City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: Tam Dalyell on How Devolution Will Break Up the UK

By Allan Alstead - Posted on 22 August 2015

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Tam Dalyell (author), James Naughtie (chair)

There are not too many occasions when the speaker is already on stage as the audience come in. However, this was Tam Dalyell and he was happy to be on stage in his wheel chair to greet James Naughtie as the Chairman when he came in. No time was wasted - right from the start Tam made it clear that he thought that devolution had been a complete mistake and that, in his view, the break up of the UK will follow.

Dalyell was asked by James Naughtie when this conviction came to him and he was able to reply with the exact date - Friday 11th May 1962, after prolonged discussions at lunchtime the day before with Willie Wolfe of the SNP against whom he fought the election for West Lothian. He added that this was in the days when constructive and friendly discussions could be held with political opponents, indeed he was told at one stage that he should be a member of the SNP. However, he had a fundamental disagreement that there should be a separate Scottish state. While accepting that people were entitled to this view, he was convinced that this was not the right answer for Scotland. His view is that the core of the SNP do not want a 'settlement' - they simply want independence. In his view there were only two places for nationalism to be demonstrated and these are Murrayfield and Hampden!

Dalyell maintained that Scotland was now travelling down a road that was never intended. When Donald Dewar started pushing devolution he claimed he could create a Scottish Parliament for £40 million - it cost in the end £440 million. Now we have produced a situation where as soon as people have a little power they want more and will not be satisfied until they have secured full control. Dalyell maintained that independence was certainly not inevitable and he claimed that many more people than we think would vote in fact to reduce the power of the Scottish Parliament.

When questioned about Jeremy Corbyn he gave him a clear endorsement and suggested that Corbyn could well become a potential Prime Minister. He based this on the fact that he has behaved impeccably in the leadership contest so far and the fact that he is bringing people back to Labour when in the last General Election the Labour Party had achieved the lowest turnout ever. He maintained that he did have wide appeal to voters and said that you simply have to look at Jeremy Corbyn's record in that he was elected in 1983 with a majority of over 4,000 but increased this to over 21,000 in the last General Election in 2015 - so this must indicate a level of grass roots popularity. And Tam Dalyell appeared to back moves to re-nationalise key utilities and adopt a more anti-austerity agenda. Dalyell certainly had little time for Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Andy Burnham who are the three other runners for the Labour leadership.

Dalyell commented that he thought the standard of debate in the Scottish Parliament was poor and he linked this to the time limitation that was imposed on the length of speeches. However, he suggested that many of the SNP MPs would be seen to do a good job in the House of Commons, although they might become disenchanted to be receiving instructions from someone who is not an elected member of that body. Here, of course, the resentment of English MPs may surface, as we are seeing at the moment with the Conservative move towards English Votes for English Laws - a revival of a response to the West Lothian Question which Tam Dalyell originally posed in 1997.

This was a fascinating hour spent in the company of a man who has been a thorn in the side of several Prime Ministers - a long standing MP who left the Commons as 'Father of the House'.

Part of the "Changing Britain" series at the Edinburgh Book Festival