I’ve been in Turkey the past week, which as anyone will tell you is the friendliest and most beautiful of countries, and a kinder and more welcoming people you will not meet. But I’d be lying if I didn’t add that a major bonus of being there was that I missed the finale of the interminable Scottish debate.
As expected the Nos had it, but as Lord Ashcroft’s poll suggests the long-term future for the United Kingdom is still bleak; the union was saved by older voters, while only a small minority who voted No did so for emotional rather than pragmatic reasons.
Worst of all, David Cameron and Ed Miliband managed to contrive to leave us with the worst of all outcomes, with mutual bitterness about the promises given to the Scots, done without the consent of English voters in any way.
The constitutional mess that is the United Kingdom has gone beyond one of those fudges of which we were so good at; instead the British government has managed to do to its own people what it’s so famously good at doing towards people abroad – making contradictory promises towards two groups. Billy Connolly has warned, and Peter Hitchens likewise in this eloquent piece, that Cameron cannot go back on his promises of more powers for Scotland. Yet there is no way that people in England will now accept an arrangement that gives their neighbours near-independence but with all the protections and subsidies of the United Kingdom.
The situation now resembles the Union of Crowns from 1603-1707 when Scotland had its own parliament but was still under the king in Westminster, and Cameron is behaving like Charles I: making promises to his northern kingdom that affect the southern one, without regards to how the southerners feel. Just as in 1640, the greatest protests are coming from the east of England, once the stronghold of Puritanism and the parliamentary rebels and now the Ukip heartland.
Where Labour and the Tories may once have fobbed off English voters, the growth of Ukip now makes that impossible. On holiday I read the Wall Street Journal Europe describe Ukip as an ‘English nationalist party’, which is not strictly accurate but may increasingly become so. Ukip’s strongest areas in eastern England are also home to the highest number of people identifying as English rather than British, which is also a strong predictor of hostility towards multiculturalism, which is what Britishness has become associated with. The temptation to play the English card may be tempting.
I agree with Tom Holland’s suggestion that the West Lothian question could be solved by England reverting to a sort of heptarchy, the ‘Game of Thrones option’, which would see regional assemblies in Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria and the other regions. But it has to be said that there is little popular support there; partly because England has been unified so long that regional differences are weak, but also because the last thing anyone wants after this ordeal is more politicians.