Following the rejection of Scottish independence in yesterday’s referendum, David Cameron immediately announced his decision to set up a review to ensure that Scottish MPs could not vote on English affairs – presenting this as a constitutional change that would result in a “fair and balanced” settlement – and expressed a hope that this would proceed on a cross-party basis. This afternoon, Ed Miliband said that Labour would not participate in this process. This is already being spun as Labour reneging on the promise 0f greater powers offered towards the end of the referendum campaign.
It isn’t. It is becoming increasingly clear that Cameron had no intention of honouring the commitment – he is being widely quoted as describing the commitment as a “meaningless process”. And of course that is true – a genuine constitutional settlement will take far longer than the eight remaining months of the current Parliament to deliver. Cameron cannot deliver this commitment, and all that a cross-party process would do would be to take the issue out of the political debate until after the election.
But this is a party issue. On the one hand, Cameron is leading a party whose backbenchers are making it clear that they have no intention of allowing him to deliver further powers to Scotland, and the “English votes on English issues” line is just a warmed-over piece of long-dead policy, rejected because it was unworkable. It appeals to those parts of his Party’s core support who favour UKIP, but otherwise is pretty meaningless. On the other hand, Ed Miliband has already announced an ambitious plan to devolve real powers – including financial powers – to local authorities. It’s a bold and ambitious policy, and it is absolutely right that Labour should stick to it as the basis for reforming the way in which we govern ourselves. And the right place to decide between the two is in a General Election.
The Tory proposal is a fudge, and an evasion – designed to ensure that power remains exactly where it is now. By refusing to play along with it, it is Ed Miliband, not David Cameron, who is honouring the undertakings given to Scots about the future.