Sir George grills Prime Minister on the English Question
18 Jun 2007
Below is the exchange between Sir George and Tony Blair at the Liaison Committee, when Sir George raised the fairness of the devolution arrangements for England

Q116 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can we turn to another part of the constitutional picture where your legacy is mixed and that is devolution. Your manifesto in 1997 said of your devolution proposals for Scotland: β€œThe union will be strengthened and the threat of separatism removed.” With a Scottish Nationalist First Minister in Scotland, that has not happened, has it?
Mr Blair: Well, I am not sure about that. I think the fact that the SNP beat us by one seat is obviously unfortunate for us as a Labour Party, but I think the interesting thing is that the support for separation in Scotland is significantly down from where it was in 1997. I think if we had not met the legitimate aspirations of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for a greater measure of self-government, we would have weakened the United Kingdom. I think it is perfectly natural that from time to time people will want to vote for different political parties, and if I could give you some advice, George, get your own party sorted out up there and then they will offer us some competition rather than the Nationalists!
Q117 Sir George Young: I think the threat of separatism has not been removed, which was the aspiration. Can I turn to a related question. The Scottish citizen through his MSP has total control over Scottish domestic policy and through his MP he has leverage, sometimes decisive, on English domestic policy. The English citizen has no leverage at all on Scottish domestic policy. Through his own MP he has control over English policy but that can be overturned, as it has been. How can that conceivably be a balanced, sustainable constitutional settlement?
Mr Blair: The alternative is English votes for English MPs and I just completely disagree with it for the reasons that were given 40 years ago when first debating devolution in Ulster. If you go to two classes of MPs it will do a lot of damage
Q118 Sir George Young: Do you not risk then having two classes of citizens and may that not be more important?
Mr Blair: I think the way that our constitution works is through a balance. I do not pretend that you can state all this logically and define it in a way that satisfies everything, but the fact of the matter is that the English are 80 per cent of the votes and the MPs and so on, and if you end up in a situation of English votes for English MPs you will create two classes of MP and you will do exactly the damage that people thought would be done all those years ago when devolution first was raised for Northern Ireland, and both parties rejected it then, and they were right to do so in my view.
Q119 Sir George Young: Can we look at the damage that may be being done at the moment. If you take higher education - we have just been talking about it - a Lithuanian, a Pole or a German pays nothing for his education in Scotland whereas an English student does and his parents are probably subsidising everybody else through their taxes. How on earth can you defend that?
Mr Blair: In the end what we do is we give a certain amount of grant, public money to Scotland, they decide how they are going to spend it. We do not increase that, incidentally, as a result of the decisions taken by the SNP Government there. If they decide they want to spend the money in a different way, they can spend the money in a different way. But then they are going to have to tell the Scottish people what other services they are going to reduce in order to pay for it. What they certainly cannot do is increase the spending and then just hand us the bill
Q120 Sir George Young: Can we talk about the money because there is a certain amount of headroom in Scotland which enables them to fund public services which are either not available or have to be paid for in England, for example access to certain drugs. Lord Barnett, he of the Barnett Formula, last year denounced the Barnett Formula as over-generous to Scotland, he said it should be scrapped and sums of money returned south of the border. Do you agree with him?
Mr Blair: I do not actually, no, because again I think it is part of the balance that we have in our constitution and I think if we want to keep the UK together, the Barnett Formula is a small price to pay for that, even though I understand why it causes concern in parts of England
Q121 Mr Beith: It certainly does.
Mr Blair: If you look at what has actually happened to the UK over the years, if you look around the world at the amount of secessionist pressures and separatist pressures there are, and various disputes that there are within countries, I think we have found a way through that and the interesting thing about the SNP is if they did try to move towards actual separation they would be brought up very sharp by the rest of the Scottish Parliament that is opposed to it.
Q122 Sir George Young: But is not your legacy to a Scottish Prime Minister a United Kingdom that is less united and people who feel less British and is not the going going to be much tougher for him because of where he comes from?
Mr Blair: I do not agree with that at all. I think one of the reasons why we should be proud of what the UK is today is that if you go back to 1997, let us not assume then that the UK was under no pressure from separation, it was, it was under intense pressure in Scotland, to a certain extent in Wales and, of course, Northern Ireland was how we know it was, I think if you look at the UK today it is stronger. Now, of course you will get different governments from time to time. I think that over time, incidentally – and I was only half-joking when I was talking about the Conservative Party then – you will get a proper policy debate with a different policy agenda which will be more conventional in terms of parties fighting each other, whether in Scotland or in Wales. Indeed, I think you can see that happening in Wales. But, I do not agree that the UK is weaker today. The fact is, as I say, if you look at what has happened in Wales, the Nationalist Party have had to eschew separation there and if you look at the SNP in the recent campaign, they did everything they could to run away from the issue.
 
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