Dave flies the (Union) flag

Just been listening to Dave’s speech to the Scottish Tory conference in Ayr, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised by the strength of his defence of the Union. I thought he used some interesting sentence structuring when he talked about being “confident” that a way could be found for English MPs to be given a decisive say on legislation that applies to England only. Is this a public acknowledgement that such a mechanism has been examined by the likes of Ken Clarke and many others before him, only for them to conclude that it’s neither practical nor possible?

But his statement that, if confronted with the choice between an imperfect Union or a divided one, he would choose the former, is one that I would wholeheartedly endorse.

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4 Comments

Filed under Conservative Party, David Cameron, Parliament, Politics

4 responses to “Dave flies the (Union) flag

  1. Math Campbell

    Before I begin, may I note a disclaimer that I am an SNP supporter; however I will try not to let my political leanings interfere with my objectivity.

    I’d like to ask why Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories can’t do what the SNP and Plaid Cymru have already done in regard the so-called West Lothian question if they aren’t willing to legislate a solution, which is to simply agree that their Scottish members will neither speak nor vote on any issue that does not affect Scotland. In fairness I must add the SNP themselves have voted on non-scottish issues twice, top-up fees and foundation hospitals if memory serves, but both times they argued the bills would affect Scotland in some way. Otherwise they have not.

    Why can Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories not do this? I note the Lib Dems did agree to do so after devolution back in ’97 but have since conveniently forgotten the promise, like so many others.

    If Labour are serious about fairness in the UK, why not simply make it a convention and agree to follow it? The Tories have already done this back in 2001, not much of a feat I’ll grant you being that their Scottish contingent was decidedly singular…

    If the Union is better than independence as you assert (and I respectfully disagree most profoundly) but IS flawed, when will Labour use their massive parliamentary majority to introduce conventions like this to fair things up a bit, along with some actual legislation to balance out a few other things?

    Or is it all about posturing and being “seen to care” about it?

  2. Math – sorry to disillusion you, but I can assure you the SNP group at Westminster no longer even pretends to abstain on English-only issues (privately, at least). And when I challenged one of them last time they voted on such an issue (I am on good terms with them all so I’ll spare this particular colleague his blushes) he just laughed and said that when there was a danger the government would lose, the policy was flexible.

    Devolution was a solution aimed specifically and exclusively at Scotland; to claim that devolution should have an impact on the balance of votes in the House of Commons makes no sense. And the idea that Scottish MPs can impose their will on England is, of course, nonsense, since English MPs will always vastly outnumber Scots. But I was elected on a manifesto that was endorsed by the people of the whole country, not just Scotland. The reason SNP MPs still pay lip service to the notion of “English policies” being decided exclusively by votes of English MPs is the same reason such a policy is supported by right wing English nationalist MPs – it would undermine the Union.

    At the end of the day, the situation today is no different from the situation that prevailed from 1922 to 1972, when Northern Ireland had its own parliament and prime minister, but continued to send MPs to vote on all matters before the House of Commons. Actually, I’m wrong – there was a difference: UUP MPs took the Tory whip during that period, which explains why the Tories never objected to the arrangement and also why they currently do.

  3. Math Campbell

    Thank you for your reply.
    As I said, the SNP do occasionally vote on non-scottish issues (more so than I would were I a member!).
    But you didn’t really address the core issue. You state it wouldn’t be practical or possible to have a system whereby English MP’s are the only ones to vote on England-only acts.
    Yet clearly it IS possible; as with most things in the UK’s somewhat ad-hoc democracy, institute a convention that only MP’s from the nation affected by a piece of legislation should vote or speak upon it.
    That’s it. Very simple. You could even have the Speaker designate which bills are nation-specific, and which bills may have some influence on another UK nation.
    Since the speaker is (supposedly) apolitical, where’s the problem here?

    Of course, we both know the real problem. The real problem is on occasion the UK government faces a back-bench rebellion, or a free-vote where it’s looking a bit tight, and them MP’s from the Labour heartlands in Scotland and Wales may make it possible to pass.

    Forgot democracy, honour or even simple fairness, the party could still avoid an embarrassing defeat. If a convention came in that meant they had to rely solely on members from the nation affected, well, there might come a day when they lose a vote because all their MP’s from Scotland or Wales couldn’t vote. And that wouldn’t do at all.

    You’re right, there are precedents on the West Lothian Question; indeed, it was so named by a member of the UUP (Enoch Powell I think…just checked Wiki and my memory indeed serves well!) with a comment being made that perhaps there should be a “West Belfast Question” as well….

    Difference is, there weren’t any major NI-based ministers, the Prime Minister wasn’t from Northern Ireland (think Callaghan was Cardiff, wasn’t he?) and most of his ministers were from English seats.

    Now, we have a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Chancellor, and a couple of other Scottish members in the Cabinet. As others have noted, if a democratic convention came in for member not from the country affected to neither stand nor vote on a bill, the PM, the chancellor and several Cabinet members wouldn’t be able to vote on several large Bills. It would very embarrassing. It would also be the democratically “right” thing to do.

    I’m a Scots nationalist. It’s probably in Scotland’s favour that Scottish members get to vote on English matters. But I’m also, first and foremost, a democrat. And as a democrat, I must say that members being elected from one country, then voting on bills that exist solely to legislate another country is wrong. It was wrong when Thatcher’s lot voted in Scotland-only bills despite having no Scottish MP’s, and it’s still wrong today. If you, as a Scottish MP vote on English, NI or Welsh-affecting matters, then shame on you sir, and shame on any who do likewise.

  4. Shame on me, perhaps, and on other Scottish MPs – including SNP MPs – who vote on so-called English matters. Another – possibly the most important – reason for not going down this path would be that, in certain circumstances, a UK government could find itself without a majority on some issues. So you would in effect, be creating a parliament within a parliament: one party would have a majority in the UK while another may have a majority in England. So, two prime ministers, two cabinets, two sets of ministers.

    As the saying goes: the British constitution is all very well in practice, but it would never work in theory. Well-argued comment, though, Math, despite the self-righteous bit at the end.

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