Dr. Rupert Read provides an immediate reaction to the Scottish independence result.
It’s now clear that ‘Better Together’ is on course for victory. But it will be much narrower a margin than seemed likely a year ago. The ‘Yes’ campaign has played a vital role in throwing open questions about the support for our current constitutional settlement – questions that will not go away simply because of a narrow defeat for the “Yes” campaign. In fact, the questions are in many cases more urgent than they would have been, had Scotland simply been going its own way.
The debate triggered by the referendum has illustrated how people across the country have been left feeling unrepresented and neglected by Westminster policies and politics. It is clear that the “business as usual” approach to politics favoured by the three ‘main’ parties is no longer resonating with the voting electorate. There is now a real opportunity to mount a serious reassessment of our political system – including a debate over the introduction of a written Constitutional Convention and Bill of Rights. And this opportunity is forced upon us, by us all being still in the same Kingdom together.
For the three largest parties have had to commit themselves to some version of ‘devo-max’, in the last few weeks, in order to stave off independence. So, we must now have some version of devo-max and that that means that the ‘West Lothian question’, the question of what matters the MP for West Lothian etc. can vote for in Westminster, must at last be properly addressed — which requires a serious shake-up of our constitution and democratic arrangements, in itself.
As Green MP Caroline Lucas has already called for, it is therefore now high time for a people’s Constitutional Convention in this country. To settle all these questions, once and for all, and to take British democracy at last into the 21st century. The crisis of a wide lack of confidence in the political system of the UK can only be addressed by a non-elite Constitutional Convention that involves ordinary people in deciding on how to reform the electoral system, how to bring in enhanced regional and local government, how to implement a right of recall of elected MPs who lose their constituents’ confidence, and so on. As a host of fine relevant individuals and organisations argued in an important letter in the Times last week: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file5419629152c1f.pdf .
My take: We need to get behind this campaign, together. WE are the people – who need to call for a constitutional convention, now.
Dr. Rupert Read is a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia.