For Scotland, Britain was built upon a bargain. Renewing that bargain needs England to engage

Scottish exemplification of the Treaty of Union. Public domain: sourced from Wikimedia Commons

One way or another, devolution as an idea and a reality has a long history in the United Kingdom. The issue of Irish Home Rule pushed the UK’s constitutional norms to its limit (and far beyond in Ireland). Devolution had an unhappy 50-year history in Northern Ireland until 1972. Calls for a Scottish legislature surfaced many times before one was finally created.

Nonetheless, Scottish (and Welsh) devolution in 1999 was a radical act with radical implications. Some who wish to keep the UK together regret it, at least within Great Britain. The devo-sceptics often paint it as an ahistorical rupture…


The EU was partly built to check its members’ worst instincts in dealing with each other. But that only holds within its ranks

By Hofphotograph: Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The world’s scientists have worked together to find ways to fight Covid-19. Its governments have proven less collaborative so far. From backbiting over the quality of each other’s regulators to warnings of a moral failure by the developed world in the scramble for vaccines, fraternity seems in short supply. It’s dispiriting — but, at the risk of proving a cynic, unsurprising.

So I can’t say the EU’s claims that Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines currently intended for British use should be diverted surprise me much. Those claims seem to carry little weight: at the time of writing, it seems the UK was, for…


You’ll never get politics out of the Lords, and nor should you. The problem isn’t including politics — it’s excluding voters

The House of Lords: not all that much more democratic than it looks. UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0.

Lords appointments have been something of a (slow-burning and highly secondary) theme over the past few months. A number of Boris Johnson’s appointments have raised eyebrows. Notably, the Lords will now include Claire Fox — a former supporter of the IRA’s terror campaign who remains unrepentant, and whose inclusion remains unexplained and suspect. A number of Jeremy Corbyn’s final nominations were rejected. And today, Keir Starmer’s choice of peers has also attracted controversy.

Using peerages as patronage is nothing new

The appointment of Claire Fox is unusually egregious. Consistent commitment to our democratic process seems a pretty minimal requirement for life membership of our Parliament. (Even a…


Sometimes you can say that once you’ve built a settled consensus. Otherwise, you’ll lose the debate you tried to spurn

© Can Stock Photo / vlatko2002.

I only discovered Tom Robinson Band’s ‘Glad to be Gay’ a few years ago. I didn’t know the song was from 1978. With the blitheness of a gay man born in 1986, I assumed it was a high-camp affirmation and not my aesthetic at all. It’s actually a sharp, caustic protest, skewering the homophobia of 1970s Britain.

So sit back and watch as they close all our clubs Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs Make sure your boyfriend’s at least 21 So only your friends and your brothers get done Lie to your workmates, lie to your…


Defending the Union is not the same as owning the Nats. Tory disdain for devolution post-Brexit endangers it even further

Constructing a UK internal market needs time and attention too

Some nationalists claim the United Kingdom has no such thing as an internal market. Granted, it has no formal project branded ‘UK single market’. But its four parts have sent MPs to Westminster longer than modern regulatory states have existed. Britain built an integrated domestic market long before it joined the then EC. Until 1999, EU law played no specific role in preventing divergence. And the UK has an unusual lack of internal barriers for a large state.

The problem is real, but the end doesn’t justify the means

When devolution arrived, a mix of reservations to the UK Parliament and EU law served to keep it together. That EU framework…


The Cummings farrago exposes a government which doesn't grasp its own role

Wars give us enemies with faces. Coronavirus does not. Social media delights in both putting war metaphors up and shooting them down, but I suspect the lack of a clear enemy makes national cohesion harder. And as we start to talk about exit strategies, whose interests come first and when may well divide us further.

Dominic Cummings has, if nothing else, given many people’s fury a face. And many have written already about how offensive his conduct — and his disdain for explaining himself — has been. …


I used to be a convinced republican. I’ve concluded it’s more trouble than it’s worth

The Crown of Scotland on display as the Queen opens Holyrood. Scottish Parliament, CC BY 2.0.

I’ve had republican instincts for a long time. A hereditary monarchy is inherently questionable if you’re on the left. The symbolism of choosing a head of state by inheritance challenges egalitarian values. As a constitutional reformer, the Crown seemed to be the apex of a system in need of reform from root to branch.

As I got older, I became an ever-lazier republican. And without quite noticing when it happened, I’ve accepted I’ve become a pragmatic monarchist. I’ll never be an enthusiastic royalist. …


Progressives should defend public service broadcasting. Flirting with the anti-BBC lobby has helped imperil it

Hatgate: one of the more ludicrous pieces of anti-BBC hysteria.

For a certain sort of Brit, the NHS and the BBC have long been at or near the top of their list of things to be proud of about their country. They’re both big public institutions which everyone in the UK knows. Their existence speaks to some of the core values of the left. They show that not everything should be left to the market, shared institutions matter and public provision can be popular.

The BBC produces a huge amount of high-quality content of all kinds — news, drama and TV. It makes lots of stuff I’d never want to…


The SNP should debate whether a separate Scotland should join the EU post-Brexit. But all their options are bad

We often forget the SNP campaigned against the Common Market in 1975. But ‘Independence in Europe’ has been an SNP rallying cry for quite some time now. The European Union creates an unusually benign home for small states. To the SNP, the EU also promised continued economic integration with the United Kingdom after secession. The SNP claim that Scotland could carry on in the EU automatically was almost certainly spurious, but that didn’t stop them.

Brexit changes that. It makes the SNP’s political case more appealing, but its practical case harder. It creates sharper dilemmas for a separate Scotland. So…


I knew Remain might very well lose the EU referendum. Truth to tell, for most of June I thought we would. I forced myself to believe we wouldn’t in the final week, a feat of denial I’m not usually much good at. I was coordinating Stronger In and Labour In activities in addition to a full-time job: I doubt I’d have had it in me to go through the last week of the campaign if I hadn’t.

I was, if I’m honest, more surprised by the campaign for a second referendum than by losing the first. It never occurred to…

Douglas Dowell

Liberal-minded social democrat seeks readers.

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