Westminster can’t save the UK because it ‘doesn’t understand what the union is’
Westminster can’t save the union from breaking up because it doesn’t “understand what the UK is”, according to a Guardian columnist.
Michael Keating argued in the London-based publication that many unionists have found it “difficult to adapt” to the reality of devolution.
The columnist suggested that the “union, rather than being a multiform creature, is now presented as a single thing”
He also criticised Westminster for paying “scant attention” to Wales’ concerns during the Brexit negotiations and undermining the “regulatory capacity of the devolved governments” with the Internal Market Act.
He said: “A recent YouGov poll showed that around half of Scots are in favour of independence, while the goal of Irish unity gathers momentum in Northern Ireland and there is increasing interest in the idea of independence in Wales.
“Leave voters in England, according to surveys, would have accepted the secession of both Scotland and Northern Ireland as an acceptable price for Brexit.
“It is easy to attribute this to rising nationalism in the constituent nations, but there is a deeper and more powerful cause: the failure of unionists in Westminster to understand what the UK is.
“The problem is that British unionism has transformed into a nationalism in its own right. Historically, unionism was not a single ideology but a complex set of practices across these islands.
“There were multiple ways of being British, all of them carrying different meanings and emotive charges, from the Orange parade in Ballymena to Conservative garden parties in the home counties, to patriotic Scottish unionism that is fiercely protective of local traditions and rights.
He added: “At the end of the 20th century, unionists gave up on their historic opposition to legislative devolution and we got the Scottish parliament, Northern Ireland assembly and Senedd Cymru.
“Nationalism gained a political voice and nationalists have since served in government in all three nations. Unionism has found it more difficult to adapt to these new realities and has lost its old feel for the complexities of union.
“A neo-unionism, instead, has sought to create a single British nation, below which would be a secondary level of local attachments.
“The union, rather than being a multiform creature, is now presented as a single thing in need of definition and codification.
“Unionism has sought to contain peripheral nationalism by enhanced measures of devolution. Yet these have been accompanied by a doubling down on parliamentary sovereignty.
“Even schemes for federalism and ‘devolution-max’ usually include a Westminster sovereignty clause. This tendency was supercharged by Brexit, when scant attention was paid to the concerns of Scotland and Wales in the negotiations.
“The new Internal Market Act undermines the regulatory capacity of the devolved governments.
“The convention under which Westminster does not legislate in devolved matters has repeatedly been overridden and has been effectively undermined by the supreme court.”