Leading Article: Tartan terrors of Mr Blair

Share
Related Topics
Should Tony Blair come to power and things go pear-shaped, taxes might rise, hospitals might close and squeegee merchants might stand poised and threatening at every urban road junction, but he and new Labour would never renege on their promise to set up a Scottish parliament. That there should be devolution for Scotland is as cast-iron a commitment as a political party has ever made.

But, as we reported yesterday, Labour is still wrestling with the ancient bugbear of allowing limited home rule in Scotland - the fabled West Lothian question. Asked most loudly in the late Seventies by the Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, the question is this: how can it be right for Scots MPs in Westminster to be allowed to exercise their votes and voices on matters affecting the lives of non-Scots, when English MPs may not do so over Scottish concerns?

One possibility, discussed by the Kilbrandon Commission back in 1973, was not to have Scots MPs at all, leaving Westminster as an English, Welsh (and Northern Irish) parliament. But this would either deprive the Scots of a voice on defence and foreign policy, or would be tantamount to full independence. Another answer, posed by the Callaghan government in its ill-fated Scotland Act of 1978, was to have a two-week cooling- off period on any vote primarily affecting England and Wales, in which the votes of Scots MPs had been decisive. It is hard to imagine such a recipe for confusion finding favour now.

That was why Labour turned to regional assemblies for England. If the English were to have their own little parliaments, exercising local power, then all would be in balance. Londoners, Scots, the Welsh, West Country folk etc - all would enjoy similar autonomy, while sending MPs to the House to decide national policy. QED.

Except, as Labour finally admitted to itself last year, the English do not actually want a new tier of regional government. If anything, they fancy rather less government altogether.

Return to square one, then. This explains why Mr Blair is planning a new commission to think up some good answers to the West Lothian question in time for the next election. What might it come up with?

One recommendation it could make is simply to stop asking the question. The (unwritten) British constitution is full of anomalies, including the proposed status of Northern Ireland, this argument runs. And there is a great deal to be said for it. Despite all that has been said and written on the subject, it is impossible to detect any backlash against the campaign for Scottish autonomy in the rest of Britain. The chances are that the passage of legislation to allow a Scottish parliament would attract little active resistance in the fens of East Anglia or the back streets of Manchester.

No - any trouble will come later, when unpopular measures for England and Wales are passed with the support of Scots MPs. Especially since it would then be discovered that the Scots have roughly one MP for every 70,000 people, while the rest of the country has only one for every 91,000. That is why Labour is now under such pressure to countenance the reduction of the number of Scots members from 72.

Labour's problem is obvious. It holds the vast majority of Scottish seats - so a reduction would make Labour governments less sustainable. Unless. Unless Mr Blair's party also endorses the idea of ruling in co-operation with the Liberal Democrats and accepting some form of electoral reform. Which, coincidentally, is what Peter Mandelson says he was wrongly quoted as advocating before Christmas. And - as we all know - a Mandelson misquote one week has a habit of becoming Labour policy the next.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst,HR,Halifax,£400-450pd

£400 - £450 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Project Coordinator - Cisco Partner - £110 p/d

£110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator (SC Cleared), Cisco Go...

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

i Editor's Letter: Douglas Carswell's defection

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone