Lib Dem members back ‘devo-max’ for Scotland (oh, and for England too, please)

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2012

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 570 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Majority say referendum should offer straight yes/no choice on independence…

LDV asked: Thinking of the forthcoming referendum in Scotland, some have said the referendum should offer people the straight choice over whether Scotland should remain part of the UK or negotiate independence. Others however say that a third option should be included on the ballot paper, offering people the chance to vote for an extension of powers for the Scottish parliament. Regardless of how you would vote, do you think the referendum should…?

    54% – Be a straight choice over independence
    38% – Include a third option to extend the powers of the Scottish parliament
    2% – Neither
    5% – Don’t know / No opinion

A clear majority of our survey of party members are in no doubt: 54% of you say the 2014 referendum should offer voters a straight yes/no choice on Scottish independence. A large minority of 38%, however, prefer a third option to be put before the voters.

There are difficulties with either approach. A straight choice referendum would ensure all parties opposed to the break-up of the UK campaigned for a ‘no’ vote — yet if the ‘no’ vote were overwhelming would there later be the appetite for a second referendum to alter the status quo? However, if a third choice is on the ballot paper it’s quite possible that no single option will garner more than 50% of the vote — and a significant constitutional change without majority support is hard to imagine. A lot therefore turns on this issue of how you ask the question — YouGov’s Peter Kellner has a good post on the topic here.

… However, 78% favour second referendum on ‘devo-max’ if independence rejected

If the Scottish people reject independence in a straight choice yes/no referendum, would you then support or oppose moves to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

    78% – Support: the Scottish people should still have the chance to vote for increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament
    15% – Oppose: if independence is rejected there should be no further change
    7% – Don’t know / No opinion

A much more clear-cut result here: almost four-fifths of you think the rejection of independence in a straight choice referendum shouldn’t be the end of Scotland’s chance to increase self-government.

‘Devo-max’ the preferred option of almost half Lib Dems

From the following three options facing Scotland, which would you be most likely to support if you had a vote?

    28% – No change to the current powers of the Scottish parliament
    47% – ‘Devo-max’ – a further significant devolution of all financial matters to the Scottish Parliament while Defence and Foreign policy remain reserved UK issues
    15% – Full independence for Scotland from the UK
    Don’t know / No opinion

Almost half Lib Dem members backed the ‘devo-max’ option — however, a significant minority (28%) back the status quo, almost double the proportion (15%) who favour full independence for Scotland. Here’s a sample of your comments:

Full devolution is consistent with Lib Dem ideology of devolving all power to the most local level possible.

Devo-max with a requirement that the Scottish Pound and the UK Pound became separate currencies to avoid misalignment of fiscal and monetary policy, and a further requirement that Scotland became responsible for its proportion of the national debt.

Somewhere between no change and devo-max. Devo-middle? Financial matters are tied to the UK – so it is perhaps right that some issues are debated on and voted on at Westminster.

I am amazed and concerned that the Party’s long term policy of Home Rule is not an option – devo max is not Hme Rule.

Whatever the Scottish people choose.

Can’t have your cake and eat it. Unfair to rest of UK. The RBS fiasco good case in point. Scotland alone could not have dealt with this. Would have resulted in Iceland/Ireland all over again. English taxpayers would still be expected to bail out Scotland.

This question should be addressed as part of the federalisation process, not for one part of the UK alone.

Three-quarters support either English parliament or regional assemblies

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved parliaments legislating on matters affecting their own countries on issues like health and education. However, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can vote on issues only of relevance to England at Westminster. In view of this, which of these options would you prefer?

    35% – Support the establishment of an English parliament deciding on England-only matters
    41% – Support the establishment of regional assemblies throughout England to legislate on matters as happens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
    15% – Keep things as they are
    2% – Abolish the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and make all decisions at Westminster
    7% – Don’t know / No opinion

An interestingly mixed response, one which surprised me — I hadn’t expected 35% of Lib Dem members to back an English-only parliament. Many of the comments suggested this was based on two main issues: 1) it’s the cheapest, easiest option, and 2) the rejection of regional assemblies when championed by John Prescott suggests there’s not the public appetite for them yet. Here’s a selection of your comments:

Regional parliaments make logical sense but would be politically difficult to sell. a careful compromise would be needed.

None of these, but establish a constitutional convention which states that MPs from devolved nations are not to vote on issues which, in their nation, are devolved to them

Federal systems work when one component cannot outvote the others. An English parliament about 80% the same as Westminster would be pointless.

The principle of localism leads me to believe that devolution in England to regional assemblies would be a good step, although the way Westminster works would have to be reformed in response to this.

More power should be devolved in England but I don’t think regional assemblies will work. It would be better to tap into establihsed areas that have some identity. The larger counties pay provides this, for example Kent and Hampshire are both bigger than some US states. Yorkshire has an obvious strong identity too. You could devolve power to large county councils while reforming them with a different electoral system.

An English Parliament would create extreme asymmetry between England and the other nations because it is so big – it would be no less remote and would put people in England at a disadvantage.

Let England make decisions which cannot be made by smaller authorities, and let all other decisions be made by the smaller authorities. That’s how localism works.

Devolution should apply equally to English matters as it does in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those politicians not accountable to the voters in England should not be able to decide on England only matters.

I don’t support arbitrary regional assemblies however I would like councils to have more powers, similar to the Welsh assembly.

An English Parliament would be just as dominated by London and the South East as the UK one is, if not more so.

The “West Lothian Question” will not go away until England has equivalent devolution, whether regionally or nationally (I don’t care which). But this implies a “Barnett Formula” style settlement for England or the regions, the absence of which just now justifies Scottish and Welsh MPs having the right to vote on issues devolved in their own countries since, otherwise, English MPs could theoretically vote a disproportionate amount of money to be spent on English-only services.

As Labour attempted (but gave up on after the failed North East referendum) we should move to a system of regional assemblies – a sort of quasi federalism.

I have always been a passionate supporter of regional devolution and totally oppose the current Westminster view that the NE referendum settled the issue. It was a correct assessment of a very poor offer from the Labour Government

If there was any evidence for support for regional government then I would choose that, but – outside of Cornwall – there just isn’t, Prescott managed to destroy any goodwill. An English Parliament that was (a) not based in London and (b) elected proportionately – along the Scottish Parliament lines – might be a good way to balance the Tory might at Westminster.

None of the above! We need to find mechanisms for devolving more power within England (not to England) without creating regional assemblies that have no resonance with English people. Start with local government and consortia of local authorities

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 570 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 31st January and 4th February.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.