Catherine Bearder writes… Now the referendum is over, we need a unifying vision for Britain

Now that the people of Scotland have voted to remain a part of the UK, discussions over what further devolution of powers for Scotland will take place – as well as for the other British nations and regions – will inevitably dominate public debate. However, a big risk facing us as a country is that we become too introspective, turning in on ourselves rather than looking at the wider picture.

That’s because as well as a new constitutional arrangement, we desperately need a unifying vision of Britain and its place in the world. Indeed, it’s the lack of such a vision that has been one of the key factors fuelling Scottish separatism and the nationalism that feeds UKIP.

Egged on by the rise of this nationalism and euroscepticism, the Tories are now increasingly dominated by isolationists who want to cut off ties with Europe, scrap the Human Rights Act and abandon efforts to tackle climate change. All of these were seized upon by Alex Salmond as examples of why Scotland should go it alone. Labour on the other hand has failed to come up with a convincing narrative about Britain’s place on the international stage. Wary of the right-wing press and the toxic legacy of Tony Blair, they prefer to ignore the outside world and focus on domestic issues where they enjoy a comfortable polling lead. That leaves it to us as Liberal Democrats, the UK’s only truly internationalist party, to make the case for Britain engaging in the world and being a force for good, as is the great tradition of our country.

Most importantly, we need to continue to champion the UK’s role in Europe. As May’s European elections showed, making the case for Britain’s membership of the EU is not necessarily a big vote-winner. But we must continue to make that case and to make it better, because Britain’s future prosperity and security depends on being a leading member of the European Union. We need to work with our allies to continue to reform the EU, but even more importantly we need to do more to inform the public back home about the massive benefits it brings us.

As we approach the general election in May, we can be sure that UKIP will be playing the migration card again and spreading their poisonous rhetoric of division and fear. And we can be just as sure that a large rump of the Tories will sink to UKIP’s level and reach record levels of Europhobia, while Labour will try to dodge the issue altogether.

That means that more than ever, Liberal Democrats must be the voice of reason. We have to put forward a compelling vision not only of how our country should be governed in future, but what kind of country we want to be. A country that all our British family of nations can get behind. Open, tolerant, compassionate and internationalist, and playing a leading role in tackling the global challenges of the 21st century.

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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28 Comments

  • David Evershed 19th Sep '14 - 6:20pm

    A starting point is the implementaion of Lib Dem policy on localism and the EU subsidiarity policy which we support.

  • Europe and open-door migration are the among the most divisive issues of all.

    There is nothing wrong with running a campaign on them and showing a difference between the Lib Dems and other parties, after all that is what politics is about, but if you expect it to be in anyway nationally unifying then effectively you are just wishing your opponents and their voters to stop believing in their own positions

  • Devolve full power for domestic affairs to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; create an English Convention empowered to set up regional bodies to which responsibility for domestic affairs will be devolved. Westminster retains responsibility for defence, foreign affairs, and the currency. With such a reduced remit for the Westminster Parliament, its size could probably be reduced by 1/3, the House of Lords abolished, and elections converted to proportional system. The PM would cease to be the most powerful figure in the country, but would be at most primus/a inter pares.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Sep '14 - 7:22pm

    This is a good positive article and communicates some fears I have had about Britain becoming an inward looking constitutional naval gazing country, which would ultimately make society and the economy poorer.

    Now that Scotland has voted no we need to start lobbying and developing the constitution. Andrew Adonis has just written an astonishingly weak article for the Guardian failing to address concerns across England (and elsewhere) and just said “The English should be generous”. If this is Labour’s message to England they will be finito.

    John Redwood from the Conservatives wants an English parliament, but not much for the regions, so it falls to Liberal Democrats to seize the agenda.

    I have big concerns about how devolution on demand will lead to continuous inward looking quarrying with “I want more powers, I want what they’ve got” when we should sort out the “constitution” and pretty much leave it alone for at least 10 years at a time.

    Regards

  • Personally, I think the biggest threat to unity is the Conservative Party and it’s lack of interest in non Conservative voting areas. The Lib Dems and even Labour do not try to disenfranchise opposition voters in the way Tories do as a matter of routine. Without the Lib Dem’s, input, we would have even more of the toxic policies that nearly ended Britain, True to form the Conservative Party are already trying to recast the No vote as a victory for the Conservative Party despite being virtually a fringe group in Scotland and increasingly in the North of England. The Lib Dems need to keep the push going for reform going and re-engage with it’s anti-establishment instincts. You can’t have liberalism without tackling the sense of entitlement that exist within the old power elites of our senior civil servants and rather too many of our nations’ leaders. It’s time to be a little more radical.

  • A good article, but the kind of thoughtful approach suggested here has of course been abandoned in favour of a mad dash towards more devolution all over the UK by next Spring. Though hardly anybody seemed much interested in this two weeks ago, now we’re told it’s the most pressing issue facing us, all because of a foolish and (as it turned out) unnecessary panic-driven pledge (which they cannot even guarantee the delivery of) by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

    Am I alone in being the opposite of thrilled at the prospect of another tier of government within England? Don’t we have enough already? Most places within England already have three major tiers of government. We need another tier – with all the expense and complexity that will entail – like a proverbial hole in the head.

    This all seems to be fuelled by a naïve belief that the more local (or “closer to people”) you make decision-making, the better those decisions will be. If this were the case, councils would be universally loved and respected, but that has seldom been my experience.

    If we really must have some form of English Parliament – and sadly that now seems inevitable – then it should be a true stand-alone Parliament rather than the sub-set of English MPs the Tories want. The Tory plan would emphatically not give England the same thing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have. The Scots and Welsh do not vote the same way in their national elections as they do in Westminster elections, so the English should be given the opportunity to do likewise if they are to have their own Parliament.

  • Mark Thompson 19th Sep '14 - 8:29pm

    Dividing England into regions is exactly what the EU wants! Divide and rule!

    Wanting to limit immigration to skilled people only is 100% common sense and 100% within the will of the majority of British people.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Sep '14 - 8:33pm

    Stuart – I’m inclined to agree. A lot of people on political websites seem to have formed a view that the public at large is gagging for devolution, but I have to say I can’t see it myself.

    To my mind the recent PCC elections are instructive. Powers over policing devolved to locally elected figures. Only it would appear that the prospect didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Indeed I’m not totally clear what, ‘more powers,’ for Scotland actually means. One of the stronger arguments against independence, to my mind, was that they aren’t using all the powers there already.

    I don’t know what the answer is. Everyone seems to want, ‘Something Else,’ but no one seems able to tell me what, ‘Else,’ looks and feels like. The stark truth is that the public at large aren’t buying internationalism. But I would hope that a headlong rush to devolution is avoided, not least because it’s not actually a very good idea.

  • I am in NE England we had a vote on devolution and it was rejected, you seem to think we want more local officials when all I wish for is that a party puts outside of London first for a change

    I have nothing against Londoners but I do have issue that successive governments can’t see if they invested more for example in NE England they would still get a return on investment and maybe the local population age would drop down somewhat

    UKIP will take the parties to task unless politicians take notice of what those who live here want before they open the door to more people from the EU prior to making new houses schools and roads

  • Ian MacFadyen 20th Sep '14 - 12:39am

    Allan: What was offered and rejected in the North East was not devolution, but a centralisation of local government powers without powers being transferred from Westminster and Whitehall. It should have surprised no one that this was rejected, especially after the unsuccessful fights in the 1990s to save local authorities like Derwentside. Genuine devolution would be different and would empower and invigorate the North East, just as Scotland has been with its powers. The tragedy in Scotland is that the SNP government has not used all its powers to build the economy and conquer poverty, preferring to granstand against London instead. That tactic failed spectularly yesterday at the Scots’ hands.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Sep '14 - 12:56am

    I’m reading Lib Dems will accept English votes for English laws as long as there is more devolution to the cities. I think this plan would turn the UK into the Titanic. Everyone inside the UK parliament should be treated equally and appearing to favour cities over rural areas will lose votes and just widen divisions in society.

    A country, like a business, needs to be managed properly and delegating decision making doesn’t mean giving subordinates a veto. It will be like driving a car with two steering wheels. Not full of confidence.

  • Eddie
    It will be like driving a car with two steering wheels.

    Sounds like a good description of the coalition. Except Clegg has the child’s toy steering wheel which he enjoys playing with but does not actually steer the car.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Sep '14 - 1:07am

    I’ve sounded like a centraliser. I’m not, I just want a rational system that works. One area shouldn’t be able to take more power unless the other areas agree with it, but they should be able to leave when they want. Devo on demand will lead to an arms race and the dismantling of the UK.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Sep '14 - 1:28am

    Thanks John. At least with two steering wheels you know where power lies, but with the Lib Dem policy we are going to have secret steering wheels all over the place. As Maria Pretzler says: we are creating power without accountability. It needs to change.

    I’m going to bed now. 🙂

  • “We need to work with our allies to continue to reform the EU, but even more importantly we need to do more to inform the public back home about the massive benefits it brings us.”

    I dont see why informing the public back home is more important than reforming the EU – we are a progressive party after all

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Sep '14 - 2:59am

    Sorry, I shouldn’t make out that the devo on demand policy is going to lead to disaster, I’m sure it would work, I just don’t think it is best and I have had genuine worries that if we get this wrong then we are going to spend the next 5-10 years naval gazing on the constitution, rather than being the outward facing nation Catherine writes about.

  • The industrial decline of the west of Scotland is the reason for the Glasgow Yes vote. More devolution will only work if the problem of lack of industry and jobs can be tackled.

  • John Roffey 20th Sep '14 - 6:38am

    It may be a bitter pill to swallow for many members of the Party, but a nation needs to be wealthy if it is to have any real impact on the wider world – and the nation is not wealthy – it is heavily in debt.

    Individuals are of course free to donate their own spare cash to a charity whose cause they support, or indeed work for one of these charities abroad as many individuals do – often, as we have recently seen, at great risk to themselves. However, any Party that advocates the nation spending or incurring further debts to help foreign nationals, whilst we are a poor nation, will not enjoy much popularity when it comes to the general election.

    In simple terms, the national debt is around £1.3 trillion and the interest on this debt is about £1 billion each week. The national debt is increasing each year because the Exchequer does not receive enough in taxes etc. to compensate for what it has to pay out [the deficit] this is presently about £100 billion each year.

    Osborne plans to reduce this to zero by 2018 through ever harsher austerity measures [he had promised, on taking office, to reduce this to zero before the general election].

    So if members do want the nation to play a greater international role – it will be necessary to find new ways to raise money for the Exchequer – the most obvious is to tax the multinationals who operate ever more extensively within our boarders and pay low rates of corporation tax or none at all.

  • Ian MacFadyean
    You are quite right about the North East.. The botched proposals for a North East Assemly from the Labour Government said much about Blair’s personal antagonism to devolution. Prescott was put in charge of devolution to the regions of England so that he could make a pig’s ear of it. What is it about Deputy Prime Ministers and constitutional reform?

    Not sure I agree with you about the performance of the Scottish Parliament, I know plenty of Scots who were initially sceptical about the SNP in power but have been won over by their record in office. Members of our party in Scotland, no doubt still bruised by the 2011 election results seem unable to acknowledge the popularity of much that has been done in recent years.

  • Manfarang
    If as you say industrial decline was the cause of the Glasgow vote why has it only happened now! Many Glaswegians voting YES were young successful middle class people who thought they could make a better job of running their country than former members of The Bullingdon Club. Thy have grown up longer after industrial decline dominated the economic landscape.
    Glasgow today is in general a much more prosperous and than it was in the 1980s.
    As for working class people who lost out from industrial decline — Why have the voters waited until now to register a protest? I think it might be more complicated and might have something to do with alienation, appalling housing and planning policies involving shoving the poor into boxes and forgetting about them. Labour took them for granted and many had not voted for decades until Thursday when they saw the chance for an end to London rule, the people who brought them the poll tax, the Iraq wars, the bedroom tax, the place where bankers bonuses live.

  • John Tilley
    Ah yes Wall Street on Clyde. I was forgetting about that .Mind you the Shanghai financisal sectoris going to give it a run for its money Shanghai is of course backed by industrial strength. Shanghai has changed beyond recognition in the last 30 years. Somehow I think I will still be able to recognise much of Glasgow as being similarto when I last visited it.
    I note in Glasgow about 30% of households have no adults in employment. This figure has not changed appreciably in the last 8 years and is significantly higher than in the other Scottish cities and in comparison to UK cities.
    Of course I read Vince Cable’s comments about Glasgow in his book Free Radical

  • Paul in Wokingham 20th Sep '14 - 10:41am

    Manfarang notes that 30% of households in Glasgow are workless. Here is the definition used for that statistic:

    Workless households are households in which no-one aged 16 or over is in employment. Those who are not in employment may be unemployed or unavailable to work because of family commitments, retirement, study, or unable to work through sickness/disability.

    The link is http://www.understandingglasgow.com/indicators/economic_participation/overview

    It is not clear if that figure is specifically for the working age cohort (16 to 64) or if it includes households in which all adults are 65 and older.

    The same report observes that 63% of all working-age adults in Glasgow are in employment.

    I was recently reading the latest Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and noted that the Labor Force Participation Rate (which is the ratio of those either in employment or seeking employment versus the entire cohort of the same age range – which is 16 to 64) is currently 62.8%. With unemployment at 6% the actual percentage of all working age adults who are in employment is about 59%. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

    It is curious to observe (and perhaps a good example of the old adage about the misapplication of statistics) that a higher percentage of working-age adults from Glasgow are in employment than the equivalent figure for the entire USA.

  • Paul in Wokingham
    And Manfarang definitely not in Wokingham.

    My knowledge of Glasgow is from direct observation on trips to see family and litening to the locals. I have neither studied Vince’s book nor the official statistics.

    No doubt there are some grim estates and neglected tower blocks in the City. Poor people or migrants who have been taken for granted by all the Westminster Elite parties and have been shoved into housing which was not much good when it ws built in the 1960s and has only got worse since. I have not visited a lot of industrial wasteland although there is still some, but much of it has long since been transformed into modern riverside flats, conference centres etc.

    I have been to watch Celtic play and lived to tell the tale, I have enjoyed the new Science Museum with my nephew, I have also been to see Scottish Ballet and the Burrell Collection. I have been to see a Doctor Who exhibition at the Art Galleries as well as Impressionist Paintings at The Hunterian, my late father in law particularly liked wandering around the Transport Museum so I have been there a number of times. The Peoples Palace might surprise some visitors from England. I do not know how many Glaswegians are now employed in the arts and tourism but the number must be significant. The facilities for the recent Commonwealth Games were acknowledged worldwide to be first class. My wife really enjoyed watching the cycling in the new velodrome.
    The ethnic profile of the CIty has also changed. I have gone shopping in some excellent Asian green-grocers near my mother-in-law’s house in Pollokshields where the large family houses and thriving businesses provide a very different picture from the traditional view of Glasgow. The YES vote amongst Muslim and Sikh Scots was I am told much higher than anticipated.
    All of this is anecdotal of course. But Glasgow is most definitely not a scene of post industrial depression and crumbling shipyards. It is a thriving modern European City.

    (Do you think I will get that job in the tourist office now?)

    People going to the conference should take time to look around there is a lot to see and do. Maybe add a few days on to your stay, or if you cannot do that, skip the Leader’s Speech session, it will be the same old rubbish concocted by spin doctors and special advisors with no connection to reality. You would be far better off outside enjoying Glasgow.

  • John Tilley
    Built on a mountain of debt if John Roffey is to be believed rather than a solid industrial base.
    Britain is still far from full employment and that is little comfort for many young people who face an uncertain future.
    Paul in Wokingham
    Yes things are not too good in LA as my friends tell me.

  • John Tilley
    Maybe that was among younger Muslims and Sikhs.-
    .As this report states
    “I’ve lived in Scotland for 18 years. I was born in India and I was in London for 35 years before coming to Glasgow. I definitely feel British rather Scottish. We are all one country; it doesn’t matter where you live,” said Naranjan Singh Benning, a 63-year-old businessman and a member of the nearly 38,000-strong Indian-origin community based in Scotland.
    Among some of the older generation like him, the horrors of Indian Partition may prove the deciding factor against voting for independence.
    “There was a Hindu state and a Muslim state and the Sikhs were left with no rights. They gained nothing and lost a lot. So this might have negative connotations for them in terms of their vote on whether they want to separate or stay as one United Kingdom,” said Navpreet Kaur, a member of Glasgow’s central Gurdwara.”

  • Manga rang
    My guess is ( Ido not have the data) that most Muslim and Sikh Glaswegians aged 16 and over were born in Glasgow . It was their grandparent’s’ generation who had moved from elsewhere.,
    You have chosen to highlight the views and experience of one man who moved to Glasgow after living in London for 35 years. Not very typical I would suggest.

  • Manfarang
    Apologies but my I-pad autocorrect has changed your name. Not intentional on my part. I wish LDV allowed the authors of comments to edit comments some could iron out such things.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Sep '14 - 11:32am

    @ Stuart @ Little jackie paper,
    I fully agree.

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