Staying power

george-foulkes4x3.jpgGeorge Foulkes on a possible new settlement for the UK beyond Scotland’s referendum vote

Shock therapy works. At last people are waking up to the monumental consequences if Scotland votes to separate in next week’s independence referendum. Just one poll showing the ‘Yes’ campaign in the lead has already caused the drop in value of both the pound and the shares of companies with strong Scottish links.

The intervention of Gordon Brown to a higher role in the ‘No’ campaign is welcome and could help to turn things back in our favour. But we must not underestimate the major impact the referendum is having on Scottish life generally, not just politics. Whatever the result, the UK will never again be the same.

Let us assume however, that we win the vote and Scotland remains part of the UK. Whatever the majority the political response must be quick, decisive and positive. So far, we have all-party acceptance that there should be much greater devolution to Scotland and an agreed timetable for delivering this.

Some of us have argued for a while now that Scotland should be given full fiscal responsibility. Holyrood now makes decisions on spending but has no accountability for raising the funds it spends. I am firmly of the view that tax raising powers should be given to make the Scottish Government responsible for deciding how to pay for the extended range of services it will be delivering. But all of this will have a knock-on an effect, not just in Wales and Northern Ireland seeking greater devolution but in increasing the democratic deficit within England. 

For some time, a growing number of us have been trying to promote federalism as the only long term stable solution able to stem the tide of nationalism and deal with the democratic deficit in England. Where almost all domestic matters to be devolved – both in terms of taxation and delivery to the three devolved Parliaments – then I believe we can no longer sustain the practice where MPs from those nations decide on English domestic matters. We must therefore quickly consider and decide on a scheme of devolution for the latter, involving England as whole as well as its regions, cities and counties. 

Such a federal scheme should be agreed by a UK Constitutional Convention which could also examine either simultaneously or subsequently, how the democratic reform of Parliament’s second chamber can represent the component parts of the UK. This was recommended earlier this year by a Labour Peers report, A programme for progress.

Either way, unless we find a long term and stable federal-based solution, the demand for Scottish nationalism will continue to ferment and in time, sadly, deliver the break-up of the UK.

Lord George Foulkes of Cumnock is a Labour Peer & co-author of A programme for progress

Published 9th September 2014

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