Wed Jun 14th, 2006 at 05:59:41 AM EST
Guardian:If it's English vote for English law, the UK's end is nigh
Helped along by the St George's crosses fluttering from every second car and the "Ingerlands" being chanted from pub pavements, the "English question" is back on the agenda. It goes way beyond the World Cup fever though - it's not about the strengths and weakness of the England football team. It is the old West Lothian Question rebranded - and it has still not been answered.
First asked in 1977 by the Labour backbencher Tam Dalyell, it has been rediscovered by every rightwing paper and pundit. The question is simple. Once powers have been devolved to the Edinburgh parliament over health, education or whatever, why should MPs sitting for Scottish seats be allowed to vote on such issues at Westminster? They are then making policy not for their constituents but for other people's. Is this not a question of fairness, and are the English not being given a raw deal?
More, after the break...
More countries to enter the EU? From the diaries - whataboutbob
In the view of rightwing commentators, the injustice is gross, cannot be tolerated much longer, and should provoke some kind of constitutional uprising by the English. It isn't only the commentators. David Cameron has put Ken Clarke in charge of drawing up the Tories' new constitutional proposals. Clarke has made it clear "English votes for English laws" is near the top of his agenda. Another former Tory home secretary, Lord Baker, has introduced a bill in the Lords to prevent MPs who don't represent English constituencies voting on matters devolved to other assemblies. Nearly 20 years on, apparently, this question cannot be ducked for much longer.
The first thing to be said about the English question is that it is almost entirely party political. If Scotland and England produced roughly the same proportion of Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MPs, nobody would bother discussing it. But with the Tories getting a majority of votes in England, its undercurrent is that the Conservatives are being cheated. If they got the majority of English seats, and a future Labour or Lib-Lab government was ruling on the basis of a majority dependent on Scottish or Welsh MPs, today's growing hubbub would turn into a full constitutional storm.
Are the Tories so desperate for power that they would tear the country apart? Quite probably. Intriguingly it would seem that it is Kenneth Clark, one the Conservative Party's most Europhilic ( and Euro supporting ) members who is wielding the knife. Clearly they have not thought through the implications of this strategy.
So the first question they need to be asked is this: are you content to embark on this road? Are you so worked up about the English question that you are prepared to see Britain disappearing as a political union? Are you happy about where that leaves England's voting weight in the EU? Have you thought through the implications for a British presence on the UN security council? It should be said that since public spending is higher in Scotland, separation could mean lower English taxes and therefore many would cheer. But I have a strong suspicion that Cameron and the rest of the Tory frontbench would be horrified at all this. They must be smoked out now, before they have finally committed themselves.
The creation of the Scottish Parliament took the wind out of the independence movement's sails. However, I think that an Anti-Scottish backlash is coming. Expect the Tories to go full tilt when Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister.
I say to my Irish friends that I think Scotland is more likely to become an independent nation before Ireland becomes a unified one.