LETTER: Two answers to the West Lothian question

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The Independent Online
From Mr Simon Partridge

Sir: According to your leader "Tartan terrors of Mr Blair", (27 December), Tony Blair plans a new commission to think up answers to the "West Lothian question", which the creation of a Scottish parliament engenders.

It is doubtful that such a commission will find a convincing answer to the question, because the creation of separate national parliaments within the British state flies in the face of its historical evolution.

The British constitution may not be written, but that does not prevent it leaving an internal logic that is based on it being a unified parliamentary system of government. The process started not with the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707, but with that with Wales in 1536. The British state expanded originally from the English-Welsh core until it absorbed the Irish parliament in 1800. The repercussions of the secession of the Irish Free State from the UK in 1922, as the fragile ceasefire in Northern Ireland demonstrates, have still not been worked through.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, through their plans for assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, seek to reverse this historical process of increasing integration. A closer look at the Irish precedent may be in order. None of the major goals of Irish nationalism have been achieved: the restoration of Gaelic, the absorption of Ulster or the preservation of a rural and Catholic culture. Indeed, so many have decided to emigrate from the Republic that there are now more people of Irish extraction living in Britain than in Ireland.

There is an alternative to the current proposals for national devolution: it is radical devolution to revitalised local government, formed from the coherent urban-regions in which the great majority of us now live (including in Ireland). Not only does this not raise insoluble contradictions for our long parliamentary tradition, but it also happens to be in tune with the coming world in which the global and the local will have far greater salience. In short, it would renew the British nation in a truly modern idiom - something that should appeal to Mr Blair.

Yours faithfully,

Simon Partridge

London, N2

28 December