Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Scottish Devolution

Sometimes there is material I would like to include in a lecture but just don’t have the space. The following extract from Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, is one example. It is illuminating and a little amusing. Interestingly when I shared this with a group of students a previous year, one commented that towards the end of this section it almost sounds as if Blair is talking about Gordon Brown, which is an interesting observation and raises the question of whether Brown tainted Blair’s view of the Scots, or whether the ‘prickly’ Scots tainted his view of Gordon. The extract is from pages 251-252:

I was never a passionate devolutionist. It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins. I supported the UK, distrusted nationalism as a concept, and looked at the history books and worried whether we could get it through. However, though not passionate about it, I thought it inevitable. Just as the nationa state was having to combine with other in pushing power upwards in multinational organisations to meet global challenges, so there would be inexorable pressure to devolve power downwards to where people felt greater connection.

We didn’t want Scotland to feel the choice was status quo or separation. And it was a central part of our programme for Scotland. The Scots were notoriously prickly about the whole business.

I always thought it extraordinary: I was born in Scotland, my parents were raised there, we had lived there, I had been to school there, yet somehow – and this is the problem which nationalist sentiment unleashed – they (notice the ‘they’) contrived to make me feel alien.

Language has to be used carefully. They were incredibly sensitive to the fear that the Scottish Parliament would turn out to be a local council (which it never was). The Scottish media were a PhD dissertation about chippiness all unto themselves. They could spot a slight that to the naked eye was invisible. Once I gave an interview on why the Parliament should have tax-raising powers, in which I said: ‘If even a parish council can, why shouldn’t the Scottish Parliament?’ – which led to the headline ‘Blair compares parliament to parish council’, which even by their standards was quite some misinterpretations. Funnily enough, I quite liked them. They were hard to deal with, but it was sort of fun at the same time. T. Blair, A Journey, pp.251-2

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