At Lincoln Theological College, where I studied for the Priesthood, we used to have guest speakers during Lent. Sir Alec Douglas-Home was once one of these guest speakers and he was a very entertaining and informative guest. Sir Alec had the second shortest run as Prime Minister, just 363 days, in the ‘sixties but it was one that saw many changes. Asked about being in government he was very forthright: He said the first order of business was to stay in power; everything else was secondary. I remember that some of the students found this bluff answer almost too much and pressed him for clarification. His reply was simple and profound: If you are not in power then you can change nothing and, for him, he said politics was all about making changes – changes for the good. We might argue about what, exactly is “good” but his logic was impressive.
I am writing this on the day that we learn that Scotland has voted 55% to 45% to stay within the United Kingdom. I, for one, am pleased that they are staying with us but I am also very aware that things are going to change: A sizeable minority has made its views known and politicians, from several political standpoints, have promised various plans to devolve power not just to Scotland but to many regions of the UK. Bearing in mind Sir Alec’s candid views all those years ago I don’t think a lot has changed when it comes to politicians giving away power: they don’t like doing it!
Then there is the far from simple question of Scottish MPs at Westminster; they are mostly Labour and I can’t see the Labour party happily waving them Goodbye. Another blow, for Labour, to holding on to power.
Having said all of the above I don’t want to get into a party political debate. That is not the purpose of our church magazine and, anyway, my personal views are just that – mine. But I am concerned that the political wrangling that is inevitably now going to follow, as, when and if, powers are devolved or shared out, will get messy. It would be a shame if the unity of the United Kingdom was threatened by an unholy rush for devolved powers.
So how do we do it? Perhaps we should look at The Commonwealth…
Two point two billion people across 53 sovereign state nations including as many creeds and cultures as you can shake a stick at. And we, sort of, get on. The Commonwealth is quite a remarkable organisation really since it, mostly, began as the British Empire in rather less enlightened times. But as sovereignty has been returned there was a groundswell of opinion that there was a way to move forward together. And now new countries queue up to be a part of it. The Queen is on record as saying that the Commonwealth is a very important vehicle for promoting harmony in a world where strife and war are commonplace. It is not perfect by any means but there is a real understanding between the members that, together, they are stronger and a force for good in the world.
As a footnote: During his political career Sir Alec spent several years in the Scottish Office dealing with many things that rarely made mainstream news. One such problem was the Accession of Queen Elizabeth ll. Some Scottish nationals argued that Elizabeth could not be Elizabeth ll since Elizabeth l was never acknowledged as queen in Scotland therefore Elizabeth was, for the Scots, Elizabeth l. Sir Alec found a compromise and, to this day, many Scottish letterboxes have a curious royal symbol not seen in other parts of the UK. Let us hope that there is a will and a way to make the best of any new power sharing developments.