The longer the Scottish referendum campaign goes on, the more I fear for the long-term future of the Union. I suspect that the pro-Union campaign will win this September, but the way in which they will do this is storing up problems for the future.
The pro-Union campaign has, so far, concentrated on two messages: the dangers of independence and the fact that there’ll be more devolution if the Scots vote no to independence. These tactics will help with this September’s referendum—indeed Hamish Macdonell argues persuasively that a ‘devo plus’ offer would deliver victory. But strategically they are storing up problems for the future.
Gordon Brown is today proposing a whole slew of extra powers for the Scottish parliament. If the Brown blueprint was implemented, it would exacerbate the problems posed by the West Lothian Question. At the moment, the West Lothian Question doesn’t really bother the rest of the United Kingdom. But if pushed too far, they’ll be a backlash at the asymmetrical nature of these arrangements.
There’s more merit to Ming Campbell’s suggestion of Home Rule for all the constituent parts of the UK. But given that England makes up just over 80 percent of the UK’s population it is hard to see how that would not lead to a power struggles between the English Parliament and Westminster and the English First Minister and the British Prime Minister.
The lesson of devolution is that we tamper with the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom at our peril. But all the major political parties seem intent on continued tactical constitutional tinkering. It is hard to see how this doesn’t end in disaster.