Thursday 11 December 2003

It's that West Lothian Question again

The Tories want to restrict the rights of Scottish MPs by banning them from legislating on English matters:
The new Tory leader, Michael Howard, has branded it "a constitutional outrage" and suggested a "certification" system which would ban Scots MPs from voting on legislation which the Speaker had declared to be English-only.
Quite right too. And most Scots agree with this suggestion:
Most Scots think Scottish MPs at Westminster should be banned from voting on English-only issues, according to a new opinion poll.

... the new poll shows 51 per cent of those surveyed say Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on English matters.

I have been unable to locate the details of the poll but, if I remember correctly, there was a sizable "don't know" component thus giving a considerable lead to those calling for the restriction of Scottish MPs voting rights.

I fail to understand why the News's Ian Swanson rejects Mr Howard's proposal:

There is, of course, a simplistic attraction in saying English MPs should decide English issues.

But Mr Howard was not so keen to propose the same solution for Scotland in the days before devolution, when he was part of the last Tory government and his party was vastly outnumbered among Scottish MPs.

Instead, the Tories at that time stressed that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom and its laws were made by the UK parliament - the fact Scots MPs might vote overwhelmingly the opposite way on almost every occasion was irrelevant.

Devolution was instigated to correct the "democratic deficit" whereby Scotland's domestic laws were made by a Westminster Parliament dominated by a party that had been rejected in Scotland. It is now proper that the powers of Scotland's MPs be restricted to non-devolved matters and that they take a corresponding pay cut. Mr Swanson says that there:
... could be an English Grand Committee to discuss English-only matters or extending devolution south of the Border, so regional assemblies can take over responsibility for some of the key decisions for their areas.
But there's no sign that English people want regional assemblies and what is required is more than banning Scots MPs from discussing England-only matters - they shouldn't be voting on them either. Mr Howard's proposal seems to fit the bill admirably.