Whether the vote is Yes or No, the British state will be irrevocably alteredby Peter Riddell / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
The Scottish referendum has been a seismic shock to our political system whether the result is Yes or No. The common assumption in Whitehall and Westminster until early September was that the No side would win without too much trouble, and that some more devolution would be introduced after the next UK election: if not business as usual, then a bit more incrementalism. But, even if the No side wins, that is no longer true.
A Yes victory would have huge, and unpredictable, constitutional and political implications, for all three main UK parties and their leaders. David Cameron would be very vulnerable and, within hours of a result, would have to show that the government has a grip and a plan.
A horrendously complicated transitional phase would then follow while negotiations were conducted. Who negotiates? What is their remit and timetable? Could talks be completed and, crucially, the necessary legislation passed by March 2016, the target set by the Scottish Nationalist Party? What happens to the 59 MPs from Scotland in the Commons in the interim? And what role do Scottish ministers play while discussions are underway?
There is talk that next year’s General Election could be postponed until negotiations are complete. That is a highly unlikely outcome since the parliament will already have lasted for five years by May 2015, and has only previously been extended in wartime. Any extension would require all party backing, which is again improbable, and legislation could be blocked by the House of Lords which retains an absolute veto on such a bill. More likely is an agreement to restrict the role of Scottish MPs, or, rather, to ensure that English and Welsh MPs have a veto on distinctly English and Welsh legislation, as suggested by the McKay Commission in March 2013.
Labour has traditionally relied on Scottish MPs—41 at present. But the legitimacy and authority of a government formed next May which depended on such “temporary” MPs, who would be departing within a year, would be vigorously challenged. Such a government would be weak and potentially unable to pass any contentious legislation. There would be…