Scottish independence: Decentralise demand grows

DAVID Cameron’s proposals for significant constitutional reform for Scotland could lead to changes that would turn centralised Britain into a federal state.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage wants an English parliament within the Commons. Picture: GettyUkip leader Nigel Farage wants an English parliament within the Commons. Picture: Getty
Ukip leader Nigel Farage wants an English parliament within the Commons. Picture: Getty

In his statement yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a radical series of proposals including a timetable for new powers for Scotland. His pledge immediately prompted calls from other parts of the UK including the north of England, Cornwall, Wales and Northern Ireland for greater devolution.

A group calling itself the City Centre campaign, representing Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool and Sheffield, said the result north of the Border was a “Yes vote for devolution”.

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It has now called on the leaders of the three main political parties in Westminster to bring about the changes.

A statement from the group read: “It is vital urgent devolution to England, and particularly to its cities, forms a key part of this package of reforms – new powers to grow and invest will have hugely beneficial effects in England’s cities, and across the whole country.”

The First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones launched a stinging attack on Mr Cameron, accusing him of “sleepwalking” the country into disaster over the way the coalition government handled the referendum.

Mr Cameron offered an olive branch to the English, promising that a new commission will consider devolution for English cities and regions and also end the West Lothian question where Scots and Welsh MPs can vote on English-only matters in areas like health and education.

Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, Andrew Percy, said: “England must have an English parliament in the event of a No vote. Time for a federal UK.

“We can have an English parliament at Westminster, as well as the British seat. England must be heard as much as Scotland.”

Shadow minister Douglas Alexander said Mr Cameron’s announcement struck him, in some ways, as a “fairly knee-jerk reaction which may well have been driven more by politics than by a considered judgment of the needs of the constitution”.

Commons Leader William Hague said he will draw up the detail of Mr Cameron’s plans for England and Wales, to be discussed in a Cabinet committee, with the same November deadline as that for the detailed proposals for Scotland.

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Mr Hague said the parties would have to open negotiations on how English MPs could be given a greater say over English affairs at Westminster.

He said that if they were unable to reach agreement, they would have to settle the matter at the General Election.

In the run-up to the vote, Westminster leaders appeared to try to sway the Scottish electorate by saying they would expand Holyrood’s powers.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Sky News: “The English are 86 per cent by population of this Union. They’ve been left out of all of this for the last 18 years. We still have a situation where Scottish MPs can vote in the House of Commons on English-only issues. I think what most English people want is a fair settlement.

“Mr Cameron, as a last-minute measure yet again, has decided to put William Hague in charge of a committee to try to cobble together a solution.

“We had better get a constitutional convention set up PDQ so we can get the best constitutional brains in this country working on it. I don’t think William Hague and a committee can work this out. I think we need a proper, open debate.”

Asked how English MPs could be given the ability to vote on English affairs without undermining the House of Commons, Mr Farage said: “My suggestion would be that we do it within that building, that we have days when Scottish, Irish and Welsh MPs are not in the chamber and not voting, so we have an English parliament and we do it within the Palace of Westminster. I think that – rather than going to Shrewsbury and building a new building – is the right way to do it.”

Meanwhile, Owen Paterson, who was sacked by Mr Cameron as environment secretary in July, demanded an immediate recall of parliament. He said: “It is unacceptable that in the late stages of the campaign an ex-Labour leader was allowed to make rash promises of ‘extensive new powers’ to the Scottish people with the endorsement of all three UK party leaders, but with no mandate from parliament.”