Kenyon Wright’s letters to Gordon Brown and David Cameron

Kenyon Wright’s letters to Gordon Brown and David Cameron
Canon Kenyon Wright
February/March 2014

Dear Gordon,

Your 6 point plan for a new settlement between Westminster and Scotland marks a qualitative change in the debate, but it raises some questions for all who, like me, have yet to be fully convinced by either side.

It is of course a positive change from the “politics of fear” that have been so depressing, but there is a much more important way in which, if I understand you aright, you are saying things we are not hearing from anyone else.

You will remember that the Constitutional Convention showed they were talking of something beyond mere devolution, when you and I, with many others,  lined up to sign the “Claim of Right for Scotland” which acknowledged the sovereign right of the Scottish people in constitutional matters.

We built on that Claim when we declared “We are adamant that the powers of the Scottish Parliament must be entrenched so that they cannot be altered without the consent of the Parliament representing the people of Scotland”.

The Vision was clear, articulated by the Kirk’s Church and Nation Committee in 1989 “It is not possible to resolve the question of the democratic control of Scottish affairs apart from a fundamental shift in our constitutional thinking away from the notion of the unlimited or absolute sovereignty of the British Parliament towards the historic and reformed constitutional principle of limited or relative sovereignty”.

Both the Claim of sovereignty, and the strenuous effort to entrench the new Parliament, proved ultimately impossible without that “fundamental shift”, a  real radical reformation of the UK’s constitutional foundation.
I have grave concerns that your proposals, and even more those of the Labour Party Commission,  fall short of these ideals.

Anything I have heard from the Unionist side so far has always been in terms of more “devolution.”, but there are two problems with that. 

First, devolution, however “Max or Plus”, leaves the relationship between Scotland and Westminster basically unchanged.  As Enoch Powell reminded us, “Power devolved is power retained” It would always be power tentatively handed down by grace and favour, not of right. It goes deeper.  Devolution of any degree, leaves the UK’s system of parliamentary sovereignty fundamentally unreformed and unchanged.
In the Constitutional Convention that delivered the Scottish Parliament, I recall Malcolm Bruce, then Liberal Democrat leader in Scotland, saying “Devolution is Dead”     Donald Dewar spoke of “independence in the UK” . Yet the Liberal Democrat commission, and even the inconsistent and incoherent commission report just produced by Labour, join the chorus about “devolution”, not the basic change you seem to me to propose.

Your 2nd proposal – “a constitutional guarantee of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament” – can only constitutionally only be achieved by radical change in the UK’s Governing principles, as the Convention’s experience taught us the hard way.  Are you saying that the “new UK Constitutional law” you propose would achieve that?

As people come to decide on Yes or No, they will need the information now, to compare the clear prospects offered by both sides.   I therefore believe it to beimportant that you give us the answer to 2 questions?

First, are you really and seriously proposing changes that would radically and permanently transform the UK Constitution, and therefore the relationship between Scotland and the UK Government, ensuring that Scotland’s autonomy is secure?

Second, what realistic prospect is there that this, rather than various degrees of devolution, will be presented to the people as a unified and l firmly promised alternative to independence?

With best wishes,

Dear Prime Minister,

YOUR advice from Olympia to me as a Scot living in England is well taken. I have yet to make up my mind and really hear all the evidence, but I promise you that when I do, I will tell my family and many friends in Scotland what I think they should do!

In return for yours, I would like to offer you some advice. Your actions so far lead me to the conviction that you barely understand the Scottish mentality.

A procession of VIPs from England coming north to tell us that an independent Scotland would be impoverished, alone, divided and incompetent is now followed by how much you love us. Neither threats nor Valentines will work.

If you are serious about your deep longing to preserve the Union, there is something you can do. The only way to save the Union is to reform the Union. Whether the vote in September is Yes or No, if Scotland is to remain in the long-term in the Union, it will have to be a very different Union from the one that generates such dangerous apathy, disillusionment with politics, and even contempt.

In 2009, in the heat of the expenses scandal, you said: “I believe there is only one way out of this national crisis we face: we need a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability, we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.”

Well, Scotland is now giving you the chance to live up to these words. The question is this. Is the Union capable of the kind of radical change which would recognise the sovereignty of the people of Scotland and give the nation autonomy which is constitutionally secure? (Not, please, the insult of more “devolution” which simply reaffirms the ultimate authority of Westminster) “Power devolved is power retained”

You speak of our “family of nations” Fair enough, but is it a family in which each member is trusted to decide for itself and shape its own relationships with the other nations?

We are, and will remain, together either way, but are we a family of grown-ups? “Together – Come of Age”

Finally, a question that illustrates what I have said. If a coming referendum were to take the UK out of the EU, as seems likely, could the people of England drag Scotland against her will, out of Europe?

You have the chance to go down in history, not as the PM who said No, but as the statesman who said Yes to a new Union and a remodelled democracy.

Yours faithfully

Kenyon Wright