For most of the weekend, the news has been on a loop. It consists of ‘Gordon Brown’s vow’, ‘Ed Miliband blusters’, ‘Alex Salmond calls us all liars’ and ‘David Cameron sees his chance’. At this point, I’m wishing it had been a ‘Yes’ vote, just to shut everybody up. Because, as important as our constitution is, there are other important things going on in the world – ISIL are still terrorising the Middle East and we’re sat on our hands infighting. I understand why no moves to join in properly with the air strikes were made before the referendum but we need to push our internal resentments aside and join with our allies. I hope people on both sides of the Scottish debate would recognise that constitutional change while groups like ISIL remain a threat would be like tinkering with the car engine despite knowing a meteor is about to hit – extremely short-sighted.
Of course, this isn’t to say we can’t multi-task. We need a good balance between focusing on the larger problems across the world (Russia’s another one) and national introspection. Which is another good reason why constitutional change cannot and should not be rushed. I’ve seen a lot this weekend about Gordon Brown’s ‘promise’ being broken. I’ve become almost hoarse saying that Gordon Brown is not in government and therefore could not make a binding promise.
Before anyone screams at me, I’m not backtracking on the idea of devolution at all. As I said on Friday, though, I believe we need to do it properly. We can’t stick to an artificial timetable just because an ex-Prime Minister says so. This timetable hasn’t been put to a parliamentary vote yet and, more importantly, it hasn’t been put to the British people. I say ‘British’ and I mean ‘British’ – this time devolution has the opportunity to affect us all and I’m afraid if the Scots have to wait a little while because of that then that’s the way it is. Apparently a good percentage of Scottish voters see the inherent problems in Scottish MPs voting on English-only legislation. Can these reasonable people give us five minutes to catch our breath and work out what’s to be done about it? We’re not denying you your devolution, just trying to grasp some of our own.
Amending our entire political system quickly would be a disaster. Ed Miliband wants a constitutional convention next autumn: that is untenable. Miliband hopes to deflect the issue; he hopes to get into power (utilising Scottish MPs to win, of course) then fudge things from there. He’s repeated this weekend that he doesn’t really believe in ‘English votes for English laws’ because it puts him at a disadvantage electorally (not that he said that, naturally). Miliband will get through this round of Scottish devolution according to Gordon Brown’s timetable and hope the rest of us just shut up. I’m not sure that’s going to work this time.
David Cameron is guilty of opportunism. Weakening Labour’s electoral chances was too great a prize for some Tories to pass up and perhaps that’s why they’re suddenly dancing around at the idea of ‘English votes for English laws’. Opportunistic, it may be, but it is most certainly right. It just can’t be rushed, that’s all.
The Labour conference this week is momentous. I’ll be watching closely to see what Miliband’s speech contains. Any more hopeless platitudes and I fear that his electoral campaign’s over before it’s really begun.