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19.09.14

Devolution to be delivered ‘swiftly’ across UK, says Cameron

Following the ‘no’ vote in yesterday’s Scottish independence referendum, the prime minister has stated that greater devolution will be delivered not just to the Scots but the rest of the UK.

Speaking outside Downing Street this morning, David Cameron said that the three pro-union parties made clear commitments on further powers for the Scottish Parliament, adding “we will ensure that they are delivered”.

He added that Lord Smith of Kelvin, who led Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, will oversee the process to take forward Scotland’s devolution commitments, with powers over tax, spending and welfare all agreed by November and draft legislation published by January.

However, Cameron also stated “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 prime minister said that in Wales, there are proposals to give the Welsh government and Assembly more powers, and that in Northern Ireland, the government must work to ensure that the devolved institutions function effectively.

With regards to England, he added that the question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.

“So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland,” said Cameron.

To draw up the ambitious plans, the prime minister has appointed former foreign secretary William Hague to drive the process. A Cabinet Committee is also to be set up right away and proposals will be ready to the same timetable as Scotland’s devolutionary powers.

‘No’ vote for now

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond stated that he accepted the “democratic verdict of the people of Scotland” after they voted by 55% to 45% to reject leaving the UK.

He also said he would honour a pledge made to “work constructively in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK” if there was a ‘no’ vote.

However, he did stated that it would never be “business as usual again” as 1.6 million Scots voted for independence. Salmond said: “It is important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country.”

Responding to the referendum result and plans for further devolution, Peter Riddell, director of the Institute for Government, said: “The decisive result of the Scottish referendum means that discussion will now focus on more devolution for Scotland, and, also crucially, for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“David Cameron’s statement provided a sense of urgency and direction. But the no result raises several big questions.”

Firstly, he highlighted that the timetable for agreeing and producing proposals is “very, very demanding” and risks disillusion and a backlash if dates are missed.

Secondly, the state of the debate on English devolution is at a much earlier stage with ideas rather than worked-up plans. And thirdly, there is a workable plan on the table for English votes for English laws – in the form of the options outlined by the McKay Commission in March 2013 – but this is a start to the discussions. “It is a highly contentious issue in view of the contrasting interests of the Conservatives and Labour,” he added.  

Solace, the representative body for over 1,300 chief executives and senior strategic managers working in the public sector, said that while the debate about further devolution for the Scots begins, England also needs this discussion.

It added that English councils are subject to a huge array of statutory duties, lack the ability to raise their own finance and remain shackled to a distant Westminster and Whitehall.

“Whether it is schools, transport or economic growth; too many decisions are taken too far away from those they affect,” stated Graeme McDonald, director of Solace. “While the time for change is now, that change must be debated and decided openly. We must not rush toward ill-advised, centrally imposed structural reform. Achieving a sustainable devolutionary settlement, with real public support, will require a UK-wide constitutional convention.”

Devolution genie

Cllr David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association, added that the “devolution genie” is out of the bottle.

He stated that the new powers that Scotland will now receive must be given to local areas in England and Wales. “The appetite for devolution does not stop at the border and the rest of the UK will not be content to settle for the status quo,” said Cllr Sparks. “The clock is ticking and we need to act now.”

Deputy prime minster Nick Clegg noted that the referendum north of the border has led to a demand for constitutional reform across the United Kingdom as people south of the border also want more control and freedom in their own hands rather than power being hoarded in Westminster.

Labour leader Ed Miliband was also adamant that “we will deliver on stronger powers for a stronger Scottish parliament, a stronger Scotland. And I know that all party leaders will meet their commitments to deliver on that promise. And we will also meet the desire for change.

“Across England, across Wales, across the whole of the United Kingdom, devolution is not just a good idea for Scotland and Wales - it is a good idea for England and indeed for Northern Ireland as it already is too.”

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