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Inside Out: The guiding principle should be equality before democratic rule

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I’m amazed at how unprepared the Westminster elite have been for the implications of the Scottish referendum.

They seem to have been making it up as they go along.

All the back-of-the envelope promises the ‘No’ campaign made in the run-up to the vote, the protests that have broken out among Westminster politicians who have been completely sidelined by their leaders – it smacks of panic.

It all feels a bit chaotic. The Scottish situation seems clear; if they don’t follow through there will be hell to pay. For the rest of us it is not so clear.

The political and constitutional select reform committee has one idea of what “English devolution” could look like. Clive Betts MP has another – as does the LGA, Boris Johnson and many others.

Goodness knows what the Whitehall mandarins think. Meanwhile, MPs are sidetracked by the West Lothian question – whether MPs from Scotland should be able to vote on English issues. Historically this has had very little impact on parliamentary decisions.

This lack of consensus will suit the Westminster and Whitehall elite who will fight a rearguard action to retain power. Labour has suggested a convention to determine what devolution means. It is a possible way forward, but it needs a wide membership.

From where I sit it should be driven by one principle. All citizens of the United Kingdom should have equality before democratic rule. Whether you live in Doncaster or Dundee the locally elected representatives should make decisions on the same issues.

The implications of this principle would be profound. It would rule out just devolving in England to some cities. It would have to include all upper-tier councils. It would also mean that Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Stormont would have to agree to devolve the same powers to councils in their countries.

I am sure there are many wrinkles in such an approach, but in the complex change we face, there needs to be an overriding principle against which to judge issues.

We also need to future-proof what we do. If we cannot demonstrate to all citizens they have equal democratic rights, it will only store up resentments that will undermine any new constitutional settlement.

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The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…

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