The voice of the people

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Writing before the result of the referendum, we can only hope that today the Scottish people have given a sound mandate to proceed with legislation for a parliament in Edinburgh. Since the general election and most markedly since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, there has been much talk of a new politics for a new society. The Prime Minister is not by instinct a great supporter of self-determination for Scotland and Wales but he recognises that devolution of power is a necessary part of the constitutional overhaul he seeks for the United Kingdom.

To Scots wedded to home rule, it may seem incongruous to rank devolution alongside removing the rights of hereditary peers and giving London an elected mayor. But if devolution is to strengthen the Union by modernising it, as Labour and the Liberal Democrats claim, there is point to Tony Blair's approach, which carries weight among English Labour MPs otherwise uninterested in Scotland and Wales.

Constitutional change does not itself make a society easier with itself. But when the mechanics of government become arthritic, as they do if left unchanged for too long, social change is harder to achieve. The Reform Acts of the last century did not produce a democratic society but they ensured that Britain did not face revolution. In the wake of the Princess's death the upsurge of resentment about outdated forms of royal protocol was another signal that institutional change has been too slow for the needs of the people. They want a royal family which is no longer an aristocratic pinnacle.

The people's revolt was born of the strangely intense grief of the young. Likewise the trust invested in Tony Blair's Government, which seems to be running now at a higher level than on May 2, is an expression of young people's hopes, which are not usually expressed through political channels. Our devolution poll of senior pupils across Scotland (TES2, page three) shows convincing support for a parliament.

In the referendum campaign there was too little attention to the plans for creating a modern legislature in which there is greater co-operation among the parties, less resort to silly abusiveness and a more informed level of discussion. The aim should be to reflect a more mature society, and that is also a plea much heard since Diana's death. As every teacher knows, young people have little time for traditional politics and for the uncomfortable attempts by the middle-aged to intervene in their lifestyles.

Max Cruickshank

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