I do not doubt that, as the campaign posters and canvass returns get filed away, there are many lessons to be learnt about how the two sides pitched their respective cases. The political dynamics in Scotland appeared to shift, but the response from Westminster was deeply deficient and the issues raised now cannot be ignored or put to one side any longer. No-one in Scotland had the opportunity to defend the status quo in yesterday’s poll: and responsibility for that lies squarely with the Prime Minister who rejected the option of ‘devo-max’ on the ballot paper, only to re-instate it by party leader press release within days of the vote.
Now that the campaign is over, there are a large number of major questions to be answered. In 2010, the Conservative party promised to address the issue of Scottish MPs voting on matters affecting only English constituencies. We cannot wait any longer for a proper debate about the constitutional settlement – not least given the smack of desperation about the changing prospectus from the ‘No’ campaign in the last few weeks. Did the country not throw out Gordon Brown’s discredited administration more than four years’ ago? How on earth was he given licence to pronounce on government policy, promising new powers like candy, apparently on behalf of the government. And there wasn’t even a whisper in the House of Commons from any of the party front benches about these far-reaching and major constitutional issues.
At the very least, I want to see Parliament recalled this week so that these issues can finally be given appropriate consideration. Gordon Brown’s promised timetable seems improbably optimistic, and can only erode further the trust between Scottish voters and Westminster. But this is no longer an issue about Scotland alone: emphatically, the relationship between the various parts of our country has changed forever: very considerable thought to this is an imperative. We need to address the imbalance that has created a resentment and sense of disadvantage in many English households and businesses.
For example, it is preposterous that we might conclude this Parliament with MPs representing Scottish constituencies still having more say on the delivery of public services in Northampton than they can in their own communities. We must also re-visit the Barnett formula, which is out-dated and pays no real regard to local needs across the different parts of the country. But on the other hand, time is running out – and constitutional issues must be framed to last, and cannot be fudged.
Devolution gave the nationalists a platform in the Scottish Parliament which they have exploited to the full. Where we find ourselves now is deeply unsatisfactory, and unacceptable to many who live in England. We don’t want yet another set of politicians in England; but it is clear that a more dedicated English focus needs to be given to our affairs in future. I am sympathetic to John Redwood’s idea of using the facilities of our existing Parliament for days to be designated as available for the transaction of our business alone.
What is clear is that this mess will require very careful handling. It might well be that this morning’s champagne is flowing from ‘Better Together’ wine cellars, but we should be in no doubt that this was a victory for nationalism in our country. We need to put together a new constitutional settlement, and we have no time to waste in bringing forward that debate.