16 March 2010

The Old Man of the Electoral Sea...

Despite now living in England, my attention feels further alienated from the politics of the Palace of Westminster than ever. Although interesting testament to the way that new media collapses geographic distances, making a closer geographic propinquity to the 'centre' of United Kingdom political life largely meaningless, other elements certainly contribute to the tepidity I feel towards the impending dissolution and summoning up of a new Parliament, and may be, Her Majesty's new Government. My life is largely spent as a member of a prismatic, international community in which the British, never mind the English, contingent are decidedly in the minority. Although political concerns and public choices don't disappear from our discourses because of our disparate origins, I've not really engaged with the English folk I've encountered on their own terms about their attitude to politics, the possibility of change, the ideologies that might coax them this way or that as they stand, pencil poised, to scratch in their votes. Although this is probably largely attributable to my own subjectivity - including my cybernattery - it should prompt a more general reflection on ongoing generational shifts in our politics. For example, we might speculate about how growing up within a devolved politics might fundamentally reorientate young Scots' attitudes to the dispersed British state. Despite the recent phenomenon of Tory and Labour politicians fleeing Holyrood for Westminster, increasingly, it seems likely that the sometime natural order of Scottish politicians' experiences of parliamentary life originating in Westminster will cease. Quite what this will mean concretely, or how it might affect policy and politics in detail is difficult to foresee. The bridging generation of devolution is slowly retiring, dying, and being replaced. There isn't an order of history at work here - much that is unanticipated can happen. Scotland may become independent. Unionists might conspire to create spaces for a new integration, on new terms, of the devolved kingdoms' cultures of executive, legislative and judicial authority. While we potter along it is important that we don't lose sight of the ongoing shifts playing out in apparently quotidian continuity. It isn't all about whether we have the Maximum Eck or Wee Jack McConnell or - heaven forfend - Iain Gray in Bute House.

In that context, I don't mind admitting that I've been experiencing a species of mounting and mortal dread as the general election campaign advances upon us. I'm not convinced about my own virtues as an "election" blogger in general, nevermind in the particular, alienated context and foreign politics of the race to become First Lord of the Treasury or one of his little devils. I didn't begin composing thoughts here until well after the 2007 Holyrood election, so am bereft of even an accumulated social capital of blogging stratagems to negotiate my way through the discomfort. Cruel and mirthful ironising may the bobbing flotsam I cling to. Having confessionally elbowed that particular Old Man of the Electoral Sea from off my shoulders, I wanted to direct your attention to the University of Edinburgh's Alan Trench's recent post on the debate on the so-called "Barnett formula" in the House of Lords. Trench argues, tantalisingly, that...

"Like so many Lords debates, it was generally of a high standard, but it also revealed how their Lordships think about devolution, and the territorial make-up of the UK."

If discussion of mechanisms for the funding devolved administrations is your particular kettle of fish, Trench's remarks are sure to be diverting.


  1. Hi Lallands,

    Alan Trench's remarks just go to show what is very evident to those who wish to see - that in London power devolved is not seen as power retained but a diminution of the supremacy of the centre, much resented. This explains some of the Unionist outrage and comment at the al Megrahie decision. In essence, not so much that they disagreed with the decision in principle, just that they had not made it themselves and had not had any influence in its making.

    If "Call Me Dave" wins an outright majority at the next GE, as I fear he will, just watch how quickly the Scottish Parliament, and Scotland, are brought down to size.


  2. Afternoon Rab. Although I focussed in my remarks on changes in the Scottish side of things - equally, the Westminster 'Other' is also a creature that is in some sense moving on. While younger Scots interested in politics have to contend with devolution - equally, the idea of the British state being imbibed by the youth in England is unavoidably informed by the changes in constitutional structures in the late 1990s.

    It may be that these institutional changes are largely ignored down South, that consciousness is low. Even so, there is no foreseeable return to the institutions of the United Kingdom and the constricted frontiers of political possibility that those spent arrangements staked and fenced. We don't know quite know what that new Weltanschauung will resemble in ten or twenty years, on either sides of the Tweed. In particular, if Scotland does not become independent in the short term, it will be interesting to see what "New Unionism" will come up with, once people's whole political lives are seen through the prism of devolved institutions, the old unity a historical detail.

    Obviously, the old gits in the Lords are the very apogee of time-lag politics. Reflected, I think, in the discourse of inter-institutional 'respect' between Holyrood and Westminster. On one level, it is pure political positioning. On another, we might see it as a transitory story representing precisely the issues, ambivalences and tensions - and the corresponding effort that it takes to overcome these - among the old guard, used to the institutionally unified political landscape of Westminster, accustoming themselves to the new dispensation.