Ken Clarke has said
that the fairest solution to the West Lothian question would be for MPs representing Scottish constituencies to be ineligible to vote on matters that do not affect their constituents. Otherwise the anomaly remains that measures that affect only England and are opposed by a majority of English MPs are nonetheless voted in on the strength of MPS who are unaccountable to their constituents.
This has already happened with tuition top-up fees, where the Labour majority of 5 included some 20 Scots, whose constituents had no dog in the fight. So, as a solution to Tam Dalyell's old question, how does it stack up? Well, the Labour Party are unhappy, as are the Lib Dems. A variety of arguments are used, that range from the trivial, to the wifully wrong-headed via a few reasonable ones.
Tony Blair (I suppose we ought to start with him) has said that the plan is a 'constitutional abortion
'. Presumably that means he's in favour. Wait, I've double checked and he thinks this is a bad thing, in flagrant disregard of an electorate's right to choose. Disgraceful. Blair thinks that the entire British constitution, about which I waxed so lyrical, is predicated on not having two classes of MPs. Well, he should probably have thought about that before he created the current system, which creates two classes of MP.
The current system, as has been said many times, is ridiculous. It is inequitable for it to continue in the same way. Something must be done ((c) Daily Mail). The Tories have come up with a solution that will have absolutely no financial cost, and yet seeks to address the main issue. Blair has derided it as detrimental to the greater Union, but from the man who has done more than anyone since Bonnie Prince Charlie to diminish that Union such words are meaningless.
Lets look further at contrary arguments, stretching our gaze to the blogs that the BBC hateso much. Some chap called Alex Wilcox, a Lib Dem, attacks Clarke's idea thus:So, let’s recap: it’s wrong for Liberal Democrats to point out Four Jobs Bob isn’t local to Bromley because he lives somewhere completely different – which is a statement of fact. But it’s all right for the Conservatives to say the leader of a country that’s a union of different nations can only come from the bit that the Tories have all their votes in, ruling out Scots not because of their ability or their ideas but simply because of where they live.
This objection appears to be based on the fact that it is unfair for the Tories to object to a Scottish Prime Minister because that would be racist. I'll attempt to address this point with a modicum of seriousness. There is of course no problem with a Scot becoming Prime Minister. Indeed, Cameron is a very Scottish name. The argument is not on where they were born, but where they are representative MPs. It is a philosophically harder point as to whether an MP should become leader of a country where his constituents are hardly affected by the laws he passes but where the people who are affected are not his constituents. When the British did that in India it was called Empire.
I assume Alex is exaggerating for comic effect. Ha ha ha. It is important to stress that the idea of English votes on English matters is not in any sense racist. As someone said, there is no issue with what nationality an MP is, merely where his constituency is.
More serious complaints have come from more interesting bloggers. Particularly MatGB
, who I must get round to blog-rolling. Mat also uses the constitutional argument - that the introduction of differential voting rights is an affront to the constitution. But I think he misses a few key points.The UK constitution, on paper, simply doesn't work, it makes no sense. But in reality, we know it has worked for centuries. Squaring the circle of competing demands is difficult. Trying to brush it under the carpet as the Tories are doing isn't the way to deal with i
Well, of course the constitution doesn't work on paper: it's unwritten. More seriously, the damage that it is claimed the Tories would do to the constitution by intriducing differential voting rights has already happened thanks to devolution. What the Tories are proposing is an imperfect solution to an intractable problem: now that really is the spirit of the constitution.
The final area of opposition I would like to deal with comes from a blog that is, shamefully, new to me, though I have noted the sterling work it has done over the Prescott business. The Ministry of Truth
, for it is he, has pointed out that the Tory plan might lead to a situation where:
[A party] has the parliamentary mandate and majority to form a government unaided by any other party, and therefore the power to introduce legislation as sees fit, only for it to be entirely unable to pursue that legislation when it comes to English issues by virtue of being in the minority in the face of an English Lib-Dem/Tory coalition in the House of Commons.
Well yes, that's democracy. In such circumstances, a party would be unable to pass legislation that was opposed by the majority of English elected MPs. What's the problem here? In such a case the ruling part would have to seek consensus in matters in which it did not automatically command a majority. Is this really a problem. Is it really better for a non-majority party to force legislation through with the votes of unaffected members?
As so often with Cameron's Conservative Party I am forced to put some words into their mouth. Jeeze, if I don't who's gonna? If some matters only affect England (or England and Wales in the case of legal matters) why should Scottish MPs, whose constituents are unaffected, have a say? What reason is there? The only ones I've heard are the 'it'll break up the Union!' which is absurd, and the 'it's racist!' which is ridiculous. Ultimately the frenzied Labour/Lib Dem opposition looks like the famous Christmas Bill, voted down by an organised Turkish majority in 1877.