Saturday 20 September 2014
After the Scottish Independence Referendum – Where do we go from here?
Well, the Scots rejected independence on Thursday 55% to 45%, which is a larger margin than I imagined. With barely time to pause for breath and take in the result, the race for party political advantage has already begun, under cover of devising a new settlement for Scotland.
Some Scots seem to be expecting a stitch up by Westminster, with nothing substantive being offered, indeed calls from the Prime Minister and the Conservative party are for any new powers for Scotland to matched by ones for England (and Wales and Northern Ireland too, although they get less of a mention, a kind of afterthought).
This was of course predictable, as the Tories have long complained about Scottish MPs voting on English matters, whilst English MPs have no say in Scotland on devolved matters. This is the so called ‘West Lothian question’. The Tories can see that they could make life impossible for a future UK Labour government, having legislation blocked in England by English Tory MPs. Personally, I think this is the least important part of our governance, and a purely cynical move by the Tories.
I think Scotland will get its extra powers although how significant they will be is open to debate. But it is not clear what the rest of the UK will get out of this situation, with only vague and often conflicting ideas coming from the Westminster parties.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, has called for a People’s Convention to be formed to look into the issues surrounding how we are governed, and Ed Miliband has now supported this call. The Lib Dems are calling for a more ‘federal’ system of government and the Tory response above is driven by having at least one eye on UKIP, who will surely make the most of the moment by cranking up English nationalism.
Mark Ferguson writing on Labour List suggests regional assemblies, but crucially to replace MPs at Westminster and to have real powers, rather than the extra politicians with little power model, floated by the last Labour government. He may be onto something.
I have called on these pages for more financial powers for England’s cities, and that plan has been gathering momentum from even before Scotland took centre stage recently.
What I think is clear, is we must not allow the momentum created by the Scottish vote to be lost or dissipated by it being kicked into the long grass. We should examine, root and branch, how we want to be governed, including matters like an elected House of Lords, voting systems for all levels of government, the lobbying and the influence of big business on government.
For above all, this has to be about democracy. The yes camp in Scotland broke out of its usual nationalist parameters and enthused the largely politically disengaged people of the poorer areas. One of my favourite lines from Tony Benn is that ‘Hitler said democracy inevitably leads to Marxism’.
I’ll leave you with that thought.