Before the last disappointed ‘Yes’ campaigner had folded away their Saltire and retired to bed, the English backlash to further powers having been promised to Scotland began. “English votes for English laws” came the cry – with an acronym so unfortunate (EVEL) only Downing Street could think it wise – and aside from ISIS it’s all we seem to have heard talk of since.
Ever since Tam Dalyell first posed in 1977 what was later to be termed the West Lothian question, the inherent unfairness and democratic deficit in Scottish MPs voting on matters only affecting England and Wales has been undeniably apparent. It’s hard to imagine anybody outside of Scotland and the Labour party even trying to argue the current situation is just or equitable.
But is it really such a pressing issue that this near 40 year-old question demands an immediate, back-of-a-fag-packet response and the time currently being dedicated to it?
Research by mysociety.org suggests since 1997 the outcome of just 21 votes (out of more than 5,000) would have been different had Scottish MPs not voted. Of these, just 4 were on England specific issues, and there hasn’t been a single occasion since the last general election.
That is not to suggest the situation is in anyway acceptable; 4 votes affected is 4 too many. But why have Messrs Cameron & Clegg decided only now at the fag end of their time in office to grasp this particular nettle (perhaps thistle would be more apt?)
Facing growing criticism from within and without in his own party for complacently ceding every possible advantage to Scotland’s separatists, from the absence of devo max on the ballot paper to agreeing Salmond’s favoured selectorate to include 16 & 17 year-olds, Cameron was under heavy attack for allowing his naivety to very nearly break up the United Kingdom. The panicked ‘vow’ made by the leaders of the three old parties – without the consent of their MPs – added fuel to the fire.
By moving the debate on to the issue of the West Lothian question Cameron has once again adroitly escaped from a corner his own arrogance had painted him into, and successfully shifted the spotlight onto Labour’s self-serving reluctance to address the matter.
Not only that, EVEL is hugely popular enjoying the support of over 60% of those polled. Indeed, it is something we in UKIP have been calling for, for very many years. It is easily implemented too, by way of a simple amendment to the standing orders of the House of Commons. Until that can be done, Nigel Farage was absolutely right to call on Scottish MPs to abstain from any future England specific votes. So why not just quit talking about it and, to borrow a phrase, just do it?
Politics, that’s why. With just eight months until the general election, Messrs Cameron & Clegg won’t voluntarily give up the opportunity to hold Ed Miliband’s feet to the fire until they have to. For the Westminster elite, party political advantage trumps the national interest every time.
Not only that, following the addressing of the West Lothian question the glare of publicity would once again shift back to the, I would argue more important, iniquity of the Barnett formula.
With the leaders of the three old parties foolishly promising in their blind panic to retain the Barnett formula, which guarantees £1,600 extra in public spending per Scottish head per year – and despite no less than Lord Barnett himself saying it must go – the three amigos have laid a trap at their own doors.
Honouring the clear pledge to retain the Barnett formula in a way that continues to disproportionately benefit Scotland and fulfilling a promise to come up with a settlement which is fair to the whole UK are clearly incompatible. They cannot both be done.
Guto Bebb (Conservative MP for Aberconwy) has already expressed concern about the promise to retain the Barnett formula, as Wales continues to be severely short changed in public spending terms when any objective needs analysis is done. Here in the North East, there is a growing resentment our Scottish neighbours just a few miles up the road receive a fair more generous deal than we.
Something will have to give, so don’t expect the legacy parties to do anything other than kick the Barnett formula into the long grass and continue to prattle on about the easily resolved West Lothian question.
Having not been a party to the rash promises made to Scotland during the referendum campaign, only UKIP can speak with any authority on securing a funding agreement fair to the entire United Kingdom. We should continue to do so, and at the top of our voices.
Photo by Lawrence OP