21 September 2014

Trying to make sense

Lots of stuff in the newspapers this morning about the implications of the No decision and the promises of further devolution.  It seems to me that there are (at least) three strands in the swirling world of controversy.

First, the promised increase in powers for the Scottish Parliament.  Although the parties differ in the detail of what they have proposed, it should not be impossible to come to an acceptable compromise within the timetable set out by the Clunking Fist and endorsed (apparently) by the three Westminster party leaders.  But Cameron's cynical attempt to link developments on this front with those on English devolution in terms of the timetable throws the matter into considerable doubt.

Second, the West Lothian Question where Cameron seeks to deprive Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Ireland) MPs of the ability to vote in the Commons on English domestic matters.  There are all sorts of problems with this, notably for the Labour Party.  And although the Tories may not admit it, it is to nobody's benefit if an elected UK government were unable to legislate on domestic English matters.  Nevertheless, the concept of English votes for English affairs has a superficial attraction on the voter's doorstep; and UKIP is ready to jump in with simplistic solutions.  I cannot see the shape of an acceptable compromise in any foreseeable timescale.

Third, the issue of wider devolution to English regions/local authorities.  The Labour Party seems prepared to consider this in the context of a constitutional convention meeting over the next 12 or so months.  The Tories seem less keen.  But viewed from afar, there appears to be a groundswell of English opinion that something needs to be done, even if that opinion is divided among calls for regional assemblies and appeals for greater responsibility for local authorities (or something in between).  Again, there seems little prospect of agreeing a destination within the next few months.

Finally, all of these potential discussions will be overlaid with the imminent General Election next May.  Not the sort of time period for constructive debate among the Westminster parties.

Hey, we live in interesting times ...


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