After the election, David Cameron said he wanted to lead a “One-Nation” government. As Charles Moore of the Telegraph pointed out, when Cameron uses Disraeli’s old mantra of “One-Nation” he is referring not to Macmillan’s brand of quasi-socialist Toryism but rather of the need to unify the British people. Right now in the UK there are very serious regional political divides. In the south, Labour is for all intensive purposes wiped out by the Conservatives. In parts of northern England, being a Conservative is tantamount to being a devil. In Scotland, the SNP now have 56 of 59 MPs; something that just a few years ago was unthinkable in the former Labour heartland. If Cameron wants to build a “One-Nation” United Kingdom, he and his party need to go farther than just a “Northern Powerhouse.”
I believe a lot of the UK’s issues stem from the government being too centralised. Since the United Kingdom is extremely London-centric, it only makes sense that certain people are resentful of the capital. Don’t get me wrong, London is a wonderful city. It’s big, beautiful, and extremely prosperous. All British people should be proud of London. But there is so much more to the UK than London. (On my last trip to the UK, I went to London, Oxford, Stratford-upon Avon, Bath, St. Ives (Cornwall) and Belfast, and of all of the places I would say London was the least interesting to me. Maybe its because it was not my first time in London). There needs to be a conscious effort among those in government and other important institutions to empower the rest of the nation. That is why after the Scottish referendum I wrote in support of a more localised constitutional settlement. The closer the people are to the reigns of government the more powerful the people, the farther away and more distant the government (i.e. the EU) the weaker the people.
My suggestions are listed below. Ultimately, I think Scotland rediscovering its British identity is first and foremost important to keeping harmony in the UK.
Suggestion 1: Gordon Brown should come out of retirement and lead Scottish Labour. The Scottish Tories and Liberal Democrats should form a Unionist bloc with Labour at Holyrood to keep the SNP out.
Gordon Brown was among the worst all time Prime Ministers and Chancellors. He ran up huge debts and did severe damage to the British economy. But for whatever reason he is very popular in Scotland. Some people even believe that Gordon Brown’s intervention won the referendum for the union. (I would not go that far, the “No” side won by 10 points. I believe if Gordon Brown ran as Scottish Labour leader the unionist parties could defeat the SNP. But that would require unionist cooperation.
I would argue that because Scotland does not have a first past the post system system for its parliamentary elections that all unionist parties should vote for their party of choice (Conservatives, Labour etc.) but that their MSPs should support the leader of the largest party to be First Minister and form a government. I think a Scottish Labour party led by Gordon Brown might be the only way the SNP could lose their majority. Like I said, I don’t like Brown, but the SNP needs to be voted out, and badly. I think Ruth Davidson is a marvelous and capable leader, but I don’t think she can realistically expect to be First Minister. It is imperative that SNP not win again in 2016- take for instance if the UK votes to leave the EU. I wouldn’t put it past an SNP government to then use the EU referendum to call a snap illegal independence referendum with results showing Scotland voted for independence. Such a result from a fake referendum would cause a pandora’s box of troubles for the UK.
This does not mean that I think the Scottish Tories (or Lib Dems or UKIP) should start supporting Brown’s policies. Quite the contrary, I think they should vote against Labour policies they disagree with. But they should keep a Brown led government in place to keep the SNP out. This would force Scottish Labour to either negotiate to the right (unionist parties) or the left (SNP) on an issue by issue basis for legislation, which is preferable to giving the SNP free reign.
Looking at the current sorry crop of Labour leadership contenders, Brown might be the last big political beast in the Labour party. He should come out and save Scottish Labour for the benefit of the union.
Suggestion 2: Take the cheaper Parliament repair option and put the next Parliament “on the road” for 5 years. Have Commons tour the country from 2020-2025.
The iconic Palace of Westminster has to undergo massive repairs. I believe the Houses of Parliament must be repaired and that Parliament should be there for another 1000 years. It would be ludicrous to take Chuka Umuna’s suggestion and move out of the Houses of Parliament and turn the building into a museum. Parliament is iconic and is a proud symbol for Great Britain the world over. That being said, Conservatives must practice what they preach and be good stewards of the taxpayers money. They should elect to take the cheaper £3.5 billion repair option and move out of Parliament while work is being done.
I propose the following five sites for Parliament when they will be moved out of Westminster: Winchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Manchester.
Winchester 2020- I believe the first year for Parliament should be in Winchester, Hampshire. Winchester would be the ideal place for the first year of Parliament because it was arguably the first capital of England- when it was the Anglo-Saxon’s capital of the city of the kingdom of Wessex. (The Roman capital was London though, before the Saxons). Besides having a rich history, the city is absolutely beautiful. It would be a splendid site to have the State Opening of Parliament in the Great Hall in Winchester Castle. The building dates back to 1067 and hosts (supposedly obviously the round table of King Arthur).
I support Winchester because it is a nod to great English history and to rural England. Too often, the people of the countryside are forgotten. Furthermore, Winchester has a City Council Hall and the Hampshire County Council building which could hold Parliament while it conducts its business. (Possibly Commons in one of the buildings and Lords in the other). While unfortunately the council buildings are not like the city but are modern and fairly ugly, they could still do the job.
Cardiff 2021, Belfast 2022, and Edinburgh 2023- What could be more one nation than having the Celtic nation capitals host Parliament for one year each. All of them have very capable buildings. The Welsh capital building, called the Senedd, is ultra-modern and was opened in just 2006. The Scottish Parliament building was built in 2004 but is in the beautiful, UNESCO Holyrood area of Edinburgh. Stormont, the Parliament building in Belfast, is a beautiful building built in 1932. Moving the Parliaments to Celtic countries for one year will show the world (and the people of the Celtic countries) that the United Kingdom is much more than just England.
The final year Manchester– Manchester is a very important city in the United Kingdom, and the greater Manchester area is second only to London in population. Plus, it has a beautiful Town Hall built in 1877 that could host Parliament. The Manchester Town Hall is a wonderful venue, as it is a Gothic building with a clock tower, and has even been the site for Parliament in movies. What better way to show a commitment to the Northern Powerhouse than making Manchester the site of Parliament for a year.
Devolve power to counties and cities, get the SNP out and rotate the site of Parliament for five years. Do that and there will be no doubt that the Conservatives are serious about leading a One-Nation United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.