WHISPS of highland mist still swirl over Scotland’s great referendum result – and will continue to do so for some considerable time, in my humble estimation – but glimmers of clarity are breaking through the haze.
Possibly the harshest lesson from it goes out to the Catalans, Basques, Bretons, Cornish and any of the European Union’s minor players and it is: if you’ve any pipedreams of secession, Brussels will blow them to smithereens.
On the lighter side, rumours Prince Franz of Bavaria, heir to the Stuart dynasty, will replace The Queen as Scotland’s monarch have been, well scotched, so to speak, and – three cheers! – Piers Morgan is leaving Britain (or so he said).
The unctuous chat-show host promised he’d shove off as his personal thank-you if the No vote prevailed. It did, so I suggest Rockall would be a fitting destination, since it’s uninhabited and he can talk to himself all day long and discover what we all know: he’s a snotty, egotistical bore.
Other oddball news: CNN’s exit poll called the referendum result 58% to 52% in favour of Yes. Not only a wildly inaccurate projection, it casts doubt on Americans ability to master simple percentages – unless, that is, 5.5 million folk do comprise 110% of Scotland.
Meanwhile, Labour leader, Ed Miliband, apparently represents a Scottish constituency in Doncaster North (yes, you heard it right).
The Yorkshire town was ceded to Scotland more than 900 years ago as part of the Treaty of Durham, after King David pillaged large areas of northern England and Doncaster remained in Scottish hands for 21 years, until Henry II reclaimed it in 1157.
The treaty, however, was never formally revoked, which will come as a thunderbolt to many proud Tykes I know, who’d always believed they were inhabiting God’s Own County, not some Celtic Gibraltar.
Absurd as this situation may seem, though, it might do Ed a power of good. As the representative of an ostensible Scottish constituency in England, he’ll still be able to vote, if – as that semi-Jock, David Cameron, has threatened – Scots MPs in Westminster will be barred from voting on matters affecting only the English.
This, you see, is the Prime Minister’s canny solution to the arcane West Lothian Question, as posed by Left-wing firebrand, Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for the Scottish seat.
In a 1977 House of Commons debate on devolution, he asked, ‘For how long will English MPs tolerate at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics, while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’
That idiosyncrasy has assumed fresh gravitas, as the Scottish Parliament is poised to receive extensive new powers – including setting its own levels of income tax and VAT – so Cameron has delegated sorting out the ‘English Question’ to his ex-Foreign Minister, William Hague, and a draft bill is due by January 25, aptly Robbie Burns Night.
Legislation can then be passed before next spring’s UK General Election.
Behind this haste to beat the May 7 polling deadline lies a fiendish Tory plot, one that’s left Miliband ambushed and outraged, casting a shroud over the Labour’s Party annual knees-up, last week in Manchester.
A nobbled Ed complains Cameron is ‘playing politics’ following the Scottish No victory, but isn’t that exactly the rough, old trade both chose to follow.
Miliband’s dread is if Labour wins only a narrow majority in the next parliament, thanks to retaining its 40 MPs north of the border, he’ll be a stymied, partial PM, his writ on domestic policy extending no further than England (that’s presuming Welsh and Northern Irish MPs also get the block put on them).
Additionally, the ploy could outflank UKIP, the self-styled English liberation army, even if it forces a constitutional crisis the like of which a country that doesn’t even boast a written constitution has never seen.
Unsurprisingly, Conservative MPs – especially the unhinged, Eurosceptic fringe – are salivating like rabid dogs over the prospect of English votes for English laws, since all but nine of Cameron’s current crop of 304 represent constituencies in England against Labour’s total of 256 spread across the UK.
Nor are some Labourites blind to the idea of ‘freedom’ for England, a question Miliband dodged 13 times on last Sunday’s BBC1 Andrew Marr show.
Former minister, Ben Bradshaw, called for the party to ‘grasp the nettle’ of English home rule, adding there was an ‘innate and accurate feeling’ in the country that the ‘imbalance is unfair.’
Meanwhile, most Tories also want to see an end to the Barnett Formula or block grant, another piece of hoary, esoteric legislation that leaves the average voter utterly bamboozled.
As Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1974 to 1977, Joel Barnett – an accountant by trade and now Lord Barnett of Heywood and Royton – was Denis Healey’s bagman in the Callaghan government and tasked with the job of adjusting the amount of Whitehall largesse doled out to the UK’s four regions.
I won’t trouble you with the gobbledygook of the Formula, since, like me, you’d suddenly be overcome with the desire to have a siesta or commit hara-kiri. The net result, though, is Scotland receives over £1,600 per head more than England and even the now ancient peer admits it’s unfair and should be scrapped or revised.
Cameron says he won’t touch it. But, should his stewardship extend beyond 2015, my bet is he’ll face a full-blow revolt from his own backstabbers if it isn’t at least tinkered with.
What there is no escaping, however, is the notion of federalism taking root in the minds of British voters, who are fast concluding all regions of the UK can achieve more for them if they have governments or assemblies to fight their personal corner.
Labour, the midwife of devolution, is none too chuffed about the prospect and Miliband studiously avoided it when addressing the faithful last Wednesday in what should have been a rousing, final, pre-election call to arms.
In a 78-minutes long speech, so insipid it made Gordon Brown appear positively charismatic, Red Ed concentrated almost solely on the National Health Service and – by his own, embarrassed admission – there were too many glaring, policy omissions
But he’s really a highly cerebral, decent bloke, who’d make a great Prime Minister, Labour insiders insist.
The problem is he has less than eight months to convince voters of that. And, so far, many fear – rather than welcome – the prospect.