The Scottish National Party’s referendum on independence fell flat on former First Minister Alex Salmond’s face last Thursday when only 45 percent of the voters chose to excommunicate itself of the United Kingdom.
Yet, while this seems like a huge relief for many, what with not having to divide up the British parliament, British assets and a unified British economy, the three major parties in the UK have laid open perhaps an even bigger problem: devolution.
If independence was rejected, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, his deputy Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour Party all promised to give Scotland further autonomous powers which have been said to regard tax controls, welfare and spending specifically related to Scottish interests.
Even when the parties agree they still disagree…
However the three leaders’ hasty promises, which many believe swayed the voting of those in Scotland who were still unsure in what independence would bring, haven’t been able to work out what this actually means.
The past year has seen all three parties publish their own views on further devolution to Scotland’s political body, each with varying degrees of power. But these were not definitively discussed before or during the referendum.
And just to throw further kinks in the chain, Prime Minister Cameron has declared similar autonomous powers must be simultaneously handed to the other home nations: Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
Just a moment of desperation?
Many see this as a way for Mr. Cameron to appease the more conservative members of his party, believed to be horrified with the pledges made by their leader in a last moment of desperation to secure a victory for the union – effectively saving the PM his job. His main opposition, in Labour’s Miliband, have also accused the Tory leader of playing party politics: the Conservatives hold the majority of seats in England, whereas all but one in Scotland were won by Labour candidates. Should devolution happen across the board, Labour would see their ability to influence discussions on big issues flounder in England given the party’s dependence on votes from the other three homelands.
By devolving the whole country further, giving each region the chance to make their own tax decisions, welfare expenses and public spending, the United Kingdom would begin to reflect a more federal, even Americanized, system of government.
But would that be such a bad thing?
Currently, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland – but not England – have their own individual assemblies. And although these powers are limited, English MPs are shut out of these constituencies, giving the power only to politicians who live there. This, however, is not the same in England. There is no English government, only the British parliament based in Westminster. And many, mostly Tory, MPs have highlighted this double standards believing England is subject to interference from non-residents.
Following the victory for the union on Friday, Mr. Cameron had this to say:
“Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs. The rights of these voters need to be respected, preserved, and enhanced.”
Perhaps it is merely appeasement for his Tory backbenchers. Perhaps it is just another desperate moment for Mr. Cameron who is looking to the forthcoming general election next May, where many polls show either a deadlock or a slight advantage to Miliband. But do the people of England deserve an independent voice?
The wrath of Khan…
To split up this vastly centralized system would be a handful and many north of England’s border are rightfully concerned about a potential retraction so soon after the referendum wounds.
After his resignation as leader of the Scottish National Party and, hence, as Scotland’s First Minister, Salmond has tried to galvanize his compatriots by declaring, “The wrath of Khan [a reference to Star Trek] will be as of nothing to the wrath of a No-voter who has been gulled by the Westminster leadership.”
“I don’t see how they can be kept between David Cameron who says they must go in tandem with changes in England, and Ed Miliband who says they can’t go in tandem with changes in England. These seem to be two irreconcilable positions from political interest at Westminster.”
But this isn’t just about Scotland anymore
All three party leaders have publicly declared their support of devolution for Scotland, and on this there can be no retraction without massive repercussions. However Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have altered the governing system of the United Kingdom as a whole. And despite the latter’s harsh reservations of any change other than Scotland’s, perhaps in a political play of his own, this is the only way forward.
England deserves her say in her own decisions. Because it’s the largest nation, the most populous and economically powerful of the four many believe it doesn’t need self-regulation in the same way Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might. But why should an MP in the northern reaches of Scotland need a say in what happens in England, what happens to English residents, when it isn’t of concern?
And it isn’t just about England either
How long would it be before people in Wales and Northern Ireland contemplate their own push for devolution? The government’s leaders, be it tomorrow or in 50 years, cannot easily turnaround and say, “It isn’t possible.” After all, why, too, would residents in Cardiff, Wales need to be involved in the many political issues which are still highly divisive in Belfast, Northern Ireland?
All for One or One for All?
Many see this as the first step towards a federalist system – and maybe the years will show this to be truth. But given the foundation of devolved promises made in the “No” campaign, this is the only path forward.
You have to look past the politics, look past the seemingly universal political language of infighting.
Why should three of the UK’s nations be given an individual assembly, regardless of the amount of power devolved, when another is only controlled centrally?
Why should Scotland have more freedom from Westminster than Northern Ireland and Wales?
Scotland’s devolution needs to happen sooner rather than later. But it isn’t going to be something easily rectified. The Scots waiting on the promised autonomy need to recognize they were not given any specific consensus on what these powers would be and when they would take effect; they cannot expect an immediate result.
Scotland’s independence question has only been answered with more hesitation and more difficulties.
Just like her weather, the UK’s future is rather cloudy…