To the fourth Anthony Sampson Lecture at Queen Mary, University of London. The topic? “Britain’s Constitutional Reforms: Trivial or Transforming?” The main speaker was Robert Hazell (pictured in blue shirt) Professor of Government and the Constitution at University College London and Director of its Constitution Unit.
Although his lecture was an interesting and comprehensive meander through the UK’s complicated constitutional territory, some of the more interesting remarks emerged during questions afterwards. Professor Peter Hennessy (pictured in khaki suit), for example, focussed on devolution. He said he’d reached the conclusion that “Scotland will be to the UK what Quebec is to Canada and the UK is to the European Union – the awkward one spewing out a constant drizzle of complaint but never pushing it to the point of rupture”. He then quoted P G Wodehouse: “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”
Hennessy is an impressive guy with an interesting turn of phrase uncommon in academics. He said that, at the end of the day, the UK constitution “was like the Ealing Comedy that was never made”, in that it “cheers us up and baffles us in equal measure”.
A gloomier prognosis came from Trevor Dadson, Vice Principal for Humanities and Social Sciences at QMU. He pointed to Spain and its experience with assymetrical devolution, predicting that the UK’s similar experiment would become “a nightmare for the UK” as each region or nation jostled for position within the constitutional pecking order and initiated endless arguments about finance.