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Henry Hill Red, White and Blue

Henry Hill: Scotland's serious choice, UKIP's Ulster prospects, and history's lessons on devolution

Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Britons against Britain!

This is an odd one. In the Scotsman a chap called Tony Banks stakes out the view that, far from being a nationalist, it is his belief in Britain and his British identity that is making him vote for independence!

That works about as well as you’d think. Essentially, the argument is that the withdrawal Scotland’s three-score deputation of left-wing MPs will be the catalyst that shifts the rUK away from a “London-centric” economy, diminishes the political power of the South East, and turns us wayward South British back onto the righteous path of social democracy. No evidence is proffered to support this rather mystifying conclusion.

This salvo is just the latest in what strikes me as the rather surreal attempt by elements on both sides of the referendum debate to act as if we’re not really fighting over very much. Separatists like Banks claim that independence will involve retaining all the benefits of the Union, whilst some in the pro-union camp try to pretend that by turning a vote for the Union into a vote for “more powers” Scotland can have all or nearly all the benefits of independence without leaving the Union.

At heart, both strategies are attempts to avoid creating clear lines of cleavage and thus risking a decisive outcome which may be unfavourable, and Alistair Darling is to be commended for recognising that there is “no more low-hanging fruit” for devolution and that more powers will require a UK-wide, British mandate.

Voting for independence means conceding that people south of the border are foreigners and withdrawing from institutions legitimised by collective Britishness. Voting for the Union means conceding that people south of the border are your countrymen and women and that, even if you believe that devolution produces good local government, decisions made in London by the collected representatives of the entire British people are fundamentally legitimate. It’s a big choice that will inevitably say a lot about whoever makes it. Both referendum campaigns, if they have the courage of their convictions, should face up to that.

More on UKIP: Chances of success in NI Assembly…

Following up from last week, it seems that UKIP might actually be in with a shot at a second Northern Irish MLA. In addition to David McNarry defending his seat, UKIP Northern Ireland chairman Henry Reilly apparently has a fair shot at taking the last mandate in South Down. Two of the six South Down Assembly seats are unionist, and with John McCallister having left the UUP and its attendant party marchine  many NI Conservatives I spoke to did not dismiss the odds of Reilly, a local councillor, translating his local following and UKIP resources into a seat.

…but Farage misreads Sinn Fein’s European policy

For such an avowed unionist as Farage – determined as he is to fight for the Union against the wishes of the official pro-union campaign – paying a compliment to the Shinners was always going to be tough. Sadly, it seems the basis for his praise of their “logical” nationalist position – withdrawing from both the British and European unions – is wrong: SF do not believe in withdrawal from the European Union.

Having been in Ireland since the autumn, one of the strangest things about it is the real commitment to the European Union by all save the far left. I attended one slightly surreal Young Fine Gael meeting with the Europe Minister where there was much earnest discussion about how to maintain support for the union and stem the rise of nationalism across continent. Just don’t start calling them European Unionists.

Around, and around, and around we go…

As I mentioned in my last column, I spent last week up in Belfast on an archival placement for my Masters. In addition to getting to see some of the real treasures in the Orange Order’s archive – including the Paymaster General’s book recording the pay of the Williamite army in Ireland – I spent most of the week buried in pamphlets debating Home Rule, which a century ago was the pre-eminent issue in British politics. Everybody needs a hobby.

Naturally a lot of this is probably of purely historical interest, so I won’t fill this article with it. But one of the striking things I noticed was that all the issues surrounding the various models of devolution, which we have been rehearsing as if they were novel since the 1970s, were in fact being thrashed out in a perfectly recognisable manner a full century earlier.

How do you prevent, in a parliament where MPs are restricted to voting on geographic grounds, the situation where you end up with two different parliamentary majorities on domestic and foreign policy? How do you prevent new institutions, created with a vision of limited power, from accruing more power to themselves? Does devolution actually stop nationalism?

All these questions, and more, were examined with no little clarity and skill by the orators and pamphleteers of the last century. Someone ought to make the history of Home Rule required reading for today’s devolution policy-makers.

The great constituency MP

Another part of my research this week involved reading the various speeches of Walter Long, a prominent member of our party a century ago who, save Austen Chamberlain, might have been leader. Whilst getting a bit of biographical background I came across the astonishing fact that, in his four-decade parliamentary career between 1880 and 1921, he represented no less than seven constituencies. These constituencies weren’t even remotely near each other, either. The list reads: North Wiltshire, Devizes, Liverpool West Derby, Bristol South, South County Dublin, Strand, and Westminster St George’s.

Is there an example of an MP with so remotely varied a back-catalogue of constituencies in modern times?

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