The morning of Friday 19th September 2014. Unionists awake with a sigh of relief that Scotland has decided against going it alone for now. #RuleBritannia trends on Twitter networks in Great Britain and the talk is of the 'empire striking back' and 'common sense' prevailing.
|Jim Murphy MP campaign for No, Thomas Nugent, CC-BY-SA 2.0|
|Yes campaigning at Kinross, William Starkey - CC Attribution Share-alike 2.0|
But let's be clear on something Twitterverse and indeed the rest of the universe; a no result in this independence referendum, is by no means an acceptance of the status quo. To hark back to the vestiges of the Empire - which was based upon cultural and economic dominance - or to 'common sense', which is based on a half-baked, readily retractable form of self-determination, is to ignore the reason a third of Great Britain's land mass nearly sailed into the North Sea last night. Scotland continues to suffer from a lack of representation in Britain and the wider world.
The odds have mostly been stacked against the 'yes' campaign for some time, save for a glimmer of hope, when a single poll stated that 'yes' had reached 51% to 49 % for 'no'. This forced the British government into overdrive, meting out a series of rushed promises about more powers if Scotland rejected independence, a deceptively loaded comment by Queen Elizabeth II on Scotland 'having to choose carefully' on the referendum –contrary to any 'conventions' on political neutrality – and a series of Scottish banks threatening to move (jobs) to England in the event of a 'yes' vote, it then became very clear that the Establishment had turned the screw to ensure they maintained the upper hand. It is very easy to defend what lies before you, however flawed, rather than instilling hope in a future you have the freedom to shape.
Fit for purpose?
Though the result was a 'no', on a turnout of 84% - which is though impressive, is disappointing due to reports of lofty registrations of over 95% of the eligible electorate - 44.7% of the Scottish electorate at this time of writing called for an independent state. So while status-quoists may bask in a temporary smugness about the result, it is worth bearing in mind that nearly half of Scottish society has rejected the current arrangement. (And 660,048 people didn't bother to vote, the reasons for which I imagine would be varied.)
The result now changes how Westminster and Whitehall consider the distribution of power, but they will of course seek to amend this in a way which reduces any threat to the existence of the union. Though the three main parties have tentatively sounded out last minute promises of more powers in the event of a 'no' vote, as a consequence, they must now seek to placate the rest of the country, in what could hopefully be the catalyst for wider decentralisation.
In the last 24 hours, a series of newspapers based in the North of England, have lead with front pages calling for devolved powers for the North.
West Lothian Question
UKIP's Nigel Farage has already thrown in his two pence worth, by stating that he is writing to Scottish MPs to ask them to abstain from voting on issues which only concern England (and Wales, I assume.)
I believe that his steps are misguided. The West Lothian Question is a conundrum in the post-Scottish devolution political sphere, but I do not believe this is addressed by Scottish Westminster MPs abstaining from voting. After all, Westminister MPs serve the entire British state, and the curious constitutional anomaly of Scottish MPs being entitled to vote on issues which affect England (and Wales) only, is more to do with the asymmetric decentralisation offered in the late nineties, rather than an example of Scottish MPs wanting their cake and eating it too. I believe that Farage is fully aware of this, yet is instead choosing to cash in on Unionist antipathy towards Scotland for daring to break away.
We wouldn't have the West Lothian Question, had Westminster and Whitehall opted for a more symmetrical decentralisation model, in the form of national assemblies or parliaments for each of the home nations, with equal powers taken from Westminster. Perhaps even certain English regions could have been granted their own assemblies such as the big three metropolitan areas of Greater London, Greater Manchester and West Midlands County.
It certainly isn't Scotland's fault that Westminster chooses to dominate England, though it can be argued that the British Parliament is the defacto English Parliament, with the devolved assemblies established as a way of balancing Westminster's Anglocentrism - which is inevitable, since England has 84% of the UK's population.
Far from many commentaries which condemn Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the independence campaign of fostering division, the entirety of the British nation can look upon this event as an opportunity to strengthen British bonds, by redefining the relationships within it. The current constitutional settlement of our country is not fit for purpose. We have a significant number of our citizens who have expressed dissatisfaction and their voices must be heard.
The British government should now look at how to strengthen decentralisation, but considering a federal or confederal arrangement for Britain, which will would preserve the union, yet satisfy any agitation for self-determination in the same breath. For radical reform, Westminster and Whitehall's scope of power should be passed down to the Home Nations and even to English regions, ensuring that issues dealt with in London, are limited to issues which are of common interest to all Britons such as foreign policy, defence and economy.
Above all, this new division of power should not be determined by a series of desperate soundbites and rushed legislation in the aftermath of yesterday's referendum, but it should be bound in an unambiguous, democratically sanctioned codified constitution, which renders all of Britain's people as sovereign, whilst laying to rest feudal Crown power and Parliamentary sovereignty.
- Federal Union
- The Atlantic: "Should the UK become a federal state?"
- New Statesman: "Union does not mean uniform"