Whichever way Scotland votes today, I hope this country will never be the same again. The amazing debate that’s been taking place north of the border and the incredible level of public engagement, with 97% of those eligible to vote registering to do so, is the most heartening and revitalising thing that’s happened to our democracy since, well, forever.
For decades, participation in elections and in political activity generally, has been declining across the UK. Membership of political parties has plummeted and there’s a widely held belief that all politicians are as bad as each other. Even more dangerous, there’s a strong sense, reinforced after the 2010 election, that whichever way you vote, nothing will ever actually change. Whoever’s in charge, privilege becomes more entrenched, the poor get poorer, social mobility declines. No wonder so many of us simply decide not to bother.
As we watch Scotland being intoxicated by a new passion for politics, more and more people south of the border are beginning to ask, why not us too? Why shouldn’t we too have more say over how we’re governed and how our taxes are spent? We may all live in one country, but that doesn’t mean to say that a decision that’s right for Basingstoke is also right for Birmingham or Bradford. In fact it very probably isn’t.
What’s good for London isn’t always good for everyone else
It’s high time we had a much less centralised political system. It’s time we had regional assemblies that are much more responsive to local issues and that have control over a high proportion of the revenue raised within their area. The government at Westminster could then be substantially scaled back and would focus exclusively on issues that genuinely are best managed at a national level, such as defence and foreign policy.
A new political settlement is the only realistic way to tackle the growing disparity between London and rest of the country and the only way overcome growing perception that the south-east is sucking in all the resources and talent at the expense of other parts of the country.
We desperately need change, not just in Scotland but throughout the UK. No doubt, if the Scots vote ‘yes’ to independence, David Cameron will be pilloried for losing a third of the country. The truth is, if what happens in Scotland today makes the rest of the population wake up to the idea that a top-to-toe rethink of the political settlement in this country is both possible and desirable, he’ll have done us the biggest favour imaginable.