Published: 25 September, 2014
by ILLTYD HARRINGTON
WHERE was the spectre at the feast during that tumultuous week in Scotland? Did I sense Idi Amin, who once proclaimed himself last King of Scotland, at the same time appointing himself field marshal and awarding himself medals which would guarantee a fortune on the metal exchange? The last we heard of his majesty was his demise while living in luxurious exile in that other outpost of democracy Saudi Arabia.
Scotland terrified the English establishment; so much so that our triumvirate of party leaders raced there to stem the flood, which was breaking out all over. They were more a shattered holy trinity than three brave musketeers. They wrung their pink, manicured hands, foretelling deep drama if this small, rich nation dared to opt for self-control.
Banks and finance houses went hysterical – a group you may feel that should be hanging their heads in shame at their own mismanagement and for making themselves dependent upon British public funds.
For all the world, the spirit of the United Kingdom 1944-45 general election took hold. Political complacency and inertia took a public beating. In spite of the result no one can challenge the fact that this was a startling display of popular democracy, seen to be taking place from the Highlands to central Glasgow. People believed they could do with looking after themselves. The turnout in some places was almost 100 per cent.
Not since 1945 has the deeply-rooted establishment felt so uneasy and threatened. Therein lies the hope that the referendum gave. Our permanent class of rulers began to wobble. The SNP picked up the discarded ideals of Scottish Labour and were rewarded by displays of emphatic and enthusiastic approval. The Red Clyde stayed red. Glasgow refused the blandishments of Tory and Labour leaders. Clegg trotted behind as if he were Cameron’s Eton fag. The next day the doors of Number 10 almost became revolving while the Prime Minister rushed out with yet another solution.
What did I learn? I ask myself if that could be good for London. We have a population larger than Ireland, Denmark, Israel and Scotland. We protested our case in vain to various governments. London, it seems, does not know its own political strength. But no one argues that the system of local and regional government is not democratic or adequately funded. This prevents it from acting as it can. The mayor and the GLA are the stuff Gilbert and Sullivan made into comic opera. Now it would be more appropriate to hand it over to Gilbert and George and see what they paint it as. A heavy charge can be laid across the years against the Labour Party. It has never understood local government and many Labour MPs still hold it in disdain. They openly sneer at the inability of “ordinary people” to understand complex issues.
The creation of a regional authority, London County Council, in 1888 came about through force of circumstances, outrage at social conditions, and very clear political leadership.
London today is a dangerously unbalanced place, of increasing population, for which there is little preparation being made. London in real terms seems to me to have lost its identity. Scotland’s vote cannot be ignored. The centre becomes remote and wilfully indifferent towards the borderlands. We witness a challenge to political inertia in Scotland. The argument for an autonomous London could equally be applied. The people would be willing, but the politicians continue to live in the perpetual happy hour which the Palace of Westminster provides.