John Redwood is a former Secretary of State for Wales, and is MP for Wokingham.
Now that we know the Scottish result, it is time to speak for England. Many in England will welcome with me the Scottish decision that we are better together. I also wish us to respect Scotland’s wish to make more of their decisions for themselves, to control more of their own budgets and raise more of their own tax revenue. English MPs should be willing to shape and grant more powers to Scotland, as the three main party leaders pledged.
As we do so, we must also be fair to England. Labour’s lopsided devolution was never very fair. They gave first class devolution to Scotland, second class to Wales and Northern Ireland, and nothing to England. We in England put up with that in the interests of the Union. We had ringing in our ears the words of the Labour victors in the 1997 election that, if we granted those powers to Scotland, the UK would be settled and the forces of nationalism would be dulled or removed.
I wrote a book called “The Death of Britain?” at that time, explaining why I thought devolution would give nationalists a better platform and would lead to increasing pressure to break up the Union. So it has proved. Yesterday’s vote does not mean an end to nationalist sentiment or nationalist demands for a better deal. It does mean that all who would still save the Union have to understand that we are now seeking to save a much looser union where the individual nations will want more “home rule”, as Gordon Brown rather archaically and dangerously called it.
We must enter this period of constitutional change in a positive spirit. This is not just a question of dealing with some “Scottish problem”, and cannot be put right with a short and simple Scotland Bill. This now requires a new settlement for the whole United Kingdom.
We must begin with the Union Parliament. It should be at Westminster and elected as now. All MPs in the Union Parliament should have the same powers and the same right to vote. It should just consider Union issues. It will handle defence, foreign affairs, the currency union and other common issues. At the moment we have different classes of MP depending on how much is devolved in their countries to other bodies.
We then need ways of handling the devolved issues. Scotland has her Parliament and Northern Ireland and Wales their Assemblies. England needs her Parliament. I suggest we create that cheaply and easily by saying all Westminster MPs elected for English constituencies will meet at Westminster as the English Parliament on days or times when the Union Parliament does not meet, to settle all devolved issues for England.
We cannot answer the problem of lopsided and one-sided devolution by devolving powers to some English cities or regions. The new powers will include the right to set the rate of Income tax. England will need to do that for the whole country. England will need her own Health Minister and her own Education Minister for the whole country. There will be no need of a Union Health or Education Minister, as these powers will all be devolved.
People ask me how will we know which issues the English Parliament will handle? That is easy. It will handle exactly the same issues as the Scottish Parliament. These will be the current list of Scottish powers, augmented by the new powers they are to receive.
People say: what if the English Parliament has a different majority Parliament from the Union Parliament? Why not? Scotland has had a different majority party in the Edinburgh Parliament to the majority at Westminster for some time, but it can work.
Does this mean English Ministers for English issues? Yes, of course it does, just as it already means Scottish Ministers for Scottish issues.
What does this mean for Wales and Northern Ireland? In this new federal world, it is not for me to speak for them. They must say what they want. The easiest answer is for them to have exactly the same devolved powers as Scotland and England, but they do not have to if they do not want this. The Union Parliament could do more things for them if they wished.