Tavish Scott: A federal UK can give public what they want
IS THE “F word” finally to be the answer to the UK’s future? This week Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell published what will surely be known as the Campbell Commission report, advocating a federal UK.
As independence continues to languish in the polls, the real question is what kind of UK do we want? Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already benefit from devolution. Across these nations, the discussion is how to strengthen and deepen the assembly or parliament.
The future is a federal UK, but for one factor: England. Can England cope with the Celtic nations all making cases for the strengthening and enhancing of powers? The 1997 Labour government tried. Or at least then deputy prime minister John Prescott tried to bring in regional assemblies in England. Tony Blair was not interested and would have dropped the lot were it not for his predecessor the late John Smith’s commitment to devolution.
Labour is well ahead in UK opinion polls. To win the 2015 UK General Election, Labour leader Ed Miliband will need Scottish Labour MPs. That spectre will raise a famous question again. The Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell asked the West Lothian question: why should Scottish MPs in the House of Commons vote on English legislation affecting schools when the reverse could not happen?
There is an easy answer if you are a Nationalist or a Liberal Democrat. Independence solves the problem. But Scotland does not want independence. A federal UK also answers Tam Dalyell’s question. That should be attractive to Conservatives. They fear the mass ranks of Scottish Labour MPs. Some would cast Scotland adrift to rid Westminster of 40 Labour MPs. Perpetual Tory rule would then, they think, follow. That is not how politics works.
A federal UK would mean either English or regional governments south of the Border. That is the opportunity for the Conservatives. They hardly exist in many metropolitan cities. But one-party rule does not last. Cronyism, corruption and internal party politics begin to dominate. The electorate says enough is enough and turns elsewhere. This happened to Labour in Liverpool.
The Scottish Tories have adapted to devolution. Alex Fergusson, a former Scottish Parliament presiding officer, is part of a cross-party group advocating more powers for Edinburgh. He is not alone in wanting a stronger Scotland within the UK. English Tories should want a stronger England within the UK. They can then advocate and implement policies they want.
UK federalism is about Lerwick, Linlithgow or Largs making decisions, not just Edinburgh, London or Brussels. That argument is as relevant for Newbury, Northampton and Newham. People want that. Political decision-making closer to the people, for the people, by the people. That is what a Scotland and England within a federal UK, as active members of the EU, should be about. Federalism’s time has arrived.
• Tavish Scott is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland
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