Time for the people to decide how devolution goes. Photo: Getty
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Why it's time for a People's Convention to draw up a new constitution for our country

Politicians and ordinary people coming together in town hall meetings up and down the land should shape a new constitution.

After nearly a century of inaction on constitutional change at Westminster, British political parties are now falling over themselves in the race to offer new arrangements for the governance of the United Kingdom.

But what’s entirely lacking is serious thought about how we decide what to do.

It is clear that our current political structures cannot deliver a new constitutional settlement. This is too important to be shunted off to a Cabinet Committee or the modern day equivalent of a smoke-filled room.

When the terms of the Scottish referendum were apparently changed by the three main Westminster parties just days before the vote, with "No" now meaning significant change, and no status quo option on the ballot paper, parliament wasn't consulted. The people certainly weren't consulted.

It appears Gordon Brown made a declaration and the details were worked out, as an FT journalist put it, by David Cameron on the back of a panini wrapper on a train heading north for a panic campaign stop. This comes after more than four years of inaction on House of Lords reform despite all three largest parties promising change in their manifestos.

We cannot go on this way and call ourselves a democracy. The business-as-usual party leaders cannot be trusted to choose the way forward; parliament simply isn't trusted by them or the public – and has long failed to exercise the powers that it could.

Scotland has shown us the way with a huge national political debate that stretched over two years, involved an unprecedented proportion of the public – the enrolment of 97% and turnout of 85% are just markers that don’t get to the depth of the political engagement.

To fix our broken politics what we need to do is create the same level of engagement in a political debate about how we should be governed stretched across the UK.

What we need instead is a People's Constitutional Convention – a meeting of delegates to draw up a new constitution for our country. Politicians and ordinary people coming together in town hall meetings up and down the land to debate, discuss and agree the changes we so urgently need. If it were possible to negotiate Scottish Independence in less than two years it need not take decades to agree a new settlement for the rest of the UK.

More than 200 years ago the Founding Fathers of the United States of America drew up a blueprint for the governance of their newly-independent nation. Nothing less than a project of similar ambition will suffice as we recast the relationship between the government and the governed so that it is fit for the twenty-first century.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas is leading the way on this. She’s launched a petition following her open letter calling on the leaders of the largest parties to deliver real change.

A People’s Convention would draw on a diverse range of talent from across the political spectrum. It would include people from all parties and none, experts and lay people. It would be given a mandate to rethink our democracy, to map out a blueprint for the democratic rebirth of the United Kingdom.

This isn’t pie in the sky thinking – plenty of other countries have gone through similar processes and there is much we can learn from them. The Scottish Constitutional Convention included leaders from Scottish churches and other civic groups. Iceland used a form of jury service to give ordinary people a role. Ireland’s Convention has just concluded its work and the Irish Government has agreed to hold referenda on three of the main issues.

The Green Party of course has ideas for how it should operate and what it should consider which we set out today. But these are suggestions – what we need is a wide and deep national debate, one involving everyone: pensioners and 16-year-olds, carers and the unemployed, women’s groups and those representing ethnic minorities, and yes even bankers (although only in proportion to their positive contribution to the economy, which is small). We haven't seen significant constitutional change in Westminster in nearly a century (the last big change was women getting the vote). There's tremendous pent-up demand for reform. We need the right mechanism to get the right result – one that results in real change and democracy for everyone.

Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green party

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a former editor of Guardian Weekly.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.