A Better Tomorrow?

Americans have lived for generations with the faith that the country’s best years are ahead of it, which is not a commonly noted character trait of the nostalgia-blighted British.

The architecture and artwork of the Houses of Parliament glorifies a mythical age of chivalry. Post-war politics has been defined by the loss of empire and the awkward search for a new role and identity on the world stage.

The quite awesome significance of Tony Blair’s de-corking of the devolution genie is dawning on the British Establishment – and other currents of revolution are flowing through UK politics.

The May 5 referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) has the potential to transform the role of the third biggest party, a draft Bill on reform of the House of Lords is expected before the end of next month, a review of party funding which could herald significant changes is due in the spring and we are promised a commission on the vexing (to some) question of whether Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs should vote on English-only matters. There are also strong signals that the way the Assembly Government is funded could be changed and the Wales Office and Treasury are keen to talk about tax-varying powers.

Thus, by the time we get round to the next Assembly election in 2016 Britain may well be transformed.

The House of Lords could become a de facto Senate and MPs in the House of Commons (which will have lost 50 members) may have to stick to new rules to reflect the changes in post-devolution Britain.

Meanwhile, the Assembly will have had half a decade to adjust to new law-making powers. Perhaps someone will suggest that the time has come to use some of the free space in the Senedd’s debating chamber and add another 20 AMs – and who knows what the Scots will be thinking?

The UK is a radically different country to 1997, and the post-imperial transformation is not slowing.

And when we look at Northern Ireland there is real cause to hope that the society which emerges will be better than the one we’ve known so far.

The murder of 25-year-old Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr has been greeted with a condemnation that has transcended tribalism. Amid the mourning, expressions of unity have been made across divides few, if any of us, thought we would see bridged in our lifetimes.

The future of Ulster will almost certainly be brighter than its past. The goal of a Wales, and a UK, which is fairer and more prosperous than anything we know today is one we can work towards.

A Thursday column

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