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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor