Monday, March 30, 2015

The model for British constitutional reform might be in Helsinki...

I was in Helsinki for a couple of days last week. The Finnish model is the classic Scandinavian social democratic one and it seems to work. A country with a distinct culture, language and patriotism seems confident and comfortable in its skin. A northern land of 5.5m people once subject to domination by much bigger neighbours is now successful as an independent entity. Bit of a parallel there?

I abhor the idea of a separate Scotland outside the UK. But Finland suggests it would work. If I, as a proud Briton not a Little Englander, can accept this then our political leaders need to wake up to the reality. Quite how we keep the UK together whilst keeping Scotland in it I'm not sure. A much greater degree of autonomy for Holyrood. A solution to the over-representation of Scottish MPs at Westminster. A permanent solution of the West Lothian question are part of it. It's taken a while to realise that a part of our nation is essentially Scandinavian! But that is true and it's the start point for what we do next. 

The Scots' antagonism to Westminster that could give the SNP almost a clean sweep in the General Election is a political earthquake. If we want Scotland to stay part of the UK then we need reform - major reform. I would make that an important part of a proper, comprehensive study into Electoral Reform across the UK. The principle of "subsidiarity" - the idea that you take decisions at the lowest level practicable - should drive this. I would delegate almost everything other than Foreign Affairs to Holyrood. Taxation will be a challenge - common rates of VAT and tax allowances across the UK would be essential of course - but there should be flexibility on local taxes.

If Westminister loosens its grip over Scotland there is no reason why it should not do the same for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. The latter is difficult as we don't have Regional assemblies and the construct of a Region is much less coherent than that of nation. We don't want more Government, just better Government! And we must also have an elected upper chamber if we decide that we need an Upper House at all (not a foregone conclusion - neither the Scots nor the Finns have more than one House!). 


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