The Vicar writes...
The United Kingdom held its breath on Thursday 18th September as our Celtic cousins in Scotland voted in a much talked about referendum on their country’s future.
Every citizen north of the border was asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ It was the first election to let sixteen and seventeen year olds have their say and also had one of the highest turn outs in British electoral history.
When the referendum was announced fifteen months ago it looked very likely that Alex Salmond’s call for full independence would be decisively rejected by the Scottish people. The ‘Yes’ campaign had just around a third of the population behind them, prompting one political commentator to suggest that they had ‘virtually no chance’ of winning.
But fifteen months is a long time in politics and, within a few weeks of the actual vote, polls began to suggest that the result was too close to call. The prospect of the break up of the United Kingdom sent shock waves through the corridors of power in Westminster. In almost a blind panic the leaders of the three main UK parties began to promise the Scots more devolved power if they would vote to stay in the union. In the end Alex Salmond and the ‘Yes’ campaigners were narrowly defeated. In the aftermath of the referendum the countries of the United Kingdom are now faced with the prospect of more devolved power coming their way.
I am a proud Welshman and I am equally proud of being British. So I did breathe a sigh of relief when I woke up to the news on September 19th that the Scots had voted to stay in the Union. But I have to say that I was quite impressed by the passion and conviction of the ‘Yes’ campaign. They managed to stir up a nation and to engage with people who had been largely disenfranchised by modern politics. In the end it was a close call indeed.
What we saw in the momentum of the ‘Yes’ campaign was obviously much more than a desire to be a fully independent nation. It seemed to grow out of a general disaffection with Westminster politics. It came in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal which had exposed a number of our MPs as dishonest and self serving. Though there are many good and hardworking Members of Parliament their image has been tarnished by the few.
Many Scots spoke of their dissatisfaction with the main political leaders and their spin doctors and saw much of the decision making in Westminster as remote and biased in favour of London and the south east. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, spoke of this when he said recently that ‘London is draining the life out of the rest of the country’. We also experienced this, locally, in the decision to close the Coastguard Station on Mumbles Head, which was more to do with the interests of the party in power than local need.
So what we saw on the 18th of September was very much an example of ‘People power’. Scots having a say on their future and securing more decision making for themselves. I very much hope that it will make the political elite in our nation’s capital sit up and take note of what the electorate wants and deserves; passionate politics rather than spin; representation rather than self serving; devolved power to the people rather than the centralisation of power to the few.
What is true for politics should also be true for other aspects of decision making too.
The recent decision by Swansea City Council to end the transport subsidy to children attending our local Catholic schools was a shameful example of petty party politics. Some of the labour councillors were offensive in the comments they made about faith schools and proved to be discriminatory in serving the party line.
Within the Church too, those who make important decisions about our future and about matters of faith, morality and ministry are sometimes perceived as remote. It’s why I welcome Bishop John’s insistence that, when it comes to establishing ‘Ministry Areas’ within our diocese, he wants them to be grown from the people up.
Last month our family of nations literally came within a hare’s breath away from separating. We would all do well to take note of what it said about politics, people and power.