Alex Massie Alex Massie

The British constitution has never made sense or been fair. Why expect it to do so now?

Well, yes, Hamish Macdonell is correct. A coherent devo-max option could win the referendum for Unionists. Some of us, ahem, have been arguing that for years. There were, of course, good reasons for insisting that the referendum vote be a simple Yes/No affair. A single question cuts to the heart of the issue and, notionally, should produce a clear outcome. Nevertheless it also greatly increased the risk – or prospect, if you prefer – of a Yes vote. A multi-option referendum would have killed a Yes vote.

But if Hamish is correct I am not, alas, so sure the same can be said of Comrades Forsyth and Nelson. James writes that:

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. ​

Well, perhaps. Devolution – or, rather, parliamentary as distinct from administrative devolution – has queered the constitutional pitch but let’s not pretend it was flat before the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly were established. Britain’s constitution has always been a magnificently illogical, Heath Robinson contraption. It remains so today and it is only the precise nature of its anomalies that has changed.

It may well be that if you were designing the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements from scratch you might find a way of answering the West Lothian Question more effectively or logically. Bully for that. But you’d probably also ask if Church of England bishops or hereditary peers should really have guaranteed places in the legislature too. You might even ask some questions about the Royal Prerogative.

Of course a fully federal United Kingdom is problematic since, as we all know, more than 80% of citizens – or subjects – live in England.

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