It is many years since I was in the centre of Manchester, and it has certainly changed.
The distinctive mix of new build and restoration is very attractive and there is a certain wit at work in some of the additional decoration. A classic concrete late Soviet era statue of Engels, the great theorist of communism, was imported from the Ukraine and stands on a plinth framed by bright modern structures and surrounded by bars, clubs and coffee shops.
Engels lived in the city for two years and wrote his classic “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 “about what he observed and researched. It was that book which persuaded Marx that the working class could be the driver of revolution and therefore probably had more influence on the 20th century than any other text save the Bible.
I was in Manchester for the 32nd Summit of the British Irish Council, which this year celebrates 20 years of existence. One of the strands of the Good Friday Agreement it brings together the Governments of the sovereign states of Ireland and the UK, the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to encourage collaborative working and the exchange of ideas and information.
No Taoiseach has missed a BIC Summit and I suspect the same is true of the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers. But in her 3 years in office Theresa May has never attended (it was chaired this week by her deputy David Lidington) and Cameron only turned up for a photo call at a single one. It may be that the last PM to actually take part was the one who helped establish it, Tony Blair.
I don’t doubt the commitment of the UK Government to ensuring that all the strands of the Good Friday Agreement are honored but I do doubt the way in which they express that commitment for it manifests itself in exactly the same way as the UK Government support for devolution – lots of assurances that it is the unchangeable legal status but never a finger lifted to ensure that the damage and pressures placed upon it by the mounting chaos of the all engulfing selfish, self centered Tory Brexit meltdown are mitigated.
That contrast was much in evidence this week. David Lidington came to Edinburgh and spoke warmly about how Tory Unionism had completely accepted and embraced devolution. I know he believes that but within forty eight hours Michael Gove was busy demonstrating his contempt for that “settled will“ by asserting a non existent right to interfere in devolved matters if he believed that not enough “no deal” work was being done in his areas of (reserved) Ministerial interest. The Tory leadership contenders go even further at each hustings, vying with each other to pour scorn on Scotland.
BIC demonstrates that it is only by having the right to exercise power that mutual respect can be guaranteed because the crown dependencies have more freedom and autonomy in that regard than Wales or Scotland.
We can be over-ruled at Westminster’s whim. They cant.
Moreover devolution provides no effective structures for dispute resolution or remedy, unlike the long established legal foundations of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
The sovereign states and largely independent crown dependencies of these islands, working together through structures like BIC, could be an even greater force for good, securing peaceful prosperity and constitutional progress right across these islands
This type of collaboration, underpinned by law, might also help England to become a positive partner in the task of building increasing prosperity and securing peace, inside or outside the EU.
Engels and Marx regarded the European “year of revolutions” of 1848 as the first sign of the final overthrow of capitalism. It wasn’t, but the effects of the upheaval are still being felt across our continent.
Twenty years ago the UK had its own smaller revolution, when the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of devolution in Scotland and Wales forced change on one of the most constitutionally centralized nations on earth.
The effects of that Big Bang are only gradually working themselves out too, with the current death throes of the Tory party as sign and signal of that process.
But it is not yet complete. The growing demand for independence for Scotland is an indication of that, and of the need to finish the job by embracing the normality of equality, between people and places large and small.