Scottish referendum: ‘Devo more’ could be a unionist runner


On the subject of greater powers for Holyrood, there’s something of a right wing split between the Telegraph newspapers and the darling of the Tory grass roots, blogger Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome. The Sunday Telegraph leader dealt with the subject with a knowledge of the subject that would disgrace an unpaid intern:

To concede greater powers to the Scottish Assembly is always to raise the question: why should they not be given more?

This kind of  condescension is an English question all of its own. How can a reputable paper still write this sort of stuff, as if we were living in about 1979? Montgomerie, agree with him or not, has a considered view much closer to a workable outcome that would command wider appeal, leaving aside the tenderness towards  the party he loves.

Cameron has an opportunity to score a triple crown of political victories. By offering to extend Scottish devolution he can be the Conservative leader who saves the union. By promising to balance Scottish devolution with a commitment to new arrangements for the government of England, he can radically improve his own party’s electoral prospects. And through these changes – with the introduction of city mayors and greater localism – he can be the PM who replaces one of Europe’s most centralised states with a political architecture fit for the 21st century.

But if Scotland is to get further devolution it is also time Cameron addressed the West Lothian question or, as Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin has correctly renamed it, the English question. The quid pro quo for introducing devo plus north of the border must be English votes for English laws south of the border.

Report Scotland’s proposal is an appealingly neat one, alhtoiugh it implies  a radical rethink of  tax and spend and accountablity throughout a UK which would resemble a federal more than a devolved State.

The proposal was based on the principle that each layer of government should be responsible for what it spends. As a result, we came up with a model that saw the majority of revenue powers transferred to Holyrood, leaving Westminster primarily with VAT and National Insurance.

For Westminster the other side of the equation, the English question, would be as  difficult to solve.. Meanwhile a credible voice of devo more has spoken out.  Alistair Darling has declared his support for the general idea. As a former Chancellor he should get down to picking his way through the minefield and mantraps over precisely which  taxation powers to devolve.



Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London