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16 October 2014

Power to the people – what now for the UK?

Power to the people – what now for the UK?

The Westminster system has died. Long live the Westminster system.

In many ways the debates this week could have come from a bygone era. Gordon Brown and William Hague locking horns over the UK national interest. Southern Tory MPs talking about the unfairness of Scotland whilst SNP members decry an attempt of the Westminster establishment to legislate on powers for Scotland. So much is the same yet so much is different as Westminster met this week to debate the Scottish independence referendum.

So much is different because less than a month ago over 1.5 million UK citizens voted to leave, including Scotland's largest and the UK's third largest city. So much is different because in an age of cynicism 85 per cent of the eligible population voted on an issue because they felt it mattered and a generation of young people were engaged with politics for the first time. So much is different because the impacts of this referendum will change the face of the UK forever.

In practical terms this will happen as the Smith Commission, set up by David Cameron, recommends new powers for the Scottish Parliament that will include increased tax, spending and for the first time welfare powers to Holyrood. As the UK Parliament considers and plans draft legislation to implement these changes, the issue of the rest of the UK comes into the foreground as the other nations consider the arrangements that will help them flourish. Put simply this can be summed up, "if Scotland can get a better setup, why can't we get one for where we live?"

These matters are complex but entirely understandable when we appreciate the current political context. Much of the referendum debate and also the rise of UKIP are symptomatic of the disconnect with the current Westminster establishment. The feeling of distance and that 'the politicians all look the same, sound the same and don't actually understand me' is palpable. That the UK is one of the most centralised nations in the world is accepted. What to do about connecting the different parts of the UK to the system that governs them is more of a challenge.

As Christians we must surely engage in this conversation as it will shape the future of our nation;it forces us to consider what kind of nation we want the UK to be. But how should we best engage? Do we pick up our flag and fight our corner for our own neighborhood, nation or region? Do we default to the economics and start by looking at what makes everyone a bit richer? Or do we look a bit deeper than this?

The Bible's approach to these issues is counter to so much of what we see in our politics. We are encouraged and commanded to show our love for God by loving our neighbour (Mark 10:30-31, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8), an approach that must extend to our community, region, nation and world. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is given to answer the question of how far this love should extend, and its context of competing national groupings sharing the same space is relevant to our thinking today. It is clear from this that our approach to constitutional discussions should be a generous, selfless approach that seeks the common good of the nation(s) rather than one guided by the self-interest that shapes so much of our political system.

Westminster and the rest of the UK will change as a result of the debates that are beginning now. This topic will become an issue for the General Election in 2015 and far beyond. Whatever the outcome of these debates, the values of the kingdom of God are the ones that will ultimately transform our nation. As these conversations begin, it is time for us to show them now.