The Collective Illiteracy at the Heart of the UK
August 1st 2010
More proof if it were needed of the constitutional and political illiteracy which now guides our political classes and media about the nature of the UK.
Another day, another al-Megrahi story and this time the ‘Sunday Times’ (1) tells us in all earnestness that if the UK Government had wanted to it could have stopped the release of the Libyan prisoner by the Scottish Government. I am not sure the ‘Sunday Times’ has any real belief or faith in this story, because it has tucked it away on page two, and if it had confidence in it – then it would be a front page splash!
A former aide to Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister commented that the government could have ‘pulled the emergency cord’ to stop the release. The aide stated:
A Conservative backbencher said Lockerbie should be looked into but he realised that the UK Parliament didn’t have any sway over the Scottish Government and I thought he must be out of his box if he thinks that. Britain is a unitary state. There was an emergency cord that could have been pulled.
John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University is quoted as saying ‘that because Holyrood was not sovereign but accountable to Westminster, the British Government could have rushed through legislation to prevent Megrahi’s release’.
This is revealing and illuminating and wrong. Is this really the quality of advice Gordon Brown got in No. 10? No wonder his Premiership was such a disaster.
It is wrong politically and constitutionally. How would the UK Government have over-ridden Scots law? Think of the politics involved and the precedent set.
What does ‘pulled the emergency cord’ involve I wonder, and what consequences would flow? Then there is the idea of the UK as a ‘unitary state’ which it is not and never has been, while our governing elite have some fantasy of the UK as a Bismarckian centralist state. And then there is the obvious machismo of it all; that in a ‘Thick of It’ kind of way we could have just told the Scots what to do, because we know what to do.
More importantly, it is not possible without tearing up the basis of the UK. Scots law is the equal of UK law; it is not subordinate or any less law; and the Scottish judicial system is independent and autonomous. These basic facts – about Scotland and the UK – seem to be getting harder and harder to grasp by parts of Britain’s political elite.
This is basic A-level – or more accurately O Grade – British Government and Politics – which a former Downing Street aide and Professor of Politics at Strathclyde don’t seem able to grasp.
1. Jonathan Oliver and Jason Allarydce, ‘Downing Street’s secret Gaddafi texts’, Sunday Times, August 1st 2010.