CENTURIES OF animosity did end in Scotland last night – women finally won the right to become members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews. This vexed issue is likely to be far easier to reconcile than the bitter and divisive campaign for Scottish independence that culminated with yesterday’s historic referendum vote.
The venom and vitriol of recent days – including the unwarranted abuse meted out at Andy Murray after the 2013 Wimbledon champion backed independence in the wake of the Better Together campaign’s negativity – created a disturbing level of ill-feeling and rancour which will not be easily healed.
Irrespective of the final outcome, and the last opinion poll did, thankfully, point towards a narrow win for the preservation of the 307-year-old United Kingdom, this country will never be the same again.
A candid Nick Clegg accepted this political reality during a visit to Leeds yesterday. He accepted that the “genie is out of the bottle now” and that there is “this appetite for real devolution” because of the public’s growing exasperation with their leaders in Whitehall and Westminster.
The Deputy Prime Minister was right to do so. In simple terms, Alex Salmond would not have been able to lead Scottish Nationalists to the brink of independence if the out-of-touch “metropolitan elite” running Britain’s political parties and institutions had any inkling about the resentment generated by the Iraq war, expenses scandal, the recession and countless other examples of poor leadership not befitting of this great country.
If Britain’s leaders had a better grasp of public opinion outside their London power base, and were less dependent on their inexperienced young advisers, Mr Salmond would not have been able to dictate the terms of this debate so decisively – the First Minister will still claim victory if he has to settle for the second best option of “devo-max” and the transfer of further funding, and powers, to the Scottish Parliament.
Yet the problem, as pressure intensifies for Yorkshire to have a greater say over the major policy issues confronting this county, is the diminished reputation of Britain’s political leaders following such a bruising campaign.
First David Cameron. Despite being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, his visits to Scotland had to be limited because of his unpopularity. He also faces growing hostility from his own ranks after attempting to appease the Scots with the extension of the Barnett formula which penalises the English financially.
Next Ed Miliband. Jostled in an Edinburgh shopping mall, the Labour leader presides over a party that has just witnessed the collapse of its vote in its Scottish heartlands because of the strength of the SNP’s appeal. He will have to produce the speech of his life at next week’s party conference to convince Labour activists, and the country at large, that he is a prospective Prime Minister.
Finally the aforementioned Nick Clegg. The Sheffield Hallam MP is, arguably, the most enlightened party leader when it comes to addressing North-South economic imbalances, but he was largely on the periphery of the independence campaign because of two words – tuition fees. His volte-face has still not been forgiven.
How ironic, therefore, that the pro-Unionist parties and Better Together campaigners had to be bailed out by the tub-thumping speeches of Gordon Brown, one of the most unpopular premiers in history. Even if Mr Brown’s timely intervention did save the day, the vote on Scottish independence was, in many respects, just the opening shot of a far greater campaign to determine the future governance of the United Kingdom. Either way, Westminster’s grip on power has been weakened significantly; the challenge is now using this to Yorkshire’s best advantage.
The public’s duty
Who succeeds Shaun Wright?
NOW THE process is under way to elect a new crime commissioner in South Yorkshire following Shaun Wright’s belated resignation over the Rotherham sex grooming scandal, the challenge is finding a successor who can do justice to the role.
The public interest must now take precedence over party political affiliations – Mr Wright only became Labour’s candidate, and then commissioner, because insufficient questions were asked about his woefully weak leadership of children’s services in the troubled town.
This is a job that will require the strongest of leaders. Not only will the victor face the task of restoring the shattered reputation of the crime commissioner’s office, but they will also need to hold a discredited constabulary to account. Novices need not apply – there simply cannot be another repeat of the Wright fiasco and the public now have a duty to ensure that the best person is elected to the post.