Belfast Telegraph

Now we need show our political competence

Editor's Viewpoint

One of the big lessons we can learn from the Scotland independence vote is never to underestimate the silent voter. The campaign for a Yes vote was raucous compared to that conducted by what was ultimately a comfortable majority in favour of staying within the United Kingdom.

Our politicians should take heed, for they often play to the hardened vociferous rump of their support, usually a tiny gallery, instead of taking into account the views of the majority.

While Scotland has decided to stay a part of the UK – a decision welcomed by this newspaper – that does not mean an end to the debate. Indeed the Prime Minister has now fired the starting gun on the biggest constitutional debate since Irish independence and partition nearly a century ago.

The Scottish campaign was not David Cameron's finest hour as he seemed to be constantly wrong- footed by Alex Salmond, and he has blundered again by promising the English, Welsh, Irish and Scots huge change by the unfeasibly short deadline of January.

We know from bitter experience in Northern Ireland just how slowly the mills of politics can grind. After all it is eight years since the St Andrews Agreement which paved the way for the current administration here. Since then we have failed to get much agreement on any change to governance. Frankly we are not ready for Scottish-style devo max here. Our structures are still too fragile, although we do believe that devolution of corporation tax rates would help rebalance and revitalise our economy.

Another lesson our politicians need to take from the Scottish debate is how it was conducted. It was predicated around the sort of country people there wanted it to be. We need to engage in the same sort of discussion in an adult manner. We need to talk about reforming structures, cutting the number of MLAs and government departments, considering a properly funded opposition and developing a streamlined decision-making process.

Scotland has shown us we should not fall back into thinking about the past and why we cannot do something radical. An example of that thinking was the political reaction this week to the Ardoyne march impasse. To hear unionists and republicans dig their heels in on the sensible suggestion of a separate commission of inquiry over the march was to realise we have so so far to go before we can be governed in a responsible manner.

But we also cannot simply shrug our shoulders and think that the constitutional debate happening elsewhere in the UK has no bearing on us. David Cameron has let the genie out of the bottle by awakening the idea of English devolution.

Benefits that we enjoy such as free prescriptions, lower university tuition fees, no water charges and free public transport for everyone over 50 will inevitably come under scrutiny when the complex funding arrangement is re-evaluated. We need to be able to put forward a convincing argument and an agreed one if we are to be deemed capable of running more of our own affairs. That will be quite a challenge.

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