Journal poll: how appetite for devolution is high after Scottish independence vote

Appetite for regional devolution higher than "English votes for English laws"

Andrew Milligan/PA Wire Alex Salmond will stand down as Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader
Alex Salmond will stand down as Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader

Two weeks after the narrow vote to reject Scottish independence, the matter of the UK constitution refuses to go away.

Prime Minister David Cameron gave added impetus to the debate the morning after the vote by saying that the added devolution promised to Scotland had to be accompanied by the settling of the “English question” – essentially allowing only English MPs to vote on laws that would affect only England (ie matters devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Having set a January timetable for beginning the process of devo-max to Scotland – the highly symbolic Burns Night, to be exact – Mr Cameron insisted that the English question, something which has troubled constitutional experts and been the subject of many official reports since the 1970s, also be settled in the next four months.

The move was roundly seen as a trap for Labour leader Ed Miliband, as it would make a future Labour Government that would likely depend on its Scottish and Welsh MPs for a UK majority, all-but-unable to govern in England.

Voices north of the border also cried foul at what they saw as a potential delaying tactic to the devolution dangled as a promise to persuade people to vote no to full independence.

Devolution for England has been under debate at the Labour, UKIP and Tory party conferences and is likely to figure prominently when the Lib Dems converge next week.

This week saw Gordon Brown call for 100,000 Scots to sign a petition demanding that Westminster keeps its vow on further powers for the Scottish Parliament while the would-be candidates for leader and deputy leader of the SNP are also keeping the pressure up.

For his part, Mr Cameron used his speech to yesterday’s Tory Party conference to pledge that the Conservatives would deliver “English votes for English laws”.

So as the issue has become first a political football and then an election issue, we have asked people both in the North East and the wider UK what they think about devolution.

In our latest poll run by Other Lines of Enquiry North, using their in-house Panelbase service, we asked people whether Scottish MPs at Westminster should be prevented from voting on issues that are devolved in Scotland.

Here the answer was yes, though perhaps not as resoundingly as you might expect. Forty-nine per cent of people nationally and 41% of people in the North East said yes, while 29% of people nationally and 28% in the North East said no.

Significantly, fairly large numbers – 22% nationally and 32% in the North East – voted “don’t know”, reflecting, perhaps, the complexities of the matter.

Then we asked whether power should be devolved to the regions within England, something a number of politicians and activists in the North East have called for as a way of ensuring any English parliament is not dominated by the more populous London and the South East.

And what is interesting about our poll is that greater numbers of people both nationally and in the North East want regional devolution more than they want a purely English parliament.

Fifty-one per cent nationally and 55% in this region wanted powers devolved to the regions, with 29% opposed.

In light of that appetite for more powers to the regions, we asked people what roles places like the North East should take over from Westminster.

Here the highest vote in the North East was for transport, reflecting perhaps the neglect of the region highlighted by think tank IPPR North when it revealed that London gets £2,700 per head spent on transport compared to the North East’s £5.

Could a devolved administration be the way to finally dual the A1, something all parties say they are in favour of but seem to find very difficult once they are in power?

But there was also a significant appetite for regions to be given the power over spending on education, welfare and the NHS, all areas where there are major differences between the Tories and their southern heartlands and the more Labour-leaning North.

Messrs Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage are likely to be debating devolution and constitutional reform over the next few months and, for once, people will be listening.

Our poll suggests that the issue might just be a bit more complex than the Prime Minister believes.

Journalists

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Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
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Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer