The end of the world as we know it. That seemed to be the general reaction to the Westminster Government’s decision to implement EVEL, English Votes for English Laws, a new process by which a committee of English or English and Welsh MPs get to debate bills defined as “English only” or “English and Welsh only” matters, and amend them as they see fit. Surely only fair say the Government and the MSM political pundits. It’s only giving the English (or English and Welsh) what the non-English nations already have through their national Parliaments/Assemblies. Strangely, it does give the Welsh two bites of the cherry, so I suppose they’re bound to be pleased.
Will it make a difference? Stats tell us that Scottish votes decided the outcome in less than 5% of Commons divisions, but the other side of that coin is that the English got their own way in more than 95% of the votes. However, the Tory government thinks that’s not fair enough. They think that the English should get their own way more often. Is that maybe 96% of votes; or maybe 98%; or maybe even 100%?
Do Cameron and his mates really worry that the evil (note spelling) Scots might decide anything at all? That seems to be the case as even the Scottish Affairs Committee is stuffed with English MPs, presumably because the Tories can’t countenance the possibility that the Scots might get their own way, ever. So the English deciding what’s good for the Scots is OK, but the other way round is so awful that rules have to be introduced to make it impossible.
But what are these “English Laws” that the Tories want to keep pure. Some suggestions have been made, such as HS2, a rail line which will only go from London to Birmingham initially and maybe, in another 20 or 30 years time, to Manchester and Leeds. Obviously, nothing to do with Scotland, so why should Scots have any say in whether it goes ahead. Surely,it’s only fair that it’s decided by the English themselves. Except, of course, when it comes to paying for it. Then the Scots get to play a much bigger part. And when I say bigger, I mean BIGGER. Not just the under 5% that applies when voting. Oh no. When it comes to paying, we Scots get an almost 10% share. Shouldn’t that make us feel good. Zero% of the deciding, but 10% of the paying. Of course the observant among you will be able to spot the difference between HS2 and the Borders Railway. That’s right, one is funded entirely by the Scottish Government and one also has a contribution from Westminster. Can you spot which is which? Is this a case of taxation without representation? Well, we know where that led
Of course, EVEL creates other issues. What about the great offices of state? Since the beginning of the last century, several Scots MPs (and several Welsh) have held one or other of the major offices of state, Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary. Could EVEL signal the beginning of the end as far as non-English holders of these positions. How can someone lead a government or a major government department when barred from taking part in debates for perhaps half of all bills brought before Parliament? How could someone bring a measure before the House when unable to speak in its defence? So if you believed that the occasional Scottish (or Welsh, or Northern Irish) PM would be enough to keep Scotland in Westminster’s thoughts, looks like you’re destined for more disappointment.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the rule that the Speaker can arbitrarily decide (and no one can challenge that decision) that any bill before the House is “English only” doesn’t apply to Scottish matters. Oh no. Not only is the Scottish Affairs Committee full of English MPs, and not only do some English Tory MPs think that Scots shouldn’t be allowed on committees dealing with reserved matters (yes I do mean you Alberto Costa), but the fate of the Scotland Bill currently going through Parliament is entirely dependent on the good offices (or otherwise) of the majority English Tory MPs. English Tory MPs get to decide what Scots can and can’t do. English Tory MPs, who mainly don’t even listen to the debate, drift out of the bar at division time and vote against Scots’ wishes. And don’t expect much help from English Labour MPs. They mainly find that the bar stools are too comfortable or too difficult to get off to be bothered to vote, but when they do, they are just as likely to vote with the Tories as they are to oppose the Tories. Opposition is a long word, so perhaps I’m being unfair to expect many English Labour MPs to understand it. Scottish Labour MPs, of whom there are a very, very small number, seem to inhabit the same voting world as his (oops, gave the game away) English colleagues. Don.t expect Scottish Labour MPs to vote for Scotland.
However, all is not lost. Though things may look bad in the Commons, bills still have to get through the Lords. Surely we can depend on the Scottish Lords and Ladies (and there are many) to set aside party posturing and stand up for Scotland. In some cases, I admit, standing up may prove to be just a little tricky, but you know their heart is in the right place. With the likes of Lord McAvoy, Lord Robertson, Lord Reid, Lord Watson and not forgetting the incomparable Lord Foulkes on our side, how can we fail to improve on the nasty little can of worms that is the Scotland Bill. Or am I just dreaming?