Leaders: PM playing fast and loose with constitution

Cameron courted English voters, promising to give English lawmakers greater powers. Picture: Getty
Cameron courted English voters, promising to give English lawmakers greater powers. Picture: Getty
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WHAT was clear to all in the immediate aftermath of last year’s independence referendum was that Britain was about to see a historic re-ordering of its ­constitution.

Not only would Scotland see more powers coming to Holy-rood under the Smith Commission proposals – including welfare powers and the full devolution of income tax – but the entire relationship between Westminster and all the constituent parts of the UK would be under scrutiny, as the country moved to a far more federal system of government.

We are still slap bang in the middle of that process of change. Draft legislation on the Smith proposals is already before parliament. The main UK parties have proposed a range of measures to make the north of England a “Northern Powerhouse”, with devolution of budgets and a new look at local accountability at city and regional level. Stormont and the Welsh Assembly are agitating for new powers. And Labour has proposed reform of the House of Lords to make it a “senate” that reflects the nations and regions of a radically reshaped United Kingdom.

This is a watershed in how we are governed. But it will take time and a great deal of care while competing demands are balanced, and the inevitable unintended consequences are unwrinkled.

This is a transition phase, which demands the best of our politicians as they discuss the country’s constitutional future.

But we are also slap bang in the middle of a general election, and that is proving to be a problem.

David Cameron had the general election firmly in mind when, on the morning of the result of the independence referendum, he made his breakfast announcement in Downing Street that the Smith process would run in parallel with moves to secure “English votes for English laws”.

This was unwise, allowing critics to cast doubt on the Conservatives’ motives for backing the Smith Commission process.

Since then, Mr Cameron has continued to use “Evel” as a stick with which to beat the Labour Party, trying to push through a new voting convention at Westminster to take into account devolution to Scotland that is still in its embryonic legislative form.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron compounded his offence with a promise to legislate on Evel within 100 days of a Tory victory in the general election. The Conservatives’ rivals in Scotland were last night united in their dismay at the Prime Minister’s naked attempt to gain party political advantage from this process. Many Scots of all political hues will share that dismay.

The exact shape of the UK’s constitutional structure, and the scale of Scottish devolution within that structure, remains to be seen. Re-ordering the House of Commons in advance of this becoming clear is premature, presumptuous and cynical, and risks a backlash.

Remembering Gallipoli

THE Scottish folk singer and songwriter Eric Bogle is perhaps best known for his haunting song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, his account of a young Australian soldier maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

Many people have shed a tear at that song this week, as Gallipoli is remembered a century on.

Even in the context of a conflict where loss of life occurred on a sickening scale, the slaughter at Gallipoli was shocking.

It is almost unbelievable now that the UK would commit half a million troops to just one regional campaign in a larger war, with more than 50,000 of them – one in ten – being killed and a further 120,000 wounded.

Military historians still debate the tactics deployed and the questionable wisdom of the campaign. To some eyes, it was typical Churchill – a bold plan that must have looked good on paper, promising a brilliant breakthrough in the conflict, but which paid scant regard to the situation on the ground.

Future anniversaries are unlikely to attract as much attention, so there is a sense that this may be the last major commemoration of the Gallipoli conflict.

It is right that this country marks the centenary of this battle, and the lives of the young men who took part in it, on both sides.

The reason is simple. The instinct for war is one that is a constant in a certain strain of human nature. It is important that we remind ourselves of the consequences.

The truth is that young men of Eric Bogle’s indelible song are still paying the price of the bold but foolish decisions taken by superiors and political leaders.