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Splitting up the United Kingdom isn't all that hard to do: Lord Smith's proposed Devo Max settlement is grossly unfair for English voters (photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Scottish referendum result in September has well and truly pushed Humpty Dumpty off the constitutional wall, where he has been precariously perched since the Scotland Act of 1998. And, as in that nursery rhyme, there is no prospect of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again in any recognisable form. So where next with the various pieces that lie strewn across the political battleground?

Tam Dalyell was the MP who saw how devolution had the potential to destroy the British Constitution as we know it. He posed a simple but deadly question: how could it be fair to English voters that their MPs are excluded from having a say in what happens to the constituents of Scottish MPs, whereas Scottish MPs can vote on all English matters? Worse still, those Scottish and sometimes Scottish Nationalist MPs, could now be in a position to put into power at Westminster a government that did not have a majority among English MPs.

Tam is still waiting for an answer to that question he posed back in 1977, which is now known as the West Lothian Question. During a recent interview he suggested that one response to the referendum result should be the abolition of the Scottish Parliament, to batten down the hatches, and wait for the inevitable political hurricane that will result to blow itself out. Tam's preferred option, as he well knows, isn't going to happen. The genie of country-based nationalism is well and truly out of the bottle and not only in Scotland. The only durable response, therefore, is to see the devolution principle through to its logical conclusion, which means a proper and durable settlement for England.

That is not what the Prime Minister is offering. The Smith Commission — established as the votes were counted in the referendum — reported in November on a "Devo Max" settlement. It continues the political muddle that has existed since the original Scottish Devolution Act and a muddle that advantages Scotland but leaves England with the most inferior political status of any of the countries that make up the UK. The report's 21 major fiscal and constitutional reforms can be grouped around two major themes.

Scotland will set the rates of income tax and will keep half of the existing VAT revenue raised in Scotland. Scotland will likewise have the power to borrow in its own right in the international money markets. A great silence falls on how the revenue from these tax-raising powers will be offset against the Barnett formula that decides the amount of central taxpayer support to each of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom.

As well as these major fiscal advantages Scotland becomes sovereign over how it runs its own elections. From now on, we will almost certainly have no common suffrage. Scotland will be allowed to determine, for example, its own qualification for the age at which citizens first vote. This reform is presented in the Smith Commission as though it were little more than a bauble to decorate a constitutional Christmas tree. But a moment's thought suggests how destructive it will be to an equality of votes throughout the United Kingdom. For the first time since universal suffrage there will be no universally geographically applied qualification for the vote.

The Smith Commission report is the latest instalment of an appeasement policy that has been operated in Scotland's favour for the past 40 years or more. The cost of the appeasement has been borne exclusively by England.

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philodoc
February 17th, 2015
1:02 PM
The Lords should be abolished and the House in which the Lords sit should become the place where the legislature for the UK as a whole sits - call it a senate or whatever, but it must be elected. When the Lords have gone then we can abolish the monarchy.

Martin S
February 1st, 2015
9:02 PM
1. England is 11 times larger than Scotland. England is 85% of the UK. An unbalanced constition meets unbalanced population. 2. Who gets to be prime minister? If we have an English Parliament, then we need an English First Minister - who would be more powerful than a UK prime minister. 3. PR is the only way of solving these problems. Scotland and England have voted in different directions for the past 30 years - that's the heart of this. First past the post exaggerates regional voting differences - so Tories are over represented in SE England and underrepresented in Scotland. PR is the only way of compensating for that. It's also necessary now we have a six-party rather than a two-party system.

ShropshireDave
February 1st, 2015
1:02 PM
E Justice January 19th, 2015 1:01 PM said: "Frank Field for Labour and John Redwood for the Conservatives are the only true Englishmen at Westminster " Quite right...and Nigel when he gets there.

E Justice
January 19th, 2015
1:01 PM
Frank Field for Labour and John Redwood for the Conservatives are the only true Englishmen at Westminster

gareth robson
January 1st, 2015
2:01 PM
Excellent diagnosis of the problem. Correctly pointing to devolution as the cause. Worthy suggestion for remedy.uz

PhilA
December 29th, 2014
5:12 PM
Absolutely! Frank Field is among just a very few in Parliament who put aside party politics to state was is really so obvious and necessary. I vote him for First Minister of the inaugural English Parliament!

Ian Campbell
December 27th, 2014
1:12 PM
Frank's proposals offer a way of saving the Union while treating all parts fairly. The piecemeal,ad hoc, top-down approach unsatisfactory fitfully followed by British governments can only weaken the Union.

Scilla Cullen
December 24th, 2014
4:12 PM
Good for Frank. He says what the Campaign for an English Parliament have been saying and campaigning for for the last 14 years.

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