Picture this: the SNP sweeps Labour in the general election, leading to a hung parliament. Nicola Sturgeon offers David Cameron to vote through English votes for English laws in exchange for Devo-Max, or devolution max. In such an arrangement, the SNP would govern Scotland and Cameron, plus probably a reduced LibDem and other coalition partners, would govern the rest of the UK. No “coalition” between the SNP and the Tories would happen, or even be possible – because after that first legislation, Scots MPs couldn’t vote on English matters anyway.
In this scenario, the financial settlement for Scotland would be part of the initial haggling, and the SNP would set Scots income tax and spending policies.
Reserved UK matters would be defence and foreign affairs.
There is, however, still one fly in the ointment. Different Scottish and rUK attitudes to immigration.
Scotland still constitutes only (approx) 1/10 of the UK’s population. The nation needs bodies. They want immigrants. Also, the SNP fears Brexit. If the UK leaves the EU, the SNP could feel stymied in its ongoing wish for Scotland to break from the UK. They would wish to join the EU – and in the indyref, Spain and others made it clear that wasn’t happening.
But allow me to propose a unique solution – and suggest a shift of attitudes to my Conservative party’s opponents, the SNP. What if London listened to Edinburgh on EU immigration – and vice-versa? The English and Welsh want fewer immigrants, Scots want more. What if David Cameron, in agreement with Nicola Sturgeon, passed laws stating that until the EU referendum happened in 2017, all or most EU migrants – Sturgeon could specify the proportion she wanted – would be required to live in Scotland? That they could not access any government services, or benefits, including the NHS and schooling, unless they were living in Scotland. (I have edited the post to remove a suggestion to criminalize moving elsewhere – it wouldn’t be necessary. We could simply limit our benefits, which is in our control, to make it clear that EU migrants can access them only in Scotland).
That would drive a large section of population north to Scotland, would fulfill the SNP’s more population wish, would cease to overload housing waiting lists in England, and would satisfy English and Scottish voters without necessarily flouting the EU too much. Being able to decide where in the UK migrants live and work might be much more palatable to Angela Merkel etc than asking to decide how many EU migrants come to the country. Of course, in the post GE15 Devo-Max Scotland I envision, the type and amounts of benefits EU migrants settling in Scotland receive would be none of David Cameron’s business, but would be set by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Further, if Sturgeon wants the UK to stay in the EU, fixing the vexed question of EU migration in this way would be a huge boost to her cause. It would also help Scotland’s economy as Scotland is clearly under-populated, whereas SE England is overloaded. Conversely, assuming that even in my scenario, Sturgeon and the SNP would still be agitating for full and total independence, she should consider that Brexit now will help Scottish independence chances. While Spain and others with separatist regions don’t want Scotland leaving the UK as an EU member, and therefore will throw up barriers to Scottish entry, if the UK has already voted to come OUT, and snubbed Brussels, an independent Scotland is likely to be welcomed IN with garlands of flowers and blue-and-white balloons.
Cameron needs to have the SNP front and centre in his mind. If Johann Lamont tells us Labour puts Scotland last, the Tories can’t make the same mistake. Ruth Davidson will see a small Tory revival as the Unionist party in NO heartlands repped by SNP at Westminster. That revival will increase if Cameron is the anti-Miliband and treats Scotland and the Scots with “parity of esteem”, as sovereign partners in a devolved UK. NIMBYism usually plagues politics. But for once, “Not In My Back Yard” might not describe just the problem of excessive EU migration to the UK, but the solution to it.