The following piece has been gratefully received from David Vance:
WHEN UNIONISM DEVOLVES…
By David Vance
14th October 2012
There is a dominant train of thought within political Unionism that praises and celebrates the concept of devolution and sees it as the best way to keep the Union together. It’s been ascendant for many years and it has certainly prevailed in Northern Ireland with all the unionist political parties supporting the notion that embracing devolution protects the Union by providing political power and control at Assembly level. The only difficulty with this is that is completely deluded and flies in the face of all reality.
Let’s cut to a poignant image that simultaneously sums up the impotency and malignancy of devolution. On the 29th September 2012, Unionism rallied to mark 100 years since the Ulster Covenant was signed. Tens of thousands descended upon Belfast for a six-mile march from central Belfast to Stormont. When they reached Stormont, speeches were made boldly asserting the determination of the people of Northern Ireland to remain British yet something very small but hugely significant was missing. No Union flag flew over Stormont. Why?
Because under the terms of the Devolution settlement lauded by political Unionism, there can no such assertion of the Britishness of Northern Ireland without the agreement of Irish nationalism. Is anyone surprised this was not forthcoming? Since one presumes Unionism knew that Ulster Day was coming (they had 100 years warning after all), why did it not seek to make this day – Ulster Day – one specified for the flying of the Union flag? Might I venture to suggest that they realised what the answer might be?
If we cannot even fly the Union flag over our seat of government on Ulster Day and yet this devolution model is declared a victory for Unionism, I wonder what a defeat will look like? Perhaps we already know…
Just a few months ago the body which runs the Assembly discussed the prospect of the Irish tricolour flying at Stormont for the first time. The Assembly Commission agreed to debate the issue under the heading of ‘good relations’ between unionists and nationalists. Sinn Fein and the SDLP insist that the flying of the tricolour will have to form part of the discussions and view the commission’s agreement to consider the proposal as progress.
With 54 unionist votes against 43 combined Sinn Fein and SDLP votes, however, any motion involving flying the tricolour would be defeated. Big deal. The very fact that the flying of the flag of a foreign country could even be debated at Stormont tells us just how perverse devolution has become.
Let’s be straight – the devolution gleefully embraced by unionists at Stormont is an affront to any thinking democrat: an acceptance of the IRA’s proxies in power; a conniving compliance to the idea of government without any opposition; and a pathetic rolling over to all-Ireland bodies. But if there is one thing worse than devolution, it is “Devolution-Max”. Naturally there is a surplus of Unionists here in Northern Ireland gagging to embrace this further folly.
Devo-Max involves the control of welfare benefits, income tax, corporation tax, pensions, national insurance and VAT moving away from Westminster. The SNP – a party dedicated to the ending of the Union – are the primary cheerleaders for Devo-Max since it is a clear transition out of the United Kingdom. They know that they cannot win the 2014 referendum on leaving the UK so they are lobbying for the next best thing. If one is a small-minded nationalist of whatever hue this is entirely understandable, but the better question is why would unionists argue for such an outcome? The more you devolve from Westminster, the more you loosen the ties that bind.
In what way do we enhance our solidarity as one United Kingdom if devolved regions are operating different fiscal regimes? Decimating the unified strength of UK plc seems a very odd objective for those who claim to supporting the Union. If Corporation Tax is devolved, as is the aim of most Unionists in Northern Ireland, a precedent is set. Consider what might then happen if Scotland followed?
Unionists might wonder why they are cheerleading for a change in our fiscal arrangement avidly supported by the likes of Sinn Fein and the SNP. When those plainly dedicated to the destruction of the UK offer support for deepening devolution, might there be even the slightest suspicion in unionist minds that greater care has to be exercised before opening Pandora’s Box?
The genius of the United Kingdom lies in fact that the sum of the constitutional whole is greater than the individual parts. It is a finely balanced masterpiece of political integrity which most certainly benefits all. Devolution is perverse insofar it diminishes this whole but enhances the parts. It makes our nation a smaller place by playing to the ambition of toy town assemblies replete with third-rate politicians, (anyone who has endured a “debate” in the Stormont chamber will understand only too well what this means )
Westminster is the appropriate seat of power for this United Kingdom and it is my view that the more political power leaks from it, the weaker the UK becomes. It is little wonder that the European Union is a great supporter of devolution within the UK. The Eurocrats realise that a fractured devolved Britain is a vulnerable Britain, more readily absorbed because it will be in bite sized components.
Is that what Unionists also want?
If not, then I believe this is the moment when they need to carefully consider the law of unintended consequences. I can understand why some may think that devolving power has merit but there is an equally strong case to see it as a honey trap, baited with sweeteners, for the foolish to embrace. If we want a United Kingdom then the ambitions of political careerists at the local level may need to be tempered with reality, and you only need to look to the flagpole at Stormont on Ulster Day to see the reality of devolution.
David Vance is a political commentator who regularly appears on TV, radio and in the written press. He is also editor of the popular political web site A Tangled Web and the author of the book “Unionism Decayed”. He is a critic of the political system which evolved in Northern Ireland after the Belfast Agreement and stood as a parliamentary candidate for the TUV in East Belfast at the last Westminster election.Share on Facebook