Upping the ante over devolution

The Conservatives plans for an English Grand Committee are all over the news today, although The Sunday Times seems to have backtracked on a report that David Cameron had made Malcolm Rifkind’s proposals official party policy.

Rifkind has written a paper and submitted it to Kenneth Clarke, the chairman of the party’s democracy task force. But the committee has yet to decide whether to adopt the recommendation in its final report.

Rifkind is keen, however, and floated the idea in a newspaper last night: “Since devolution there has been a growing English consciousness and that has given credence to the unfinished business of devolution.

“The issue is not an English parliament. It is how you reform the way in which the House of Commons operates so that on purely English business, as opposed to United Kingdom business, the wishes of English members cannot be denied.” (Times Online)

Over at the CEP blog, Gareth Young argues that Rifkind’s proposals are flawed. Significantly, Scotland’s First Minister takes a similar view:

Salmond said a grand
committee would have insufficient authority. He pointed out that the
former Scottish grand committee of the Commons failed to stop Sir
Malcolm pushing through the poll tax in Scotland in the 1980s.

"I would like to see people in England to have the
same rights and entitlements as those in Scotland," the nationalist
leader said.

"I think the right solution is to have a Scottish Parliament and an English Parliament." (ePolitix)

The other key development today was Salmond’s trenchant statement of the case for Scottish independence at the SNP conference:

"Today I am releasing figures – compiled by the Scottish Government
– which demonstrate that with control of our own resources – with
independence – Scotland would move from 10th to 3rd in the European
league of prosperity.

"Only Luxembourg and Ireland would be above us in wealth per head. In the world we would be sixth.

that is the reality of Scotland’s ranking – mediocre within the United
Kingdom, immeasurably better off independent.

"Let no-one ever again say that this country is too poor or too small to stand on its own two feet.

"These figures show Scotland’s potential as an independent country. But they also highlight responsibilities.

is one thing being a rich country. It is another to become a rich
society. To be both is our aim and that requires facing up to the
depressing social legacy of the union.

"And how do we equip the Scottish economy to continue to grow.

"Two things above all make a country prosperous.

development of its people – the human capital – and a competitive
advantage. If you do the first without the second then you end up
educating people to move else where

"The best wee, wee airport departure lounges in the world

"If we do both then we can create the Celtic Lion economy in Scotland to match and then exceed the Irish tiger.

"It is against that backdrop, that Darling hits Scottish finances as oil hits $90 a barrel.

at this time of Westminster enforced financial austerity, Scotland can
only look at the revenues flowing from Scottish waters to the London
treasury and wonder what might be.

"We don’t have to look that far. The Norwegian budget is increasing by 7% this year. The Scottish budget by 0.5%

don’t shirk from making this Scottish Government the best it can be
within a devolved united kingdom. That is what we have an obligation to
deliver for those who elected us.

"But nor do I shrink from
telling this conference that every passing day of being this country’s
First Minister makes me more and more certain of the need for Scotland
to have the full powers of an independent country. (SNP)

As someone who has been banging on about the faultlines in the Anglo-Scottish relationship for years, I’ve been struck by the way the issue has moved up the media agenda in recent weeks. It was all over BBC News 24 today in a way I’ve never seen before.

I can only assume that the end of Gordon Brown’s honeymoon has something to do with it. Certainly, if Labour is to avoid facing a pincer movement in both England and Scotland, it will have to come up with something better than lame assertions of the need for ‘regional accountability.’



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