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Cameron Vows to Empower English Lawmakers After Scots Vote

Friday, 19 September 2014 07:03 AM

Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to give English lawmakers more say on laws that only affect England after Scots rejected independence, a plan that may hit the opposition Labour Party’s chances of forming a functioning government.

Speaking after Scots voted yesterday against breaking away from the U.K. by 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent, Cameron said enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament, promised in the closing days of the referendum campaign, will be matched by steps to cut the influence of Scottish lawmakers sitting in the House of Commons in London.

“It’s time for our United Kingdom to come together and move forward,” Cameron said in a televised statement outside his London office this morning. “A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement, fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Cameron is seeking to answer criticism from lawmakers in his Conservative Party angry that Scotland will be handed powers to control tax, spending and social policy while its lawmakers in Westminster would still be able to influence English laws. The proposals may make it harder for Labour, which draws much bigger support than Cameron’s Conservatives in Scotland and Wales, to form an administration in London.

‘Side Effect’

“It’s very possible that increased devolution to Scotland could have the side effect of making it harder for Labour to govern the U.K.,” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University, said in an interview. “They could have a parliamentary majority, but a minority on English health and education policy.”

Labour won 41 of the 59 Scottish House of Commons districts in the 2010 election, against the Tories’ one. Without the Scottish districts, Cameron would have won a majority in 2010.

The most recent YouGov Plc poll, published today, put Labour support across the U.K. on 35 percent, with the Tories on 33 percent. Standard calculations suggest that might give Labour about 333 seats in the Commons -- a majority of 16 -- an advantage that would be wiped out if 40 or so Scottish Labour lawmakers are barred from voting on some issues.

“The millions of voices of England must also be heard,” Cameron said as he announced a commission, headed by the leader of the House of Commons, William Hague, to oversee the necessary constitutional changes.

‘Decisive Answer’

“The question of English votes for English laws, the so- called West Lothian question, requires a decisive answer,” the premier said. “Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues; and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.”

Cameron said he’s seeking agreement on the Scottish measures by November, with draft legislation published by January to be enacted in the next Parliament following the May 7 general election. He said he hopes for cooperation from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and other parties on the arrangements.

‘Moving Parts’

Cameron has “played this very well,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, said in an interview. “It’s going to be very difficult for Labour to argue against English votes for English laws.” Still, Bale said, “there’s so many moving parts” to getting the legislation passed, with the package also needing the consent of the unelected House of Lords.

“The challenge now is to meet the scale of change that people across Scotland, England, Wales and every part of the U.K. want to see,” Labour leader Ed Miliband said in televised comments from Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. “We need big change in politics and our constitution and it must be led by people, not politicians in Westminster.”

Still, one leading Scottish Labour figure urged caution.

“British politics is going to change, but we should not rush into it,” Jim Murphy, the party’s international development secretary, who toured Scotland in the campaign making the case against independence, told reporters in Glasgow as the results were being counted. “This referendum campaign was a marathon, we shouldn’t sprint towards a U.K. constitutional change until we have thought it through properly.”

No ‘New Layer’

Hague said he doesn’t expect his commission to propose the setting up of a separate English Parliament, which has been demanded by some lawmakers.

“I don’t think our work will lead to a new layer of government,” he said in a BBC television interview. “It becomes inconceivable to allow Scottish members to vote on everything that’s happening in England when English members and Scottish members can’t vote on so much of what’s happening in Scotland.”

Much legislation affecting Scottish day-to-day matters is already decided in the Scottish Parliament, rather than at Westminster.

“A vote against independence was clearly not a vote against change and we must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners, said in an e-mailed statement. “At the same time, this referendum north of the border has led to demand for constitutional reform across the United Kingdom as people south of the border also want more control and freedom in their own hands rather than power being hoarded in Westminster.”

Barnett Formula

A survey of House of Commons lawmakers yesterday found 63 percent who said the “Barnett formula” for calculating the distribution of U.K. government funding to Scotland should be overhauled. During the referendum campaign, all three party leaders pledged to keep the formula, which ensures Scotland receives 1,623 pounds ($2,670) per head more than the rest of the U.K.

While the Welsh government has fewer powers than its Scottish counterpart, it does control health, education and transport, so Welsh lawmakers might also be prevented from taking part in votes at Westminster on those issues under the new arrangements. Labour won 26 of the 40 Welsh Commons seats in 2010, while the Tories took eight. Northern Ireland’s 18 seats are all held by local parties.

Cameron will need to make the Westminster voting changes to get his lawmakers to back the necessary legislation for more Scottish powers in Parliament.

Rights ‘Subordinated’

“Talk about feeding an addiction,” Conservative lawmaker James Gray wrote of the proposals on his website. “The more you give them, the more they want, and we would be back with calls for independence within a decade or sooner. For too long the rights and interests of the 55 million people of England have been subordinated to the shouting of 4.5 million Scots. That must end.”

Conservatives are also wary of losing votes to the U.K. Independence Party, which has set itself up as representing English voters and called for a separate English legislature.

“We’ve heard from Scotland, but you can’t go on with the tail wagging the dog any longer,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage said in an interview with BBC TV. “We need a parliament for England.”

Special Election

Cameron has also vowed, if re-elected, to renegotiate Britain’s European Union membership terms and put them to a referendum by the end of 2017. He’ll come under increased pressure from rank-and-file Conservative lawmakers to deliver on that pledge should UKIP gain its first ever elected member of Parliament in a special election on Oct. 9. Douglas Carswell, a prominent euro-skeptic Tory who defected to UKIP last month, is running for re-election in Clacton, east of London for his new party.

The vote against independence has taken some pressure off Cameron and Miliband in the run-up to their annual party conferences, the last before the general election. Labour gathers in Manchester, northwest England, in two days’ time, while the Tories meet in the central city of Birmingham a week later.

“This is definitely better for Cameron than a vote for independence, but imposing this timetable means there’s really no breathing space,” Bale said. “The idea they can have some major constitutional settlement sorted out by the election is incredibly ambitious.”

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Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to give English lawmakers more say on laws that only affect England after Scots rejected independence, a plan that may hit the opposition Labour Party's chances of forming a functioning government. Speaking after Scots voted yesterday...
cameron, empower, scots
Friday, 19 September 2014 07:03 AM
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