Today the House of Lords Constitution Commission has published a new report: “Respect and Cooperation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st Century.”
The report is based on interviews with political leaders and experts from across the UK who were asked to give their verdict on the nuts and bolts of the Union: how governments across the UK work together; the role of Whitehall; and whether the balance of powers is right. While the report says the case for the Union remains strong, it does not mince its words in calling for change. Summaries of the argument can be found in articles in today’s press, by Lord Hope in the Herald and Lord Dunlop in the Times.
Summing it up, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Chair of the Constitution Committee calls for a “reset” in the relationships between the centre of power and the devolved nations and regions. Central to this, she says, is the need for a “compelling vision and narrative for the United Kingdom in the 21st century.”
This is laid out by the Committee as a “more cooperative Union based on a renewed sense of respect and partnership between the different layers of government and a new emphasis on shared governance in the interests of all its citizens.” She concludes that “significant culture change” will be required in Whitehall to achieve this “including the end of its top-down mindset”.
She says: “Fostering greater respect and cooperation between Whitehall and the different parts of the United Kingdom will be even more important in strengthening the Union.”
Our Scottish Future is campaigning for exactly this new reformed Union to be created, based on the principles of cooperation and solidarity. And it’s now clear that how we create this more cooperative union is now the central debate over the future of the UK. You can listen to Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram discuss it on our podcast, released this week. You can also hear our founder Gordon Brown spell out his own vision in a speech he made just last week. All three pro-UK parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, are staking out their positions.
This is to be welcomed. Far from retreating into a defensive Unionism, there is now a healthy and positive debate about the weaknesses and flaws within the structure of the Union and a growing set of ideas about how to improve it for all of us. For “middle Scotland” – those Scots who veer between support for the Union and support for independence – this kind of serious and practical effort to change and improve the Union is exactly what they are looking for.