Published in November 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
We have established, for the time being, that the United Kingdom will remain united; how should it run itself now? Should it devolve more power to regions, to cities? Should England have more of a voice? And what, in the 21st century, should we expect the state to do—and not do? Those are the questions which we will answer in our Blueprint for Britain series, beginning in this issue of Prospect.
Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, shows for a start that people are very clear that they want Westminster to keep taking most of the big taxing and spending decisions. That picture reveals a basic conservatism.
But at the same time, since the Scottish vote, there has been a call to answer “The English question”—how to give England a voice within the UK. Jim Gallagher, the Scottish academic and civil servant, and Whitehall mandarin immersed in questions of devolution, argues that there is a way to do this and that people overstate the obstacles. Pure federalism will not work, he argues; it would destroy the Union. That is persuasive; many, indeed, have made that point, notably Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional historian. But the reason we have selected Gallagher’s arguments, out of all the reams devoted to this in recent weeks, is that he shows how some changes to parliamentary procedure could make the difference.
His prescription doesn’t answer all questions. He doesn’t think the Budget should be a matter for England alone, a line that may disappoint Conservatives, eager to deprive a potential Labour government of a majority on those bills. Nor does he set out the principles on which the UK should divvy up its spending between its regions. Kenneth Morgan looks at the particular unfairness of the financial settlement bestowed on Wales, and in the coming months, we will look at how this should be redrawn. But it is good for the UK that it now asks these questions. John Ware points out, in an analysis of the quest for truth about the Troubles in Northern Ireland (not part of our Blueprint for Britain series but entirely relevant to it), that the UK neglects the legacy of the past at its peril.