By Eric Moonman, President of the Zionist Federation
The long campaign for Scottish independence finally ended last month. While Alex Salmond may be set to leave the scene, the problems over devolution for the leadership of the rest of the UK are only just beginning.
It’s conceivable that one or more of the three party leaders won’t even be around to contest the 2015 General Election.
Their failure to appreciate the spirit and enthusiasm of the SNP campaign was very apparent.
But also clear was Salmond’s infectious passion and simple message. Despite the result of the poll, the response by Westminster and was woeful.
A brisk trip up north and home before nightfall was the only order of the day.
It was only in the very last week, when former premier Gordon Brown launched his powerful strategy combining sincerity and a vision for the future for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom, that a personality finally emerged to challenge Scotland’s passionate First Minister.
Brown provided a desperately needed shot in the arm at every level of the Better Together campaign. Of course, support for independence has not suddenly emerged in recent years.
Back in 1977, before Salmond dominated the SNP, I along with fellow MPs actively challenged the wild demands of the devolution lobby.
The issue preoccupied the Westminster agenda of the late 1970s. We won the debate, and our political leaders of the time wrongly believed the issue had been put to bed once and for all.
Today, for all the harsh words expressed in Scotland, there is now a real opportunity to introduce a series of sensible and enlightened reforms – devolution for every part of the United Kingdom.
The recent campaign awoke an interest for change in many regions and big cities – certainly in Northern Ireland and Wales – where people want a more open system of government. What was offered in the heat of battle by the Prime Minister is now a goal for all.
Westminster has passed a new Scotland Act that will allow Holyrood to set up a different income tax rate by upt o 10p in the pound by 2016 and borrow up to £2billion to control landfill tax (worth £100m) and to have a new property sales tax (worth £236m) to replace stamp duty. But it won’t end there.
Promises to the Scots will act as a template for the rest of the UK.
A new structure will also provide an additional opportunity to groups and organisations outside the narrow government sector working within the areas of race relations and the various religious forums.
So, is there a Jewish response to the issue of devolution? It would appear not.
The Board of Deputies, with unusual haste, recently produced its “Jewish manifesto” for the 2015 General Election, with comments on every conceivable aspect of British life.
Yet there is not a single word on governance, which is likely to be one of the most critical issues in 2015.
Our political leaders must make the choices clear following the success of the No vote in Scotland.
There are two options: give Scotland more powers and defer the English question by hiving off the whole decision to a constitution convention.
Or tackle the Westminster voting issue first without looking at wider English devolution.
Scotland already has a privileged position because, in addition to its Parliament in Edinburgh, it elects 59 MPs to Westminster.
David Cameron wants to end that situation to prevent those MPs having a say on issues affecting England alone.
Mr Miliband’s agenda, meanwhile, is to move ahead with power for Scotland.
For him, it’s an equally serious business as Labour holds 41 of the 59 seats, which are so important to him in Westminster. He has no desire put those votes in jeopardy.
Haste is, however, needed despite all the manoeuvring. Nor can UKIPs interest in political opportunism be overlooked.
At any rate our attention will soon be directed towards a more serious referendum as to whether the country will remain in the European Union.
The verdict in Scotland was “no” to independence but “yes” to more powers which were conceded during the campaign.
The impact of this choice will be felt by every citizen of the UK before too long.