Lib Dem members back ‘devo-max’ for Scotland (oh, and for England too, please)

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 570 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Majority say referendum should offer straight yes/no choice on independence…

LDV asked: Thinking of the forthcoming referendum in Scotland, some have said the referendum should offer people the straight choice over whether Scotland should remain part of the UK or negotiate independence. Others however say that a third option should be included on the ballot paper, offering people the chance to vote for an extension of powers for the Scottish parliament. Regardless of how you would vote, do you think the referendum should…?

    54% – Be a straight choice over independence
    38% – Include a third option to extend the powers of the Scottish parliament
    2% – Neither
    5% – Don’t know / No opinion

A clear majority of our survey of party members are in no doubt: 54% of you say the 2014 referendum should offer voters a straight yes/no choice on Scottish independence. A large minority of 38%, however, prefer a third option to be put before the voters.

There are difficulties with either approach. A straight choice referendum would ensure all parties opposed to the break-up of the UK campaigned for a ‘no’ vote — yet if the ‘no’ vote were overwhelming would there later be the appetite for a second referendum to alter the status quo? However, if a third choice is on the ballot paper it’s quite possible that no single option will garner more than 50% of the vote — and a significant constitutional change without majority support is hard to imagine. A lot therefore turns on this issue of how you ask the question — YouGov’s Peter Kellner has a good post on the topic here.

… However, 78% favour second referendum on ‘devo-max’ if independence rejected

If the Scottish people reject independence in a straight choice yes/no referendum, would you then support or oppose moves to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

    78% – Support: the Scottish people should still have the chance to vote for increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament
    15% – Oppose: if independence is rejected there should be no further change
    7% – Don’t know / No opinion

A much more clear-cut result here: almost four-fifths of you think the rejection of independence in a straight choice referendum shouldn’t be the end of Scotland’s chance to increase self-government.

‘Devo-max’ the preferred option of almost half Lib Dems

From the following three options facing Scotland, which would you be most likely to support if you had a vote?

    28% – No change to the current powers of the Scottish parliament
    47% – ‘Devo-max’ – a further significant devolution of all financial matters to the Scottish Parliament while Defence and Foreign policy remain reserved UK issues
    15% – Full independence for Scotland from the UK
    Don’t know / No opinion

Almost half Lib Dem members backed the ‘devo-max’ option — however, a significant minority (28%) back the status quo, almost double the proportion (15%) who favour full independence for Scotland. Here’s a sample of your comments:

Full devolution is consistent with Lib Dem ideology of devolving all power to the most local level possible.

Devo-max with a requirement that the Scottish Pound and the UK Pound became separate currencies to avoid misalignment of fiscal and monetary policy, and a further requirement that Scotland became responsible for its proportion of the national debt.

Somewhere between no change and devo-max. Devo-middle? Financial matters are tied to the UK – so it is perhaps right that some issues are debated on and voted on at Westminster.

I am amazed and concerned that the Party’s long term policy of Home Rule is not an option – devo max is not Hme Rule.

Whatever the Scottish people choose.

Can’t have your cake and eat it. Unfair to rest of UK. The RBS fiasco good case in point. Scotland alone could not have dealt with this. Would have resulted in Iceland/Ireland all over again. English taxpayers would still be expected to bail out Scotland.

This question should be addressed as part of the federalisation process, not for one part of the UK alone.

Three-quarters support either English parliament or regional assemblies

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved parliaments legislating on matters affecting their own countries on issues like health and education. However, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can vote on issues only of relevance to England at Westminster. In view of this, which of these options would you prefer?

    35% – Support the establishment of an English parliament deciding on England-only matters
    41% – Support the establishment of regional assemblies throughout England to legislate on matters as happens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
    15% – Keep things as they are
    2% – Abolish the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and make all decisions at Westminster
    7% – Don’t know / No opinion

An interestingly mixed response, one which surprised me — I hadn’t expected 35% of Lib Dem members to back an English-only parliament. Many of the comments suggested this was based on two main issues: 1) it’s the cheapest, easiest option, and 2) the rejection of regional assemblies when championed by John Prescott suggests there’s not the public appetite for them yet. Here’s a selection of your comments:

Regional parliaments make logical sense but would be politically difficult to sell. a careful compromise would be needed.

None of these, but establish a constitutional convention which states that MPs from devolved nations are not to vote on issues which, in their nation, are devolved to them

Federal systems work when one component cannot outvote the others. An English parliament about 80% the same as Westminster would be pointless.

The principle of localism leads me to believe that devolution in England to regional assemblies would be a good step, although the way Westminster works would have to be reformed in response to this.

More power should be devolved in England but I don’t think regional assemblies will work. It would be better to tap into establihsed areas that have some identity. The larger counties pay provides this, for example Kent and Hampshire are both bigger than some US states. Yorkshire has an obvious strong identity too. You could devolve power to large county councils while reforming them with a different electoral system.

An English Parliament would create extreme asymmetry between England and the other nations because it is so big – it would be no less remote and would put people in England at a disadvantage.

Let England make decisions which cannot be made by smaller authorities, and let all other decisions be made by the smaller authorities. That’s how localism works.

Devolution should apply equally to English matters as it does in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those politicians not accountable to the voters in England should not be able to decide on England only matters.

I don’t support arbitrary regional assemblies however I would like councils to have more powers, similar to the Welsh assembly.

An English Parliament would be just as dominated by London and the South East as the UK one is, if not more so.

The “West Lothian Question” will not go away until England has equivalent devolution, whether regionally or nationally (I don’t care which). But this implies a “Barnett Formula” style settlement for England or the regions, the absence of which just now justifies Scottish and Welsh MPs having the right to vote on issues devolved in their own countries since, otherwise, English MPs could theoretically vote a disproportionate amount of money to be spent on English-only services.

As Labour attempted (but gave up on after the failed North East referendum) we should move to a system of regional assemblies – a sort of quasi federalism.

I have always been a passionate supporter of regional devolution and totally oppose the current Westminster view that the NE referendum settled the issue. It was a correct assessment of a very poor offer from the Labour Government

If there was any evidence for support for regional government then I would choose that, but – outside of Cornwall – there just isn’t, Prescott managed to destroy any goodwill. An English Parliament that was (a) not based in London and (b) elected proportionately – along the Scottish Parliament lines – might be a good way to balance the Tory might at Westminster.

None of the above! We need to find mechanisms for devolving more power within England (not to England) without creating regional assemblies that have no resonance with English people. Start with local government and consortia of local authorities

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 570 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 31st January and 4th February.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    31 Comments

    • This is something that needs progressing through conference I think… We’re supposed to be a federalist party, let us put forward that argument to the public. It can play a part in defining what we are, not what we’re not.

    • Paul Griffiths 12th Feb '12 - 10:50am

      Devo-max is a slogan, not something concrete that you can vote for or against. Constitutional issues are reserved to Westminster. Besides, this is only an opinion poll.

    • introducing regional assemblies in England is the type of thing that should only be done if the people of England vote for it, and the plebiscite should be conducted by an English paliament, not the British one. The Brits have no right to have a say in the governance of England (let’s face it, they’ve been pretty bloody ordinary, to use a good Australian phrase, in their ‘efforts on England’s behalf’). Try doing waht the people of England want, and not what the political classes want for England. What England in particular, and the ‘Union’ in general, needs is an English parliament, executive and first minister, like Scoland has.

    • Richard Swales 12th Feb '12 - 11:05am

      The Tories (as part of the UK-governing coalition) have every right to impose their will on Scotland as regards reserved powers such as the constitution.

      Scottish people who don’t see a government elected in a UK-wide vote their legitimate government don’t see themselves as politically British and should vote for independence not devo-max.

      As a thought experiment, let’s look at a different Devo-max proposal:

      England to have it’s own parliament to vote on everything but foreign affairs and defence.
      UK parliament to vote on foreign affairs and defence, as well as all other matters for Scotland.
      No Scotland-only parliament.
      The above changes to come into effect after an England-only referendum.

      If the above seems unacceptable to you, please tell me why swapping the words England and Scotland should suddenly make it acceptable.

    • Let’s start talking about federalism. Just because Prescott made a mess of the NE Assembly option doesn’t take it off the agenda. Proper powers are needed for assemblies to redress the problem of London centric decision making.

    • Regional Assemblies……it’s a fantasy.
      Imagine the North-East having control over say, NHS. They could implement free prescriptions. The South-West may increase prescription charges. As if the unfair, un-democratic, unequal mess we have now could be improved by cutting England into EU bite-size chunks.
      There is only one solution. An English Parliament with powers equal to that of Scotland. Raise the Welsh and N.Irish assemblies to equal status. Create a Federal Government for reserved powers and house it in the Lords. In doing so we rid ourselves of 800 peers and their massive expense. sorted!

    • London has 73 MP’s. Of these 37 are Labour and 7 Lib Dem. There are 28 Tory MP’s. So London is not exactly Tory dominated. With an English Parliament elected by PR there is no reason to suppose that the Tories would be dominant. There are also plenty of Tory voters in the North of England as this map shows:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/

      It is also interesting to note that Labour has very little support in the North of Scotland. If regional assemblies are appropriate for England instead of an English Parliament then surely the same argument applies to Scotland? Why not get rid of the Scottish Parliament and set up a North of Scotland RA and a South of Scotland RA. The same also applies to Wales. Get rid of the Welsh Assembly and set up a North Wales Assembly and a South Wales Assembly.

    • Support for a full English Parliament is higher than there was support for a Scottish Welsh or NI parliament, The Idea of regional assmebies is not only expensive, it’s not wanted high cost and rather offensive and discriminatory given that Scotland NI and Wales all got national assemblies and not chopped up, it would be a very foolish political stance to go for regional discrimination to the English especially now how we pay for the rest of the UK at our expence. The UK as we know it is coming to an End, this is being hastened by the lack or equality to England and the peoples overwhelming wish for an English Parliament. A federal UK is the best way to save the UK.

    • Richard Swales, constitutionally any Westminster government has the right to impose its will, with respect to non-devolved powers, on Scotland. However, if Scotland has indisputably rejected a Tory government by a considerable margin, and given it’s status as a country within a kingdom, then a Westminster government run by Tories lacks a mandate and most probably democratic legitimacy as far as Scotland is concerned.

      The arguments for devo-max rest on the fact that Scotland, ever since the Act of Union, has maintained a separate legal system, a separate education system, a separate state religion and a separate culture. In addition to this, it has also always had control over its own NHS and its own social services. This made devolution for Scotland relatively easy legislatively, as already clearly divided powers simply had to be handed over to Edinburgh from Westminster.

      It’s really not as simply as switching words.

    • Alex is right. Devo Max is really just a construct invented by the SNP to confuse the issue of independence and draw fire from that (which, sadly, it is doing.) Willie Rennie has actually been quite vocal in talking about Home Rule again, though, so the Scottish Lib Dems are doing what they can to get the message across.

    • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '12 - 7:09pm

      I agree with Iain!

    • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '12 - 7:27pm

      The Scots and Welsh, like the Irish before them are able draw on a National identity to highlight the issues of being governed from London. My gut feeling is that this is the key issue. The further you are from the South East, the less seriously your opinion is considered. It doesn’t really matter if you are Cornish, Scots Welsh or Lancastrian!
      It really is about time the English regions gave serious consideration to federalism. John Prescott should have done better but we all know how the (London-centric) press played the ‘not more wasteful government’ card. This is surely an area of policy where we can offer coherent arguements and benefits to local communities. If we have an English Parliament it must not be sited in London, otherwise we are only going to get more of the same! Smaller regionally based assemblies would be more representative of each area within a greater Britain.

    • Paul Griffiths 12th Feb '12 - 8:43pm

      I’m surprised that so many people are still flogging the regional government horse. There is no way to breathe life into this corpse. And no need either. Local government can take the bulk of devolution, with an English Parliament to mop up what remains.

    • Old Codger Chris 12th Feb '12 - 10:36pm

      Is there any evidence that the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have delivered better government than the previous arrangements? As an Englishman, I ask in a spirit of enquiry.

    • Richard Swales 13th Feb '12 - 5:25pm

      @g – If Scotland has a separate NHS, legal system and state religion from England, then England also has a separate NHS, legal system and state religion from Scotland. If the first is somehow an argument why Scotland can be a defacto independent country yet continue to have a say in the affairs of England, then why doesn’t the second mean the reverse can apply?
      Try swapping the top-up fees situation. Let’s imagine English MPs had voted in the UK parliament for top-up fees to apply to Scottish students, knowing that the English parliament had already saved English students from them. Sorry, I still think that swapping England for Scotland in all these proposals (except full independence) show how wrong they are.

      Secondly, Scotland is a nation in the UK, but has never had and should never have veto power over UK-wide matters such as the constitution. If they want that kind of power over their own constitution then they have to declare independence, the same as every other self-declared “nation” in the world with an ounce of self-respect has done or tried to do.

    • Keith Browning 13th Feb '12 - 7:07pm

      Why don’t we have one big referendum on which parts of GB plc we do and dont want.

      Scotland
      Wales
      Northern Ireland
      Channel Isles
      Falklands
      Isle of Man

      If as I suspect the English would ditch most of these, perhaps we could then return to just being a small part of an insignificant island off the coast of Europe. Rather like before the Romans arrived.

      None of this international postering, pretending to be what we are not. None of those Celtic nations whingeing on all the time. Just a small country that could play a bit of cricket in the summer and dance around the maypole once a year. Sounds wonderful. Any takers?

    • Richard Swales 13th Feb '12 - 7:19pm

      @Jeremy
      The right to self-determination is something that happens to other people, not the English.

    • Malcolm Todd 13th Feb '12 - 11:14pm

      @Richard – Scotland doesn’t have a different legal system from England, it has a different legal system from England and Wales. So, no, they’re not simply reversible.

      But anyway, this “England should have a vote too” stuff is thoroughly confused. By all means demand a vote on creating an English parliament, if that’s what you want (I’d possibly vote in favour of it myself). Campaign within your chosen party for such a policy, or if that fails, vote for a party that already supports it. But don’t use your failure to win an argument within England for self-determination as an excuse for denying the Scots their right. Scotland has voted, overwhelmingly, for many years, for parties that support the establishment of a Scottish parliament (with or without independence from Westminster). That’s what puts them in a position to control their own destiny.

      Of course, if the rest of the UK (which is not the same as “England”) doesn’t want to accept a federal or asymmetric union with Scotland, it would be perfectly within its rights to say “If you want your own parliament you have to leave the UK”. So far, there doesn’t seem to have been much appetite for that sort of approach to negotiations.

    • Richard Swales 14th Feb '12 - 10:10am

      @Malcolm – Yes, it’s true that England shares it’s legal system with Wales, but it’s also irrelevant. Again, if it were the case that it was Scotland that shared its legal system with Wales, we would not see England’s independent legal system as somehow giving its voters the right to elect people to impose rules on Scotland-only that would not apply in England, so therefore why do some people think it is acceptable for Scottish voters to elect people to (for example) impose top-up fees on English students only? The separate legal system argument doesn’t wash. Further, the fact that they have wanted a one-sided deal for a long time and in large numbers doesn’t mean they have any right to it.

      Rather than an England-only parliament, removing Scottish MPs from Westminister or England-only votes would make more sense. It is unfortunate that this is something we need to campaign for as the Scottish MPs themselves seem unwilling to abstain on England-only issues. By posting on Lib Dem voice I am campaigning within my chosen party.

      It’s interesting how the most outrageous demands are always presented in the third person. I would be interested to see a Scottish MP (or voter) make the case for why Scottish MPs shouldn’t abstain at Westminister when voting on, for example, England and Wales criminal law. “We have a different legal system in Scotland therefore I have the moral right to vote on England and Wales law” is unlikely to be one of the arguments.

      There is not so much appetite for the “in or out” approach to negotiations from politicians, but the growing numbers of English respondents in favour of Scottish independence in polls since devolution may well support such an approach.

      By the way my previous post was meant to be @Keith.

    • Richard,

      You’re presenting the West Lothian Question as if it’s something people want, or are comfortable with, or is a “right” that is being defended by the Scots, rather than simply an unfortunate side-effect of devolution. No one thinks it’s acceptable that MPs from Scottish constituencies should be allowed a vote on matters than only affect English voters. Well, no one except the parliamentary Labour and Lib Dem parties, who have both so far failed to match the SNP in declining to vote on such matters at Westminster (the Tories, but with only one MP from Scotland, are an irrelevance). Of course, thanks to the way the Scottish Parliament’s pocket money is calculated, there are very few bills even on devolved matters which don’t indirectly affect Scotland’s budget, so it’s not as simple as requiring Scottish MPs to abstain on all English matters, and that’s why it’s not been done yet.

      But the West Lothian Question is no more iniquitous than than the Church of England Question, for example, whereby we have holy men from a church which is only established in England (as if that gives them any legitimacy in the first place!) sitting in the house of lords debating, amending and voting on bills relating to reserved matters, such as welfare reform, which apply to the whole of the UK.

      And have you seen any of the Lords’ debates on the Scotland Bill? They’re hilarious. A load of unelected, mostly English political has-beens and never-have-beens lining up to be mean about the SNP, who of course don’t have any representation there at all.

      The point is, the whole UK “constitution” is an unholy, creaking mess, so singling out just one of its many contradictions is surely missing the point. Yes, under Devo Max (or whatever you want to call it) the West Lothian Question would be an even bigger issue than it is at present and would need to be dealt with rather than ignored. I personally, don’t think it can be done, but I wouldn’t argue, as you seem to be doing, that it shouldn’t even be attempted by those who, for some unfathomable reason, still see something in this mess worth saving.

    • @RichardSwales

      Scottish voter here! Of course, Scottish MPs should not vote on England only issues. It really isn’t an issue for people in Scotland. The SNP already follows that policy. It is the Unionist parties ( all three of them) who continue to require their MPs to do so. So perhaps the Lib Dems should start by not allowing their Scottish MPs to vote on England-only issues and not speaking on them either.

    • Could a Lib Dem please explain what their policy on Home Rule is? In Scotland we understand that you have been thinking about it for a century and have just set up another commission to look at it? How is it different from Devo Max ( i.e. fiscal autonomy with shared foreign and defense policies?)

    • Presumably there are also Mid-Glamorgan and County Tyrone Questions as Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can also vote on England only issues?

    • Richard Swales 14th Feb '12 - 4:38pm

      @Ivan. I wasn’t aware that the SNP were already abstaining. We should put pressure on our own MPs to follow suit. It’s true that there are many contradictions in the consitution, many have been there a long time. The point about devolution is that it is intrroducing new contradictions. Of course hopefully the independence vote will go Yes and we can look forward to better relations between Scots and English on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

    • Jim Halcrow 17th Feb '12 - 3:03pm

      @Hireton

      Another Scottish voter here! Scottish MPs should only vote on English projects if funding is coming straight out of UK Treasury funds. If funding has been set aside through an English Block grant or a Block Grant to a particular English Region then Scottish MPs should not vote.

      I have been a Liberal Home Ruler for most of my life and I support Devo Max. Power has been over-centralized in the EU so there should be devolution of power from the EU right down to Local Authorities. I want to be able to be able to vote NO to Independence in Europe because that is all that Alex Salmond can offer under the Lisbon Treaty. Independence in Europe means satellite status not real Independence. Sadly the (British) Unionist Parties (all three of them) are all committed to Tory Policies so I also want to be able to vote NO to the British Union in its present form.

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