what next for the Union?
Saturday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Hammerson Room, Barbican Special topical sessions
This session is part of a special series of informal conversations between Battle of Ideas speakers on topics in the news, programmed in the days leading up to the festival to ensure they are as topical as possible. All Hot Off the Press sessions are free and open to non ticket holders.
While the ‘No’ vote in September’s referendum on independence for Scotland left the United Kingdom formally intact, the fallout from the campaign has revealed deep divisions across UK politics. And the very fact that the Union came so close to breaking up in the first place has left many wondering whether things can ever be the same, or whether a fundamental re-appraisal of what the Union is and why it is important is needed. Worryingly, it seems difficult for one to glean anything positive or substantive from the referendum debate, given the anti-Westminster politics espoused by the ‘Yes’ campaign, as well as the inability of the political elite to make a coherent case for the Union.
As a result, amid the rubble of the post-referendum discourse, the British government has advocated ‘English home rule’ as a way to repair confidence in the Union, with some suggesting English devolution as a way of rebalancing the Union. But is further political fragmentation of the UK really the answer? One of the most curious features of the current constitutional crisis is that it seems to have come from the political establishment looking for a sense of purpose rather than being driven by widespread demand on the ground.
Evidence of the UK descending into fragmentation and parochialism is the fact that, even before the Scottish referendum votes had been counted, voices from Cornwall to Newcastle were demanding that English regions and cities have the same devolved tax-raising and welfare-spending powers now being promised to Scotland. As one top Tory think-tank report proposing greater autonomy for Greater Manchester put it: if Scotland could have ‘Devo-Max’, then why not ‘Devo-Manc’?
The run-up to the 2015 UK General Election now looks set to be dominated by divisive, sectional arguments that will distract from the bigger questions of how we might change society for the better in the future. And although the referendum campaign is over, arguably the chaos across UK political life is only just beginning. Sadly, the UK has rarely looked less together than it does now.
So what have we learnt from the Scottish referendum, if anything? Did the ‘No’ vote mark the end of the debate, or is this just the beginning of a broader discussion about the future of the United Kingdom? What’s next for the Union?
Listen to the debate:
Dr Simon Knight
senior youth work practitioner; vice chair, Play Scotland
barrister and writer
trainee solicitor, Bond Dickinson; convenor, Debating Matters Ambassadors
director, Debating Matters Competition