Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Empire Strikes Back?

This sounds improbable, but the more you read into it, the more you wonder if it's do-able.
SNP anoraks tell me it was the original blueprint advanced by Sinn Fein.
This is a longer version of the story in today's Sunday Herald.

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

IT sounds decidedly ancient, but even in a field of energetic newcomers such as Devo Plus and Devo Max, the latest alternative to independence should still turn heads.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ill-fated union lurking behind World War One, could be the best template for Scotland staying within the UK, according to a constitutional thinktank. 

Canon Kenyon Wright, co-convener of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which led to Holyrood, will tomorrow urge Alex Salmond to consider a modern version of the Empire, in which two equal states work side-by-side with a shared monarch.
Dubbed “secure autonomy”, the eyebrow-raising idea is contained in a submission to the SNP Government’s consultation on the independence referendum from the Constitutional Commission, the educational charity co-founded by Wright.
Intended as an alternative to the status quo and independence, the Commission says secure autonomy should be a second option on the ballot paper.
In a letter to the First Minister, Wright says recent debate has focused on more powers going to Holyrood, when what is needed is a radical change to the democratic system of the UK, and commends the Commission’s paper on secure autonomy.
Written by research director Elliot Bulmer, the paper says most Scots appear to want an “intermediate position” but extending devolution through either Devo Plus or Devo Max would be unsustainable, as ultimate power would remain at Westminster rather than with the Scottish people.
While Edinburgh might exercise certain rights, it would not possess them, and could always be over-ruled by London.
Bulmer says the answer is “secure autonomy within a renegotiated Union”, in which Scotland would be an equal partner with the rest of the UK.
The EU is one version of such a union, in which equal states share common powers.
However Bulmer says the most instructive example for Scotland is “the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the ‘historic compromise’ of 1867”.
Austro-Hungary: The next Scotland?
A response to Hungarian demands for independence from the Austrian empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire acted as a single body in international matters such as foreign affairs and defence.
However for domestic purposes it was split into two autonomous states, Hungary and ‘Austria and the rest’, each with a parliament, constitution and full fiscal powers, which shared a monarch: the King of Hungary was also Emperor of Austria.
There was also a common currency and joint national bank, and the two states collaborated on cross-border projects such as railways.
Applying the model to Scotland, the UK would be the single body for foreign affairs and defence, but internally it would be divided into Scotland and ‘England, Wales and Northern Ireland’, each of which would be a fully autonomous state in terms of domestic law, policy and finances.
Each state would have its parliament, government, passports and constitution, but there would be a shared monarch and a common currency.
Instead of a UK parliament, UK-wide committees would scrutinize the work of a British Executive which would include Scotland’s Prime Minister.
Like Devo Max, Scotland would control all taxes and contribute to the cost of shared services, such as defence and foreign affairs.
Bulmer admitted the Austro-Hungarian Empire sounded anachronistic, but said it still provided useful parallels, as it was born out of an empire that lacked an obvious purpose, and whose positive case for existing was largely an historic legacy.
“People laugh at the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But you can make some good comparisons between it and the British state. It was a historic compromise which lasted nearly 50 years.
“It did what it said on the tin. It kept the Austro-Hungarian Empire together while allowing the two main constituent units to have almost total authonomy in all domestic affairs.
“Secure autonomy provides a different type of union which ticks 90% of the boxes of those wanting independence while providing for the military and strategic position of the UK.” 
Is that a gun in your pocket?
Alas, Austro-Hungary did not end well.
In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to its throne, was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb who wanted part of the Empire to be in a Greater Serbia.
The resulting crisis drew in Germany, Russia, France and Britain and resulted in what became World War One, and the end of the Empire.
A spokesman for Salmond said: "This is an interesting and positive contribution to the consultation from Canon Kenyon Wright - the crucial point is that the terms of the referendum, including whether a 'more powers' option is on the ballot paper, must be decided in Scotland, not dictated by Westminster."


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