Onward Bulletin 26/01/21
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William Hague memorably described the Conservative Party as having two default positions: complacency and panic. It is good description of the Tory Party but a better description of the Union debate. Years of false constitutional calm, followed by a raging storm of nationalism.
We are back in full blown panic mode. The Sunday Times splashed yet another poll in favour of Scottish Independence. The SNP have pledged to hold a wildcat referendum if they win a majority in May. George Osborne thinks Boris should "just say no". Gordon Brown wants a commission on UK democracy. Among all of this, the Prime Minister is reportedly heading to Scotland this week to make the case for not breaking up the country.
The path to continued union is far from clear. It is simultaneously true that no British Prime Minister would accept the need for an independence referendum now - at the height of a global pandemic and immediately after the upheaval of Brexit - and that none could defy a clear majority of opinion forever. Similarly, it is clear both that "do nothing" is not an option and that the playbook deployed in 1998 and 2011 - to devolve more powers to Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont - would not be sustainable.
The Union needs time, as James Forsyth wrote on Saturday. But it also demands an emotional defence and a serious policy response. Few prominent unionists, aside from perhaps Neil Oliver, have made a case for the Union that appeals to the heart rather than the head. And few policymakers have sought to develop policies that actively replenish the shared well of institutions, prosperity and sympathy that underpin the United Kingdom, rather than subdivide each between four separate polities.
In essence, we need to unite around and through the Union. In the coming months, we will be doing considerable work in this space, to understand attitudes towards the Union in all four nations of the United Kingdom, and to develop the policy responses that might prevent fragmentation. It will need to be a shared endeavour, so if you are interested in contributing to this work - financially or intellectually - please let us know.
45% of of English voters would actively like Scotland to be independent or are not bothered either way. Roughly equivalent (46%) to those that would be upset if Scotland left the Union. The Sunday Times looks at the scale of the challenge for Unionists. Link.
Could it be *too* much? The Economist takes a look at President Biden’s proposed stimulus plan. Link.
Culture wars, carbon pricing, car-free cities. Joss Garman, Member of Onward’s Getting to Zero Steering Group, launches his new newsletter discussing all things net zero. Link.
It matters how you measure it. Martin Wolf considers varying indicators to estimate the places we need to level up. Link.
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