The morning after the day before

Yesterday was an extraordinary day in Scotland. I don’t think that any of us really knew how tense it was all going to get until the day itself.

There is much to celebrate in the turn-out, which was phenomenal. In recent weeks, people have engaged in a political process in ways I’ve never seen before and which to be honest I couldn’t have foreseen.

Last night I tweeted that I was hoping for a No vote but that if it was a Yes then I hoped that the Yes would be overwhelming. In the end the vote was a slightly stronger No than most people seemed to think possible at the end. However, the truth is, no-one that I spoke to yesterday during the polling was prepared even to guess. We simply didn’t know what the outcome would be.

I have to say that though I was clear that I was hoping for a no vote, there has been much that has impressed me in the Yes campaign. Much of that campaign was positive and throughout the campaign it did indeed seem as though the momentum lay there.

I’ve been consistently unimpressed by the Better Together campaign. It was negative and miserable throughout. It never represented what I felt at all. I was far more impressed with the campaign run by those with whom I disagreed on the independence question itself.

The Yes campaign won the social media battle hands down but not the wider argument. And I think the reality is that Independence has been decided for a generation. This was the time for that change if it was ever going to happen – an ineffective Labour party in Scotland, a hated coalition of  Liberal Democrats and Tories in government, charismatic and hopeful leadership on the Yes side and the most powerful street campaigning I’ve ever seen were all things that seemed to make the case for change more powerful.

Those of us in Scotland have decided that we don’t want to leave the United Kingdom. However let the message ring out that no-one who voted yesterday wants to live in Foodbank Britain.

I found listening to those who disagreed with me on the Independence Question that I very often agreed with them on their motivation for seeking significant change.

I remain convinced that the only solution to the West Lothian Question that will be stable is major constitutional change in a federal direction. I’m not satisfied by the idea that Westminster can continue as usual but with Scottish MPs just not voting on matters that affect England only. I want to see an English Parliament. I want to see major reform of the House of Lords. I want to see more devolution towards local government. I want to see fairer (and slightly higher) taxation, particularly a higher council tax to pay for better local services decided on by local people.

We have disagreed about how to achieve change but there are values that have come to the fore, largely through the incredible campaign that the Yes side have fought that we can unite around. I have many friends who will be disappointed, hugely disappointed today. However there is an enormous amount in which they can be very proud. An outstanding turnout, a campaign that brought social justice right to the fore, change being talked about by everyone in politics and political engagement across the board from people who have never cared or voted before. These things have changed Scotland for the better and when the dust settles we will see that things can never be the same again.

One of the members of my own congregation who is one of the strongest supporters of the Yes campaign I know said to me yesterday, “Even if it is No, Yes has won”. He meant, I think that the positivity of the Yes campaign can’t be killed off and that constitutional change is coming anyway. I know that he and many others will be disappointed by the actual result. However, I agreed with him yesterday and I agree with him today.


Alternative Queen’s Speech

Here is an Alternative Queen’s Speech – the things that I’d have liked to hear from the Queen in the House of Commons today and what I’d have asked Her Majesty to say if I were the Prime Minister.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my government will work in the year ahead for the wellbeing of the people of this country. It shall continue to pursue economic prosperity but shall see this within the context of what may be identified as the common good.

My government will seek to reduce both relative and absolute poverty and seek to bring an end to the culture of Food Bank Britain. It will pay appropriate benefits to those in need in a timely fashion.

My government shall work towards a new constitutional settlement in order to bring stability to the nation. To this end, it shall prepare legislation which will be presented in Westminster if the referendum on Scottish Independence is not passed in September 2014. This legislation will set out a new constitutional framework for a federal United Kingdom with a written constitution establishing this nation’s sovereignty within the European Union. This will introduce a new parliament for England based in the city of York. It will abolish the House of Lords and establish a new honour of Royal Commissioner of the United Kingdom which all current members of the House of Lords will receive. Members of the new Royal Commission shall be called upon to give evidence according to their speciality during increased pre-legislative scrutiny for four parliaments in Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. The four parliaments shall act as unicameral assemblies in all matters excepting those relating to foreign policy, the constitution, the monarchy, registration of political parties, international trade, currency and economic policy, defence, energy policy, climate change issues, declarations of war and treason. These matters shall be the preserve of the House of Commons, entirely comprised of elected members from across the United Kingdom. If the people of Scotland reject the proposals for an independent Scotland in September 2014 then these new legislative developments will be put to all the people of this country in a referendum on 24 March 2016 and my government will seek cross-party support for them.

My government will reform the national curriculum in England in the light of best practise in all parts of this kingdom in order to empower teachers and set them free from red tape. The new curriculum will establish what should be taught in schools whilst leaving teachers free to teach those subjects to the best of their ability and according to their professional judgement.

My government will introduce legislation to disestablish the Church of England and will consult on the best way of preserving the positive ethos which exists in many church schools when those schools are given over entirely to local authority control.

My government will introduce legislation to ensure that charitable status is removed from all charities which discriminate on the basis of the Protected Characteristics of other equality legislation. For the avoidance of doubt, religious charities which campaign against other protected characteristics in terms of age, gender, sexuality etc will automatically lose their charitable status.

My government, mindful of the number of citizens who now live in single households will begin a consultation on extending the Equality Act by introducing protections for single people particularly in relation to the provision of goods and services in the travel and hospitality industries.

My government will introduce a new law of copyright which is fit for the digital age which will include reducing the terms of copyright.

My government will ensure that no public money is spent on reparative (or gay conversion) therapy.

My government will establish mandatory sex education in all schools in England and remove the requirement for religious assemblies in schools. Legislation will be introduced to place a statutary duty on schools to review procedures to ensure the prevention of homophobic bullying. My government will clarify the law to ensure that teachers who ignore such bullying can be prosecuted under the same legislation as other forms of child neglect.

My government will continue to allocate 0.7 % of GDP to overseas development and shall engage in a consultation about how this money might be best distributed to ensure that this country does not aid discrimination, violence or corruption.

My government will continue to raise the threshold for income tax. Alongside this, my government has recognised the need for tax measures to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth. To this end, my government will in the current year cut Value Added Tax by half, raising income tax in order to pay for this. The 50% band for income tax will be reestablished for all earning in excess of £100000 per year. My government will begin preparatory work for a further major tax reform by beginning a consultation on introducing a land value tax in order to replace Council Tax within the next 5 years. Furthermore my government will revive local government by removing all caps on revenue raising that have been imposed by central government.

My government will overhaul the laws on freedom of assembly and protest to ensure that all voices may be heard.

My government will reform the data protection laws beginning from the principal that all citizens are entitled to their own privacy.

My government will introduce proportional representation for all elections.

My government will abolish all University tuition fees.

My government will invest in research and development in Universities with the aim of establishing new generic drugs which will be free from pharmaceutical patents for the good not only of this country but for the wellbeing of the citizens of the world.

My government will establish and fund a new centre of expertise for open-source software and shall prefer to commission new public computer systems using such software.

My government will publish a national energy policy and invest in nuclear and renewable energy whilst outlawing fracking.

My government will raise the minimum wage to a new living wage.

My government is proud of the fact that it has introduced consolidated fares in the airline industry, ensuring that advertised fares include all booking fees and taxes. It will now introduce legislation to do the same for all arts productions, outlawing the practice of charging a separate booking fee on ticket prices.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

I pray that the blessing of the Eternal God may rest upon your counsels.