British parties squabble over fall-out from Scottish vote

21st September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Britain's main parties squabbled on Sunday over how to deliver reform after Scotland voted "No" to independence, after Prime Minister David Cameron insisted any new powers for the Scots must see similar autonomy for the English.

The united front of the referendum campaign, when the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats promised greater devolution for Scots if they stayed in the United Kingdom, is cracking over concerns of the wider implications.

All three parties insist they are still committed to extending the devolved Scottish Parliament's control over tax, spending and welfare.

But while Conservative leader Cameron has tied this to more autonomy for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband says the issues are separate and should not be rushed through together.

Much is at stake -- although any reforms would not be in place by the May general election, they could have a major impact on the parties' ability to win power.

- 'Basic unfairness' to England -

In Thursday's historic referendum, Scots voted by 55 percent to 45 percent to stay in the United Kingdom.

But a poll two weeks earlier had put the pro-independence camp ahead, prompting a last-minute pledge by Cameron, Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to draw up new Scottish powers by January.

Within hours of the result on Friday, Cameron made the surprise announcement that any reform must also include England -- something he had not discussed with the others.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday newspaper, the prime minister said there was a "basic unfairness at the heart of our democracy" which had to be addressed.

Scottish lawmakers in the 650-seat British parliament at Westminster are currently allowed to vote on legislation affecting only England, but English MPs have no say in devolved matters decided in Edinburgh.

"Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on what is taught in English schools, to reduce spending on English hospitals, or even vary English or Welsh income taxes, when under the new settlement English or Welsh MPs would have no say in such matters in Scotland?" Cameron wrote.

"It is fundamentally unjust to have the views of the people of England and Wales overridden in this way."

The prime minister will gather senior Tories at his country retreat on Monday to discuss the plans for reform, with the first debate in parliament due next month.

- 'Pre-election stand-off' -

The implications of Cameron's pledge could see Scottish MPs excluded from certain votes that affect only England, or even the creation of a separate English chamber.

So-called "English votes for English laws" appeal to Conservatives, whose power is concentrated in England, where they won 298 of their 307 MPs in 2010.

By contrast, Scotland delivered 41 of Labour's 258 MPs at the last general election, and excluding them could have a major impact on the party's ability to pass legislation in government.

Miliband said on Sunday that he would deliver on the promises of new power for Scotland, but said he had never agreed to make this conditional on new powers for England.

"I'm open to the idea of greater scrutiny of legislation by English MPs," the Labour leader told BBC television, but stopped short of pledging a change in how MPs vote.

He warned there must be no rush to implement major constitutional changes, saying: "We can't do it on a back-of-the-envelope way.

"We spent two years trying to keep our country together -- let's have a proper constitutional convention, let's look at these issues."

Clegg, who as head of the junior coalition partners is also deputy prime minister, warned the political wrangling threatened hopes for radical change.

"We cannot allow an exciting new chapter of empowerment and constitutional renewal to be held hostage yet again by a Labour and Tory pre-election stand off," he wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper.

© 2014 AFP

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