West Lothian Question
Michael Gove, for those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with him, is the Scotsman in charge of English education. He's the Scot who likes to change the word 'England' to 'Britain'; he's the Scot who likes to bang on about teaching British history in English schools; the Scot who will not say the word 'England' even when his policy specifically relates to England alone; the Scot who wants to subject English children to Britishness propaganda classes. In short, he's a Scot who goes out of his way to wind up English nationalists and create hostility.
Yesterday, in a speech at Westminster, Gove had this to say:
When some of my colleagues say we need to re-visit the West Lothian Question or we need to have a new settlement that is fairer to people in England, I say 'no, remember the bigger picture'.
Unbelievable! Michael Gove has been a Conservative MP since 2005 when he was elected under the leadership of Michael Howard, who had a policy of English Votes on English Laws. No doubt Michael Gove was planning to become an MP under the leadership of William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom also promised English Votes on English Laws. Gove was also a key member of David Cameron's leadership campaign group, a campaign which promised English Votes on English Laws, and which later produced a manifesto promising this:
Labour have refused to address the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’: the unfair situation of Scottish MPs voting on matters which are devolved. A Conservative government will introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries.
But now, as his countrymen sue for divorce, Gove asks his colleagues to hold back on plans to create a new Union settlement that is fair to the people of England. Michael Gove, you are a weasley little shit.
UPDATE: Some more of Gove's speech via Whitehall 1212
One of the things I wanted to emphasis is that this is an argument that has to be won on several dimensions. Firstly we have to persuade Scotland that its future is stronger in the UK, than it would be if Scotland were to separate. We are stronger as a result of a our common endeavour over 300 years, we’ve achieved amazing things together, we pool risk more effectively, we safeguard the weak more effectively, we project our values because we stand together.”
"There is a threat to that from Scottish separatism, but there is also a threat, under appreciated, from English separatism as well. I think there is a specific threat from my own political tradition.
"There are some people on the right who say the Scots want to leave - let them. That is entirely the wrong attitude. It seems to me to be saying: 'This used to be a warm house where we all used to live together but, frankly - you daft besom -if you want to leave on your own head be it’. These are not the words of someone who wants to keep a marriage together.
"That is why, when some of my colleagues say we need to re-visit the West Lothian Question, or we need to have a new settlement that is fairer to people in England, I say no. Remember the bigger picture.
"The country was Great Britain for a reason, because we stood together and stand together. if we turn inwards and against each other then I feel we will undermine something that is precious and our country will be a diminished presence in the future.
I'm the proud owner of a letter from Mark Harper, in which he states "There is no link between the Barnett Formula and the West Lothian question".
Yesterday he wasn't daft enough to put such a view on the Hansard record:
Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)
Will the commission be able to consider what is really the Berwick-upon-Tweed question: how has it come about over so many years that Scotland seems to have had more money for schools and roads, and a great deal of say in the affairs of England?
Mark Harper (Parliamentary Secretary (Political and Constitutional Reform), Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)
Specifically, we have made it clear that the commission will not be able to look at the financial questions. The Government have committed to resolving them, but we have made it clear that the deficit must be dealt with first, and then those other matters will be taken forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
How peculiar that reform of the Barnett Formula must wait until the deficit is down. Why? If the Government manages to balance the books so that we have no deficit but still have a national debt of £1.1 trillion, why would that be any better time than now to reform the Barnett Formula? Answer: It wouldn't. In fact it could be far worse because people will have been living under austerity Britain for longer and will be more severely affected by a fall in central government funding.
If Harper was being honest he would have said that the Government want to wait until after the referendum on Scottish independence before debating whether to cut the budget of the Scottish Government by £4.5 billion, by which time they hope that Scotland will have voted to remain in the UK and the Scotland Bill will give the illusion of financial accountability, better enabling the UK Government to blame the Scottish Government when the axe falls on Scotland's public services.
As I have said before, I think Unionist politicians will regret not having reformed the Barnett Formula in times of plenty.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the 'Upper West Lothian Question'. But Mark Harper isn't. Mark Harper doesn't think that the West Lothian Question has any bearing on reform of the House of Lords:
Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, Labour)
I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure he will be aware that constitutional change in one area can affect other areas. How might any changes suggested by his West Lothian commission affect reform of the House of Lords?
Mark Harper (Parliamentary Secretary (Political and Constitutional Reform), Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)
I am not sure that those two matters are connected at all. The commission’s terms of reference are specifically to consider the effects and consequences for the House of Commons of the devolution arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady will know that we have appointed experts to the commission. They will come back to the Government with their recommendations, and I have committed then to talk to all parties in this House about how we might proceed further.
Who put this Harper idiot in charge?
IPPR Press Release
Future of England in a devolved union can’t be decided by expert commission
79% of English voters want Scottish MPs barred from votes on English only laws
Ahead of the launch of the UK Government’s West Lothian Question Commission this week, new polling from the think tank IPPR and Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities, shows overwhelming public support within England for addressing this constitutional anomaly.
In a major new report on English Identity and the politics of the English Question, to be published by IPPR later this month, a survey asks more than 1,500 voters in England whether they agree or disagree that:
“Now that Scotland has its own parliament, Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect only England.”
More than half (53 per cent) of voters in England said they ‘strongly agree’, while a further 26 per cent said they ‘agree’. Just 12 per cent ‘disagree’. The report shows that the proportion who ‘strongly disagree’ has more than doubled since 2007.
The creation of a commission to investigate the West Lothian question recognizes the strength of public feeling in England on this issue however the report argues that relying on a commission of experts alone will prove insufficient for considering the future of English governance in a devolved union. The prospect of either Scottish independence or ‘devolution-max’ – either of which would have profound effects on the governance of England and the other nations of the United Kingdom, suggest the time has come for a much wider public debate about the future of the Union and the position of England within it.
Richard Wyn Jones, Professor of Politics at Cardiff University and co-author of the report said:
“While the Coalition is to be applauded for at least broaching this hugely important issue, neither the likely composition nor terms of reference of the new Commission suggest that this represents a serious attempt to finally answer the West Lothian Question.
"But if the intention is to kick the issue into the long grass, this is to reckon without an English electorate that appears increasingly restive and increasingly convinced that the anomalies created by the current devolution arrangements need to be addressed. As this evidence suggests, the English are now overwhelmingly persuaded that a system in which MPs from the devolved territories can vote on legislation that applies only to England is unfair.
"We underestimate the current mood of the English electorate at our peril. In the 1980s the perceived unfairness of a system which allowed left-leaning Scotland and Wales to be governed by a party without a mandate in those countries led to the generation of an unstoppable head of steam leading directly to the devolution reforms of the late 1990s. It is not hard to imagine how a different set of territorial anomalies could create a similar response in England. Indeed, it might already be happening.”
Guy Lodge, IPPR Associate Director, and co-author of the report, said:
“The English electorate strongly believes that the anomaly of the West Lothian question should be addressed. Reform in this area is notoriously difficult and so we welcome the establishment of the Commission to explore possible ways forward. However, as our forthcoming report will show, a narrow focus on the West Lothian question will not be sufficient to satisfy English public opinion. A strengthening of English identity, combined with growing interest in how England is governed, pose an important challenge for the centre-left in particular, which has so far failed to engage with these important developments in England. The time has come for a much wider public debate about what form a new constitutional settlement for England should take. Progressive politics needs to lead and not follow this debate.”
Eleanor Laing, Conservative MP for Epping Forest, speaking on BBC R4's Westminster Hour:
It [the West Lothian Question] would matter far more if the people elected for Scottish and indeed Welsh and Northern Ireland constituencies held the balance of power or changed the colour of the government.
MPs elected outside England have changed the colour of government. The Tories won the majority of seats in England and would presumably have formed a minority UK government if it were not for the fact that they have no mandate in Scotland. The Lib Dems are there not because they give the Tories an English majority but because they give the Tories a UK majority (see Arthur Aughey Feared for the Union).
Eleanor Laing then treated us to her solution to the West Lothian Question:
One of the ways that we could put this right is a self-denying ordinance whereby Scottish MPs who sit for Scottish seats simply don't vote on matter which affect only England.
Not very joined up thinking. A self-denying ordinance doesn't alter Eleanor's point about the colour of government - foreign MPs who abstained from voting on English legislation would still be able to influence the government that governs England, and may even 'design and control the policy agenda for England'.
In any case, if that solution is right for England, why was it not right for Scotland; why, instead of the Scottish Parliament, are we not now in a situation whereby English MPs simply abstain from legislation affecting Scotland alone? I'll tell you why: because it's bollocks.
Westminster Hour then treated us to the thoughts of the constitutional pundit Vernon Bogdanor who was honest enough to admit that an English parliament was the only answer to the West Lothian Question but thought that such a body was 'unrealistic'. He went on to warn the English not to repeat the mistakes of the past:
If the English blow the trumpet too hard - the trumpet of English nationalism - the union with Scotland will not survive. And therefore you may argue that devolution is the price the English pay for keeping the Union. They weren't willing to pay that price in the 19thC to give home rule to Ireland, and the consequence was that Ireland became independent. It went much further than home rule or devolution. There is a strong English commitment, I think, to keeping the union with Scotland, and this is the price that the English have to pay.
This is opinion masquerading as fact. The only factual part of any of it is "I think". Bogdanor thinks there is a strong English commitment to the Union but he does not know it. Bogdanor thinks that 'the English' weren't willing to give the Irish home rule but, if the truth be known, he knows that 'the English' were never asked about Ireland and will most probably never be asked about Scotland. It is the British government who decide such things, not the English. I think that the reason the English are never consulted is because we would prove ourselves to be Little Englanders and confound the hopes of Establishment pillars like Bognador and his smug-faced protégé in No.10.
Simon Lee writing in These Englands:
The rationale for Brown's British Way reflected his understanding of the longer-term implications of devolution, and England's omission from that process, for his ambition to succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The British Way would provide a means of answering both the pre-devolution West Lothian Question, and the post-devolution Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question. The latter, named after Brown's constituency, asked why Brown, as a representative of a Scottish seat (although the Question would have been equally applicable had Brown represented a Welsh or Ulster seat), should be able not only to vote on policy matters affecting England alone, but also design and control the policy agenda for England. Devolution to Scotland of responsibility for major ares of policy such as health, education and housing, meant that Brown's own constituents would not experience policies developed for England, unless such choices were voted for by the Scottish Parliament.
This, in a nutshell, is why England requires its own first minister, cabinet and government, in addition to its own parliament. The 'Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question' applies not only to a Scottish Prime Minister, but also to any Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish politician who is a cabinet member designing the policy agenda for England, and any non-English politician who has a ministerial position in a department with an England-only portfolio. Such people have little democratic mandate in England (there's the argument that Parliament and their party caucus provides their mandate) and will have an even more dubious English mandate if the devolved nations have their devolved powers increased.
Such inconvenient truths are presumably why the Government's Commission into the West Lothian Question has not yet begun despite Mark Harper's assurances that it would now be under way. Unfortunately for him, and his anti-English cohorts, English home rule is the only answer.
The turnout for the Report Stage of Harriett Baldwin's Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill was derisory, just 69 MPs including the Speaker and the Tellers. The MPs that voted No are listed below, an asterix is against the name of any MP who did not vote in any of the previous stages of the bill.
Four Lib Dems turned up for the first time to ensure this was defeated, along with sixteen Conservatives. There were several ministers among their number. Mark Harper, who has ministerial responsibility for Political and Constitutional Reform and who announced details of his West Lothian Commission the day before this vote, voted No when previously he had voted Aye.
David Anderson (Lab, England) *
Norman Baker (Lib Dem, England) *
Alan Beith (Lib Dem, England)
Richard Benyon (Lib Dem, England) *
Lyn Brown (Lab, England) *
Conor Burns (Con, England) *
Simon Burns (Con, England) *
Rosie Cooper (Lab, Scotland) *
Edward Davey (Lib Dems, England) *
Jonathan Djanogly (Con, England) *
Thomas Docherty (Lab, Scotland) *
Chris Grayling (Con, England) *
Tom Greatrex (Lab, Scotland) *
Philip Hammond (Con, England) *
Mark Harper (Con, England)
David Heath (Lib Dem, England) *
Charles Hendry (Con, England) *
Nick Herbert (Con, England) *
Mark Hoban (Con, England) *
Helen Jones (Lab, England) *
Gerald Kaufman (Lab, England)
Barbara Keeley (Lab, England) *
Mark Lazarowicz (Lab, Scotland) *
Tim Loughton (Con, England) *
Graeme Morrice (Lab, Scotland) *
Meg Munn (Lab, England) *
Stephen O'Brien (Con, England) *
Stephen Pound (Lab, England)
John Randall (Con, England) *
Andrew Robathan (Con, England) *
Hugh Robertson (Con, England) *
Alison Seabeck (Lab, England) *
Richard Shepherd (Con, England) *
Gavin Shuker (Lab, England) *
Hugo Swire (Con, England) *
John Thurso (Lib Dem, Scotland) *
Stephen Timms (Lab, England) *
Chuka Umunna (Lab, England) *
Theresa Villiers (Con, England) *
John Woodcock (Lab, England) *
We can only guess at what political maneuverings go on in the formerly smokey corridors of power, but it looks to me as if the Government might have whipped up a few bodies to ensure that this seemingly innocuous bill bubbled under. The bill did not seek to prevent non-English MPs voting on English-only legislation, it merely sought to clarify the territorial extent of bills (or clauses within bills) and the financial implications of that bill for the individual nations of the UK. It was an attempt at increasing transparency, it is a change that is necessary before any system of English Votes on English Laws could be introduced, as Harriett Baldwin mentioned during the debate:
In 2009, the Justice Committee prepared a report called, “Devolution: A Decade On.” In its conclusions and recommendations, it said:
“The question of whether England-only legislation can be more clearly demarcated from other legislation has to be resolved if any scheme of English votes for English laws is to work.”
Reading through the Hansard transcript of the debate just serves to highlight the fact that the West Lothian Question cannot be resolved for so long as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are funded via the Barnett Formula. And given that the Commission into the West Lothian Question will not address the Barnett Formula, and given the Government has said that it will not address the Barnett Formula until "stabilisation of the public finances has been achieved", I have to conclude that the West Lothian Commission is a waste of time, little more than a charade. Given its limited scope the best that it could recommend is Malcolm Rifkind's double majority proposal, which is precisely what I predict it will do.
As was suggested in the Scotsman, it's probably best for politicians to stop asking the question.
There is an answer to the WLQ, two in fact: Scottish independence, backed by the SNP, or a federal UK, supported by the Lib Dems. As neither option is favoured by a majority of MPs, maybe they need to stop asking the question until they can accept the answer.
Unfortunately though they cannot because even Guardian readers now support the political exiling of Scottish, Welsh and Northen Irish MPs.
A few odds and ends relating to my previous post.
Sadly Harriett Baldwin's private members bill was defeated. Having been poorly attended throughout its passage through Parliament, a (comparatively) whopping 64 MPs decided to turn up at report stage. It will be interesting to see who they were and how they voted. The Democracy Live coverage will be available here.
You can read Paul Nuttall's policy proposal here. I expect this to formally become UKIP policy today.
And finally, this is Mark Harper's written statement on the Government's commission into the West Lothian Question:
The coalition programme for government set out our commitment to “establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’”.
I can now give the House more details on how that commission is to proceed.
The Government are clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House and Parliament as a whole can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate Parliament or Assemblies. The commission will not examine financing, which is being dealt with separately through various processes led by Treasury Ministers, nor does it need to look at the balance of parliamentary representation, given that Parliament addressed historic imbalances in representation between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom in legislation earlier this year.
Given the commission’s focus on parliamentary business and procedure, the Government believe that the commission should be comprised of a small group of independent, non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise. We will also wish to consult with Mr Speaker and other parliamentary authorities on how the commission can best address this. We will also ensure that there is a full opportunity for the parties to have their say following the completion of the commission’s work.
We will bring forward formal proposals, including the terms of reference for the commission, after the conclusion of this short process of consultation and further deliberation. I expect that this will be in the weeks after the House returns in October.
Tomorrow (Friday) Harriett Baldwin's Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill is back in Parliament. This is Mark D’Arcy's take on it:
Friday is private members bill day in the Commons, and topping the bill is the Report Stage debate on the Conservative backbencher Harriet Baldwin’s Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill. This takes a stab at giving a partial answer to the West Lothian Question by requiring that in future all bills put before Parliament should contain a clear statement of how they affect each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – including knock-on financial implications. She hopes that this would allow it to become accepted practice that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs would not vote on England-only Bills. The Government attitude is interesting, to put it mildly. The Coalition Agreement includes a promise to set up a commission to look at the West Lothian Question (the issue of MPs from devolved parts of the UK being able to vote on English issues, when English MPs can’t vote on the same issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) but that commission has yet to be set up. Ministers clearly don’t want the Baldwin bill, and she can expect pressure to withdraw it.
Having, somewhat to her own surprise, piloted the Bill through the the most perilous stage of the parliamentary life-cycle, the Second Reading debate, and through Committee where it was unamended, (although that may owe something to the broken leg suffered by Labour constitutional affairs spokesman Chris Bryant) Harriet Baldwin can now hope to send it off to the Lords. The main way of preventing this would be for opponents to put down a deluge of amendments at Report Stage – and talk out the available debating time. We shall see.
How unfortuante that Chris Bryant had a broken leg and couldn't interfere in English business, as is his way. Would it be churlish to hope that he breaks something else on his way to Parliament tomorrow?
Coincidence or cynical political maneuvering?
Naturally, given that Harriett's private members bill stands a chance of of making it through report stage and on into the Lords, the Government has today decided to announce its plans for a Commission into the West Lothian Question. Most probably with the hope of persuading Harriett to drop her bill, as noted by the BBC:
Ministers would prefer Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin's Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill 2010-11 to be withdrawn and the commission left to do its work.
In fact, Mark Harper, the Minister in charge of setting up the Commission into the West Lothian Question, was last seen voting against Harriett Baldwin's bill. Hopefully Harriett will not withdraw her bill. Nadhim Zahawi made that mistake when, under pressure from the Government, he was persuaded to withdraw his St George's Day and St David's Day Bill, opening up the field for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport consultation on bank holidays. Only to discover, months later, that a St George's Day holiday was being ruled out on the blog of John Penrose at the DCMS:
A number of people in the industry suggested we give some thought to shifting the May Day bank holiday to either the autumn half-term, or possibly to become a St. George’s Day holiday in England with equivalent national days off for the other home nations.
Well, we haven’t quite completed the detailed analysis of what people said they wanted, but one thing has been coming through loud and clear. And that is the not-at-all surprising news that a number of people rather liked the idea of a new bank holiday on one or other of the suggested days but that, no, they didn’t want to lose the May Day holiday as part of the deal. An extra day off for everyone every year would clearly go down well, it seems. I think I speak on behalf of the Government when I offer the response "nice try" to that one. We’re all about reducing the deficit and growing the economy at the moment, so the suggestion we write off an additional 20 million or so working days each year is unlikely to send a shiver of delight up the Treasury’s spine, I suspect.
So England can't have a national holiday on St George's Day because we need to reduce the UK debt, and we can't have a fair and transparent funding formula because we need to reduce the UK debt. Hmmm...Any further dithering on the English Question and the Tories may find that UKIP have stolen their clothes. Tomorrow, in Eastbourne, the UKIP NEC discuss a policy proposal from their deputy leader which aims to change UKIP policy to support for the establishment of an English parliament, following private polling by the party that shows that such a policy would be popular with the voters. The Tories may regard themselves as the natural party of England, but by their actions they show that they are not. It's time for someone to step into that void.
Just noticed this on Mark D’Arcy's blog:
Harriett Baldwin WILL press ahead with her bill. She says the Government needs to give much more detail about its Commission. And the Speaker has only selected four of the Labour amendments for discussion at the Report Stage of her Bill - which will make any attempt to talk out the available debating time rather harder, particularly because the selected amendments are all on quite narrow points.
Good decision, Harriett.
This is part of an Ed Balls memo in which he demonstrates his command of the complex consitutional questions facing Britain.
Via the Telegraph's 'Ed Balls files database'
Let me state at the outset that this evening I want to put my view that constitutional change - and I mean that in the broadest sense - is at the heart of the debate about the future for our country. Not incidental but integral to our future as a community.
All over Europe, in response to environmental as well as economic and social challenges, there is a growing recognition of the need for a change in the relationship between individuals, community and the state.
And I believe that in Britain constitutional change is essential for two quite fundamental reasons. It is vital because it is our responsibility to ensure the individual is protected against what can be called the vested interests of the state. And it is vital too because constitutional change is also a necessary means of advancing the potential of the individual in our community. In other words we have twin responsibilities to individual citizens as democrats: we must never fail to attack the evil wherever the individual is at risk from the encroachment of the state, and we must never lose sight of the good whenever the individual is empowered by the community.
I want to argue that what in truth we require is an entirely new settlement between the individual, community and government. Indeed, in my view a modern view of socialism must retrieve the broad idea of community from the narrow notion of the state and ensure that the community becomes a means by which individuals can realise their potential, not at the expense of individual liberty but in advancing it.
In other words I will be making the case this evening for constitutional change from Labour values, for I have always believed it is the historic role of the Labour Party to stand up for individual citizens against all vested interests that frustrate their potential. After thirteen years of a Conservative erosion of liberties we now need guaranteed rights: the right to know, the right to be consulted, the right to participate, the right of communities to run their own affairs.
I will argue not just for acts of Parliament enshrining in statute the long held demand for a Bill of Rights, but also that we must now take seriously the case for a European Bill of Rights so that we can protect the citizen from the potential abuse of power by any major public institution that touches our lives.
I will argue not just for immediate implementation of a Freedom of Information Act to ensure the flow of information from government to citizen and the right to know - and I believe we could do so in months - but argue also that there should be precise duties guaranteeing the right of individuals to information where it is in the public interest to do so, in the dark and secret corners of the private sector.
I will argue not just for reform of the judiciary but for reform of the security services and for a reformed second chamber in place of the anachronism which is the House of Lords.
And I will argue the case not just for home rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom and for the importance of the fresh look now taking place into electoral reform, but also for the principle of devolution applied all round throughout the country.
This lecture comes shortly before an election. Originally it was planned to come shortly after an election when calmer seas prevailed. My purpose is not to catch the next day's morning headlines but to reflect on questions that are rather more enduring. I will not list a set of constitutional changes, but will propose what I believe a constitutional agenda must include, not as detailed policy but as parameters for a debate that will continue long after the election.
My main purpose is to set a course for constitutional change. To make it more than just a shopping list of attractive ideas. To place it within a framework of belief about Britain as a community that can reach and touch all our people. To make constitutional change central, to make it popular and thus to make it attainable.
Let me start from Scotland to demonstrate what I mean. Scotland has just seen a unique all-party Constitutional Convention in which I have had the privilege to play a part: a Convention that has included not just one but a number of political parties and also enjoyed broad representation from the churches, local authorities, voluntary organisations, trades unions, and others throughout Scottish society from what might be called civil society.
The Convention rightly demands a Scottish parliament with entrenched powers. An aspiration first developed in its modern form a century ago, a widely held demand for change which has occasioned 20 Home Rule bills throughout this century already. An insistent demand for change which has brought administrative devolution as an inadequate substitute for legislative devolution. And now a popular demand that is so pressing and urgent that I believe that in the coming years we shall see the creation of a parliament which will not just be an inspiration to those seeking fundamental democratic change for the constitution in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom as well.
For against old fashioned and unacceptable ideas of Crown sovereignty, the Convention asserts the sovereignty of the people, with legitimacy and authority flowing upwards and not downwards. It demands, and I believe will secure, the entrenchment of rights including a right to know. It demands more equal representation for women, rightly beginning to tackle the unacceptable under- representation of women at all levels of our political system. It demands a reformed electoral system, reflecting the widespread concern about the current system.
In Scotland the status quo is now so discredited that it is no longer an option. And it is because the Scottish parliament is the precursor for one in Wales and regional devolution throughout Britain that the West Lothian question - essentially that different M.P.s will have differing roles at Westminster - is not a genuine problem in proceeding with change.
Now I understand that the Prime Minister's view of the best solution is that instead of 7,000 civil servants running Scotland immune from Scottish democratic control, we should have 7,000 civil servants running Scotland immune from Scottish democratic control but wearing name tags.
But the Convention is in fact a response to two deep and widely felt concerns neither of which I feel he understands. First, that individual rights have been ignored because of the remoteness and the insensitivity of centralised government and, second, that the exercise of power has been separated from the democratic control.
But it is more than that. The demand for change is not just because London is far away but because Scotland is nearer ... indeed home, because the Scottish nation sees itself as a community whose interests cannot be properly advanced by the British state alone without the participation of the Scottish community through its own democratic parliament.
Indeed Scotland is a community that, in recognition of its interdependence, has a sense of what must be done by government to ensure individuals can achieve their potential. So there is a demand not just for accountable government but for government used effectively on behalf of the community.
And in transforming the government of Scotland I would argue that instead of retreating towards the old nineteenth century idea and trappings of an exclusive nation state with army, navy and defence forces and a separate currency - a nation state defined in relation to other nations and mainly in antithesis to its largest neighbour - what Scotland is demanding is a modern national identity, with autonomy on vital social and many economic matters within Britain and Europe. Recognising we are interdependent communities we want to link up across nations, not turn our backs on each other. Achieving, in short, the dream of Home Rule without the retreat into separation.
But the tumultuous events in Scotland are not the only calls for a new settlement in the United Kingdom. From Clive Ponting to GCHQ, from judicial error to excessive secrecy, we have become more centralised, less sensitive to individual rights and less free than we were.
And I have to say that the Citizen's Charters are no compensation for the failure of government and no substitute for the essential reform of government. The problem is much deeper than this. It is about the relationship between individual, community and the state, and I want to put the problem in a historical context.
There have been two attempts at a new settlement of the relationship between individuals, the community and the state in recent years. The boldest was the post-1945 settlement.
In 1945 individual freedom was to be guaranteed by social security rather than charity, with the state as provider ensuring for each citizen welfare, health care, education, social security and work. At the time, and for the time, it was the most ambitious programme of social and economic reform, one utterly necessary for many of the improvements we now take for granted today, not least our National Health Service.
Individual well-being was to be advanced by the active state delivering entitlements for the individual. But inevitably, as time passed and aspirations grew, individuals saw themselves less as passive recipients of benefits delivered by government and more as active participants seeking to shape their destiny. And the settlement did not in the end stand the test of time because it often seemed to many that the state and the community were one and the same thing.
Nationalised industries acted without the direct involvement of workforce or community. Scotland, Wales and the regions were granted benevolent administration without democratic rights to run their own affairs.
So, despite all the great achievements in health care, social security and education, there was not just an underdeveloped sense of community, but often an assumption that state and community interests were synonymous. Instead of government being an extension of community, it often looked to many like a substitute for it.
The response came in 1979 when Mrs Thatcher encouraged popular resentment against taxation, collectivism, bureaucracy and the local and national state, and attempted a new settlement between individual, community and government. The problem was identified by the new right Thatcherites as too much government and too little individual freedom. Individual well-being was to be guaranteed by less government even at the expense of social security.
But the new right did not recognise the individual as part of an interdependent community, quite the opposite. The individual was to make his or her own way in the marketplace unaided by government and set apart from any idea of society or community. There was - in Mrs Thatcher's own words - no such thing as society.
The result was that responsibilities conventionally accepted by the community that most of us had assumed would be discharged by government were abandoned or at least substantially eroded and reduced. Not just in social affairs (the responsibilities for public services of reasonable quality and the duty of the community to those in poverty) but also in the responsibility previously accepted by governments of all parties to stabilise the economy. Hence the extremes of boom and bust in the stop-go economics of the 1980's and 1990's. Hence the inability to improve research and innovation and training and education. Hence the now widening training and education gap.
The 1979 settlement abandoned responsibilities for individual well-being that government had discharged on behalf of the community, because it was now assumed that these could be left to the individual in the marketplace. The debate was wrongly identified as one between government and no government, when the real issue was better government. The result is that thirteen wasted years for the British constitution have directly contributed to thirteen wasted years for the British economy and for Britain as a community.
Let me say therefore where the heart of the difference in this debate lies. The new right believe individuals fulfil themselves best with no need for society and less need for government. I believe that in a modern interdependent society individual well-being is best advanced by a strong community backed up by active and accountable government.
And even those who now try to rescue the Conservative Party from the mistakes of crude free-market individualism have a similar problem. Unable to come to terms with a modern view of the constitution or society, their social market economy - dependent on the idea at best of compassion rather than rights - merely heralds a return to nineteenth-century paternalism.
But neither nineteenth-century paternalism nor eighteenth-century free market liberalism can answer questions of the relationship between individual community and government that now require a modern twentieth-century democratic settlement. A settlement that recognises first that the state may become a vested interest and that the individual needs the proper and guaranteed protection of a modern constitution so that government is accountable. And second, a settlement that recognises that individual potential is best developed in a community and that the community need not be a threat to individual liberty but can assist the fulfilment of it.
It is important for everyone, but particularly important for democratic socialists, that we recognise the need for individuals to be protected against any possible vested interests within the state.
Let me explain why democratic socialists more than anyone should be concerned in this way. Conservatives seek few if any additional responsibilities for government, and many suggest much less. They see well-being advanced primarily by the individual acting unaided on his or her own; while when I talk of individuals flourishing as part of a community where common needs are met through sharing responsibility, I assume an active role for government. But where I invoke the need for government I have a special responsibility to ensure its accountability. Indeed, those who argue for us to take seriously the responsibilities of government must always be more vigilant in arguing that in the exercise of these responsibilities there must be the maximum openness and accountability.
Holding the state accountable to the citizen is important for another reason. Socialists have long recognised that all societies tend to produce accumulated reservoirs of power. They entrench themselves, threatening to become vested interests - either in the private or public sector - hostile to any kind of reform or change. We have always identified such vested interests as our fundamental target.
Nineteenth-century socialism developed as a protest against the power of the main vested interests that then denied opportunity - the power of private capital. Twentieth-century socialists often were slow to realise that vested interests can operate throughout society. Indeed when socialism began as an attack on the vested interests of private wealth it used the state as the instrument of that attack. Yet the state was capable of becoming a vested interest in itself, capable of denying individuals opportunity and frustrating their potential to fulfil themselves.
I see the historic role of the Labour Party as nothing less than to stand up for the individual against any and every concentration of power that denies opportunity to individuals in British society whether cartels or cliques, whether in the public or private sector. And that is why socialists must demand that individuals have entrenched rights to protect them from the modern state.
But in our concern about the encroachment of the state on the individual we must never forget that community is still necessary as a means for individuals fulfilling themselves. Indeed I believe that the greatest failure of the last decade - and a loss that diminishes us all - has been the denial of the importance of community. Libertarians have been so afraid of the power that society can exercise over the individual they have sought to detach the individual from the very society of which he or she is part. Yet community is vital for the safety, health and development of individuals. Individuals on their own cannot make the streets safe at night. When disease strikes there is no such thing as a one- man health service. And almost all of us here today owe much that we have to the opportunities that have come from the collective provision of education. And take the environment today. Not only is it the case that individuals, no matter how rich, cannot buy themselves out of countryside pollution or urban decay - it is also true that private affluence loses its savour amidst public squalor, a recognition that we are dependent each upon one another.
So no-one can be in any doubt that there is a public interest in the community not just protecting the individual against pollution but positively acting to demand and ensure the highest standards: a common interest, not only in any one nation but also across the world.
So individuals need community and individuals depend on each other in a community. It is as wrong to see ourselves merely as Robinson Crusoes with no concerns beyond the immediate family, no bonds beyond the front door, no responsibilities beyond the garden gate, as it is to see ourselves as merely the repositories of society's values, somehow subsumed in the social order.
Etzioni has written that individuals stick to each other if they get too close but freeze if they get too far apart. It is time to see the crude dichotomy between community and individuals, that has frustrated political discussion in recent years, as both unrealistic and damaging. People do not live in isolation. People do not live in markets. People live in communities.
I think of Britain as a community of citizens with common needs, mutual interests, shared objectives, related goals and most of all linked destinies. A Britain not of strangers who only compete but a Britain of neighbours who recognise each other and recognise we depend upon each other. A Britain that is a society of individuals whose interactions are determined not by the invisible hand of the free market beloved of right wing economists, but a society where individuals depend freely and willingly upon what Dr James Stockinger has described as the hands of others. It is, he says, the hands of others who grow the food we eat, sew the clothes we wear, and build the homes we inhabit. It is the hands of others who tend us when we are sick, and who raise us up when we fall. And it is the hands of others who lift us first into the cradle and lower us finally into the grave.
We must rescue and restore the idea of community and do more than that, assert how individuals benefit from strong communities, not as a threat to their individual liberties but as an assistance to their fulfilment.
Community is not merely the aggregate of individuals joined together temporarily out of convenience - the community, in Bentham's words, as a fictitious body. Nor is it merely the source of authority seeking, in the name of duty, to impose standards of behaviour on warring individuals, because anarchy is seen as a greater danger than authoritarianism.
We must break away from the extreme views of the individual struggling for advantage against a community holding him back and that of the community struggling to hold the anti-social individual down. So I neither support Locke when he says rights are vested in individuals who do nothing more than delegate these rights to a community and I reject Hobbes when he argues for individuals subordinating all their rights for security. Community arises because we depend on each other.
It is said that the pressure for citizenship in Britain comes from the compassion of the fortunate towards the least fortunate. But modern citizenship is built on the recognition of interdependence. It is distinct from individualism including such paternalism. It recognises the citizen as part of a wider and interdependent community.
Indeed I believe that democratic socialism was founded on this belief in the value of community and society; that its main inspiration is the ethic of community rather than a theory of economy; and that the idea that individuals realise their potential to the full as part of the society in which they live leads us to embrace the idea that the community should stand up on behalf of individuals against the vested interests that hold them back. It is, let us be clear, community assisting the individual not the individual subsumed in community or subordinated to it.
But it is partly because the community has succeeded in the past in creating new opportunities that people have become more assertive, with a broader view of what they can achieve, less inclined to be passive recipients of welfare, more inclined to demand the right to realise their diversity of talents, interests and desires to the full. It is significant that all constitutions that have stood the test of time have had an implicit if not explicit view of society and human nature that recognises such aspirations.
The French constitution says that: 'The community shall be based on the equality and the solidarity of the peoples composing it'. The Italian constitution 'recognises and guarantees the inviolable rights of man both as an individual and as a member of the social groups in which his personality finds expression...' The American constitution starts with the words 'We the people...'
But anyone studying our unwritten British constitution will find implicit in it the idea of leaders and led, the Hobbesian view that the role of government is to empower leaders, unbounded by any limitations, to deal with the threat to security posed by those who must be led.
It is time to escape from that bleak Hobbesian view. A view which, if I may say so, now seems after 300 years and the experience of many other nations to be: nasty, poor, British and short. It is now time to think about the liberation of potential and the empowerment of the citizen.
We can see it reflected every day in the permanent influence of the women's movement demanding genuine liberation in place of what has invariably been second class citizenship. When women say - for example - that they should not be faced with the unfair choice between the jobs they need and the children they love they are expressing the legitimate desire to have the right to fulfil their potential.
When we think of the rights of children, we think of them growing, through parental support, child care, nursery education, a stimulating environment, the love of friends and neighbours: developing their potential to the full. But the argument for the fulfilment of potential does not apply only to children. Adults too should enjoy the right that we should become the best that we have it in us to become, and not just the best that other people have decided we may be allowed to be.
So the growing demand of individuals is that they should be in a position to realise their potential, to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in them to become. And the aspirations of the individual within the community and the means whereby the community responds become a central question to be addressed when we look at how we are to be governed.
Rightly any programme for a modern society and modern economy and the policies that arise from it must encompass a debate about how markets can work in the public interest, how individuals at work - employees and managers - can cooperate effectively to use capital in the public interest, how we can ensure the highest quality public services that are both accountable and open, and how poverty can be tackled not just in the interests of advancing social and economic opportunities and rights of individuals themselves but in securing social cohesion.
But a modern constitution is essential to protect individuals against the state and to empower them within an interdependent community. In this way the agenda for constitutional change becomes essential to the task of establishing a modern view of society and in my view a modern view of democratic socialism. That agenda will be familiar to supporters of Charter 88 but I want briefly and in conclusion to address certain aspects of it.
First, from the belief that socialism must take on the vested interests of government as well as those of capital and wealth, springs the clear need for the rights of the individual to be protected in law in the constitution and to be exercisable against executive power.
The method of achieving this can be debated. It could of course be done through an entrenched Bill of Rights possibly through incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Alternatively individual rights could be defined through specific items of legislation which are then made subject to a special legislative procedure which in effect entrenches them. On this basis then, this debate can continue but a Bill of Rights in one form or another there will be.
And this must be accompanied by the affirmative action essential not just to outlaw sexual, racial and other discrimination - for example by genuinely achieving equal access to the law - but also to positively promote greater equality ensuring that in a modern society, as I have indicated, civil rights are matched by economic and social opportunities in the workplace and elsewhere.
And as the power of European institutions threatens to grow, especially that of the Commission, so does the need for accountability and protection for individual rights. For that reason the European Commission too must be subject to the European Convention of Human Rights. In the longer term I have no doubt we will have to consider a new European Bill of Rights, protecting the rights of European citizens from any abuse of power by European institutions.
We must make freedom of information a priority and in my view there is now an opportunity as well as the demand to act rapidly. It is clear that to make our community more efficient and to protect individual liberty we should have a free flow of information between government and governed. That is why, as Roy Hattersley has outlined, we need a Freedom of Information Act that ensures not only a presumption in favour of disclosure, but also that public interest defence must be available where there is a question-mark over the illegitimate disclosure of information by civil servants.
But because of what I say about vested interests as a whole I want to extend this concept in two ways. First, freedom of information should apply not just to the apparatus of the state but to those dark and secret corners of private power. There should be specific obligations on companies to inform employees, shareholders and the public where it is in the public interest to do so or where it is clearly legitimate for individuals to require such information.
Secondly, freedom of information should be seen not just as a brake upon the natural tendency towards secrecy of powerful institutions. It should be an attempt to actively provide information to the community that needs it.
For example, how can we debate seriously the environment, the economy, unemployment, or the state of our public services if we are denied the vital information - the true, not politically doctored facts and figures - which must necessarily form the basis for such a debate? I believe, for example, that what we call official statistics should come from a central statistical office; not subject to government interference as it is at the moment but independent of government.
In this way the constitutional debate is about content as well as about form, about how to make rights effective in practice as well as in theory.
Thus, there is a duty in the modern constitution to ensure the best possible consultation throughout our society. Public consultation is a mark of a mature democracy, not only when government seeks to make major legislative changes - for example over local taxation - but also at a smaller scale where new developments are planned. We must also ensure the fullest democratic participation in decisions.
Crucial, obviously, to any debate about the rules governing our society is the method of deciding its government. The debate about electoral reform is now proceeding apace and I welcome it. In Scotland we have already adopted the principles for change in a Scottish parliament reflecting a growing recognition that the present system is outdated. Indeed I believe there is now a majority in the Labour Party for an open and comprehensive debate on electoral reform.
It should proceed on the basis of fairness not electoral advantage. It should be because of its intrinsic worth - not as an alternative to winning elections under the present system. Then, in the detail of different systems of voting, the crucial questions arise. Systems are widely varied and have had quite different consequences when they have been tried. The debate, in other words, must concentrate on mechanisms as well as ideals. In particular, I and many others would want to ensure whatever system is adopted maintains the close link between the constituency as a community and its representative.
We must also widen our notion of what we mean by participation. Throughout the community encouragement should be given to individuals to participate in the major decisions that affect their lives.
There must also be proper accountability for all those who exercise power in the public's name. I favour certain public appointments made subject to the scrutiny of a House of Commons committee, so reducing the prime ministerial power of patronage. But I also favour placing the security services under public scrutiny through Parliament, a reform that is long overdue.
We must ensure that those who exercise power, whether in the executive or judiciary as well as the legislature, are able to reflect the public interest. Measures have been spelt out for increasing the representation of women but it will also be equally important that those who administer the law themselves be more representative. What is fascinating now is that real and profound concern about our legal system can no longer be dismissed as confined to fringe or minority groups. Recent cases have seriously undermined public confidence in our legal system. There must be a thorough reform of judicial appointment.
I believe that there must be a wholesale devolution of power. I have made the case for a Scottish parliament now and for the reform of government in Wales and the regions pointing towards a written constitution. In replacing the indefensible House of Lords on a democratic basis, consideration should be given to introducing a regional element to the second chamber. But the devolution of power that I favour is far more widespread. I believe that more generally communities should be in a position to take more control over their own decisions.
That is why we must begin a radical discussion of how the community can work to organise its affairs, breaking out of the one-dimensional view of government that has dominated too much of our thinking. Where there is a public interest there need not be a centralised public-sector bureaucracy always directly involved in provision. Sometimes the best role for government is merely to enable or encourage, or to act as a catalyst or coordinator. At other times government can be partner or simply financier, helping communities to organise themselves.
Indeed the constitution fit for the 21st century should be one of the servant state, the state serving the community and the individual, placed beneath a sovereign people and not above it.
And finally, part of a new settlement between individual community and government is to reinvigorate the notion of public service. For thirteen years we have heard much about the evils of the public sector, as it has been denigrated. It is time to talk about the value of our public services as a reflection of the shared concerns of a British society that educates the young, cares for its sick and disabled, shares responsibilities for the elderly and frail. Teachers and all those who work in the education service, doctors, nurses, orderlies, assistants and all those who work in the health service, the police service and of course the civil service itself.
With young people it is time to harness idealism and energy in the meeting of needs by public service. In the 1960's, from America, there was launched the Peace Corps, an international commitment to harness the idealism of young people to break out of the impotence many felt in the face of the threat to world peace. Now in the 1990's, from Britain, it may be that we should be considering a new corps, a world environment corps, to harness the idealism of young people to break out of the impotence many feel in the face of the threat to the world environment.
We need a British initiated but world-wide organisation through which young people can be trained to meet the environmental challenges of our time: whether helping environmental improvement in Britain, or tackling reclamation or pollution in other parts of the world. This is one of many proposals that we could discuss that will over time reinvigorate the idea, central to the notion of community, that public service is a noble aspiration.
In conclusion, the current movement for constitutional reform is of historic importance. It signals the demand for a decisive shift in the balance of power in Britain, a long overdue transfer of sovereignty from those who govern to those who are governed, from an ancient and indefensible Crown sovereignty to a modern popular sovereignty, not just tidying up our constitution but transforming it.
What I have tried to do is to set the movement for constitutional change within the framework of democratic socialism and I make no apology for doing that.
I have put forward the idea of a new settlement, based on two requirements: the first, that the individual is protected against the state, and the second, that the individual is empowered to develop his or her potential as part of our community. I believe that the Labour Party is the natural party of reform in government and that when I argue that the historic role is to stand up for the individual citizen against vested interests I also mean that the community should open doors for the individual, break down barriers that frustrate choice and chances, empower people with new opportunities, using the power of all to advance the good of each.
I have said that central to this is the notion that Britain needs a new view of community, and that this requires in turn a modern constitution to give it effect. I believe that we can break out of the discredited alternatives of old style state power and new style individualism. Instead I believe that the challenge of the 1990's is to create, as we move towards a new century, a new settlement between individual and community. One that recognises both our rights and aspirations as individuals and our needs and shared values as a community. Not so much the end of history, as one academic put it, but the opening of a new chapter.