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

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend