When will the West Lothian Question be asked?
Conservatives have made headway in England - but when will they address the pro-Scotland bias in the UK?
The West Lothian Question is one of the most important questions that has been asked about devolution, but it has always been ignored. Is it time to drag it into the political debate again?
It was originally raised by the Scottish opponent of devolution Tam Dalyell, who was the Labour MP for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian. His famous question was:
“For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
In other words how long can the English tolerate the Scottish telling them what to do, while the Scottish would tolerate no such interference? This question was originally raised in the 1970s, but it was essentially a moot point. After all, the Scottish narrowly missed out on their new parliament so the English had just as much say over the Scottish as the Scottish had over the English.
But in 1998 the Scottish and Welsh voted for their own devolved assemblies. In the immediate aftermath, little in the way of controversy materialised except for a couple of large backbench revolts over purely English matters when the government then relied on Scottish MPs.
For the first two Labour terms the Labour Party had more English votes and MPs than the Conservative Party, along with an (almost) English Prime Minister who sat for an English seat.
However, in 2005 the situation began to change. The Conservatives picked up more votes in England (even if it was by a tiny margin of around 20,000 and they still had fewer seats). Scottish ministers sitting for Scottish seats started to get hold of English only portfolios such as health and transport. And then Tony Blair was replaced by Gordon Brown who had spent all his life in Scotland, represented a Scottish seat and had a very obvious Scottish accent.
The West Lothian question was still on the back burner while David Cameron looked as though he was on course to win the election. And then, of course, didn’t win it. Instead he has had to go into government with the Liberal Democrats. If there are any big backbench revolts on English only matters the margin of victory for the opposition could be provided by Scottish Labour MPs.
There is another issue, and that is money. A Scottish person receives a far larger amount of central government spending per head than an English person. Scotland is also massively over-represented in parliamentary seats.
So in the middle of a difficult term will David Cameron try to stoke English nationalism by calling for only English MPs to be allowed to vote on English laws? Don't bet against it.
Stephen Canning is the Chairman of the Braintree Conservative Future and is actively involved in local, regional and national politics. Join him on http://twitter.com/
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