How would more devolution affect Labour south of the border?
The announcement by Scotland First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond, that there’s to be a “national conversation”, a distinctly new Labour term, on the future governance of Scotland could present a real challenge for Brown.
For on the one hand he wants to head off the SNP pressure and might consider more devolution – but how does he do that without the role of Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster becoming an issue for the Tories to exploit.
Until now the Tories have found it difficult getting any mileage out of EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) and the associated WLQ. The latter – the West Lothian Question named after the seat of old-Etonian former Labour MP, Tam Dayell, – asks whether it is just that members of the UK Parliament elected from Scotland can vote on issues only affecting England, but English MPs, in turn, cannot vote on these same aspects in relation to Scotland.
But if there is any further move to devolution, as seems the likely compromise, will Gordon be able to square it with the role of Scottish Labour MPs without whom Labour would
Also if Scotland is given more powers then, undoubtedly, Salmond will use them to ratchet up the pressure to get even more. He’s already shown what a fly operator he is in the way he has carried out his duties as First Minister so far. The current campaign on Scotland having its own BBC Six of Clock news programme has no cost attached to the Scottish Executive but is enormously appealing to large sections of the population.
There’s also a general election dimension here. Would Gord go to the country just at the time when this is developing as an issue? The last thing he wants, surely, is for a campaign to be dominated by EVEL?
People often forgot that it was the Scottish devolution issue, not the so called “winter of discontent”, that brought Jim Callaghan’s Labour government down in 1979. Gord knows he has to tread carefully.
I’ve written here before about a dinner in Oxford a few months before the 2001 general election when I found myself sitting next to George Osborne who was not then even an MP. I recall him arguing strongly that the Scottish question was an explosive issue for the Tories to exploit “when the time was ripe”. Could that be now?
The latest Betfair price on a 2007 general election is 5.4/1.