Thursday, 22 July 2010

Big Society, Little Britain

David Cameron got some points from me for his idea of a "Big Society".  His idea is very much in keeping with my view of what I guess is often described as "civic nationalism".  Leaving aside that the "nation" it encompasses is larger than I would like (being the UK and not just Scotland) I think the idea is bold and sensible, particularly in the times of financial difficulty which we currently find ourselves in. 

"Dave" wants society to help itself, to let communities run their own (non-vital) services and pull Britain back from the big (sprawling) government it has developed.  That to me is a laudable aim, particularly given that I have a "liberal" view of government as a "necessary evil" and that people shouldn't expect government to do everything for them.  If anything,  I don't think his Big Society goes far enough, but the idea is good, so as I say, points on that score.

But then he lost the points on arrival in the States when, in the words of the excellent Joan McAlpine, he "trashed" Scotland on the world stage by saying how wrong he felt the decision was to release Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, and clearly emphasised how he stood with the US against the Scottish Government on the issue.  Whether you believe the decision to be correct or not, the way in which David Cameron has blown his "respect agenda" for the devolved institutions shows a clear disregard for devolution. 

I expect he will announce a full UK-level inquiry into the decision in the coming days, further ignoring the fact that the decision was the Scottish Government's to make.  The fact that he was not PM at the time of the decision probably makes this easier for him - both in a partisan and bi-lateral, UK-US sense.  I made reference a few days ago to the UK (specifically Jack Straw, when he was Home Secretary) allowing General Pinochet to be released back to Chile on medical grounds, despite charges of torture and assasination against him.  I guess the difference in that case is that he was a) backed by former US President George H. W. Bush (and the fact that his military coup was supported by the US) and b) the decision was made by a UK minister.  I don't remember David Cameron (or indeed, anyone from the US Government) speaking out against that decision, and Pinochet lived 6 YEARS after his release.  The truth of the matter is that we would not be talking about this again had al-Megrahi not survived 11 months (and counting) after his release.  A sad state of affairs indeed that government ministers from both sides of the Atlantic are waiting for a terminally ill man to die.

So yes, the "Big Society" is a good idea.  But Dave, your perception of devolution is small and petty, and the respect for it is non-existent.  Must try harder old chap.


commentor 22 July 2010 at 13:14  

Sorry but I don't get why, if 'Dave' disagrees with a decision of the Scottish Government, he can't say so.

Should Salmond have kept his lip buttoned instead of mouthing off about 'unpardonable folly' back in the day?

Obviously the Megrahi decision (real politik sprinkled in a lot of sanctimonious 'compassion' rhetoric) has had negative consequences for the SNP, and I can see why SNP supporters would feel awkward and want everyone to stop talking about it, but the argument that 'Dave' is bound by some requirement to not discuss it or disagree with it is nonsense.

Malc 22 July 2010 at 14:04  

The issue isn't really Cameron disagreeing with the position nor discussing it with Obama - he said the same thing in opposition so while he is PM it would be odd if he had chanegd his mind.

My bone of contention is twofold. One, the issue is devolved - like it or not, his government has no responsibility for it. Two, foreign affairs are not devolved, which means that Cameron represents the devolved legislatures abroad. I agree that there is no "Cabinet responsibility" linking the two, but surely a measure of respect, no? As in "obviously I disagree with the decision but the process by which they reached it was how this was supposed to work".

It also means that there is no right of reply for Salmond or McAskill - because if THEY went somewhere abroad and criticised something Cameron had done (over which they had no control over) you would rightfully expect Cameron to be mad about it.

As for Salmond and "folly". Well, I think he went too far then, but that isn't the same issue. Salmond was an opposition MP doing what opposition MPs do - oppose the government. He didn't go abroad and shout his mouth off about the decision - it was done to a domestic audience. That is different to what Cameron did.

I have no doubt you disagree, but please don't make me out to be some kind of apologist for the SNP - I'm just telling it as I see it.

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