Alice Thomson has an excellent article on today's Telegraph headlined HOW TO DEFUSE THE SCOTTISH QUESTION. You can read it HERE. She argues that the Barnett formula should be scrapped...
His (Gordon Brown's) solution lies in his own department and is suited to his tinkering temperament: scrap the Barnett formula that subsidises public spending north of the border by £1,400 per Scot every year. It must be obvious to the Chancellor that this handout is increasingly unacceptable to the English. It has allowed the Scottish Parliament to bring in free care for the elderly, free nursery places and free tuition at universities, as well as enabling them to build a £431 million parliament building. But as the Economist pointed out this month, representation with no taxation in Scotland hasn't worked. Under the headline "A Lament for Scotland", the magazine argues that devolution has not brought confidence. "Scotland has regressed into an inward-looking, chip-on-the-shoulder, slightly Anglophobic country," according to the report. "It has gained self-doubt, while clinging to an old dependency on England." The Barnett formula, in other words, has encouraged what Mr Brown says he wants to stop - the Scottish being treated as second-class citizens. It has prevented their parliament from being known for anything other than minor scandals and it hasn't encouraged the economy - over the past 10 years, it has grown by one per cent less than England. Mr Brown might lose some seats in Scotland to the SNP, but he would gain in the south for having the courage to address the issue. If he so desperately wants to be prime minister of a United Kingdom, this is the way to do it.
Alice is right to say the Barnett formula should be scrapped, but she is wrong if she thinks that will solve the problem. It will still mean that Scottish MPs can vote on issues which do not affect their own constituents. Others say the solution is to cut the number of Scottish MPs still further. The size of Scottish constituencies, with one or two exceptions, is now broadly in line with English ones, so I don't think that argument holds water.
The only solution to this question, and it's one I wish my own Party would embrace, is to allow a referendum in England on the creation of a Parliament for England. Having let the genie of devolution out of the bottle it is difficult to see how Labour could argue against such a referendum, although argue against it I am sure they will. Several senior LibDems, including Simon Hughes, have flirted with English devolution, but in the end they retreat back to their policy of regionalisation. The Conservatives have a policy of asking the Speaker to ensure only English MPs are allowed to vote on English only issues (which is re-heated HERE in the Telegraph today). It sounds good until you examine its practical implementation.
The Conservatives should now seriously think about how an English parliament would work. There's nothing anti-Scottish or anti-Welsh in arguing for an English Parliament. There's certainly nothing anti-Scottish or anti-Welsh in arguing that the English people should be given a referendum, just as the Scots and the Welsh had in the late 1990s. This is the debate we should be having - not one about tinkering with parliamentary procedure.
UPDATE 11.48am I have written a much longer version of this article which will appear on Comment is Free later today. Until then you can read it HERE.
UPDATE: 11.59pm The article is now on Comment is Free HERE and has provoked quite a furious debate!