If you wanted devise a constitutional setup that would detach the Tories from their traditional unionism, you couldn’t devise a better system that the current one, which gives autonomy to Labour dominated Scotland and Wales, while still allowing their MPs to vote on decisions in England. So this news is no surprise:
The Tories are planning a major assault on Gordon Brown’s prime ministerial credentials by demanding that Scottish MPs be barred from voting on issues that affect only English voters, such as education and health.
In one of the most significant moves David Cameron has made since he took over the leadership, the Conservatives will back plans for ‘English votes on English issues’ and press for a debate in the House of Commons. In an interview with The Observer, Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor charged with mapping out Tory policy on the future of democracy, said for the first time that he would make the plan a central part of his findings. (Observer)
I’ve argued previously that the English votes for English laws solution is flawed, and will eventually require a separate English Parliament.
The Observer’s editorial was perhaps a hint in this direction, as well as evidence that the English question is not just a party political issue.
Labour’s strategy now is to defend the status quo, hoping that nationalism either side of the border has no momentum beyond sporting rivalry. That is not sufficient. If Gordon Brown wants to be Prime Minister of a United Kingdom, he must recognise that the Tories are on to something when they seek to tie up the loose ends of devolution. And, if he doesn’t like their proposals, he must come up with some of his own. (Observer)
One set of people who have always recognised that Labour’s devolution settlement represented unfinished business is the group of writers associated with the openDemocracy website which includes Anthony Barnett, Tom Nairn and Neal Ascherson.
In his latest piece, Ascherson demonstrates how the national question intersects with the problem of Britain’s archaic constitution.
At present, there is no great enthusiasm in Scotland for moving on to full independence, although about a third of the electorate have for many years told pollsters that independence is their preferred option. But a political collision over finance would sharply raise the Scottish political temperature. If the Scots feel that they are being cheated by an English Tory government they did not vote for, the demand for control over taxation and more powers for Holyrood could become very popular.
In a "normal" European country, this could be accommodated in a more decentralised federation (this month’s endorsement of an "autonomy statute" for Catalonia, including recognition of its status as a "nation" and the granting of wider economic powers from the central government in Madrid, is an example). But Britain is not a normal state. Because of the archaic doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (absolutism), there is no halfway house between devolution and independence. Reluctantly, the Scots may come to feel that independence is the simplest and least quarrelsome way to manage the relationship between Scotland and England (openDemocracy)