There’s no power in this union

[Saturday, again]

I reckon that New Labour is regretting devolution. It cannot be reversed, and anything that is done to hold the union together will only cause further damage. If anything is certain, it is that the Barnett Formula will be ditched by Brown and the Tories will continue to play the “English votes for English laws” card – though both parties are for the union, as the unprecedented events of this week have shown, with Labour, the Tories, and the Liberals uniting against democracy in Scotland.

Anyway, here’s what the IPPR are telling New Labour:

Cut Scots cash and MPs, Brown is told
JAMES KIRKUP
POLITICAL EDITOR (jkirkup@scotsman.com)

GORDON Brown should cut the number of Scottish MPs and reduce Scotland’s share of UK public spending, a think-tank with close ties to the Labour Party has argued.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that only by altering Scotland’s constitutional and financial position in the Union can the Prime Minister assuage potential English anger. Otherwise, the researchers warn, rising unhappiness in England could ultimately threaten the unity of the UK.

The IPPR is often described as Labour’s favourite think-tank, and its researchers are often consulted by Labour ministers developing government policy.

Its latest contribution to the growing debate about the UK constitution comes only a day after Alex Salmond launched his “national conversation” about the future of Scotland.

In an article published in its own academic journal, the IPPR concludes that with the election of a Scottish National Party administration in Edinburgh, “the benign circumstances into which devolution was born have begun to unravel”.

Mr Brown has also talked of a nationwide reassessment of the UK constitution, promising “a new British constitutional settlement” that gives more power to the Westminster parliament and could even see the creation of a formal “bill of rights”.

But the government has been more reluctant to discuss changes in the relationship between the nations that make up the UK, and the IPPR paper’s authors, Guy Lodge and Katie Schmuecker, warn the Prime Minister that inaction is not an option. “Public support for the Union remains strong; but its maintenance will require reform,” they say.

In particular, the paper identifies an answer to the “English question” as Mr Brown’s urgent priority: “English indifference to the Scots and the Union may be transformed into frustration and antipathy.”

Under the current settlement, not only can Scottish MPs vote on issues that affect only English constituencies – with no matching right for English MPs – but Scotland also benefits from higher per-head public spending. The Conservative answer is a policy of “English votes for English laws”, banning Scottish MPs from voting on “English” affairs. Mr Brown has rejected that idea, and the IPPR brands it “fundamentally unworkable”.

But the researchers do identify other ways of redressing the perceived imbalance between England and the rest of the UK. First, the number of MPs from the devolved nations could be decreased.

“The number of Scottish MPs has already been reduced, but they are still over-represented compared to England,” the paper says. “Such a move would also be justified on the grounds that, since devolution, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have less to do at Westminster.”

The IPPR also calls on Mr Brown to scrap the Barnett Formula that delivers higher public spending for Scotland. The Prime Minister has pledged to retain the formula.

But describing the current arrangement as a “core injustice”, the IPPR says the formula is “widely perceived as unfair … [and] ripe for reform”. It concludes Mr Brown should look at replacing it with a fairer model.

UNCHARTED TERRITORY
SCOTLAND may have to make a “unilateral declaration of sovereignty” if Westminster tries to block Alex Salmond’s plans for constitutional change, according to one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Parliament.

Canon Kenyon Wright, who was the convener of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which helped to deliver devolution to Scotland in 1999, said the First Minister’s plan for a “national conversation” could potentially lead the UK into uncharted constitutional territory.

Under the current devolution settlement, power is only “lent” to Holyrood and final sovereign authority over the constitution always rests with Westminster.

That means any change in Scotland’s constitutional position, or even increase in Holyrood’s powers, would have to be approved by MPs in London.

According to Canon Wright, that raises the possibility of a direct conflict between Scotland and Westminster.

“If the Scottish process came up with the conclusion that we should have a reformed Scotland, but Westminster says no, then in that case, a unilateral declaration of sovereignty would be justified,” he told The Scotsman yesterday.

He added: “Where that takes us, goodness only knows.”

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