What's missing from all this is England and Englishness. Yes or no, the constitutional settlement has to be redrawn. With Scotland in more powers for it, Wales and Northern Ireland will surely follow. That means devolution for and in England has to be addressed. And if Scotland goes, it likewise means the rump UK is in for some major renovation. With the EU crowded out by existential crisis, already some on the right have begun staking out territory. Farage has been talking about federalism. Likewise Paul Goodman at ConHome, raising the prospect of nation specific referendums on devomax as well as House of Lords reform. And John Redwood is banging the drum for an English Parliament. From the centre left are Ed Miliband's proposals to hand more power to Wales and local authorities generally and that's about it. Not good enough. Every trade union should follow the lead given by Paul Emebery, the London regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. Now is not the time for leaving politics to the politicians. Questions of how we are governed are in the direct interests of working people, and our movement needs to wake up to it. Leaving the field to our opponents and our enemies is folly.
What could a new constitutional settlement look like? I think we need to keep two intertwined principles in mind. We need a politics that is accessible and as close to the electorate as possible to overcome the rancid legacy of anti-politics, a system that does not disenfranchise massive numbers because they happen to live in safe seats, and a settlement that encourages and rewards an active citizenry.
I would like to see devolution in England handed to regional assemblies. It makes practical sense that Scotland/Wales-style settlements would work for the likes of the South East, the WestMids, etc. because of their roughly proximate sizes. London, of course, already has its own regionalised devolution. The problem with an English parliament is that England is so much larger and more diverse than the UK's other nations and may replicate all the sins of Westminster. Then there is a certain wariness of giving English nationalism a boost. Understandable as it has come to be associated with insularity and xenophobia (ably assisted by UKIP). Yet I think the left needs to bite this bullet. We can't really start talking about remaking England if, at the outset, we regard England and Englishness as something illegitimate. An English Parliament it is then. One would assume it would be subordinate to the federal parliament at Westminster on foreign affairs, energy policy, UK-wide tax regimes, etc. and pick up responsibility for the NHS, education, social security, and so on. But if the left are serious about making it work, we need to work to establish its legitimacy from the off. It means setting it up away from London - Stoke-on-Trent or Derby will do! But requires a voting system that presses the democracy on offer downwards, so the relationship is much closer. The left should advocate the Single Transferable Vote, which combines the much-vaunted constituency link with proportionality. (See here and here).
An English Parliament is not the be-all and end-all of devolution. Ed Miliband's commitment to give more power to local authorities is a good idea, and one I hope will be implemented across all of the UK (assuming Scotland votes no). In addition, it's high time the state had a written constitution specifying the legal, political, and social rights and responsibilities of UK citizens, and how the organisation operates. If the overwhelming bulk of countries, never mind organisations from chess clubs to local authorities have constitutions, then we should have one too. The moment is also ripe for Lords reform. Peerages should no longer be the province of Westminster cliques. Direct elections are the only way a second chamber can hope to retain legitimacy. Questions around accountability, including the right of recall require implementation. And while we're at it, party funding reforms need bringing in. It is not right that the Tories get around transparency rules in relation to donations. It's time these were toughened up. I would also like to see tough rules governing private lobbying of political offices (civic organisations are fine, big business is not), a professionalisation of the arrangements governing MPs expenses and offices, and - as the constituency link is embedded into the English Parliament - a shrinkage of Westminster MPs and their election via a PR system. FPTP is probably best retained for local elections only. Lastly, so the federal parliament is properly constituted the reserve powers held by the monarchy should be invested in and subject to democratically elected and accountable authority.
Proposing a new settlement is not a matter for the wonks, nor is it an exercise in constitutional cretinism. It is driven by the kinds of politics you want to see prevail. As a socialist, I hold to the old idea that our politics are everywhere and always conditioned by the need to shift the balance of power and wealth decisively in favour of working people and their families. In that regard, the shopping list above are just some suggestions. But whatever happens on Thursday, the Scottish referendum gives us an opportunity to reforge politics anew. The labour movement should seize it.