Nick Clegg has said , predicting the issue will dominate British politics whatever the result of Scotland’s independence referendum. MPs on all sides of the debate now say that even if Scotland votes against independence, the devolution promises that have been made are so profound that they will kick-start a debate about devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
The Conservative and Labour leadership are considering how to deal with the constitutional position of the English after months of debate about the Scottish referendum, which will lead to more devolution of powers to Holyrood in the event of a no vote.
MPs believe the so-called West Lothian question – why Scottish MPs have the right to vote on English-only issues – will have to be answered at last if there is further handing over of tax and spending powers to the Scots. There are also likely to be calls to review the Barnett formula – the Treasury mechanism for sharing out public spending that means the English get less per head than the Scottish.
Earlier this week, John Denham, the Southampton Itchen MP and adviser to Miliband, suggested there needed to be a separate English Labour, arguing that the question of who was speaking for England was becoming “ever more insistent”.
David Cameron is facing even more unrest from within his party over the issue of Scottish devolution, led by John Redwood, a former cabinet minister, who claims 100 colleagues support his calls for a separate English parliament.
Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, said further devolution for the Scots without a similar deal for the English would be seen as “intolerable” by many of his constituents and colleagues. “I don’t think the question of who is speaking for England has really been woken up to enough,” he said. “We’ve been very tolerant for a long time. It’s a particular problem in the north of England if Scotland gets more tax powers, as investors are often making a choice between and the north. There is a lot of disquiet across all the parties, particularly among northern MPs.”
In Wales and , the Scottish debate has fuelled historic calls to reignite a nationalist movement.
, children’s author, Welsh language champion and political campaigner, is fresh back from a trip to Scotland where she was thrilled and inspired by the independence debate.
Something big is happening that she believes could begin to sweep through the valleys, towns and cities of . “It will take a lot of work but I think it can happen. I’m over 50 now but we can see independence here in my lifetime.”
This time last year such talk would have been dismissed as pie-in-the-sky idealism. For years the polls have suggested that only about one in 10 Welsh people are in favour of independence. But if Scotland goes it alone, there is growing optimism among nationalists such as Tomos – and concern among the unionists – that Wales might eventually follow.
Tomos knows the arguments against. Wales is not economically strong enough to cope by itself; its voice in Europe and the world would be too weak; its proximity to England (almost half of Welsh people live within 25 miles of the border) means the two countries are too closely entwined to separate; above all, those polls show that most people have no interest in independence.
But she is having none of it. “People tell us we’re a poor country. Wales is not poor. We’ve got huge natural resources. We’re poor because Westminster makes the rules.”
As the yes campaign in Scotland has gained momentum, Plaid Cymru has become emboldened. Its leader, Leanne Wood, a constitution to be written by the people of Wales and says independence ought to be seen as normal rather than a “pipe dream”.
Hywel Williams, one of the three Plaid Westminster MPs, said party workers felt “energised and inspired by the possibility of change”. The yes campaign was “infectious”. “It’s not an epidemic but it is infectious,” he said. “I think change is part of the history of these islands.”
But Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh labour and the first minister, is campaigning strongly for the no vote in Scotland. He argues that devolution is the “settled will” of the Welsh people, but has called for a constitutional convention after the referendum to discuss the future of the union – or what is left of it.
He said: “Whilst a decision to go it alone lies with the people of Scotland, a yes vote would have a major impact for the rest of the UK, and regardless of the result it is important for us to consider our future constitutional arrangements in Wales.”
Jones does not argue for the status quo. “We do need some change – to protect, and transform the union. Our experience shows that by working with the UK government – of whatever political persuasion – we can deliver more for the people for Wales through devolution.”
looking at the future shape of Wales, is no surer than anyone about what the Scottish vote will mean for Wales. He even wonders if a yes vote could lead to the return of a Wales/England unitary state. “Who knows? The only thing certain is that the effects of the referendum will be big.”
If Scotland votes yes Sinn Féin will call for a new referendum on Northern Ireland’s membership of the UK. It’s up to Westminster whether they get it. If there’s enough demand for it, it could happen. Sinn Féin may need more than its own membership to demand one and could petition widely to get that support.
The Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “For a start I think the mood is swinging back to a no vote in Scotland but in the event of yes, there will undoubtedly be demands from Sinn Féin to hold a similar referendum here. But it is a fact that opinion poll after opinion poll here shows there is a healthy pro-union majority in Northern Ireland. In fact those majorities are even higher for the union than they are in Scotland.”
Nationalists and republicans in Belfast have been hyping up the prospect of a yes in Scotland. On Divis Mountain overlooking mainly republican west Belfast, a giant “yes” has been painted in the landscape beside an enormous “Free Gaza” message.
Across the border in the Irish Republic, the political establishment have deliberately stayed out of the Scottish debate. But one former Irish government minister who left the cabinet last year, Lucinda Creighton, expressed the private concerns of many in the Republic about a yes vote destabilising power sharing in Northern Ireland.
“My fear is that a referendum of that sort in the North at this juncture would actually threaten the peace process and would alienate the Protestant community and could actually be very dangerous,” the former Irish European minister said.
One in five people in London believe the capital would be better off if it was independent, according to a survey. In a Censuswide poll published by the View from the Shard, a tourist attraction, 19.9% out of 2,001 said would be better off on its own, as Scotland’s independence bug appeared to be spreading south. Pro-independence sentiment was keenest among 25- to 34-year-olds, with nearly half of those asked saying yes. In other findings, 38% think the capital will be unrecognisable by 2030, 80% want more green space and more than 60% want more bikes on the roads than cars. The former mayor Ken Livingstone has mooted the idea before. In the 2012 mayoral elections, Livingstone said he wanted a “Republic of London”, and that the city could be improved if other areas of the UK were not sucking all the blood out of it.
There is a growing desire for separation in Yorkshire, led by Yorkshire First, a single-issue political party launched earlier this year by Richard Carter, a businessman originally from Last of the Summer Wine country in Holmfirth but now domiciled in Norway. , Carter said Yorkshire ought to be able to take control of its own destiny. “We have a larger population than Scotland and an economy larger than Wales, but we don’t have the same powers of either of them. Our party believes in a conversation for Yorkshire and that local politicians and organisations should agree to some kind of governing solution,” he said. However, Yorkshire First’s first brush with democracy was not a resounding success. The party polled 19,016 votes in May’s euro poll in Yorkshire and Humber, behind the far-right British National party, which managed 20,138.
Yet the idea appears to be gaining increasing support. Peter Box, the veteran leader of Wakefield city council, recently told the BBC: “Whatever happens in the coming vote, there will be more devolution … The genie is out of the bottle, we want more power and I actually believe Yorkshire should be independent.” The poet Ian McMillan, the “Barnsley Bard”, has started to think about who should serve in Yorkshire’s cabinet, suggesting Geoffrey Boycott as head of the diplomatic service and Dickie Bird as prime minister – because “he would ensure that nothing was spent”.
A few months ago the former set up the North-East party aiming to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales, including over job creation, health and social care and education. “We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Dawson said. “In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”