Campaign For a National Referendum (4): Frank Field again on the record in favour of a referendum

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Frank Field has urged Gordon Brown to hold an immediate UK-wide referendum on the future of the Union. The Labour MP is quoted as saying, “Unless Gordon Brown wrongfoots [Alex Salmond] by addressing the English question and by holding a UK-wide referendum before he has the chance to build up a head of steam, then the break of Britain, and indeed of the Labour party, looks certain”.

Anyone might think Frank Field has been reading this blog. In the first post in this Campaign For a National Referendum series, ten days ago, I wrote: “perhaps GB [Gordon Brown, that is] could demonstrate that he really is a visionary leader by seizing the initiative from Bendy Wendy and Alex Salmond, and saying that we will resolve this issue once and for all before the end of his term in office, in 2010. This is perhaps the real constitutional re-examination and debate about Britishness that we should have been having all along. Seriously – and I hope some Labour Party strategists are reading (some hope!) – this could be the way for New Labour to completely outflank both the nationalists and the Tories. GB could argue passionately for his vision of a united Britain, and he’d be bound to regain a lot of support in England for doing so, so long as this Britishness was advocated as one that was in the interests of, and was fair to, all the nations of the UK, and didn’t suppress the very existence of England as his Britishness crusade has attempted to do up till now”.

I do, however, differ from Frank Field’s position in two key respects. In the Sunday Times article, he is quoted as saying, “it is Westminster MPs, not the Scottish parliament, who must stage the referendum and decide on the key referendum issues”. I disagree that it should be Parliament alone that should work out which issue(s) should be put to the people. This should emerge from a constitutional convention involving people from all walks of life; and the convention should be mandated to consider the views of the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as they emerge from general debate (including over the Internet) and opinion polls. It’s down to the people to decide, not a Parliament that is so unrepresentative of popular opinion.

Secondly, Frank Field is reported as arguing that if the Scots voted for independence while the English voted against (presumably meaning ‘against independence for Scotland’, not for England), then the prime minister should not negotiate the demise of the Union with the first minister. Well, firstly, the prime minister shouldn’t negotiate the ‘demise’ of the Union with the first minister in any event, as he has clear conflicts of interest, such as wanting to preserve some role for Scottish people like himself in English public life while, at the same time (as a Scot) not being impartial with respect to getting the best deal for England – and we know just how discriminatory towards the English his government has been. Secondly, the English should not have a veto on Scottish independence. Certainly, it would be hypocritical if Gordon Brown were to act as if such a veto were legitimate, given that he is a signatory of the 1988 Scottish Claim of Right, which asserted that, “We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”.

Logically, if the UK-wide referendum were on a single new constitutional settlement for all the countries presently included in the UK, then if one country votes ‘yes’ while the others vote ‘no’, you just have to renegotiate the settlement in order to get a deal that everyone can be happy with – not pretend that the problem will just go away, which it certainly won’t if the Scots feel they are being denied their sovereign right to be independent should they wish to be. On the analogy of a marriage, if one spouse is seeking a divorce, then the other spouse can’t really prevent them no matter how much they might wish to remain married – the issue is about getting the best deal in a divorce settlement; and if the remaining UK (or its unrepresentative government) refused to grant a divorce, the deal will end up being far worse for England, and a whole lot of unnecessary acrimony will be generated in the process.

Face up to it, Frank, if the Scots want out, then we’ll just have to let them go. You’re still thinking with your Labour politician’s hat on there, I feel!

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2 Responses

  1. apparently this article by Field was not in the print edition of the Times but in the Scottish Times they say this

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article4093197.ece

    From The Times
    June 8, 2008

    “Media failure to provide informed coverage of UK ‘fuels Scots English tension’
    A think-tank report claims the English and the Scots are drifting further apart and blames the media for failing to provide informed coverage of UK events”

    you could not make it up!

  2. Thanks, Tally. I like the bit where it says, “The think-tank’s report will make depressing reading for Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, who is keen to emphasise the importance of Britishness”. Isn’t the whole problem that the media just reports English news as if it applied to the whole of the UK, rather than drawing out the differences between England and Scotland? Well, bring it on, I say: the more people realise what a better deal the Scots are getting, the more the pressure will grow for an English parliament at the very least!

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