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Whatever The Result, The Scottish Referendum Has Killed Blair’s Devolution Settlement

Last Updated: Friday, September 12th, 2014

The Scottish referendum result is up in the air – polls swing from No to Yes and back again, all within the margin of error. The rush from Westminster to Scotland, not only of the party leaders but of scores of Labour MPs, demonstrates how seriously the prospect of a Yes result is being taken.

But regardless of the outcome, the Blair model of British devolution is dead.

Obviously, a Yes vote would put paid to it by dispatching one of its member nations.

But even if Scotland votes to stay in the Union, a large minority of Scots will have shown their opposition to the current arrangement. Today’s balance of powers, fiscal rights and responsibilities clearly does not work, either to fulfil its practical purpose or its political aim of bursting Scottish nationalism’s bubble.

Now the three main party leaders have pledged to give Scotland more powers should she vote No. Fulfilling that pledge will be far more complex than its speedy announcement made it sound, for three reasons.

First, it’s doubtful that the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders can really come to a consensus in a few short weeks. Each has a different worldview, and each has different electoral priorities.

Second, the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom cannot just be a matter for the party leaders to agree among themselves. Each will consult with their own MPs, but the consultation and debate needs to go far wider than just Westminster or the political class. The issue is both highly technical and extremely emotional – claims of an establishment stitch-up are widespread enough without actually carrying one out.

Third, Scotland is not the only country whose heart has been influenced by this referendum. English MPs are now asking when powers will be devolved for their constituents. Our ConservativeHome manifesto last week urged a federal settlement with devolution for all the Home Nations. Nigel Farage is sniffing round the prospect of an English nationalist pitch to voters come 2015. In pubs, newspaper letters pages and online, England is increasingly peeved at the continued influence from (and subsidy to) Scotland.

In short, even if promising more powers for the Scots does save the Union next week, the details will be hard to pin down, any agreement would need the involvement of the British people as a whole and a settlement which disregards the lack of devolution in England would be not only unfair but electorally risky.

All of these concerns add to what is already a tense atmosphere around David Cameron. With Iraq and Syria in flames, Russia invading Ukraine and the Clacton by-election all disrupting what he hoped would be an Autumn spent talking about “Our Long Term Economic Plan”, a constitutional crisis is not what the Prime Minister needs.

And yet one is upon him whether he likes it or not. Some Tory MPs openly talk of his future being in doubt if Scotland votes to leave.

If he survives the immediate aftermath of the referendum, he may still find himself stretched on the rack by inexorable forces making demands which any politician would struggle to fulfil – still less a politician hobbled by Coalition, with a General Election only a few months away.

By Mark Wallace



Mark Wallace: Why isn’t growth translating into votes?  ‘Growth returned, has continued to strengthen and shows no signs of going away. It’s happy news for the nation, and ought to bring with it a political windfall. After all, everyone knows “it’s the economy, stupid” – right? Well, it always was the economy, stupid – until now.’ – Read more

Paul Goodman: Will the Party fight the right campaign in Clacton? The signs are good   ‘The first option is to fight a clean campaign, based on attacking Douglas Carswell politically – and, more importantly, making the Tory case.  The other is to fight a filthy campaign, based on attacking Carswell personally.’ – Read more

Nadine Dorries MP: Here’s my abortion reform plan. And I won’t be frightened off it by the Westminster bubble elites.   ‘The Abortion Act of ‘67 is now virtually defunct, and abortion practice is decided behind closed doors by unelected civil servants in the Department of Health, or by the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is not how a democracy works.’ – Read more

Mark Wallace: Labour are to blame for this mess in Scotland   ‘Scotland may still vote No. But it shouldn’t ever have got this close in the first place – whether the Union separates next week or it limps over the line after a last ditch effort, we shouldn’t forget it was Labour that messed up from the start.’ – Read more

Graeme Archer: A town called Ardrossan    ‘I’m on the verge of being made into a foreigner, against my will, and can think of nothing else, certainly not Brighton or Clacton. Forgive me, you’ve heard my fears before. So (where we came in) let me tell you something new. Just in case the vote is Yes, and Scotland leaves. Just in case this is my last chance. Let me tell you about my home, and see if it sounds foreign to you.’ – Read more

Stephen Tall: All three parties’ worst nightmare – winning the next election  ‘My ‘what happens next’ for the three possible 2015 outcomes: If the Tories win, they’ll tear themselves apart. If Labour wins, they’ll be torn apart by others. If neither wins, the Lib Dems will be in no position to pick up the torn apart pieces. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.’ – Read more


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