Murdo “Federal” Fraser is the latest politician to talk up a federal UK. At the ‘Scotland’s Choice: Reshaping Relationships’ conference in Belfast yesterday he said a Yes vote would leave the rest of the UK with an identity crisis. In a speech that will be revised tonight at a University of Glasgow lecture, Murdo argued that federalisation would neatly solve a number of different issues: the democratic deficit, the West Lothian question and Barnett formula, reform of the House of Lords into a senate reflecting regions of a federal UK.
Gordon Brown, too, talks of a reform of the Lords into a region-based senate in his recent book, and it is thought Miliband is considering the idea for Labour’s 2015 General Election manifesto.
There can be no doubt about what has caused the sudden interest in using the F-word: polls in the independence referendum are still shifting towards Yes.
Astute Liberal Democrats may be kicking themselves. After all, this is a party with a long-term commitment to federalism. “Home rule for Scotland within a reformed, federal United Kingdom has long been the constitutional aim of Liberals and Liberal Democrats,” says veteran MP Sir Menzies Campbell on the party’s website.
Party activists frustrated with a lack of constitutional reform in the coalition government might be wondering what could have been. When the then Scottish Secretary Michael Moore led negotiations on the process of the referendum, if he had pressed for third ‘devo-max’ option on the ballot paper, if the Liberal Democrats had flexed their rarely-used influence in government, the current situation would look remarkably different. Better Together wouldn’t be the awkward three-party coalition it is today: the Liberal Democrats would be the only party pushing for a devo-max vote, with Labour and Conservatives remaining in their unionist comfort zones, and the SNP campaigning hard for Yes. If opinion polls are to be believed, the Liberal Democrats would be campaigning for the clear winner in September, adding ‘saving the union’ to their arguably meagre list of coalition achievements.
Instead, they are running behind both the Greens and UKIP in the opinion polls, and the bigger parties are muscling in on their constitutional territory. Will they ever get the chance again?