Policy made on the hoof is rarely good policyby Jonathan Derbyshire / September 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Maybe it was the relatively early hour, or else David Cameron’s naturally dispassionate demeanour, but I couldn’t help thinking that the Prime Minister’s statement on the Scottish referendum in Downing Street this morning fell, as the late Roy Jenkins would have put it, some way “below the level of events.”
There is clearly a tactical dimension to Cameron’s announcement that the “question of English votes for English laws—the so-called West Lothian question—requires a decisive answer.” Of course, there is a constitutional wrinkle here that needs resolving, but Cameron also knows the difficulties that denying Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish the right to vote on English-only legislation will cause Ed Miliband and Labour. As the New Statesman’s George Eaton has argued this morning, doing so “could leave future Labour governments in office but not in power, handing the Conservatives an effective veto.” The Prime Minister also has one eye on Ukip and the Farageiste tendency on his own backbenches, John Redwood prominent among them, who have been calling for the establishment of an English Parliament.
But re-reading Cameron’s statement, I’m struck less by the narrow politics of it than by the sheer scale of the “fair” and “balanced” constitutional settlement he is proposing. He said that the government will “ensure” that the pledge made by the leaders of the three main parties to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament will be “honoured in full.” It’s only “fair,” he went on, that the devolved institutions in Wales and Northern Ireland should also benefit from expanded powers. And then there was the promise about English votes for English laws.
It’s not at all clear that Cameron will be able to redeem all of these promissory notes, nor that he grasps the magnitude of the proposals he’s been bounced into making in the ten days that have passed since an incendiary YouGov opinion poll in the Sunday Times showed a lead for Yes in the Scottish referendum campaign. Policy made on the hoof—especially when it has such far-reaching constitutional implications—is rarely good or durable policy.
This is a point…