The Domino Effect was a dominant theory (mostly in the US) during the Cold War period – when anxiety about Communism’s real intentions in Europe and the wider world was at its height – that as one country became controlled by Communism, then inevitably, by a process of contamination, states bordering it would also fall under its domination, like toppling dominoes in a row. This theory was the basis of US and other countries’ foreign policy and helped fuel armed conflicts in the post-1945 period.
While Communism was stopped by a combination of external resistance and internal collapse, The Domino Effect provides a good analogy for the current Balkanization of the UK that has occurred as a result of the introduction of legislative devolution. Legislative devolution in one part of the UK (SNP dominated devolved Scotland mostly) has enabled anti-UK nationalists (the SNP primarily) to rise to power, ignore reserved limitations on their remit and use their devolved executive to pursue independence/reunification referenda. This has encouraged nationalists in other devolved parts of the UK (Wales and Northern Ireland) and even England itself, to pursue independence/re-unification and devolution with greatly enhanced ability as well as much more aggressively when they wouldn’t have been in a position to do so without this encouragement in a kind of knock-on effect, just like the metaphorical dominoes.
It is now manifestly true that this has been the case throughout the entire UK. Take Wales, for instance. The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, have existed since 1925 (nine years before the formation of the SNP) but in their early years had been more of a cultural nationalist movement, trying to promote the Welsh language and culture. They had desired independence from the UK, but this was very much a longer-term objective. After the introduction of legislative devolution in the late 1990s and influenced by the SNP’s aggressive campaign for independence, this stance began to change and Plaid began to adopt a much more militantly pro-independence agenda.
The domino effect began to come into play, as Plaid pushed for new referenda on granting the then Welsh Assembly (now ‘parliament’) more and more powers, including one in 2011 that substantially increased the areas of its legislative competency. Emboldened by the successful attempts of the SNP to hold an independence referendum, Plaid jumped on the bandwagon and has intimated a few times now that they would push for an independence referendum in Wales if they felt the conditions were right (i.e. that they would win).
In an ominous echo of the 2007 re-naming of the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government by the SNP (though Labour had also backed this move as well), the Welsh Assembly announced in 2017 that it now wished to be known as the ‘Welsh parliament’, a further step in the direction of Wales distancing itself constitutionally from the rest of the UK.
Added to all this, Plaid have recently intimated that they will agitate for an independence referendum if there is another one in Scotland. Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister in the Welsh ‘parliament’, attempted to court Plaid by stating that he would grant them a referendum on independence if Labour was re-elected in the 2021 Welsh ‘parliament’ elections AND would allow Adam Price, the Plaid leader, to be First Minister.
All of this resurgence of aggressive anti-UK nationalism has only come about as a knock on effect of the SNP’s machinations in Scotland. Events would not have developed in this direction if legislative devolution hadn’t been introduced into Scotland. A similar, though markedly more pronounced, effect is in evidence in Northern Ireland. The introduction of legislative devolution there has witnessed a rising tide of anti-UK nationalist sentiment and an increase in calls for re-unification with Eire. As with Wales, these clarion calls for re-unification have been magnified by the megaphone of devolution, which has brought the topic very much into the forefront of the public’s eye, something that just wouldn’t have been anywhere so acute without devolution.
Nationalist and even some ‘mainstream’ politicians in England have been affected by these phenomena as well. Even though the idea of English regional assemblies was conclusively defeated in a referendum held in North-East England on 4th November 2004 by a margin of 77.9% to 22.1%, the knock-on effect of legislative devolution in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has led to a resurgence in the concept of English regional government. This idea was resurrected in 2012 when certain Northern English MPs wrote a letter to The Observer newspaper, openly stating that it was time to reconsider having Northern regional assemblies (in England). They were clearly inspired by Scottish devolution. Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman wrote:
The North has a much larger population than Scotland [which has a parliament]… We don’t have a body to deal with strategic problems and issues for the North [of England].
The public in the North started to have concerns that devolution had left the northern regions of England as the poor relations of Scotland in terms of economic and political clout. These concerns were magnified even more when Holyrood gained even more powers in 2016 and would be further exacerbated if (or it would be more correct to say ‘when’) more powers are added in the future.
The continual granting of new powers to the Welsh Assembly/ ‘parliament’ has, and will, continue to have the same effect on England. What’s more, 2021 saw a further unsettling development, with the formation of a political party dedicated to the political independence of the North of England from the rest of the UK. Yorkshire also now has a political party that demands separation from the rest of the UK. The Balkanization of the UK, initiated and accelerated by the introduction of legislative devolution, continues to accelerate.
The extreme South-West of England is another domino that has been placed in the chain. The Duchy of Cornwall has, for a long time, had a history of a small minority of residents asserting that they have a separate cultural identity from the rest of England. They had a different language and certain elements considered themselves to be of different ethnic origin. However, Cornish became a dead language by the end of the Nineteenth Century, having essentially ceased to be used by the vast majority of the population and the concept of a separate Cornish identity as a political issue declined and fell into abeyance as a result. Despite Mebyon Kernow, (‘The sons of Cornwall’), a political party that pushed for Cornish autonomy (i.e., a Cornish assembly), being formed in 1951, it was the introduction of legislative devolution in the late 1990s that really sparked interest in devolution in Cornwall.
The Cornish Constitutional Convention launched a campaign for a devolved Cornish legislature on the back of the referenda in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that led to the setting up of devolved institutions in these parts of the UK. In October 2007, Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat MP said:
If Scotland is benefitting from devolution, then Cornwall should learn from this and increase the intensity of its campaign for devolution to a Cornish Assembly.
In 2009, Liberal Democrat MP William Rogerson presented a ‘Government of Cornwall’ Bill before the House of Commons, which argued for a devolved Cornish assembly that was very similar in set up to the Scots and Welsh legislatures. The Domino Effect influence of Scots, Welsh, and Northern Ireland devolution is clear from the following statement made by Rogerson:
Cornwall is entitled to a level of self-government. If the Government is going to recognize the right of Scotland and Wales to greater self-determination because of their unique cultural and political positions, then they should recognize ours.
But that’s not all. Not content with (trying) to break up the United Kingdom, the SNP are now imperilling the very existence of Scotland as a unitary political entity. Recent developments have shown that the actions of the SNP are setting up dominoes within Scotland itself. In 2020, Shetland voted to explore ways to become independent of Scotland. The Shetland Islands Council overwhelmingly voted to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent of Scotland. Councillors voted 18 to 2 in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’. In a debate lasting more than an hour, members argued that decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the island has been cut under the SNP dominated Holyrood administration.
Councillor Steven Coutts said that devolution has not benefited the area and added that the Scottish parliament feels ‘remote’ to islanders, who face some of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.
The status quo is not working. Devolution and the Islands Act have not made any tangible difference to the quality of life.
In further developments, the Orkney Islands council leader James Stockan has asserted that they might become part of Norway but be self-governed due to the failings of SNP-dominated Holyrood in Scotland. Council leader Mr Stockan blamed a lack of funding coming from Holyrood as the reason behind these shock plans. He said that the islands were being ‘failed dreadfully’ by the SNP. With both Shetland and the Orkney Islands exploring options for independence from Scotland, Scotland would be cut off from the vast majority of its oil supplies, further undermining the SNP’s case for independence.
Other regions of Scotland (the Borders, Clydesdale, Tweeddale; Berwickshire, Roxburgh, Selkirk; Dumfries and Galloway) have expressed similar sentiments and the reason for it is invariably unhappiness at the way the SNP is mismanaging their affairs. The SNP and their misdeeds have had a knock on effect on Scotland itself similar to that they’ve had on the UK generally and England specifically. The SNP and devolution has encouraged a previously unitary, cohesive country (the UK) and a part of that country (England) to fragment into several separate entities. It’s extremely ironic that it’s the SNP’s own actions that have led to this Domino Effect in Scotland itself.
The UK Government must take some blame for not enforcing the remit system set up by the devolution ‘settlement’ in which the devolved legislatures (Holyrood, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont) can only debate and pass legislation on matters that aren’t reserved for Westminster’s consideration. Why does it allow the anti–UK nationalists to abuse the remit system to such a monumental degree? It’s totally irrelevant that independence is the raison d’être of the SNP (and Plaid, or that re-unification is also IRA/Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s). They simply have no business getting involved in reserved matters.
The then Labour government did nothing to stop Alex Salmond changing the title of Holyrood from the ‘Scottish Executive’ to the ‘Scottish Government’, even though it was extremely obvious that this was a deliberate attempt to subvert the concept of devolution and move Holyrood towards a perceived equal status as a national government on a par with Westminster. Added to this, the Welsh Assembly changing its title to ‘parliament’ is something that the UK Government does not appear to have wanted to stop.
All in all, there has been an apparent and palpable lack of interest and vigour from Westminster for defending the UK against the increasing encroachments by anti-UK nationalism on UK sovereignty and their pretentions to being national governments, rather than just devolved administrations. Their appeasement has led to a clearly discernible pattern of legislative devolution in one part of the UK, i.e., Scotland, having a knock on effect on other parts in a domino-like effect. The SNP in Scotland set the ball rolling by aggressively ignoring their devolved remit, and this clearly encouraged other devolved regions like Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit and become more confident and so more bellicose in their demands for ever greater autonomy and even to push for full independence.
This disunity is spreading across the UK and even Scotland, in an uncontrollable wave of copycat aggressive nationalism that threatens to throw the British Isles back to the early 10th century days of being a disunited, warring hodgepodge of fiefdoms and kingdoms. It’s time the UK government stepped in to ensure the integrity of the UK and stopped the dominoes from falling.
Stephen Bailey is a pro-UK author who has written over 150 articles on the Constitution, especially as it concerns Scotland and the abolition of legislative devolution. His website is here.
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