On Thursday I was on BBC Question Time and whilst hot topics such as the delayed Chilcot Enquiry and the future of the NHS were featured, my twitter feed suggested that it was my comments regarding greater powers for the Scottish Parliament that has garnered the most attention. I for one am glad, because for too long, devolution has been very much a one sided argument until very recently.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to Edinburgh to meet Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon so he can go about honouring promises of greater powers for Holyrood.
This has all come about simply because the Westminster parties panicked towards the end of the the referendum campaign when a single rogue poll announced a shock 2 point lead for the ‘Yes’ campaign. This went against almost every single poll in 2014 that identified little enthusiasm for independence. As a result, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband effectively promised Scotland everything under the sun in order to save the union and now it looks as though our friends north of the border will be granted what amounts to a form of home rule.
In the end, the union was, thankfully saved with the ‘No’ campaign winning by a healthy 10 points. Yet the promises made by Westminster leaders have not been forgotten and the people of Scotland rightly expect these commitments to be honoured in full.
Now I have no particular problem with Scotland having a greater say on how they are run. If they want the power to raise their own tax revenue and set their own agenda on tuition fees, healthcare, transport and so on, they should be free to do so. The same should also apply to the people of Wales and Northern Ireland too if they wish. Turning back on devolution would run the risk of tearing our great union apart and I don’t ever want to see that happen. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and it would be impossible now to say that the Scots or the Welsh cannot have their own devolved chambers.
However, the threat to the survival of the United Kingdom no longer comes from the likes of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP but from London based, Westminster parties who are happy to let down the union’s biggest member, England, time and time again.
As I said on Question Time, Westminster has two tiers of MP’s. An English MP cannot vote on devolved issues that affect Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland yet non-English MP’s are free to vote on issues that only affect England. Besides London, which has its own Assembly, England has been left with nothing but token gestures and broken promises.
After semi-aborted attempts at breaking up England into devolved regions (the North East voted down a referendum on an elected Assembly in 2004), something that the European Union is very keen to see happen, we are now at a crossroad. Following the Scottish referendum there was uproar about the lack of meaningful devolution south of the border and I did honestly think for a second that we might be promised a fair deal for England.
However, what we now see is that that all England will get under the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats is devolution for so called city-regions such as Manchester with powerful, unwanted elected mayors. This isn’t what the people of England, or even Manchester desire. In 2012, the people of Manchester voted down proposals for a new elected Mayor in a referendum but Westminster are pushing ahead with it anyway. If we are not careful, we could even see England walking away from the rest of the Union and that would be a disaster for everyone concerned.
What England needs first and foremost is for English only matters to be debated and voted on by MP’s who only represent English constituencies. This would be the necessary first step on the road to a federal United Kingdom where each constituent nation can get exactly what it wants whilst enjoying the benefits of staying part of a successful Union that has done us all proud for over 300 years.
Paul Nuttall is deputy leader of UKIP