More devolution for Scotland but only after UK-wide vote

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   By a Newsnet reporter

A report has been published by the House of Commons Constitutional Reform Committee which recommends that no further devolution be granted to Scotland until Westminster has dealt with devolution for England.

The Committee also recommends a UK-wide vote on a further devolution settlement, meaning that the Scottish Parliament may only gain additional powers if voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland approve.

The report said it was anomalous that England was the only part of the United Kingdom without its own decision-making body, and this imbalance needed to be dealt with urgently.

Committee chairman Graham Allen said:

“A little well-intentioned tinkering with Westminster Parliamentary procedure is not enough.

“England needs to come to the devolution party too and as we approach the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015 there couldn’t be a better time to generate public interest throughout the Union not just in our constitutional heritage but in settling the democratic future of the United Kingdom.”

The report recognises that even in the event of a No vote in 2014, there will be a continued demand in Scotland for further powers to be transferred to Holyrood.  The report states:

“Even if the Scottish people vote against full independence in 2014, it is likely that the devolution of powers to Scotland will continue.”

However the report identifies the effect of the devolution settlement on England as the priority, stating that what it calls “the English question” must be addressed first.  Extra powers for the Scottish Parliament would not be on the table until a solution is found to the governance of England.

In its conclusion, the report says:

“…the English Question — the fact that England, unlike the other parts of the Union, is still governed centrally, and, outside London, does not have its own devolved settlement — must be addressed first.”

The report warns: “The failure to answer the English question, and the reality that the largest nation in the Union is still micromanaged from Whitehall, has and will continue to cause tension with the rest of the union. The devolution of power from Westminster to other parts of the Union is a principle, and not simply a political expedient.

“Some have argued that if devolved powers were extended to England, this would, in part, address the asymmetry of the current devolution settlement, and allow UK to move forward and embrace the future as a quasi-federal union.”

However the Committee cautions that this may prove difficult, as there is as yet no consensus on what form a solution to “the English question” might take and noting that there is no guarantee that the Westminster Parliament would support such a move, adding:

“Given that measures to resolve the English Question could have a profound effect on the UK Parliament, any proposals and subsequent changes should be considered with caution. The future constitutional position of England needs to be clarified, and possibly work started on a UK-wide constitutional convention, although it is far from clear whether Parliament, as a whole, would vote for such a convention.”

The Westminster Committee, consisting of five Conservative, five Labour, and one Lib Dem, suggests that a UK-wide Constitutional Convention should be set up in order to investigate the assymetric devolution settlement and make recommendations for further devolution, and address the lack of devolved powers for England.  

However the report also recommends that any such Convention should not report its findings until after the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014.  Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly “sympathetic” to the idea, and has said he is willing to re-open the devolution question “When the referendum on independence is over.”

The Commons report concludes:

“We believe that the future of the Union is the property of all those who live in the UK. Securing the involvement and consent of us all will mean that the continual evolution of our Union will be supported and sustainable.”

Yes campaigners have responded to the report saying that Westminster is not serious in its promises to extend devolution for Scotland, and state that the report proves that only a Yes vote for independence can guarantee that the Scottish Parliament gains additional fiscal powers.  According to opinion polls, a majority of Scots want the Scottish Parliament to have control of tax and welfare decisions.

Commenting on the report, SNP MSP Stuart McMillan – who sits on the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee – said:

“This report is a huge blow to the No campaign and a big boost for Yes, because it underlines that a Yes vote for independence in next year’s referendum is the only decision we can take in Scotland which will give Scotland the powers we need to build a strong economy and fair society.  A ‘No’ vote is a vote for nothing – a Westminster veto applies to any further devolution, which we know from bitter experience has held Scotland back.

“Westminster’s failure to deliver devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland shows how empty the promises of more powers for Scotland from the anti-independence parties are. The truth is the only way we can complete the powers of the Scottish Parliament – and bring the welfare, tax and spending powers to Scotland that a majority of people want – is with a Yes vote for independence in next year’s referendum.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said:

“The future of Scotland is for the people of Scotland to determine, which is why we are holding a referendum on Scotland’s future on 18 September 2014.

“Independence would lead to a strong partnership between Scotland and the UK Government, ensuring the full range of responsibilities are transferred to the Scottish Parliament and allowing the two governments to work together in areas of mutual interest and advantage.”