Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to redraw the U.K.’s constitutional architecture after winning Scotland’s independence referendum, setting the stage for political wrangling that may dominate the run-up to next year’s general election.
Cameron said yesterday enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament will be matched with more powers for English representatives in the national legislature in Westminster. The previous day, Scots voted against breaking away from the U.K. by 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent. The result prompted Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister who led the independence campaign, to resign.
The Scottish Independence Vote: Breakdown of Results
Today, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged that the promises for additional powers for Scotland would be kept. The Labour lawmaker, who took a leading role in the closing stages of the campaign against Scottish independence, said “the eyes of the world have been upon us and now I think the eyes of the world are on the leaders of the major parties of the United Kingdom.”
SLIDESHOW: Scotland Votes to Stay in U.K.
“These are men who have been promise-makers and they will not be promise-breakers,” Brown said in a speech in Fife, Scotland. “We will lock in today the promises that we have made.”
Now’s the “time for our United Kingdom to come together and move forward,” Cameron said outside Downing Street yesterday. “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’s pledge, made less than eight months before a general election, sets the stage for a debate over how the U.K. will be governed for decades, beginning at the annual party-political conferences over the next three weeks. While Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies, England does not, and some politicians there are pushing for a new parliament of their own.
Cameron said he wants agreement on the new measures by the election in May.
“This is definitely better for Cameron than a vote for independence but imposing this timetable means there’s really no breathing space,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, said in an interview. “The idea they can have some major constitutional settlement sorted out by the election is incredibly ambitious.”
The Scottish referendum has energized a debate about how to rebalance power within a parliamentary system that traces its roots to the 13th century.
Cameron’s announcement sought to answer lawmakers in his Conservative Party angry that Scotland will be handed powers to control taxes, spending and social policy while its lawmakers in Westminster would still be able to influence English laws.
Shutting Scottish lawmakers out of England-only decisions would also hurt the opposition Labour Party if it returns to power because Labour traditionally has more Scottish and Welsh lawmakers in parliament than Cameron’s Conservatives.
“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 versus the Tories’ one. Without the Scottish seats, Cameron would have won a majority in 2010.
The most recent YouGov Plc poll, published yesterday, put Labour support across the U.K. at 35 percent, and the Tories at 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.
Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader who initiated the push for independence, told a news conference in Edinburgh that a new leader was needed to further efforts to gain more power for Scotland.
“For me as leader, my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream will never die,” he said.
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.
Labour leader Ed Miliband responded to Cameron with a proposal for a constitutional convention to meet in late 2015 to look at proposal from the regions for a redistribution of powers.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, the favorite with bookmakers to become the next Tory leader, was dismissive of Miliband’s plan.
“Labour’s now trying to kick this off into the long grass,” Johnson told Sky News television. “They’re terrified of any change to the arrangements which allow them this large number of Scottish MPs, which you can’t have sitting at Westminster if you’re going to devolve further powers.”
Hague said he doesn’t expect his commission to propose the setting up of a separate English Parliament.
“I don’t think our work will lead to a new layer of government,” he told BBC television.
In a rare statement on politics, Queen Elizabeth II said all of the U.K. will respect the outcome of the referendum.
“As we move forward, we should remember that despite the range of views that have been expressed, we have in common an enduring love of Scotland, which is one of the things that helps to unite us all,” the monarch said in the statement distributed by Buckingham Palace.
“Knowing the people of Scotland as I do, I have no doubt that Scots, like others throughout the United Kingdom, are able to express strongly held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support, to work constructively for the future of Scotland and indeed all parts of this country,” she said.
In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, hundreds of opponents of independence marched up Buchanan Street in the central shopping district last night singing “God Save The Queen” and “Rule Britannia” and waving Union Jack flags. Police on foot and horseback flanked the marchers, who mingled with the evening crowds before halting in a thick mass of people. Scuffles broke out, with some marchers thrown to the ground.
The fallout from the Scottish referendum adds a layer of complexity to a constitutional debate that until now had been dominated by the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union.
Cameron has vowed, if re-elected next year, to renegotiate Britain’s EU 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 the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party gain its first-ever elected member of Parliament in a special election on Oct. 9.
Labour’s conference starts tomorrow in Manchester, northwest England, a week before the Tories meet in the central city of Birmingham.
“The promises to Scotland ensure that the English question will dominate May’s general election,” Labour lawmaker Frank Field said in an e-mail. “Voters will demand from all English candidates whether they support English home rule and if they support giving an additional 1,500 pounds a year, forever, for every person living in Scotland, over and above what they will vote for their own constituents.”
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