David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband before the Queen's Speech on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Party leaders unite to promise more powers for Scotland

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems issue joint declaration on "further strengthening" the Scottish Parliament. 

There is no majority for Scottish independence, a situation that is unlikely to change before next month's referendum, but the polls have long shown popular support for greater powers to be transferred to Holyrood. With this in mind, and ahead of tonight's TV debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, the three main party leaders and their Scottish equivalents have united to promise further devolution in the event of a No vote. 

Here's the joint declaration they've just released:

Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed. 

 

We believe that the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom is to Scotland's benefit in a partnership of nations in which distinct national identities can flourish and be celebrated. 

 

We believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been strengthened since the advent of devolution. 

 

We support a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the Parliament's powers. 

 

The three parties delivered more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission which resulted in the Scotland Act 2012. 

 

We now pledge to strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security. We believe that Scotland should have a stronger Scottish Parliament while retaining full representation for Scotland in the UK Parliament. That can bring people together from all of Scotland, from civic society and every community. 

 

The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs. 

 

We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015.

 

This commitment will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament in a stronger United Kingdom.

 

Signed by:

 

Johann Lamont, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

 

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

 

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

 

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party

 

David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party

The move is designed to counter the nationalist claim that the only way to guarantee new powers for the Scottish Parliament is to vote for independence. In this respect, it is the reverse of the intervention launched by the economic spokesmen of the three main parties earlier this year when they announced that the UK would deny an independent Scotland permission to use the pound. Having focused on what the country couldn't do after separation (resulting in a largely negative tone), the leaders are now emphasising what it could do as part of the union. 

The Yes campaign will undoubtedly reject their words as too vague (and there are significant divisions between the parties over how far future devolution should go), while others will question why this positive message wasn't delivered earlier in the campaign. But as Darling prepares for what will be a testing debate with Salmond, their intervention will help to shore up his position. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser