Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Constitutional question

Shuggy on the the Scottish UDI (or lack of it). Todays press coverage offers a different impresson though. If you believe opinion polls tell you anything useful or if you place any store by the way that they are reported, then you may be under the impression that everyone in Scotland is about to vote for the SNP but not for devolution - and that the English all want their own Parliament.

Funny. I can't remember the last time I met anyone who cares one way or the other about an English Parliament, so the riot police can take the weekend off. If only the fuckwits who report opinion polls would do the same.

The thing is, quite a high proportion of the people who think that opinion polls tell us much about what people want also think that referendums are a useful way of making decisions on big issues. They're not, and they aren't.

Since 1997, Labour have established devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, London and (up to a point) in Northern Ireland. Yet they now seem to have lost interest in it as their weak response to setbacks in promoting regional government in England. Here's how the logic worked:
  1. In a country without a constitution, they were prepared to accept the argument that regional government is a constitutional issue.
  2. They then accepted that - in order to bring in regional assemblies, that they would need a referendum to provide a legitimate view of the will of the people.
  3. When they lost the first one, they decided that the whole 'constitutional' reform programme was officially derailed for good.
There is a better alternative that they should have taken - and given expectation of a new broom shortly, perhaps it's not too late. They could establish indirectly elected regional assemblies (properly this time, with, say, fifty Councillors chosen by all of the Councillors in the region) to oversee regional quangos and manage a fairly minimal definition of regional government. This would have two benefits:
  1. It would make people pay more attention to local elections. Local Councillors would have a bit of leverage that may allow them to demand a little more power for themselves.
  2. Once a bureaucracy was established to support the indirectly elected assembly, you can bet your life that - as sure as bureaucrats create work for themselves, that they will start competing with Whitehall for power.
Once that's been achieved, all of the political parties will probably put direct elections in their manifestoes and forget about referendums.

I understand that Gordon Brown is in favour of decentralisation.

Like he's in favour of votes for 16 year olds.

Like he's in favour of electoral reform.

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