Despite the solemn ‘vow’ to devolve further powers, David Cameron has argued that the issue of greater powers for Scotland has to be taken together with the devolution of power in the rest of the UK. That might sound plausible initially, but the problems aren’t capable of being resolved in those terms. By any test, devolution in the UK is going to be imbalanced, or ‘assymetric’. The crux of the problem is that Scotland has an entirely distinct system of law, Northern Ireland has legislative authority, and Wales does not. If England is legislated for as a unit, there will be a permanent imbalance of power, status and responsibility. If power is devolved to the English regions, they will still not have the same range of powers that Scotland does.
This is not about federalism. Federalism reserves power to the states. Devolution distributes power from the centre. What we’re talking about currently is devolution, and that in limited terms. The current discussion seems to be focusing on the devolution of powers relating to income tax (not to tax overall), ‘welfare’ (by which the government seems to mean Housing Benefit, but not JSA or ESA) and some economic development. It doesn’t seem to include other vitally important issues, such as public spending, issuing bonds and job creation. It doesn’t seem even to extend to transport: the Scottish Government can’t change the air passenger duty or stop people parking on pavements. London really must relax its grip.