You know the Union is in trouble because Gordon Brown is back in the news, and using some lurid language.
“Failed state”, he says Britain is becoming. This is the sort of term people often apply to places such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Even if true, it’s usually unkind and unhelpful towards nations that may have ended up in their predicament through no fault of their own, and certainly not because of what their people – rather than their leaders – have done.
So, maybe we should think about why Brown (who, after all, used to run this putative failed state) thinks the UK risks becoming one: because he happens to be right.
The answer, of course, is the virus of nationalism. It’s been around forever, of course, but now it’s mutating on these very isles. “Coronanationalism,” if you like. It’s getting more contagious.
The same symptomatic arguments about taking back control, national identity and sovereignty are turning feverish. People are worried and losing their sense of good taste. The patient just survived the last outbreak in Scotland, in 2014; but the body politic has been reinfected. The antibodies were supposed to last a generation. They did not.
Why is it back? Where’s the vaccine? Brown thinks he has it – a quasi-federal state where the interests of nations and regions are balanced in a federal parliament, probably via a new senate to replace the House of Lords. It works in Australia, Germany the US and elsewhere, so why not in Britain?
There is no good reason why not, except that the Tories have no interest in establishing it or making it function. Mr Brown should recall what happened the last time he intervened like a brilliant doctor – at the last moment, when the independence referendum was lost and the British patient was flatlining – back in 2015.
Brown himself, in his memoirs, expresses disappointment about what happened next – English votes for English laws.
After that, of course, came Brexit, the trashing of the Sewel Convention – which should have given Scotland a veto on the type of Brexit at least – and an English-dominated parliament pushing through an Internal Market Bill that takes Brussels’ powers over Scottish matters, and hands too much to London.
The machinery of cooperation – the cross nation committees representing the UK – are a talking shop, but they never even meet these days.
Apparently, Brown is talking to Michael Gove about all this, but he should recall how he was cynically used and discarded by David Cameron six years ago. It will happen again, even if a referendum is staved off with some rubbery promises about constitutional reform.
These things only feed the fever for independence and the feeling of betrayal in Scotland. Brown will have to take his share of the blame for failing to prevent Britain turning into a failed state.