Well what a busy couple of days it has been after the Referendum on Thursday. The result is now clear, a comfortable victory for the NO campaign after final days of energetic campaigning by both sides. A NO victory that was undoubtedly helped by a pledge from the three UK party leaders to provide many additional devolved powers to Scotland. However 24 hours in politics is a long time in politics. . So we now know that Scotland s First Minister will resign after his party have elected a new leader. We now know that our UK Prime Minister will remain, having secured a NO vote and avoided the breakup of the Union. We also know that he now wants to offer greater devolved powers to England, Wales and Northern Ireland in parallel to the required legislation for Scotland. We know that he does not have his own party‘s support to make such wider commitments. We know that the Labour Leader does not wish to follow a parallel timetable for England, to that of Scotland. One presumes the Liberal Democrat Leader agrees with his coalition partner as his party has always supported Federalism. Finally as the linking of the activities emerges unexpectedly into bright light and scrutiny, we have Gordon Brown, a former Labour Chancellor and Prime Minister, confirming that Westminster will meet the timetable set out in “The Pledge” and that he will make sure that happens.
So what to make of it all?
First and foremost lets congratulate both sides, Yes and NO, campaign teams, for energising the Scottish public. For creating debate in town hall meetings and on the street, through social media channels, on the doorstep, and via the traditional broadcast and media routes. The huge surge in voter registrations, the inclusion for the first time ever in the UK of 16-17 year olds, argued for by the First Minister, and the subsequent turnout of over 85% of those eligible to vote on the issue is remarkable. For those who want the detailed insight into who voted Yes and who voted No?
So the genie is truly out of the bottle, we actually have a public interested in politics and the political process. For me that is the greatest, most precious achievement and we must not squander it. It has shown the way to engage all ages in political discourse, without recourse to any serious violence or heavy intimidation, and we must learn the lessons for future elections.
There are probably several lessons to learn from the activity itself, irrespective of outcome. It would be interesting to hear from colleagues how we might collectively transfer some of these lessons to subsequent political engagement across the UK
- We should all push for 16-17 year olds to be included in all subsequent elections.
- We should question the role of the old and tired political party structure, and look at how citizens of no party can influence policy and law through new channels of opinion shaping and sharing which are binding.
- Issue based politics can be supported by a more significant investment in e-democracy tools, allowing mass opinion gathering for single policy issues and approvals
- We need to modernise our voting mechanics, look at easier ways of voting rather than physically putting a ballot paper in a tin box
- We must, as a matter of urgency, reform election funding. In recognising that the convenient grouping of political parties is all but dead we need to limit the ability of the old structures to support those structures by large donations from any vested interests, unions, business, and rich individuals.
- We should create a fund for e-petitioners to our lawmakers that can be accessed by individuals and groups, that allows for individuals and community groups to get access to the right advice to influence law-making
- The energised Scottish voters, both YES and NO, should find common cause with the other Celtic countries and with the major city regions of England to create a mass movement to ensure that promises and timetables are kept for a Federal UK.
- We should consider how such a movement can make itself heard in the UK elections next year, to drive the devolution of authority and resources closer to the people, and to open up the debate about an optimal federal structure
At the same time, we need to be able to trust our elected politicians to take us on such a major constitutional journey. This at a time when trust is at an all-time low. All three major party leaders in the UK made a pledge to Scottish voters before the Referendum. I believe that making such a Pledge was a serious, sincere commitment albeit a bit late on the day and would undoubtedly have influenced some Scottish voters. However the millions who voted for change in Scotland need to know that there are consequences for those who might consider breaking promises. The House of Commons and Lords both need to use the forthcoming adjournment debate to trigger an early In Principle vote on the substantive commitments made and confirm the timetable will be adhered to for the Scotland Act. Included in the vote there should be an understanding that any Leader of the three UK parties must resign if he fails to carry his party in the House to enact the Scotland Act. Likewise any member of the Commons voting for the In Principle vote is voting to honour his party whip when the Act comes before the House formally. It was an extraordinary commitment to make with so little detailed planning and an extraordinary timetable. However a promise is a promise.