By Tim Montgomerie
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On the morning of David Cameron's well-crafted and well-received speech about the future of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom I warned that the Prime Minister must start to address the English question if the Union really was to be made safe. Since then I've called for movement on the Barnett formula and a move towards English votes for English laws. My argument is that (1) the English deserve fair treatment and (2) any resentment from England – if not addressed – could discourage the Scottish people from wanting to remain part of the historic partnership between the UK's four great member nations. Up until now Mr Cameron has appeared reluctant to address this issue. During last week's PMQs Labour's Frank Field gave him a grandstand opportunity to say he is ready to address the lopsided nature of the current devolution settlement but the Tory leader did not take it.
In today's Telegraph Michael Forsyth, former Scottish Secretary, gives the Prime Minister and Government a golden opportunity to begin to show some sympathy for the English taxpayer. Why, asks Lord Forsyth, do Scottish or Greek or German or Polish or any EU student get free tuition at Scottish universities but students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland have to pay fees of up to £36,000? He writes:
"This is a vicious and divisive policy that is guaranteed to stoke resentment. The injustice is compounded as English taxpayers, under the Barnett formula, are contributing nearly a quarter more per head to spending in Scotland than they are spending on themselves."
Michael Forsyth isn't just bringing up this complaint for no good reason. He says the Coalition has the power to address this unfairness by amending the Scotland Bill, currently going through parliament:
"I have tabled an amendment that prevents Holyrood denying people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland the rights it has given to people in other European Union states. EU law outlaws discrimination between member states, but not, apparently, within them. It is this loophole that Mr Salmond is exploiting."
Mr Cameron should accept the amendment and deliver some fairness for 'Rest of UK' taxpayers, parents and students.