Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scotland: Federalism and the English

The problem of idée fixe in the politics of the Left   

LATE last year, Paul Salveson, a Labour councillor for Golcar, a constituency near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, submitted an article for a forthcoming printed issue of Northern Voices in which he argued that whatever the result of the Scottish referendum this September, that there would be far reaching constitutional consequences and that things would never be the same after that.  Yesterday, a leader writer in an editorial in the Yorkshire Post echoed these sentiments: 
'Whether or not Scotland opts for independence on Thursday, the one certainty is that the governance of Britain will be changed forever by the result.'   

The issue, as Mr. Salveson foresaw it, is that while a Yes vote may cause confusion, constitutional disarray and the break up the United Kingdom; a success for the No lobby will still bring in a range of devolved powers (labelled Devo-Max) and possible demands for further referendums.   

 In last Saturday's FT the economist, Martin Wolf, described the prospects in the following terms:
'If the vote is a Yes, it will be forever.  But what about a narrow No (vote)?  That too would be a nightmare.  We could then look forward to more referendums.'   

Even as I write this I understand that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), are proposing to develop proposals to put to the Chancellor George Osborne before his Autumn Statement in December, in which he has already promised to have thew northern economy at its heart, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg  launched his 'Northern Futures' project in Leeds in July, calling for ideas on creating an 'economic hub' in the North. 

The editor of the Yorkshire Post goes much further in the leader yesterday: 
'The new mood for a move to a more federal Britain certainly shames the pitiful power-sharing efforts made so far by Westminster...  This must now change.  With a population and an economy of similar size to those of Scotland, there is no logical reason why Yorkshire should be denied far greater powers of its own.'   

The problem in Britain is that it is a nation state whose power has been for so long centred upon London, and that its people don't have a great understanding of federalism.   Its English culture, even on the Left among the radicals and so-called revolutionaries, is one of 'Utilitarian liberalism' in which seemingly everyone wants to protect his or her pension, career, dole, or other perks and benefits provided by the centralised state.  Thus, the British Left is instinctively centralist, including paradoxically many who describe themselves as anarchists. 

In Europe, especially in France and Spain the reaction to the reality of the centralism imposed by both the French Revolution with its destruction of local interests and privileges, and the Spanish Liberal Revolution, was inspired by the anarchist Proudhon.   In France, Proudhon believed that the French Revolution had come into existence to fulfil the notion of greater local and municipal liberty, but had been diverted in this task by the ruthless political actions of the Jacobins.  In Spain, federalism was  rescued by a Catalan, Pi y Margall, who had read Proudhon, and saw how the Frenchman's ideas would suit the regional aspirations of the Spanish people.   

Pi y Margall wrote:  'Every man who has power over another is a tyrant.'  And the Englishman, Gerald Brenan, writing about Py y Margall says: 
'Discussing the meaning of “order” – that word which for more than a hundred years had been the excuse for every act of violence and injustice – he (Margall) says that true order cannot be obtained by applying force.'   

Given that Pi y Margall's federalism in Spain evolved and developed into a form of Spanish anarchism, it is surprising in England that the current tiny tribe of anarchists have not had much to say about the issue of Scottish independence and regional devolution.  It is something that I would have thought their more distinguished predecessors at Freedom Press such as Colin Ward and Nicholas Walter, would have had much to say.  Instead today, it is left to the main stream parties and the likes of Paul Salveson (who someone from the anarchist federation, recently described as a 'Labour Party hack') to wrestle with the issues of federalism and Scottish independence.  The problem with much of the English left, including the anarchist faction, is that it suffers from a form of  idée fixe* that serves to cut it off from real life situations.
idée fixe, ( French: “fixed idea”) in music and literature, a recurring theme or character trait that serves as the structural foundation of a work. The term was later used in psychology to refer to an irrational obsession that so dominates an individual’s thoughts as to determine his or her actions.

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