Amandeep Singh Bhogal is a former diplomat, has been a candidate for the London Assembly and is on the Parliamentary Candidates List.
As Scotland gets ready to vote on its future and identity, it is at a point in its national journey with only two roads in front. One with a Yes vote – sending her crashing down the slippery road of self-isolation and protectionist independence, or the other with a No vote – cruising forward at speed with a renewed sense of belonging and a rejuvenated direction and focus.
It is clear to see that Yes’s vision is short-sighted with unmeasured variables and fuelled by fear, whereas the No camp’s is of a strengthened union – with renewed commitment of friendship fuelled by a bold and right belief in being better together.
On Thursday, our great Union will have existed for a record breaking 112,259 days. The very fact that it has lasted, developed and prospered for so long is a testament to how much we have in common, how well we get along with each other and the depth of our kinship. This is evident in the immense indecision of the Scottish people in deciding which road to take for their future.
Looking across the world, we can see just how much chaos, bloodshed and tension there is both between nations and within nations – when all should be seeking to build coalitions of commonality and shared interests. Whether in Iraq, which has been ripped apart by civil war and infighting, or in Sudan, which has been broken up with the formation of South Sudan: such unity and friendship as exists in our union is rare. However, great unions such as the United States of America ,with its 50 states, and the Union of India, with its 29 states, demonstrate that it can be done.
Going forward, what we need is a great reformation of how our Union functions, how its member nations relate with each other and how we govern ourselves. It is from both the USA and the Union of India that we must learn and draw inspiration from in setting up a proper and modern national federal structure in the United Kingdom. We must do this to address the challenges of a modern Britain that wants to govern itself with greater localism, greater autonomy and greater devolution.
We have a ready-made template in the the way the Union of India functions, which of course we should tweak to fit our needs and aspirations. As well as setting up a federal monarchy structure we should also establish County Legislative Assemblies, with powers to legislate on a wide gamut of local matters including policing, taxation and intra-state trade. Directly elected members of these County Legislative Assemblies would also indirectly elect members of Parliament for a reformed upper house of the Westminster Parliament – our very own ‘Rajya Sabha’: a House of the Counties.
Replacing a bloated and ineffective House of Lords with its 760 or so members, this would be a svelte alternative full of energy, purpose and relevance – a body of no more than two thirds of the capacity of the House of Commons, and with a nominated quota of five per cent for people with significant contributions to art, literature, science and social services, all serving fixed six year terms, with one third up for election every two years. It would deliver what the United Kingdom is yearning for – maximum governance but minimum government, and action, not acts.
This would inadvertently lead to real and proper devolution reducing ‘big’ central government, and move decision-making more nearer to the people. It would undoubtedly rejuvenate the participation of people in democracy as well as, most importantly, give them a louder voice in how they are taxed. Moreover, it would transform the present set-up from people being governed by Westminster to people governing Westminster. We have seen extraordinary results with the former 565 Indian princely states prospering and flourishing as a modern nation that is united in its diversity and cohesive in its character. Such a federal structure and devolution of power simply works.
We are in an era when people are increasingly feeling disenchanted with politics, in many cases unhappy with their inability to effect change. An air of apathy fills the air, as voters feel that their elected representatives are out of sync with them and their daily lives. With people in places like Thanet feeling that they have been forgotten, and nearly half the people in Scotland believing that they are over-governed by Westminster, we are at a stage where the present setup is out-of-date and out-of-sync with modern reality and out-of-fuel for the long journey ahead.
We must hope and pray that the threat to the sanctity and unity of our great union, powered by anti-national elements such as Alex Salmond, is defeated by the wisdom of the people of Scotland as they realise that we are better together. Whatever happens on Thursday, one thing is certain. and that is that our Union needs a great reformation – reformation of how we are represented, reformation of how we are taxed and reformation of how we are governed. Such a profound tranformation of our democracy has the spark to rekindle a patriotic fervour unseen for decades, enough to make all Britons say that ‘Believe in Britain, because Britain believes in you’. If we can do that, the auspicious result will be a stronger, more united and a happier United Kingdom.