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Scotland's decision

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The recent referendum in Scotland asked 'Should Scotland should be an independent country?' The voter turnout reached an historic high for any democratic election, at over 84%. The result was 55% of voters rejecting independence. The lengthy campaign gave opportunity for every community in Scotland to discuss the constitutional issues facing not just Scotland, but the entire UK. Aside from some eggs being thrown at politicians and verbal or internet-based abuse, the referendum debate was on the whole peaceful and informative. Discussions, rallies and televised debates have ignited a fresh interest in politics and self-determination amongst Scots. Opinion is however, divided: some cities and regions in Scotland voted overall in favour of leaving the United Kingdom. To counter a growing swell of support for a 'Yes' vote in the last few weeks of the campaign, politicians from all the main UK political parties signed a pledge to deliver on maximising devolution for Scotland. So what next?

The result is perhaps the best that could be hoped for, given the constitutional crisis that would have resulted from a Yes vote for independence. The answers to questions over currency, stability of pensions and continuation of Scotland’s EU membership were at times left ambiguous. But the level of support for the Yes campaign, and the fact that 1.6 million people voted to separate as an independent country, clearly shows a major flaw in the political setup of the UK. One of the main conclusions of the referendum debates across the United Kingdom is that the question of autonomy should no longer be limited to the voters in Scotland, but extended to all of the areas of the UK who are feeling the same about the Westminster political setup. Power is far too centralised, and the economic policies are often designed to benefit a minority, or primarily boost growth in London and the South East of England. Entire regions of the UK (including Scotland, as a nation) are being inhibited from reaching their full potential. The slick catchphrase of the SNP (Scottish National Party) “Release our Potential” should not only be limited to a Scottish context, but the entire United Kingdom needs to do exactly what the name suggests. Unite as the Kingdom that we are, and demand more decentralised government, to release our potential. A more federal UK may be one solution, or perhaps a mixture of regional government and more control for cities over their own affairs. If people unite to demand constitutional reform in order to bring about devolution to regions and cities in England, as well as enhanced powers for the Scottish, Irish and Welsh assemblies, this will deliver on the ‘pledge’ that has been made by all three main political parties.

In a context of Catholic social teaching, we should now begin a meaningful process of agreeing on de-centralised governance, having a settlement that fulfils subsidiarity. A ‘No’ vote does not mean ‘no change’. In the case of Scotland, examples of more devolution would mean more control over things like the welfare system, VAT and other tax rates, government licensing of natural resources, the ability to issue bonds or take out loans, and enabling the Scottish Parliament to take more control over revenue raised. For the rest of the UK, part of the ‘healing’ process now should be a debate on what powers can be devolved to as local a level as possible. That might include some or all of the above points. It is the people who must decide on what the Government does, rather than the Government domineering over people’s affairs and inhibiting the potential growth of cities and regions across the UK.


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