Scots voted No, in the end, on a ‘vow’ of greater devolution. Every Scot I have spoken to understands that the promised transfer of power can only take place if the books are balanced and Scots no longer legislate on England-only matters; this is manifestly part of the deal. If the UK government, Tory or Labour, reneges on the deal then the referendum result will have been fraudulent and founded upon a lie that won’t fly.
The published ‘promise’ was vague and Scots took the words in the context of the language used by the No campaign in the days and hours before the vote, as was intended. The Scottish health system, for example, would in future not be influenced in any way by Westminster to the extent of the devolution of the power to raise the necessary taxes. Today’s speech by Gordon Brown follows through on this and other issues; “the bedroom tax will be no more (in Scotland)” and there will be new, “wide-ranging powers over the economy, education, health, the environment and other domestic affairs, that in my view adds up to home rule”. There will be “the biggest transfer of power in the history of our islands”.
Everyone in Scotland, and Labour and the Tories in England, understands that none of this can happen unless, at the same moment England cedes any control over these issues in Scotland, Scotland does the same in respect of England. And it is a matter of respect, too. A political union simply could not be maintained on any other basis.
Gordon Brown’s speech, however, goes on: “it will be difficult to resolve the question of English devolution in 100 days”. In other words Gordon Brown, who is most certainly leading on this defining issue of the day, is saying that Labour would not balance the books. Instead, in government, it would de-couple the two issues, legislate to transfer power to Scotland and maintain the right of Scots to vote on wholly devolved issues, including Health, for England.
The hope of a Labour government would be that after a bit of technical tinkering with the right of Scots to vote on the middle, detailed elements of legislation, the West Lothian question would go away. But it wouldn’t go away, because that state of affairs would be profoundly unjust. A new prime minister Miliband delivering the anti-privatisation legislation for England’s health system he’d put at the top of his UK election campaign – using Scottish MPs? No right-thinking person, Scots or English, could accept such a monstrously distorted and unfair arrangement as the new status quo. The union would crumble in very short order following explosive pressure from both sides.
David Cameron can’t or won’t legislate to balance the books and honour the vow without Labour’s support. He’d be accused the world over of fixing the system months before an election. Instead, he’ll best UKIP and make it the key election issue in Tory/Labour marginal constituencies across England. Voters will find the notions of guaranteed higher public expenditure and full control over Health for Scotland impossible to accept in conjunction with even residual powers of Scots at Westminster on those issues. Labour will hope it wins all the same, and with a large enough majority to win votes without deploying Scottish MPs. But leaving the issue unresolved – campaigning on a lie – would make any kind of Labour victory less likely.
In the end, David Cameron knows he would be risking the future of the union by creating two tiers of MPs, but he’d be putting it to the people first and would therefore be indemnified. Moreover, he knows that if he wins he’ll have other – EU – fish to fry. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, by pretending he wants to transfer powers now but refusing to balance the books, would be risking going down in history as the man who broke the union on a lie.
I, and others in the No camp with me, have argued Scots are best within the union. I am glad that Scots voted No. But if we were lied to and the government of the day reneges on ‘the vow’, the vote was a fraud and the UK is corrupted beyond repair.