Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Consultants for the union

An ex-boss of mine used to say that “A consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time”; i.e. that organisations hiring consultants do so not because they don’t know what to do, but because they need someone from outside to say it.  Usually because there’s something more than a little unpalatable about the answer.
I suspect that the government decision to set up an independent commission to consider the infamous West Lothian question is following a similar path.  The government know what has to be done, but need someone else – some ‘independent experts’ – to say it first.
There are only three real alternatives available.  The first is to carry on muddling along (with or without a few minor changes), the second is to roll back devolution, and the third is to formalise an England-only rôle in legislation.  The first is probably politically impossible for the current government, and the second is a political impossibility without the consent of the devolved nations – a consent which, in the words of Macbeth, "stands not within the prospect of belief".
That leaves only one realistic logical option open, and any commission which properly considers the question is likely to come to the same conclusion.  I suspect that Cameron and his immediate circle already realise that – and fully understand how difficult it will be to sell the consequences to his own party.  Time for an ‘expert’ review.
It isn’t the conclusion which will be hard for many Tories to swallow, particularly in England; it’s the ramifications.  Wrestling with a legislature which sometimes has to deal with UK issues, sometimes with English issues, sometimes with EnglandandWales issues, and sometimes with or without Scotland and/or Northern Ireland to consider as well creates a situation where drawing up a complete and clear set of rules covering who may vote on what would be a total nightmare.  The obvious and logical answer to that nightmare can be summed up in a single word – symmetry.
A symmetrical approach to devolution – where Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have precisely the same powers devolved to them – would make it so much easier to identify and handle England-only matters; whether by special sittings of the UK Parliament or by a devolved English Parliament is essentially irrelevant.  Either approach implies something very akin to a federation – although it doesn’t have to be called that – and could end up being a fairly stable arrangement for some time to come.
It’s far from being unimaginable that the most radical devolution proposal to be offered to Wales could yet come from an initiative which is aimed primarily at ‘saving the union’, by the most unionist party of them all.  And it’s far from unimaginable that it might even work.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

While Labour use economic fear to halt the independence tide in the nations, to the voters, this essentially means employment. The Tories on the other hand see political stability as a goal. Discussions of constitutional niceties you elude is something of a toy in the minds of academics.

Essentially it's a game of 'Work, Rest and Play".

Does the SNP care about a constitutional nicety for England? Ma arse.

Siônnyn said...

When I became a consultant, many years ago, somebody gave me a most excellent little pamphlet called "A bluffer's guide to consultancy". In it were the following ground rules, which I found a very useful guide for the rest of my career.

1. Find out what the war is about - there is always a war, otherwise they would not need a consultant.
2. Find out who is on what side - not as easy as it sounds.
3. Work out which side will win the war, and then write your report supporting their point of view.
4. Make sure ou are paid before submitting your report.

There is only one logical solution in this case - and Assembly for England. Anythig else is a fudge. I canot agree with you that it makes no difference if this si specialll sessions of Westminster, as that will probably mean that England only ministers, like Gove, will continue to sit on the UK cabinet. Far better a separate assembly, with the same powers as the 1999 Welsh assembly.

Glyndo said...

Equal powers for all four "Assemblies" with a separate UK wide one for everything not devolved. Only equitable soloution. You're right John, it might work, for a long time.