by Hazel Lewry
Attempting to wrong-foot Alex Salmond; David Cameron and Nick Clegg are reported to want Westminster’s MPs to agree to a universal block on Scottish MPs voting on English issues. With Scottish MPs either outnumbered by more than ten to one, or aiding and abetting in this process, it should be expected the coalition will prevail.
Cameron wants to see this major constitutional amendment in place before the Scottish government’s referendum on autonomy for Scotland.
Cameron is right in this wish. SNP MPs typically don’t vote on English only issues, but the Unionist parties, particularly Labour, require those Scots votes or they are severely diminished at Westminster.
The UK government coalition has pledged to establish a commission to examine the barring of MPs from any devolved nation from anything except UK-wide issues. Effectively this is back door federalism without a vote from any constituent nation.
The West Lothian question was first raised by Tam Dalyell on November 14th 1977 when he was Labour MP for West Lothian. It has been unanswered since then as any proposed resolution has been a potential constitutional minefield for Westminster.
The fact that a serious proposal to answer the West Lothian question is now on the table is the clearest indicator to date that the UK Unionist parties are severely rattled by political events in Scotland and are clueless as to an effective response.
The response of honesty with the Scots electorate, coupled to an even, fair and balanced reporting of the referendum campaign, doesn’t appear to be an option that has yet occurred to Westminster. If it has it has evidently been dismissed as unworkable.
A senior Lib Dem source was reported in the Independent as saying: “The Government is confident we can get the commission out before Salmond has a referendum, but it is hard to say because Salmond has not been brave enough to come forward about when he will hold it or what the question will be, and he continues to avoid telling the Scottish people what he has planned for their future.”
The statement above is an example of the delusional propaganda which continues to be issued by Whitehall. Contrary to the UK government’s assertions that the Scottish government has not been fully open with the Scots electorate, the SNP promised a referendum towards the end of the parliamentary session and that the questions would be set over time by the Scottish government. This was clearly stated in their election manifesto.
A matter of a few weeks into the first of five full legislative sessions there have been more immediate issues to be addressed, such as untangling Edinburgh’s trams mess after the government was overruled by the block vote of the Unionist parties initiating a national embarrassment and of course the small matter of the Scotland Bill with tax ‘powers’ that will hobble the Scottish economy.
The coalition’s proposed legislation and its ultimate outcome for this Disunited Kingdom is of far greater universal importance than Alex Salmond’s timetable. Cameron’s outlined commission and its eventual path has been pre-determined, it is intended to stop the Celtic nations from voting on English-only legislation.
With the Scots limited to voting on issues that only affect themselves at Westminster, and with the vast majority of issues being devolved, it will be a very short time indeed before Scots and the other constituent nations ask, why bother with Westminster?
An extreme case perhaps but allowing that we can keep Westminster scandals from becoming UK wide issues, then UK wide issues might well be set aside for the second Thursday of each month, in the morning.
In the course of natural political evolution there would be no justification for the continued existence of a several hundred strong unelected chamber of appointed “lords” at the UK level.
This coalition proposal would quickly evolve in constitutional terms to a federal UK. The infrequent bills proposed at Westminster being referred to the national parliaments for ratification where they are ratified or rejected.
It is difficult to foresee any alternative constitutional arrangement that is workable. Anything short of such a final outcome will create previously unseen levels of disenfranchisement and unrest in the Celtic nations.
This Cameron/Clegg proposal is just as extreme as the suggestion of Murdo Fraser, that his party in Scotland should change its name and cut links to Westminster. Both illustrate the establishment’s utter confusion and lack of comprehension when viewing the inherent needs of the constituent nations. Neither appears to have presently viable options.
Effectively Cameron/Clegg are now acknowledging that the totalitarian institution, Westminster has passed its sell-by date and is superfluous to the needs of the Celtic polities and the English nation.