Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Strange Bedfellows: the SNP, Tories and the West Lothian Question.

07:34 Today Programme. BBC Radio 4 6th October 2009.

"Shadow foreign secretary William Hague, repeated this week the Conservative pledge to stop Scottish MPs voting on purely English or Welsh issues. The Conservatives would complete the devolution settlement by allowing English MPs a veto on legislation the affects only England, and English and Welsh MPs a veto when it affects England and Wales. Shadow Scottish secretary David Mundell, and the SNP chief whip in the Commons, Stuart Hosie, discuss the Conservative's constitutional change proposals."

It wasn’t my imagination that Scottish Nationalist MP, Stuart Hosie, seemed intensely relaxed about the Conservative proposals over the baring of Scottish-based MPs on issues that are judged purely to be matters for England and Wales.
On the face of it, the proposals seem fair. The English should have their own representation, just as the Scottish, Welsh and (hopefully soon) the Northern Irish have. Although is this the right way to go about it?
The problem with banning of Scottish members from voting is that it is unconstitutional. The Westminster Parliament is the parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not just of England. To make it an English Parliament would mean a massive change in direction to our constitution, effectively paving the way to the break up of the United Kingdom. Hence the Tories having the support of the SNP over this issue.

There is a political problem that the Conservatives face and it is one that I do sympathise with. The Tories are not popular in Scotland, just having one parliamentary seat out of fifty nine. The banning of Scottish MPs effectively mean that a lot of Conservative policy will have a much easier ride through the next parliament after the election (assuming a Tory win of course). It would be to the detriment of the people of England if MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom were excluded though. Devolution has allowed certain things to be done differently and why shouldn’t the people of England benefit from the insights on offer from other parts of the UK? Instead of enforcing party discipline, an alternative could be to lift the whip on Scottish MPs voting on English matters. This would allow the individual to abstain or otherwise, allowing MPs to share their experience of their own part of the United Kingdom and allowing them to pass a disinterested verdict on English policies that is beyond party politics. Before devolution, this possible answer to the West Lothian Question would not have been feasible.  Now however it would allow all the people of the Union to enjoy the benefits of devolution while Westminster remains unchallenged as the seat of parliament of the United Kingdom
As the Conservatives stand, their suggested policy would play directly into the hands of the nationalists. For a party that used to known as the Conservative and Unionist Party, this is surely not a tenable position. It also gives the people of Scotland a very strange choice among the parties at the next Westminster elections. Of the four main parties north of the border, a vote for either the SNP and now the Conservatives is a vote in favour of the dissolution of the Union. Labour is a spent force at Westminster, bracing themselves for the oncoming decimation. The only Westminster party that a reasonable supporter of the Union can therefore vote for are the Liberal Democrats, who support home rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom.