It was devolution wot done it

The brief quiet that descended over British politics ends in a heated spat over Alex Salmond's plans

Three weeks into the August lull of political activity, and the UK blogosphere finally has something to get excited/agitated about. Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, produced a white paper proposing full-scale devolution. An electronic debate ensued.

If the suggestion seemed a kick in the teeth to Gordon Brown, Elliot Joseph was none too sympathetic: "Over its 300 years a number of enemy powers have countenanced the overthrow of the United Kingdom. Until Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took power in 1997, however, it looked most unlikely that anyone would accomplish it.

"As he steers the country masterfully from one crisis to the next, it will be amusing to watch Brown try to forestall the consequences of his own disastrous policy."

What rattled Scottish Labour activist Kezia Dugdale's cage was the way the SNP went about the debate. And rattle it, it did. Her advice to Salmond: "Do the right thing, take a policy to parliament, debate it, seek the cross-party support that you need to do something about it and pursue it.

"Do not create a website devoted to a National Conversation where you set the boundaries of the conversation you’re prepared to take part - whilst also allowing the CyberNATs to inflict their ignorant, narrow-minded venom on the rest of us."

What seemed to anger unionists most was not the fact but the way the subject had been broached. The Thunder Dragon wrote: "I am a Unionist, but the debate over Scottish independence seems that it needs to be had - and sooner is better than later. Opinion polls are showing that the majority of Scottish voters do not favour independence from the United Kingdom.

"They should have this referendum, held with a caveat that this decision would be final if the vote came out against independence."

The issue of Scottish independence is a thorny one for Labour, and especially for Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson at Political Betting highlights how Brown should learn from his predecessors: "There’s also a general election dimension here. Would Gord go to the country just at the time when this is developing as an issue? The last thing he wants, surely, is for a campaign to be dominated by EVEL [English Votes for English Laws]?

"People often forgot that it was the Scottish devolution issue, not the so called ‘winter of discontent’, that brought Jim Callaghan’s Labour government down in 1979. Gord knows he has to tread carefully.”