So, the Scottish referendum is all over and done with for now; the politics of fear having finally overcome the politics of hope; and we can now safely retire to our normal state of political apathy, safe in the knowledge that our 300-year-old union is still safe and secure in the hands of the politicians, bankers, business leaders, foreign commentators, lobbyists and newspaper editors, whose opinions undoubtedly helped to determine the final outcome of this extremely important national debate.
Clearly no-one should be surprised that the Better Together campaign were keen to highlight the rather obvious and numerous issues and potential dangers that would face an independent Scotland and it's native population, including the subjects of a national currency, debt, employment, healthcare, as well as a myriad of other competencies that any newly independent country might face, once it emerged from the relative safety of a longstanding economic and political union. What was perhaps more surprising was that the fact that the separatist movement utterly failed to offer the electorate a reasoned and compelling argument to such obvious concerns, other than to suggest that they were either disingenuous or unrealistic. It was hardly a surprise therefore that a majority of Scottish voters, in the quiet of the polling booth; and having considered vital issues such as their mortgages, pensions, borrowing, as well as their shared histories and experiences, ultimately decided to stick with what they knew, rather than what they didn't. In other words they chose to put their heads before their hearts and in some respects they should therefore be commended for taking, what was in the circumstances, the most reasonable decision they were being offered.
Of course in reality and thanks in no small part to the actions of the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Scotland and its people didn't have to face a stark choice of "something" or "nothing", but instead were latterly offered a third option of "more something", in the form of a Devo-Max option, which British Prime Minister David Cameron had initially refused to the Scottish people. As one commentator put it, not only was Scotland having its cake and eat it, but was subsequently given some of the other British nation's cake as a sweetener. Now, with the exceptions of National Defence, Foreign Policy and overall Economic Policy, a newly engaged Scotland will be offered almost unilateral control of its own taxes, healthcare, welfare, education and pretty much every other social, economic and political competency that might otherwise be deemed to make a nation independent.
For both pro-unionists and pro-independence supporters in Scotland these proposed new economic and political arrangements much surely represent a win-win solution to a serious constitutional issue that has not and will not go away forever. As a semi-autonomous Scotland gains increasing amounts of power from the centre, so over time many of the issues that this time have proved to be a barrier to full independence will inevitably be swept away, as future Scottish administrations take steps to address the outstanding concerns about a national currency, debt, investment, employment and healthcare, through the use of their own newly acquired tax raising and revenue spending powers. Just how long it will be before a new Scottish Independence campaign takes hold in that country is uncertain, but given that Mr Cameron's Coalition government, courtesy of Gordon Brown, have already agreed to offer a form of "Home Rule" to Scotland, the prospect of yet another referendum on the subject, doesn't seem to be that far away.
Such future developments though, almost certainly presuppose that Mr Cameron and his coalition government can actually get such wide-ranging proposals through the House of Commons in the first place, which isn't as assured as one might first suppose. With one wary eye on next year's General Election, a significant number of sitting Conservative MP's are thought to be concerned that too many concessions to the Scots might play very badly with an already irritated English electorate, especially one that sees itself being disadvantaged by a further transfer of powers to Scotland's devolved parliament. Even though the Devo-Max option has only been offered to the Scottish electorate in the past couple of weeks, already a number of leading Tory backbenchers have called for their English voters to be granted similar powers, in return for the measures receiving their support in Westminster.
In response to this growing backlash, this morning Prime Minister Cameron has publicly announced that the three remaining British electorates, English, Welsh and Northern Irish can expect to receive further devolved powers, in the wake of his government's offer to the Scottish people. It might be argued therefore that in essence Great Britain, or the United Kingdom as we have previously known it, is in fact going to be dead and buried, to be replaced by a new federation of four individual nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each of these four distinct entities will have its own political executive, responsible for the provision of its various day-to-day services, including tax raising and revenue spending, whilst an overarching British political administration would continue to be responsible for shared interests such as defence, foreign affairs and overall economic policy.
However, with the European Union already attempting to take control of a shared defence strategy, as well as a common foreign and overseas policy and the European Central Bank increasingly at the heart of European financial planning, one can only speculate to just how long it will be before even these vitally important instruments of government are essentially sub-contracted out, bringing an end to the concept of Great Britain, as a separate entity entirely.
The more cynical and sceptical amongst us might have cause to be alarmed at some of the suggestions currently being put forward by the likes of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, to essentially carve up our country into either regional or metropolitan bodies, even though such regionalisation and localisation has already been rejected by the English electorate when they were offered city mayors and regional assemblies. Already we have had Police & Crime Commissioners foisted on local communities without their permission, with the result that most were elected without any meaningful public mandate and without the means to sack them if they have acted against the public interest. Quite how such unrepresentative, unwanted and virtually unaccountable creations can ever be regarded as actually benefiting the local communities they purport to serve is beyond reason, although obviously reason seems to play little part in the thinking and planning processes of the Westminster elite, who are generally the architects of such insufferable and ill-thought-out designs.
At the same time, one of the most obvious problems facing the creation of these proposed new semi-autonomous national assemblies or parliaments is that posed by the "West Lothian Question", which is the entitlement of Scottish MP's to debate and vote on entirely English matters in Westminster. Currently, a significant number of Liberal Democrat and Labour MP's represent Scottish constituencies and as such are entitled to vote on any and all matters in the House of Commons, including those involving entirely English issues. For many English representatives in the House, it is absurd that a person who is essentially a foreign MP can have influence over and vote on issues unrelated to his or her own country, whilst an English MP has absolutely no right or influence over what happens in Scotland. In order to address this particular issue it has been suggested that either England needs its own full-time assembly, to mirror those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; or alternatively that an English only parliament, comprising only English elected MP's, is held on specific days of the week at Westminster and would exclude any Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MP's from voting on such English only matters.
On the face of it, it would seem to make sense and be cheaper to go for the second option; that of having English only days at Westminster, from which foreign MP's were excluded. However, it has been argued that these excluded representatives, who hold no place within their own country's separately elected assemblies would almost inevitably become second-class MP's, ostensibly because they are only employed by and involved with wholly "British" parliamentary matters, rather than British, English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish ones. With the Liberal Democrats having eleven Scottish MP's within parliament and the Labour Party forty-one representatives in the House, it is easy to understand quite why neither party would be keen to adopt such a practice, because for them to do so would automatically diminish their party's political influence in the Commons. It may even be the case that a future Labour Party will win a future General Election, but be unable to complete any of its government business because its forty-one Scottish MP's are prevented from sitting in Westminster when English only legislation is both being debated and voted on.
With such potentially damaging problems facing all of the three mainstream parties in Westminster and given the low calibre of most of the elected representatives sitting in the Commons, there is undoubtedly a real risk that poorly constructed and cobbled together solutions will be adopted, simply to get the necessary Scottish legislation onto the Statute book before the next General Election in May 2015. Having found himself caught up in a constitutional crisis of his own making, firstly by offering the SNP an independence referendum in the first place, then by underestimating the size of the task itsef; and finally, by allowing Gordon Brown to offer a form of Home Rule to the Scottish electorate, Mr Cameron now finds himself with the mammoth task of having to fundamentally rebuild the entire British parliamentary system from scratch.
Not only has he got to satisfy the heightened expectations of the Scottish people, whilst the SNP leadership continues to badger and harry him, but he has to try and replicate that idea of Home Rule for the English, the Welsh and the Northern Ireland electorates as well; and all of them before May 2015, which is only some eight months away. In order to make that work to everyone's satisfaction he has to solve the problem of an English only assembly or parliament, resolve the question of the Barnet formula with regards to regional funding, draft legislation to authorise tax raising powers for the various regional authorities, create a means of federalising the four new British regions, authorise the transfer of increased regional control over education, healthcare, welfare, taxes, etc; as well as carry out any other government business that needs to be completed before the end of the current parliament in May 2015. Such a task would be near impossible even if everything and everyone was onboard with the government, but it is hard to imagine that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Tory backbenchers, the SNP, Welsh Labour or the various Northern Ireland parties won't find something to complain about as the individual regional settlements are in the process of being constructed.
In some respects Mr Cameron couldn't have done more damage to Britain, its reputation, its regions, its constitution or its people, had he put them all in a box, given them a good shake and then thrown them up in the air, just to see where they would land. What with his administration's austerity measures, student fees, gay marriage, foreign policy, their Libyan adventure, bedroom tax, lack of negotiations over Europe and his catastrophic handling of the Scottish Independence issue, it is perhaps no surprise at all that we now find ourselves in a much more perilous position constitutionally that we have ever been before in our history. With leadership such as his, tainted as it is by the divisiveness and federalist ideology of his deputy, Mr Clegg, no-one should be surprised that our four nations are systematically being driven further and further apart from one another, but then, maybe that was the intention all along?