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Will Cameron Go Fast And Slow On Devolution All-Around?

Last Updated: Friday, September 19th, 2014

The Prime Minister announced this morning that more devolution for Scotland and reform elsewhere – specifically, action on English votes for English laws – will take place “in tandem” and “at the same pace”.  Draft legislation will be “published by January”.

His statement opens up two possible outcomes.

The first is that he pushes for the draft legislation to be agreed as quickly as possible, and for it then to be implemented as quickly as possible – seeking agreement from his own Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The advantage of this approach is that it might just get some form of English votes for English laws on the statute book by the next election – thereby slashing Labour’s chances of passing England-related legislation through the Commons if Ed Miliband wins next May.  It might also shut up Nigel Farage – that budding English nationalist.

The second is that he delays.  This would let Labour off the hook in England.  But it would leave Miliband dangerously exposed to Alex Salmond in Scotland – who would hold Labour, still the SNP’s main rival there, responsible for the failure to devolve more powers.

And while it would leave the Conservatives open to attack from UKIP, it might also avoid the risk of a revolt from those Conservative MPs who think that Cameron should go further than English votes for English laws – and go for a fully-fledged English Parliament and Government.  The more the subject is topical, the harder they will push.

The arguments are finely balanced, but I suspect that the Prime Minister will seek to delay – if for no other reason than that he is short of time.  Constitutional reform cannot both be thoroughly thought through and rushed through Parliament as an election approaches.

Furthermore, it risks becoming a distraction from the economy and security-based campaign that Lynton Crosby wants to run.  The odds favour a gradual go-slow.

Cameron’s gamble on the Scottish Referendum has worked, but at a high price – his last-minute promise that the Barnett Formula will remain has infuriated many Tory MPs.

Once again, the argument that Downing Street has tactics but no strategy is being widely voiced.  I expect Cameron to survive until the election, but the mood this week has been extraordinarily bleak.

By Paul Goodman



Paul Goodman: A new model for the constitution. A new model for Conservative leadership.
“The sense today among Conservative MPs may be that Scotland’s No vote proves that Downing Street made the right calls – that the gamble of the “vow”, with its pledged retention of Barnett, was never meant all that seriously and has paid off handsomely. However, they are far more likely to believe that Number 10′s exam crisis style of leadership has once again been found wanting – but, this time, on a matter so serious that it cannot be allowed to continue. Very simply, many Conservative MPs will believe that the Prime Minister made a pledge to Scotland that may not have been necessary, given the margin of yesterday’s No vote, and which certainly wasn’t thought through.” Read more:

John Redwood MP: Now is the time to Speak for England
“We then need ways of handling the devolved issues. Scotland has her Parliament and Northern Ireland and Wales their Assemblies. England needs her Parliament. I suggest we create that cheaply and easily by saying all Westminster MPs elected for English constituencies will meet at Westminster as the English Parliament on days or times when the Union Parliament does not meet, to settle all devolved issues for England. We cannot answer the problem of lopsided and one-sided devolution by devolving powers to some English cities or regions. The new powers will include the right to set the rate of Income tax. England will need to do that for the whole country. England will need her own Health Minister and her own Education Minister for the whole country. There will be no need of a Union Health or Education Minister, as these powers will all be devolved.” Read more:

Henry Hill: The critical mystery – how will different parts of Scotland vote?
“There is an extraordinary amount of room for surprises – even before you factor in which way the undecided will swing or whether there is a “quiet No” effect similar to Major’s “quiet Tories” who so misled the pollsters in 1992. If I had to offer two areas to watch out for on the basis of what I’ve been able to find out, it would be these. First, Scottish Labour’s traditional heartlands in Glasgow and the west, to see if the SNP have managed to make a critical breakthrough into the formerly unionist working class. Second, ex-Tory SNP areas such as Perth & Kinross, Angus, and Moray, to see whether or not the nationalists have managed to translate conventional political success into support for radical change.” Read more:

Andrew Gimson: Shy Unionists will see the No campaign to victory, says Ruth Davidson
“The No campaign will win by a wider margin than the opinion polls predict. So says Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives: for in her view those who refuse to answer the pollsters’ questions – the undecideds and the don’t knows – are in reality closet Noes…We shall know on Friday morning whether Davidson is right, but after two and a half years of campaigning she seems remarkably calm: calmer, one might say, than some of the Tories in London. In her view “people in Scotland are really fair”, so have waited for a long time for Alex Salmond to answer their questions about independence, before the realisation has dawned on them that he is not going to give any answers.” Read more:

Charlotte Leslie: ISIS. Putin. Which way do the enemies of both England and Scotland want to vote to go on Thursday?
“Beyond the relatively parochial turmoil of what Scotland feels about itself lie the gritty facts of global reality: a hundred years on from the First World War, global security is increasingly precarious. Britain and the West have powerful enemies in the plague of extreme Islam and ISIS, and a formidable opponent in Putin and Russia, destabilising Eastern Europe. I wonder how Islamist extremists and any other enemies of Britain and the West will want Scottish people to vote. I doubt it would be for a united, strengthened military capability of Britain. Against this context, the entire debate seems particularly introspective and self-serving (and like similar accusations made against the Establishment, self-serving to their own detriment), and starkly void of any responsibility for the real security of those Scottish citizens that the SNP say they want to serve.” Read more:

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