• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The process that is devolution

The referendum on independence for Scotland next year looms so large that it has obscured any constitutional arrangement other than independence or the status quo.

But whatever the outcome of the vote on September 18, 2014, it will be necessary to reconsider the constitutional future of the UK.

Donald Dewar's dictum that devolution was not an event but a process continues to prove extraordinarily prescient. The reality of the independence referendum has focused attention on both the limits of the Scotland Act and the potential for further devolution as public appetite for increased powers for the Scottish Parliament has become evident. That has considerable consequences for Scottish politicians at Westminster (in both houses) and for the UK Parliament.

As we reveal today, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians at Westminster will call for a UK constitutional convention to consider further transfer of powers to the devolved legislatures, reform of voting rights in the Commons to take account of devolution and reform of the House of Lords. Recognition that these issues are linked is long overdue.

It is an anomaly of devolution that England, the largest part of the United Kingdom, has no devolved body to control its domestic affairs. Tam Dalyell's West Lothian Question (why should Scottish MPs have rights to vote on English-only legislation when English MPs could not vote on matters devolved to Scotland?), though posed as long ago as 1977 when devolution was first mooted, has never been resolved. Now that legislation passed in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast has brought about tangible differences (such as free personal care or university tuition) between the different countries of the UK, English MPs and their constituents have become attuned to the anomaly, now increasingly referred to as the English Question.

The McKay commission, set up to look at the issue, this week rejected the option of banning non-English MPs from voting on England-only matters. Instead, it called for a Commons resolution stating that decisions with a "separate and distinct effect for England" should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of English MPs. This may be a nudge in the right direction but it is clearly out of kilter with the cross-party consensus that the UK needs a clear, democratic constitutional settlement.

The possibility of an independent Scotland has precipitated much of this constitutional questioning but in the event of a No vote in the referendum a UK constitutional convention, modelled on the Scottish Constitutional Convention which paved the way for devolution, has much to recommend it. Maintaining the status quo will not be acceptable in Scotland, as both Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, have recognised in, respectively, proposing a new Scottish Convention and setting up a review of increased powers for Holyrood.

Any constitutional change, however, affects the whole of the UK. All three main parties at Westminster are agreed on the need for reform of the House of Lords but unable to agree on how to achieve it. A constitutional convention embodying a range of public and political opinion would not only provide a practical way forward but enable full consideration of a potential new role for the second chamber in relation to devolved government of the UK.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

149121