Scottish referendum results: Now let’s give all 16-year-olds the vote

This is the time to redraft the map of English politics

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 19 September 2014 18:35
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband addresses the public and media as he walks in Edinburgh
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband addresses the public and media as he walks in Edinburgh

A big thank-you to everyone in Scotland who voted in the Referendum. You showed us what commitment and passion are all about and given the rest of the UK a wake-up call.

Over the past few years we’ve been afflicted by a creeping paralysis - a stultifying cynicism about politicians of all parties. It’s been easier to stand on the sidelines and sneer, not to bother making our mark on a ballot paper. We’ve pitifully claimed that MPs don’t understand our concerns, and that there’s little to chose between right and left.

You have shown us that politics can reach straight to our hearts, that every vote counts and that people who don’t agree can accept a result and move forward together. I got up this morning and felt invigorated - because the result means that in England everything about the way we are governed will have to change.

A turnout of 84.6 per cent (97 per cent of those eligible registered to vote) shows that people really do care how their country is run. Now the big question is - how to tap into that energy south of the border?

The result highlights the huge vacuum at the centre of politics in Westminster. The leaders of all parties asked the Scots to stay with us, but what did they have to offer? Voters in Scotland on all sides were clear about their national identity - but if you asked the same question in Teeside or Manchester what would the result be? What does it mean to be English?

Scotland will get more powers, and so, by default, will Wales and Northern Ireland. But what about England - the place where voters don’t bother to register and where turnout is at an all-time low? Where the issues that drive people to fill in a ballot paper are all negative - leaving the EU and banning immigration.

North-of-England newspapers are leading with one story - give the regions more power. But when this was offered a few years ago, voters rejected it on the grounds of cost. Big changes have to come from Westminster. Boundaries need to be re-drawn so that the electorate is more fairly represented. Yes, let only English MPs vote on English issues. Maybe it’s time to abolish the over-populated self-important House of Lords and use the money to fund regional assemblies.

Certainly, a bill should be rushed through parliament to give the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds in time for the next election. But all these measures are only window dressing. They cannot disguise the fact that in British politics, the main parties seem lacking in the ability to reflect our complicated lives.

Ed Miliband has suffered serious damage on two fronts. Gordon Brown made the speech of his life and re-emerged as a brilliant tactician, and another Labour Big Beast, ex-postman Alan Johnson, said the Labour leader would have benefited from a spell in the army before he became an MP as it would have made him look less of a “geek”. Ed Miliband is a modern Michael Foot. He’s going nowhere. He’s the real loser this weekend.

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