster that gives power to the periphery rather than the four Great Britain states that decide we have a lot in common which justifies, on an island like us, having the British Government but with maximum national control by each of its own internal affairs.
“If we create a federal Union, we will have a new United Kingdom of four countries based on federal principles, not London which assigns degrees of devolution to individual countries.”
When given to Rifkind that the SNP will hardly buy into the Federal Union when momentum is 14 in a row opinion the poll, which puts the fight for independence, makes him feel like his dream is in his hands, the Scottish man is furious.
“But, wait, with respect. These opinion polls are not really about reaching conclusions about independence; not a single person who answered the poll thought this was a decision they are taking now for the future of their country.
“What they are expressing are feelings that have changed – which may or may not be temporary or permanent, it is too early to know – partly because they dislike Boris Johnson, partly because of issues that are relevant to Scotland and less relevant to other parts of the Kingdom – they say, well, maybe independence isn’t a bad idea. ”
The Tory grandee shows how all polls are about Brexi suggested victory for Remain but in the end the decision was to Leave.
“So, I’m not too excited about the poll. What I respect and admit is that opinion is growing. It is very important if you believe in Union, because the UK Government is not only dependent on events but also taking the initiative. ”
The former cabinet minister argued that Nicola Sturgeon, who he believes to be a much wiser politician than Alex Salmond, knows that, whatever the polls now say, they “don’t guarantee” a referendum or independence anytime soon.
“So you have time to say: wait a minute, maybe we need, in a non-partisan way, to examine an alternative structure for Britain, which might make it more acceptable to those in Scotland who are currently interested in the issue of independence.
“If I’m right, and I might not be right, the problem in Scotland is about identity; that Scotland is a nation, not just a territory, and devolution helps overcome it but does not fully respect Scottish national identity because its devolution is recognized by London, not something of its own right. ”
In the week that Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of the Labor Party, spoke of the need for a new, escalated devolution solution to save the Union, Rifkind pointed out that there is also a British and Welsh dimension to this debate, which can be addressed in new ways. federal structure, where domestic matters will be completely controlled by four countries but there will be a central government responsible for foreign and defense policy, macroeconomics, other single and domestic currencies and international problem, all under the Crown.
“Of course, the sensible thing to do right now is not to hold a referendum with only the choice of independence or the status quo,” he said.
“We have to use the time that is now available, no more than a year or 18 months, to think about alternative arrangements that might make sense, which in practice would likely be a federal Union.
“And if there is a referendum, then that’s the choice you are offering: Scotland decides whether they want to dissolve the Union and separate from England and Wales or have a federal Union, which would be much better than devolution; fulfills the cultural, social and political aspirations that many people have and, if that is the choice, we can live with that.
“It would be much more likely that a federal Unionist point of view would prevail if it were on the ballot paper, rather than just saying: are we continuing with the status quo or towards independence?”
Federalism is now not only the policy of the Liberal Democrats but also Sir Keir Starmer’s Labor Party. With famous stories like Rifkind now supporting him, maybe the time has come.
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