James Forsyth

Westminster’s attention heads north again

Westminster's attention heads north again
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The debate over the referendum on Scottish independence will take centre stage next week. Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, will see Alex Salmond in Edinburgh on Monday and then Cameron will head north a few days later.

It appears that the coalition is ready to give way to Salmond on the date of the referendum but not on the fact that it must be a straight yes or no vote. Moore tells The Times (£) that ‘There absolutely must only be one question.’ Quite what the coalition will do if Salmond goes ahead with his own refrendum on devo max remains to be seen. I suspect that Salmond's ideal result would be the surpeme court in London stopping a Scottish referendum. This would allow him to fan the flames of nationalism without facing a vote on independence which he'll likely lose.

Even if a referendum happens, Moore doesn’t seem to regard that as the end of the constitutional debate. ‘The referendum is the start of the conversation, not the end’, he maintains. This is worrying for if there is to be a revised devolution settlement following a no vote in a referendum, it must be one that is fair to all parts of the United Kingdom. Anything that exacerbates the problems caused by the West Loathian question would, in the medium term, undermine the Union even further.