I’ve been banging on about this particular topic for a fair amount of time, and I think the time has come to bring this thing to a close. While I’ve been writing this, and essentially trying to explore some of the reasons behind my gut feel that we should beware rushing too quickly into devolution, a couple of images have continually risen to the fore.
Firstly, the London Olympics. I’ve written about these before as a sort of coming of age party for twenty-first century Britain, in which we showcased a country at ease with itself, diverse, creative, communal, successful far beyond what might have been expected from our size alone. That’s the Britain I love and which I want to see more of in the future, successful and proud as one united country. No other city in the UK could have hosted the London Olympics. London must play a part in the Britain of the future, but as Gateway London, not Fortress London. London will remain a wealthy and influential city for the rest of my time as one of its citizens; I want that influence to be used to showcase this country’s talent and as a conduit through which benefits, particularly financial, can flow to the whole country.
I’ve also been thinking about the NHS, which the Scottish Yes camp was so keen to protect, but which was founded not as a local or regional initiative but as a massive top-down programme forced through by the visionary Labour government of Clement Atlee. It couldn’t have been done without strong central government with the power to make it happen. We on the left have lost a lot of our traditional power structures, and others have been weakened. Let’s not cut ourselves off from other sources of power and influence.
Speaking of Clem Atlee and that other titan of twentieth century politics, Nye Bevan, I note that they came along at a time when the political cycle I spoke of yesterday was starting its swing to the left. Margaret Thatcher came along at a time when the cycle was starting its swing to the right. I wonder if there is a prophet of the Left in training, waiting the call to rise up and lead her people to a promised land. She will need to be not just a visionary but also a politician, able to do deals, and to go, not just through, but round, over, and on occasion, under, in order to realise her vision. (Alex Salmond could have been such a leader, had he not chosen a smaller dream. Maybe we should think of him as John the Baptist.)
When the doctors refused to back the idea of a national health service, Nye Bevan famously bribed them; in his own words, “I stuffed their mouths with gold”. To achieve something like this you need a platform, you need to get your hands on the levers of power, and you need gold. When our prophet does come amongst us, it would be a shame if we found we had given away her birthright.