One of the more popular posts this week was THIS one on an English Constitutional Convention. It attracted 84 comments. David Trimble also emailed me to point out the error of my ways. He said...
Last year I spoke to at the preconference dinner of the Scottish Conservatives, in the course of which I made the attached comments on the West Lothian question. You may feel that you avoid this arguement by having an English parliament but that would lead even more quickly to the end of the United Kingdom. I cannot understand why any Conservative follows such a course.
David is a man I have great respect for so I read his remarks with interest and have now got his permission to post them on here. But respect does not also mean that I have to agree with him.
...In such a situation, obviously a range of matters will be floated. One appeared the other day that bothers me. It is our old friend the West Lothian question. Some folk I think have a sentimental attachment to this. It must be nice to be told there is this important issue named after part of Scotland. Some are sentimental about Tam Dalyell. He is a fine man, virtually a Parliamentary institution. But that does not mean he is right. In fact in his splendid Parliamentary campaigns he is more often wrong than right. Superficially he appears right when he says that it is wrong that a Scots MP can vote on English matters but an English MP cannot vote on Scots matters. But if we look more closely it is a different matter. It is all a result of the rather curious way government is structured.
We have a government of the United Kingdom. It has Ministers who make policy who are each allocated a subject. It may be work and pensions, it may be trade and industry, it might be health. So far as the government is concerned each of those Ministers has the lead on that subject. But technically most of those subject ministries are so-called English ministries. And in addition to the subject Ministries there are the three territorial departments, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While there may be junior ministers within them who appear to be responsible for certain policy matters so far as the government is concerned its policy is made in the subject ministry in Whitehall. So in Westminster, if a Scots Welsh or Ulster member wanted to get involved in a debate on government policy concerning pensions his only real chance is in debates created by the so-called English department.
Does devolution make a difference to this? Not really. Look at finance. The famous Barnett formula just said that the territorial departments would get additional sums pro rata increases in expenditure in England. The latter are based on the government’s policies in England. So the increases that come to the devolved region are to enable it to carry out the policies that apply to England. In theory there is the freedom to vary policies, but the financial considerations mean that variations are modest. So preventing a Scots member from voting on an “English” matter will mean he cannot have an input in the policy that will apply in Scotland, which the MSP will inevitably accept with minor changes, if any, because the overall policy was decided in London! The result will be undemocratic. And this leaves out arguments about two classes of MP and reference to the debates on the various Irish home rule Bills where this issue was debated ad nauseam and settled, except for those who have forgotten about them.
So let us have an end to Conservative spokesmen suggesting that our representatives are deprived of their vote. It is wrong in principle. It is not even good politics. Conservatives do not need to reinforce the impression that they are only an English party, and a party of only part of England at that. They need to show that they are a British party, a party for everyone in this United Kingdom. The new leadership has the opportunity to remodel the party in this direction also!