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Labour party conference to begin

Labour activists are gearing up for the party's annual gathering today with the constitutional fallout from the Scottish referendum battle set to loom large.

As the last pre-election political conference season gets under way, Ed Miliband will seek to rally his troops for what promises to be a long and attritional campaign.

But he is also facing pressure from David Cameron to agree to reforms preventing Scottish MPs voting on issues that only affect England - potentially undermining Labour's power base north of the border.

The so-called West Lothian question has come to the fore again in the wake of the historic referendum fight, which saw the party leaders pledge significant new devolution for Scotland.

The move infuriated many Tory backbenchers who have long complained that their English heartlands get a raw deal from the current arrangements.

Hailing the No victory yesterday, the Prime Minister signalled his determination to bring in "English votes for English laws" alongside greater autonomy for Scotland.

He has set a tight timetable of publishing draft legislation by January - potentially turning the topic into a significant general election dividing line.

Mr Miliband attempted to burnish his own reforming credentials by calling for a constitutional convention.

The Labour leader said there needed to be a series of regional "dialogues" covering every area of the UK on how power could be dispersed from Westminster - including in England.

Among the issues he said should be considered are the reforms that would be needed at Westminster as more power is devolved to Scotland - including the case for a "senate of the nations and regions" or for codifying the constitution.

"The Labour Party will not now sit back and put up a 'business as usual' sign over Westminster. Nor will I allow this moment to be used for narrow party political advantage," he said.

"We need a response that matches the scale of this moment. That starts with delivering on our promise of further powers to Scotland.

"But other people in Britain, including England, now deserve the chance to shape their own futures with a dynamic devolution settlement."

Labour said that over the coming weeks the party would be setting out plans for a series of regional debates bringing together MPs and councillors with ordinary citizens and civil society.

Each region will then draw up a series of recommendations to be considered at a constitutional convention to be held in the autumn of 2015, after the general election.

However, the party has also made clear it will not accept the idea of having "two classes" of MPs - as could be the case if Scots were barred from voting on laws that did not apply to their constituents, or if an English parliament were created.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown summed up the mood of many in the party during the referendum campaign when he suggested England's relative size meant it did not need safeguards against meddling by other parts of the UK.

With polls indicating Mr Miliband is unlikely to win more than a slender majority next May, the stakes for Labour are higher than for their Westminster rivals.

If its Scottish MPs were barred from voting on issues that had been devolved north of the border, a Miliband government could suddenly find itself unable to get key elements of a Budget package through the Commons.

The Labour gathering in Manchester is due to begin today with a women's conference addressed by Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow equalities minister Gloria De Piero.

In an interview with the Guardian, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the party will seek to fight the election on the twin issues of stagnant living standards and safeguarding the NHS.

But he stressed that Labour would only pursue changes that are "credible and costed", ruling out free universal child care in the next parliament, as well as free bus passes for 16- to 18-year-olds.

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