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This is not Brown's crisis but Britain's

David Marquand (Oxford, oD author): From 600 miles away, British politics seem more than usually dismal, and more than usually petty. The sight of Labour MPs running around complaining about Brown's faults only a year after they gave him the leadership on a plate is deeply unedifying, to put it at its lowest. Nothing new has happened to his character or style since he became leader. He is still the person he has been for the last 20 years and more. If his MPs have now changed their minds about him that tells us more about their gutlessness than about his inadequacies. If he's unfit for the job now, he was unfit a year ago. If he was fit then, he's fit now.

But Brown's personality is not the real issue in any case. The first and most obvious point to make about Glasgow East is that it happened in Scotland, and that the Scottish National Party won! I don't think it was a vote against the Union, but I do think it was a vote against the way in which the devolution legislation was framed. New Labour was trying to have its cake and eat it - to appease the manifest Scottish demand for Home Rule, while maintaining the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament and the inequitable absurdities of the Barnett formula on finance. It was always likely that this would blow up in Labour's face sooner or later; and in Glasgow East it did so with an almighty bang.

Politicians on parade at Belfast Pride

Patrick Corrigan, (Amnesty Blogs: Belfast and Beyond): There were more politicians at Saturday's Belfast Pride parade than you could shake a stick at. Or at least an Amnesty placard which, once again, was the hottest item in town.

In the wake of the now infamous series of anti-gay comments made by DUP MP Iris Robinson – not to mention the huge response of the LGBT community and their supporters – Northern Irish politicians of every party (except the DUP, of course) were out in force to prove their gay-friendly credentials.

Dealing with Stormont to deal with Holyrood

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The DUP this week sought to undermine Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey by portraying his precedessor David Trimble as the real architect of the party's deal with the Conservatives.

Even if that claim is exagerrated, Trimble's former advisor Steven King is a well-placed observer of Conservative-unionist relations. In the Irish Examiner, he suggests that the Tories' move away from English nationalism could actually assist a rapprochement with the SNP.

George Osborne, the Tories’ finance spokesman and unofficial deputy leader, in particular, has been asking how it would look if the Conservatives were held responsible for the break-up of the UK, not least if the 1980s were to repeat themselves and the Tories were seen to provoke Scottish nationalist sentiment. Wouldn’t a partnership involving the whole UK (including the north), not just the whole of Great Britain, answer criticisms that the Tories are “the English party”? Furthermore, if the Conservatives were in government at Stormont with the nationalist party par excellence, Sinn Féin, wouldn’t that clear the way for new approaches in Edinburgh and silence doubts about the Tories’ commitment to devolution? 

Tories renew relationship with Ulster Unionists

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): On a day when the Conservatives are expected to be also-rans in Scotland, David Cameron has delivered the clearest possible signal of his commitment to the union. In a joint Telegraph article with Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey, he calls for a renewal of the historic alliance between the two parties.

As leaders we met at Westminster last week and agreed to set up a joint working group to explore the possibilities of closer cooperation leading to the creation of a new political and electoral force in Northern Ireland. That working group will report to us in the autumn

Endism - A flawed vision of the future

Arthur Aughey: (University of Ulster): When I finished the manuscript of my book Nationalism, Devolution and the United Kingdom State (Pluto 2001) I did so with what I thought was not only a literary flourish but also a political warning. 

The literary flourish was intended to engage with Tom Nairn’s polemic against ‘UKania’ in After Britain (Granta 2000) where he had employed the Kakanian metaphor of Robert Musil’s novel The Man without Qualities. Nairn argued that just as the fond hope of Austro-Marxists that they could save the integrity of the Habsburg Empire from nationalist challenge came to nothing so too Labour's constitutional activism merely replayed the old Austrian saying - 'es muss etwas geschehen' (something must be done). However, the fatalistic end was implied in that action - 'es ist passiert' (it just happened). And what will just happen, is already happening, is the dissolution of the United Kingdom. It was like the old Austrian lament of 1916 we find in Strong (History of European Ideas 1984, p. 305): 

Will a Tory landslide solve the English question?

Tom Griffin (London: The Green Ribbon) Some of the proceedings from last week's Inside Devolution 2008 conference at the Constitution Unit are now available online.

They included a fascinating roundtable discussion on the performance of the devolved governments over the past year: Iain MacWhirter, Martin Shipton, and Robin Wilson provided insightful analyses of the political situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively. (Audio here)

Cameron's Tories: 'A straightforward party of the union'

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The Crewe and Nantwich by-election will be concentrating many minds on the prospect of a Conservative government, not least in Scotland , where the Tories have only one MP.

That position has led some to suggest that the Conservatives would be better off conceding the SNP's case and hiving off Scotland altogether. In a speech to the party's Scottish Conference, Cameron set his face against that approach:

Visiting the establishment - easy banter on the future of the Union

Alexandra Runswick (London, Unlock Democracy): Last week the Justice Committee took evidence on the English Questions as part of their inquiry Devolution 10 years on (watch the video here - available for 28 days only!). What was interesting about this particular evidence session was the way it was neatly divided into establishment figures and pressure groups, and the contrasts this showed, both in the issues raised and the style of the session.

The "Stain" of separatism, Cameron picks up Gordon's gauntlet

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): An important day in our immediate history. The Prime Minister touches down in Basra to announce the end of combat duties in Iraq, his key strategic separation from Blair, and then goes on to back the long haul in Afghanistan. At home Ed Balls prepares the roll out of his education strategy designed to show the Blairites how to deliver change. But this double advance of the government's distinction has the headlines stolen from them by a dramatic speech in Edinburgh from the leader of the opposition. Cameron takes up Brown's challenge on Britishness. Already, at Conservative Home there is important coverage of the direction being taken and those interested must also look at comments on it which honestly reveal the waterfront of Tory tension on this issue of issues. A relieved Tory MSP is quoted as saying that the prospect of real power had finally inspired the party's leader into grasping what it means to be the representative of British power:

Tory MP Mark Field redraws the Union

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Its been hard - so far - to get Conservatives to write for OurKingdom about how they see the future of the Union. Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster was asked for his views in a question session on ConservativeHome. The question was: "What should the Party do to minimise the effect of a surge in English nationalism as the next general election approaches? Is a policy of English votes for English Bills enough, or should we at the same time pro-actively seek to give the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments more powers over their economies?" The answer is remarkable, it deserves to be read in full:

Scotland needs a new constitution

Chris Thomson (Barcelona, Scottish Constitutional Commission): As each day goes by, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England becomes increasingly untenable. The time has come for a fundamental rethink about Scotland's constitutional future. The political process is inadequate and inappropriate for such a major rethink, partly because it tends to be self-serving and opportunistic, but also because it has not shown itself able to think constitutionally and strategically, which is precisely the kind of thinking that Scotland most needs at this point in her history. That is why we have established a Constitutional Commission for Scotland. There were compelling reasons for doing so.

Break-up or reconfigure?

Michael Collins (Oxford): Gordon Brown has a unique opportunity to bring the issues surrounding identity politics, ‘Britishness’ and devolution together through a structured process of constitutional reform. This has the potential to engage the public in meaningful debate about what kind of Britain we want for the 21st century. Certainly ‘reconfiguration’ is a far more interesting and potentially progressive idea than ‘break-up’. Who knows, Brown could be remembered as Britain’s Scottish Prime Minister who gave the English their parliament.

Huge problem for Gordon Brown

Peter Oborne (Whitehall): The victory of the SNP has an historic importance which stretches way beyond Scotland. It has created a new architecture for British politics. Specifically, I do not think it is possible any longer for a Labour Party which has been rejected north of the border to use its Scottish MPs to enforce its will in English issues. Last autumn Scottish MPs helped the Labour government secure a narrow majority of 35 in a Bill abolishing the right to jury trial in serious fraud cases. They did so even though this did not apply in Scotland which has a separate legal system. I felt this removal of ancient English liberties very keenly indeed. It seemed to me casual and presumptuous that it was made possible by a group of people who had no personal stake in the matter: precisely the kind of thoughtless and disrespectful exercise of power which so inflamed the Scots when the English did it to them. I am not writing this as an English nationalist. On the contrary, I believe very strongly in the union. But a basic equity is involved here. The SNP win has precipitated a constitutional crisis. Gordon Brown has been very unlucky indeed. He will have to find a solution to the conundrum thrown up by the SNP victory, or he will not be able to govern.

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