The Prime Minister is expected to make a speech first thing tomorrow morning, following the result of the Scottish independence referendum. It will be a statement on the referendum result, but also on what it means for the rest of the UK. It’s being reported that he could speak as early as 7am to lay out a major shake-up of how Britain is governed.
In the event of a No vote, David Cameron will have to address he and his fellow Westminster party leaders’ “vow” of further devolution to Scotland, promised this week, something the former PM Gordon Brown has been referring to as “home rule”.
Cameron’s biggest challenge won’t be agreeing the devolution details with Labour and the Lib Dems – sorting out what Alistair Darling calls the “minor differences” between parties. Instead, it will be facing the wrath of his backbenchers, who were enraged by his last-minute power pledge earlier this week. They are averse to the Barnett formula, a funding system that allocates public spending and favours Scots per head, staying in place while also handing over far greater tax powers.
The Tory MP John Redwood told the BBC a little earlier that he and many of his peers are in favour of an English Parliament. This would mean England having all the devolved powers that Scotland has, and for Westminster to handle these powers itself, as Edinburgh does in Scotland: “every power going to the Scottish Parliament should be equal to every power going to the English Parliament”.
When asked whether this way of combating the West Lothian Question is a popular idea among Conservative backbenchers, he replied: “Incredibly popular, a lot of my backbench colleagues are very much behind it.”
In response to these rumblings from his own party, Cameron may well declare a constitutional change, favouring English votes for English laws. According to political commentator and Times columnist, Danny Finkelstein, the PM believes in this change himself and so wouldn’t have trouble aligning himself with his backbenchers on the subject. Also, as George points out, and as many Tories have done so in the past few days, English votes for English laws was in the Conservative party’s manifesto in 2010. Here’s what it said:
Labour have refused to address the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’: the unfair situation of Scottish mPs voting on matters which are devolved. A Conservative government will introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries.
Speaking to the BBC just now, Tory Chief Whip Michael Gove did not deny that this would be the direction the Tories take. He conceded that, “things have to change” and that there is a “willingness” on the part of Cameron to change Westminster. Gove emphasised that it is important to find a “consensus” on any constitutional changes. He said the “broad principle” is that there are some issues for Northern Irish, Welsh and English voters that “need to be decided in the way that respects the majority opinion in those parts of the United Kingdom”.