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A challenging agenda

This week two issues have dominated the headlines. The first is the Scottish referendum that could completely change British politics. The second is the murder of a British hostage in Iraq and how we respond to it.

Regardless of how Scotland votes on Thursday, the independence referendum will have far reaching significance for all of us. It could lead to major changes in how we are governed with the possibility of hitting your pocket and mine with different policies and tax rates for each part of the UK.

Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have all said that even if the 'No' vote wins there will be significant further devolution to Scotland. The details have still to be announced but are expected to include control of income tax, welfare and health services in Scotland. They already have their own education and legal systems so the Edinburgh Parliament would control most domestic government north of the border.

That has already led to English MPs asking why Scottish MPs should have a vote at Westminster on matters affecting only England. Presumably the same logic applies to Wales and Northern Ireland business. Both have Assemblies which will almost certainly demand further devolution. The simplest solution is to handle exclusively English issues in a Grand Committee of English MPs but some are advocating a separate English Parliament in which only MPs representing English constituencies would sit.

That would radically transform the UK into a federal system of government. Such a major change might require a written constitution including a review of the House of Lords. Never has St Paul’s urging to pray for those in authority been more relevant.

Overseas the execution of David Haines in Iraq and the likelihood of another UK hostage, Alan Henning, facing the same fate have shocked us all. These murders are designed to intimidate us and prevent plans to attack the ISIL forces. Their aim is to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria and then violently spread their evil influence globally. Our political leaders agree that doing nothing would only increase the probability of terrorist action on our streets in the future.

A conference in Paris on Monday drew representatives from USA, Russia and China, as well as ten Arab and nine European nations plus Japan and Canada, the UN and Arab League. They expressed a commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq and to fight terrorism. To that end NATO countries will take military action against ISIL in support of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces. America has already sent 160 air strikes to halt ISIL’s advance on Baghdad and Britain is expected to follow their lead along with other nations.

British public opinion has been reluctant to support military action because of previous interventions in Iraq but the executions and the participation of Arab countries in the coalition have changed attitudes. Whatever our views we can pray for the hostages’ families and that the military action will free Iraq and the world of this evil with a minimum loss of life.

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