The West Lothian Question?

The outcome of the Referendum on Scottish Independence has raised almost as many questions as it has answered.

First the positives. A turnout of 84 per cent was truly remarkable and a real credit to the democratic process. Also, the reaction of both camps was very dignified, with the Yes campaign graciously accepting defeat while the No supporters refrained from showing any triumphalism. It is worth pointing out that Scotland is one of the few places on earth where a debate of this magnitude could take place without bloodshed.

But the questions remain. The Yes campaign may have lost the overall vote, but they did succeed in persuading 9 out of 20 Scottish electors to opt for leaving the United Kingdom, a feat that would have been inconceivable as recently as 10 years ago. That, plus the fact that working class cities like Dundee and Glasgow overwhelmingly voted Yes, asks serious questions of the Labour Party on how they can win back their traditional core support.

However, the really big question is what happens next? Within an hour of the result being declared, David Cameron was promising increased devolution not just for Scotland but also for other parts of the UK, including England. The Prime Minister said that he wants to address the question of “English votes for English laws.” The details of how this will all work are somewhat sketchy, but it does once again raise the spectre of the seemingly unanswerable West Lothian Question .

Back in the 1977 Tam Dayell famously asked how devolution could work if he, then the Labour MP for West Lothian, could vote on health and education matters affecting England but would have no say on health and education matters which affected his own constituency. It seems to me that for the past 20 years or so Governments have decided to ignore the West Lothian Question in the somewhat naive hope that it would just conveniently go away. Well, it hasn’t gone away.

If the Coalition Government is going to win public support for these major constitutional changes it will need to effectively communicate both the reasons behind the changes and the benefits which they will bring. It will also need a detailed communications strategy to explain how it will solve the West Lothian Question. Good luck with that!

 

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