A “No” vote will leave the West Lothian question unanswered

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July 17, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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When the “No” campaign aren’t spending their time pointing out the actual consequences of the Scots voting for independence (called ‘bluffing’ by the “Yes” campaign) they are promising ‘more devolution’ if the Scots vote No. The Scots for whom the granting of more powers but still remaining part of the UK might ask why it took a referendum on independence to bring this extra devolution about (try and find any mention of this extra devolution before the SNP won the 2011 election and the Tories realised the referendum would have to happen). But extra devolution has been promised. It would in theory allow the Scots to keep the pound, remain part of the EU and NATO, as in the bits that independence would put at risk, whilst gaining more sovereignty over their land. Yet should the “No” campaign prevail, we might want to deal with something else…the ‘West Lothian question’.

The West Lothian Question was first mooted in the 1970s by the MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell. He pointed out that in post-devolution Scotland, English-constituency MPs will not be able to vote on matters devolved to Scotland, but Scottish-constituency MPs will be able to vote on these matters for England.

A further problem is that we could have a Scottish constituency MP who is the Secretary of State in Westminster for an issue that has been devolved to Scotland. We can (and did with Gordon Brown) also have a Scottish constituency MP who is a political party leader or even Prime Minister determining policies on issues that are devolved to Scotland.

After the 2005 election, it was noted that with 49 Labour Party Scottish constituency MPs and 1 Conservative Party Scottish constituency MP, the Labour Party MPs were often pressurised by their party into supporting pro-government policies that were controversial but did not affect their own constituents as it only affected England.

Devolved to the Scottish Parliament are:

Health
Education and Training
Local Government
Housing
Planning
Social Work
Tourism
Police and Fire Services
Prosecution System and the Courts
Prisons
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
Gaelic
Sport and the Arts
Environment
Some areas of Transport

Reserved for the British Parliament are:

Immigration
Foreign Policy
Defence
National Security
Social Security
Energy
Common Markets
Constitutional Matters
Trade and Industry
Some areas of Transport

You would have thought that the solution to the West Lothian question was simple…only allow English constituency MPs to vote on England only matters. But it is hard to determine exactly what is an England only matter, as the effects of English legislation can be felt in Scotland.

Also there are numerous constitutional problems. If you have a governing party in the UK different from the party with a majority in the English constituencies then the governing party would have trouble delivering any manifesto promises that just concern England. You would probably have to restrict the Prime Minister to having to represent an English constituency as otherwise he or she couldn’t vote on certain areas. Essentially you would have different classes of MPs in Parliament, and that is not how our democratic system works.

There are three other possible solutions to the West Lothian question: the first is for there to be regional assemblies with devolved powers. That was rejected in a referendum in 2004 when tried in the North East. You could have English devolution, but there is little support for this in England. You could revoke Scottish devolution…..which isn’t going to happen.

Alex Salmond makes the point that there are no Conservative MPs in Scotland now but Scotland are having to swallow Conservative party policies. He makes that point to anyone who complains to him about the West Lothian question. He tells them that there is a simple answer: Scottish Independence.

But if the opinion polls are correct (and I’m not sure they are), independence may not happen. So we will be back to the drawing board with the a West Lothian question.

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