Her Majesty will announce the extra powers for Scotland which Labour and Conservatives offered prior to the referendum. As we have discussed recently, this will need to include a new financial settlement when Parliament comes to debate and approve the detail. She should also announce early progress on English votes for English needs (EVEN) , which I expect to be undertaken by an amendment to Standing Orders of the Commons in the first instance.
The bigger question behind this work is can the Union now be stabilised? Is there some degree of devolution which will satisfy the majority of Scots, even if it leaves their SNP MPs disappointed? Is there some complementary level of devolution to England which can make England think we now have a fairer settlement? How do we avoid devolution being a process rather than a settlement? Might it prove to be like peeling an onion, where there is always another layer to remove, as the SNP hope?
I wrote “The death of Britain?” at the end of the last century, arguing that lop sided evolution at home, and the transfer of substantial powers abroad in the EU could prove to be forces which threatened the union of the UK. So it has proved. A new constitutional settlement needs the repatriation of power from Brussels, and a fair devolution of power to all four parts of the Union. This in turn requires a sense that the money is shared fairly.
Our union is above all a currency, benefits and tax union. We pool all the revenues, share all the expenses, and follow one overall budget, money and interest rate policy. If Scotland seeks to unpick too much of the spending and borrowing part of this it can undermine the rest, and can lead to a sense of greater unfairness in other parts of the Union. You only need to calculate precisely who puts in what and who takes out what if you no longer wish to pool everything. Knowledge of exact contributions and disbursements soon leads to rows over the settlement and the idea of common insurance is damaged.
The SNP will be a vocal part of the opposition. They will mainly be arguing about money. They think the UK should borrow and spend more, especially in Scotland. They do not see the irony that they also think the UK should stay in the EU come what may. If we obeyed the rules of the EU properly we would immediately cut public spending and put up taxes to get down to the 3% maximum permitted deficit. So why don’t the SNP rail against EU budget rules in the way they do against “tory spending plans”?
I think the most powerful intervention the parties of the Union made in the referendum campaign to sway more Scots to vote for in was when all 3 main union parties said they would not let an independent Scotland remain in the sterling system. I think this had far more impact than offers of yet more devolution. Union parties should learn from that experience.
Yes, I see the parallel with the EU. If the EU says to us there is no chance of change, then let us leave. Our commitment to the EU is far less deep and well based than Scotland’s reliance on the pound. Were I a Scottish nationalist I would want my own Scottish currency to become fully independent. I found it odd they could not say this. I guess it was because most Scots do want to stay with the pound.