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Conservative politicians are mobilising to demand a proper settlement for English voters after the three main political parties pledged to hand more powers to the Scottish parliament.
John Redwood said more than 100 colleagues were backing his campaign to ensure that England was also given more powers – and even its own parliament separate to Westminster – as part of the settlement promised this week by all three party leaders in an attempt to convince Scots to reject independence in next week’s referendum.
“We need English votes for English issues and well over 100 of my colleagues think we need to do something for England,” said the former Welsh secretary.
“Yes or No, we are going to have a different country after 2016. If Scotland stays in, it is going to be a looser federation and there has got to be a strong English government to match a strong Scottish government. There has to be fairness in this settlement.”
The push comes amid mutterings of discontent among many Tories over their leadership’s decision to offer the Scots greater devolution in return for staying part of the UK. With all three parties this week pulling together in a last-ditch No campaign, those tensions began to surface on Wednesday during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Tory MP Christopher Chope told William Hague, leader of the House, who was deputising for the prime minister, that it had been government policy since 2012 not to offer “devo-max” – further devolution to Scotland – in the event of a No vote.
“If this is no longer the policy of the government, when and why did it change?” he asked. “And what opportunity has there been for this House to express its view?”
Mr Redwood asked Mr Hague who in government would represent England in talks over the new devolution settlement should Scotland reject independence in next week’s ballot. “Who speaks for England? Because we need a voice and a new deal.”
The three party leaders this week rushed out plans to transfer more tax raising and spending powers – although divisions remain over exactly what those powers should be – after polls over the weekend showed the independence vote hung in the balance. However, MPs have not been briefed over the proposals.
Mr Hague told the House of Commons on Wednesday a full draft Scotland Bill would be published by the end of the January. “It means immediate action the day after the referendum to start the legislative process.”
Helen Thompson, reader in politics at the University of Cambridge, said the decision to offer Scots greater devolution would threaten the very existence of the Union over time.
“You cannot give this much fiscal prerogative to Scotland and not to other countries in the Union. By trying to save the Union, they are destroying it. Even if the Scots vote No, it is very hard to see how the Union can remain intact over the longer-term.”
With the Scottish vote just eight days away, Labour and Conservatives are divided over how devolution might work in both Scotland and England. Labour’s existing offer for the English regions falls far short of the kind of England-only parliament advocated by some Tory MPs.
Instead, the recent Adonis review promised to devolve £30bn of funding to councils that create large groupings along the lines of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It also proposed a somewhat bigger share of business rates than at present.