Sunday, 21 September 2014

After The Scottish Referendum

Tropical storm Fung-Wang hit us here in Tainan yesterday afternoon, but it was not particularly bad and it has now passed us by leaving behind drizzle and dank, overcast skies - somewhat reminiscent of Scotland. I was very tired from work and related driving last week and so collapsed into sleep for much of yesterday and today. That may have been a benefit in some ways, but the cost of the storm is that I put aside my planned trip to Deiji reservoir up in the mountains of Taichung county.

Meanwhile everyone's been talking about the Scottish referendum. I've had Taiwanese friends asking me which side I supported, and there have been the expected op-eds written about it by the pro-independence Taiwanese. Being English but having lived in Scotland during an important part of my life, I felt a bit strange about the whole thing. I'll summarize in three points...

The first point is that it strikes me as entirely normal that such a question should be decided by a free and fair referendum. It is unthinkable to me that there could ever be any question of State violence over such a thing as the Scots deciding to secede from the Union. And yet there are so many Taiwanese people here talking about a "win" for democracy and that the British should be proud of the referendum. That sentiment strikes me as disturbing. It is, in essence, a commendation for not wanting to force other people into a political arrangement against their will. You're not supposed to be commended for such a thing. Of course the Taiwanese only say this kind of thing because they are accustomed to living under the constant threat of China's 2nd Artillery. Unlike the British, the Chinese have next to no modern tradition of consensual and limited government, and their 20th century was little more than barbaric despotism and subjugated starvation.

The second point is that whilst I support the right of secession, I do not support the right of a devolved Scottish government in Holyrood to spend money raised from taxation across the UK. It wouldn't bother me one bit if the UK Parliament were to agree to devolve all powers to Scotland (excluding defence and foreign policy) so long as taxation and debt were also devolved so that the Scottish government is forced to keep its' own books. That being said, if I was still living in Edinburgh and had any money then I would be very apprehensive, given the sort of leftish reptiles like Jim Sillars the Scots have elected down the years. I worry about some of my old friends in Edinburgh - or at least, I would if I were not too preoccupied with my own cares here in Taiwan.

The third point concerns England*. The vast majority of the UK population resides in England, and the West Lothian question - why should an MP elected for a Scottish constituency vote on issues affecting only English constituencies? - ought to be resolved. The simplest solution is obvious: introduce a new procedural rule prohibiting MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from voting on issues that only affect English constituencies. Done. There is no need for a separate "English Parliament" outside of London or for "regional elected assemblies" as suggested by a previous Labour government, or for devolving domestic legislation to the old English counties (or for reanimating the dead-for-a-millenium Heptarchy). The advantage of removing this electoral absurdity is that it would hamstring a future Labour government by making it impossible for them to rely on their Scottish MPs (something like 40-odd from the 59 Parliamentary seats belonging to Scotland) to pass domestic legislation affecting England. Of course England would still be subject to the Conservative Party, but a weakened Labour Party may mean that it could yet become possible to start jailing England's homegrown Islamist nutters and incentivizing them to either leave England altogether or to throw away their Qurans and start going to the pub and behaving like normal people. On the other hand, I doubt the Conservatives would even do that much.

Finally, whilst I have always disliked the Scottish Nationalists both when I was in Edinbugh and ever since I left, I have many fond memories of Scotland (and not only of Edinburgh, but of other places too - especially Perth) and I would have felt somewhat sad if the Scots had voted "yes". I had friends in Edinburgh, particularly at the church, whom I strongly suspect would have voted "no", and I am pleased for them that their side won this referendum.  

*Later... a counter-argument written by Robert Henderson can be found here. The gist of it is that there would remain the problem of non-English MPs forming a UK government that would then be responsible for drafting English legislation even though they could not vote on it. Hence the necessity of an English Parliament.

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