Yesterday’s debate on the constitutional implications of the Scottish independence referendum naturally highlighted the profound and shocking potential impacts of a ‘Yes’ vote on 18 September. However, there was a consistent theme – growing in intensity as the evening wore on – that there were important implications for the whole of the UK, whatever the outcome of the Scottish vote.
I had (with unusual modesty) asked to be left to a very late stage in the discussion, and I was scheduled to be the 35th speaker. I planned to discuss the impact on England and Cornwall in the light of the ‘No’ result for which I am hoping. If the outcome is ‘no’, the UK can stay together but more devolution is then very likely both to Scotland and Wales. This means we have to give attention now to the consequences for England. But I calculated I would be in a minority of one, and that I should keep my rather peripheral contribution to late on in the evening, once the main Scottish experts and their core issues were out of the way.
This was a miscalculation. I was surprised and delighted by the chorus of speakers who underlined the significance of the devolution process, with its uneven progress in the different parts of the UK, and the urgent need to re-examine the implications for the whole of the country, whatever the referendum outcome. In a variety of ways Lords Lang (Con), McConnell (Lab), Strathclyde (Con), Richard (Lab), Steel (Lib Dem), Morris (Lab), Forsyth (Con), McFall (Lab), Crickhowell (Con), Purvis (Lib Dem), Haskins (Cross Bench), Soley (Lab), Caithness (Con) and Judd (Lab) all referred to the need to approach this issue on a holistic basis – including England – before I got to speak.
Unexpectedly, therefore, my contribution picked up an established theme, rather than breaking away from it. As a result the Minister responding, my Lib Dem colleague Lord (Jim) Wallace, acknowledged the significance of our combined urging in his peroration.
One of the best contributions I have seen about how to resolve the position of England in a devolved UK was recently published by Dr Andrew Blick, with the Federal Trust and Unlock Democracy. Their proposal for “devolution on demand” was also endorsed by Liberal Democrats at their conference earlier this year. For my part, I think it the best basis to deal with an issue which is becoming increasingly crucial to the quality of our democracy. What do you think?