I have to say it comes as little surprise that within days of the Better Together campaign having managed to convince a majority of Scots to vote "NO" to independence, slowly but surely, the political consensus arrived at between the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in order to achieve that common goal is already starting to fall apart. But maybe that's what happens when you make policy up on the hoof, without any great thought being given to the possible long-term outcomes that result from making promises that are either impossible to keep, or that will almost certainly suffer from the effects of unintended consequences.
After all, it's pretty easy to promise people the earth, but not so easy to deliver that once such undertakings are considered in both the cold light of day and having fully taken into account everyone else's needs, opinions and demands. Consequently, it was pretty easy for a former Labour Prime Minister and Chancellor to promise the Scottish people the earth, if they stayed within the Union, but did anyone really imagine that the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland electorates wouldn't want, or demand exactly the same rights for themselves? It's all very well for a former Labour Prime Minister to make whatever promises he likes to a receptive home audience, but considering that elsewhere in the wider British Union he has no public mandate, no executive power and no personal moral authority, then who or what gives him the right to hand out new executive powers to Scotland, as if they were free party favours, or as if they were going out of fashion?
All of those things having been done, the words uttered, the promises issued however, it was perhaps inevitable that after the referendum victory the three main political parties, those who ostensibly stood behind such promises, would perhaps take stock of the resulting situation, to see just how much electoral advantage, if any, their own political party might derive from having promised so much power, to so few people. Just to clarify, it's worth remembering that although Scotland's geographical landmass might account for nearly a third of our United Kingdom, in people terms they represent around 10% of the total, whilst England, which was initially promised nothing at all by way of political change, accounts for approximately 80% of the UK's total population.
The three minor regions of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own form of devolved governments, which are based in their home countries, as well as full representation within the overarching British political establishment based in Westminster. In Scotland's case some fifty-nine elected MP's have been returned to Westminster, eleven of which are Liberal Democrats and forty-one of which are Labour MP's representing their various Scottish constituencies. In overall terms these elected Scottish MP's represent slightly less than 10% of the total number of MP's sitting in the House of Commons, which generally concurs with the size of the Scottish population within the UK as a whole.
However, given that Scotland has its own devolved assembly and therefore has overall executive control over a number of competencies; and with many more having been promised as a result of the independence referendum, the pre-existing West Lothian Question, involving Scottish MP's having direct influence over English only matters, is due to become an increasingly vexed issue within the British parliamentary system. Whilst the likes of Douglas Alexander, the Labour MP and Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat MP can influence, direct and vote on often purely English policy matters in the House of Commons, the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have absolutely no influence whatsoever over matters pertaining to devolved competencies within the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland assembles.
As is evident from the figures the main political beneficiaries from the West Lothian Question are the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, both of which have benefited from the toxicity of the Conservative Party, north of the border; and from the traditional support that they have managed to amass over time. Clearly, neither party is likely to willingly see their Scottish contingents removed or undermined within the House of Commons, as this would automatically reduce their party's overall political influence within Westminster as a whole; and yet that is exactly what needs to happen, in order to address the perplexing issue of the West Lothian Question. However, for the Labour Party specifically, the prospect of losing or surrendering the influence of forty-one of its elected Scottish MP's on English only matters in the Commons, would appear to be a sacrifice that the party are unwilling to make in order to make good on their shared promises and undertakings to the Scottish people. Within hours of the Better Together campaign having secured victory in the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, both Douglas Alexander and Danny Alexander had utterly refuted any suggestion that they might excuse themselves from any English only business within the House of Commons, at the same time accusing their Conservative opponents of simply playing "politics" over the impending constitutional crisis that will almost certainly envelop the entire United Kingdom.
No doubt there is an element of party politicking in Mr Cameron's proposals for English only MP's to vote on English only parliamentary business, if only to negate the electoral bias that the Labour Party has traditionally enjoyed within the UK's constitutional boundaries. That having been said however, it is perhaps no surprise that the Labour leadership are just as keen to exploit the current constitutional crisis for their own narrow party political benefit, by attempting to find an alternative solution within their own traditional Labour heartlands, in the regions, cities and larger metropolitan areas where their own support networks are particularly strong. Rather than just settling for a shared House of Commons, which might host separate "English" and "British" parliamentary sessions on different days of the week, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats would much rather fragment the country even further by devolving substantive powers to the cities and regions of England, their own party's areas of political influence, despite the fact that ordinary voters in such areas don't generally want or indeed need such localised executive powers.
But of course therein lies the real issue, the real purpose behind the suggestion from the likes of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, that rather than dispersing power from the centre to the people, they are in fact moving executive power from central government to their own regional or city power bases, where their parties tend to hold influence, where they have the political infrastructure, where they have the armies of activists on the ground. One only has to look at the likes of London and the other large metropolitan areas where the Labour Party has significant numbers of traditional supporters; and where it is jokingly said that you could pin a red rosette on a dog and see it elected to office. Imagine then if these regions, these metropolitan areas, these cities were handed real executive power, one where they could raise or lower taxes, choose where and what to spend all their monies on, choose who to pay welfare to, choose who to house, who to educate, who to treat, to care for? Try taking a look at the small number of cities that already have elected mayors. How representative are they? How effective are they? Do their citizens get any better treated, are they wealthier, happier, better fed, better housed, better educated, better represented?
Just how representative are the elected mayors of Liverpool and Leicester, when it was the councils of those two cities that took the decision to have a mayor, irrespective of what the local people may or may not have wanted? If elected mayors are such a major step forward, why did the electorates of both Stoke-on-Trent and Hartlepool vote to get rid of theirs and revert to a council leader and cabinet? If local people were so desperate for devolved powers, in the form of elected mayors, or regional assemblies, why in 2012 did only one city, Bristol, vote for a directly elected mayor and yet nine other cities rejected the idea? Up to May 2014 there are reported to have been fifty-one local referendums held with regard to the creation of an elected mayor, with sixteen cities choosing to have one, as opposed to thirty-five cities that rejected the idea, a ratio of roughly 2:1 against the post. Interestingly, average voter turnout for these referenda has been around 30%, although where YES campaigns have been successful the winning margin was thought to have averaged around 45%, the same level as the YES campaign for Scottish Independence, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Noticeably of the sixteen elected mayors currently in post in England, eight of them (50%) are Labour representatives, whilst two are Liberal Democrats, four are independents and the remaining two are Conservatives, perhaps illustrating why the Labour Party in particular believes that more devolution to the cities and regions of England is such an amazingly good idea.
Part of the problem is that we have successive governments endlessly listening to the likes of think tanks like ResPublica and others, who continually tell them what they should be doing to engage the voting public, how to spread the wealth and/or improve the lives of the UK population, but without taking the time to actually talk to the public themselves and find out what it is that they want, dream of, aspire to. More politicians, more lobbyists, more think tanks, more so-called experts, either national or local will not fix the fundamental problem that affects British political life, which is a basic distrust of, disinterest in and disengagement with politics generally and politicians specifically. After all, a crooked or incompetent politician, be they local, national or even international is still basically a crooked or incompetent individual, regardless of whether they're based in Brussels, London or Manchester. Not all national politicians are rubbish legislators or dire public administrators, just as not all local councillors are truly representative of their local communities, or indeed actually interested in the lives and troubles of their local constituents.
The fact that in the aftermath of the near constitutional disaster that was the Scottish Independence referendum all three major political parties instinctively reverted to type, in the narrow minded, adversarial, politically biased manner that they generally do, perhaps best illustrates why our four countries of the United Kingdom are where they are; and will no doubt continue to be so, for the foreseeable future. Putting it bluntly, if there's a way of screwing the country up, then our current crop of politicians, both local and national, will find a way of doing that, just so long as it best serves their own narrow party interests. Centrally or locally, the idea of the political classes actually allowing "the people" further empowerment, so that they can truly scrutinise, oversee, or hold their elected representatives to account is little more than a fantasy, a false dawn, being sold to a largely gullible and indifferent public, who will no doubt be further exploited as a result of it.