The English Consequences of the Scottish Referendum


Après la victoire du “non” au referendum écossais le 18 septembre dernier, c’est au tour de l’Angleterre de rentrer dans une nouvelle crise institutionnelle. Alors que l’Ecosse, l’Irlande du Nord et le Pays de Galle ont chacune leur propre parlement, l’Angleterre – dont la population représente 84% de la population du Royaume-Uni – est, elle, toujours dirigée depuis Westminster.


The West Lothian question refers to the debate in the United Kingdom over whether or not MPs from outside England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) can vote on matters and policies that only concern England.


To counter the Tories in Westminster, Labour needs the 40 Scottish MPs. But the Labour Party has found istelf supporting Conservatives when UK unity was at stake. Nick Clegg, David Cameron and even Ed Miliband promised Scotland more devolved powers over tax-and-spend policies in 2016.

Now the Conservatives feel they have the legitimacy to finally answer the West Lothian question in the negative. Indeed, more Scottish devolution means Scottish MPs should no longer vote on English issues. Negotiation requires give and take. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales continue to send MPs to Westminster and these MPs can sway decisions on English schools, health care and the like, without English MPs “having reciprocal rights. This must change”, Mr Cameron said in September 2014.

One of the solutions would be to set up a separate English Parliament, which seems quite logical: every part of the UK would have its own assembly to vote on its own policies. “English votes on English laws”. Nevertheless, the problem is that if England had its own parliament, it would be the most powerful part of the federation, and would entirely dominate the federation, all the more as “federal systems with a single dominant state have rarely survived for long. David Cameron would naturally want to be the “President” of this federation, which would create tensions between the different parts of the union. However, this solution seems to be well suited to the English issue.

English cities, as Liverpool and Manchester, have already received more powers from Westminster. That may be the beginning of a new constitutional process aimed at giving more autonomy to English cities, which could lead to a “new urban renaissance”.

As Conservatives will oversee this process, they will obviously try and take advantage of this referendum. Although the high Scottish turnout seemed to weaken the British government –Cameron in particular-, a backlash can clearly be felt now. The West Lothian question is likely to be won by the Tories who will want to consolidate their power.

Cameron may just be playing politics. He calls for a more democratic parliament that would be more representative of the people of Britain and its will. But even if sub-national devolution seems to be the better solution, there is a risk of a “hegemonic England” completely dominating the other parts of the Union…



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