Next year looks like being a crucial one for politics. We can be sure of at least one general election – and maybe a second will follow in quick succession. There is every prospect of a hung parliament, of major constitutional crises surrounding Scotland and “English votes for English laws”, of more powers for English regions or counties, of a revived debate about electoral reform, and of yet more agonising about the UK’s relationship with the European Union. But of all of these, the issue that carries the most destructive potential is that of Scottish devolution.
Barring an unexpected Liberal Democrat revival in the constituency of Gordon, Alex Salmond will return to Westminster next year. For a man defeated in the referendum, he shows little sign of being cowed or dispirited. Given the current poll ratings of the SNP and Labour, he may indeed soon be restored to his full pomp, and be the master of the destinies of whichever party manages to scrape together enough support to form a government, holding a veto over the Queen’s Speech and vital pieces of legislation. Mr Salmond can be expected to act, if not on a whim, then mostly on the basis of the interests of Scotland alone. He should certainly use his power to ensure that the solemn promises to the Scottish people made in the last days of the referendum campaign by Gordon Brown are honoured. But it would be an abuse of his position to wreck the governance of Britain.
We report that Mr Salmond may drop the previous and honourable SNP convention of opting out of parliamentary votes that don’t affect Scotland. In doing so he would add resentment to confusion, neither of which will help Scotland reach an amicable new settlement with the rest of the Union. Still, if he wants to provoke a fresh referendum on Scottish independence – this time demanded by the people of England – he would be going the right way about it. Either way, the outlook is increasingly toxic. We will be living through interesting times, as they say.Reuse content