DAVID Cameron has acted swiftly to guarantee action on more powers for Scotland – but also to give England a bigger say in its own affairs.
Within hours of the referendum result becoming clear, the Prime Minister announced that the process of delivering extra powers would be overseen by crossbench peer Lord Smith of Kelvin, chairman of the Edinburgh-based Green Investment Bank and head of the organising committee for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
But he said he wanted a “balanced settlement”, which is fair to people in Scotland and to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And he spelled out far-reaching constitutional changes for the whole of the UK.
“Just as the people of Scotland will have more powers of their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs,” he said. “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard.”
On the West Lothian question – the issue of “English votes for English laws”, he said England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote separately on their tax and welfare policies.
The process south of the Border would take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland, he added.
Earlier, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said quick action on more powers for Holyrood was vital to avoid another referendum on independence.
As the scale of the No win became clear, he said the Westminster parties needed to make good on the pledge to deliver “extensive” extra powers for the Scottish Parliament.
He said: “We need to move quickly to demonstrate good faith in finishing the job of devolution.
“That’s absolutely essential in order to cement the No vote. Look what happened in Quebec in 1980 – they had 60-40 No vote and they didn’t then implement the reform they promised and 15 years later they were back.”
The process would include a conference bringing together parties, businesses, churches and trade unions, he said, adding: “When we went through the Scottish Constitutional Convention process no one party got everything it wanted, but they were able to build a consensus.”
The leaders of the anti-independence campaign made clear during the campaign that a No vote in the referendum would trigger the fast-tracking of a package of extra responsibilities to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.
But a backlash by Tory backbench MPs has cast doubt on how easily such a move can be agreed.
Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have not produced a unified set of new powers and although their individual proposals all include devolving more responsibility over tax and welfare, they differ significantly on details.
The “vow” signed during the campaign by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg pledged to deliver new powers according to an agreed timetable, including publishing a document outlining the plans and issues that need to be resolved by the end of October, with a White Paper drawn up by November 30, St Andrew’s Day, and draft legislation for a new Scotland Act by Burns’ Night on January 25.
But senior Tories said the Prime Minister faced a “bloodbath” over “inducements” offered to Scotland to stay in the Union.
One former minister, Christopher Chope, said: “I can’t understand how they think they can deliver this without parliament looking at the whole picture. The party leaders don’t have the authority to make a bribe on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom.”
Labour is divided on how far any new powers should go. Its original draft proposals included full devolution of income tax, but the final published document says Holyrood should control only a proportion of the tax. The other two pro-UK parties proposed handing over more or less all power over income tax.
One insider said: “It’s clear there is going to have to be a bit of give and take in the talks on this – and it will be Labour that will have to give.”
Despite the referendum result, the Nationalists remain in a strong position to win the next Holyrood election. But the party faces major questions going right to the heart of its purpose. With the idea of independence firmly rejected, the party must define its role anew.
It is likely to revert to its traditional boast of being the party that “stands up for Scotland” and focus on the day-to-day task of government. One observer said the SNP was by far the strongest team in the Scottish Parliament, but the question was how the wider party would take the defeat.
“Can they take their people with them? It will be a much more modest agenda. The danger is some people might just decide to pack up,” he said.
Labour, while massively relieved at the No victory, also faces big challenges. It cannot avoid the fact that large numbers of people in traditional Labour areas voted for independence and it has to address the concerns that made them do that.