Like the vast majority of people in Hove and Portslade I am hugely relieved that Scotland chose to remain in the Union. There were some really positive things to come out of yesterday’s vote. One was the high participation of 16 and 17-year-olds – I now firmly believe that this should become a permanent feature of our democratic landscape and our franchise should be extended to encompass them permanently.
But the debate has now moved on to how power can be wielded more equitably within England. This is a good thing to discuss and I have some thoughts.
The first is that we should be wary of stirring English nationalism. It would be a perverse outcome of defeating Scottish nationalism if it were to result in its rise in England. Moving power from Westminster to our communities is not something I will be turning to Nigel Farage for answers on – we all know his game is ultimately about his own place in history and not our community’s place in 21st Century England (Alex Salmond’s resignation must have sent a chill down his spine tonight!). But we must urgently look at how power can be better distributed in England.
Just because other countries in the UK have a parliament or devolved authority does not mean that we need ape them. Our challenge in England is to find a democratic solution that suits our own economic and cultural landscape. London already has a powerful Mayor. The Northern regions have already rejected a devolved authority as did our own city of Brighton and Hove for converting to a mayoral system of leadership (an outcome I regret). So it’s a complex problem that has seen a lot of action in the recent past.
And we must avoid pitfalls as we modernise our democracy. There’s been much talk today of Scots MPs being unable to serve as chancellor after further devolution – I believe our country deserves the very best candidate for its top jobs and it would be madness to judge someone’s talent based on geography instead of their accomplishments! We must also avoid simply inserting another layer of government, such as an English Parliament. The one thing I’ve never heard on doorsteps is, ‘what our country needs is more politicians!’.
I look forward to hearing your views and participating in the debate as we move forward. At this early stage I believe the solution could lie in making better use of our local democratic institutions and in some cases modernising, replacing, creating new ones which strategically manage core aspects of our country’s infrastructure such as education, transport, and health.
This is a debate that I look forward to!
And to kick off here’s a link to a discussion I had on BBC Radio this morning with MP’s Simon Kirby and Norman Baker.
All the best, Peter