The results from the 2015 General Election have not created the sense of drive and empowerment the Conservative Party was hoping for. What should have been a (not-so-robust) mandate for continued welfare reform and a discussion about the nation’s role within or outside of Europe has instead become a quagmire of international and constitutional legal wrangling and protest marches.
It is in this atmosphere that the West Lothian question – now in the guise of EVEL (English Votes for English Laws)- has resurfaced. The current leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling, is suggesting that through amending the standing orders by which parliament is run any legislation that applies to England (or England and Wales) will have an additional vote in which only English MPs (or English and Welsh MPs) can take part.
This, unsurprisingly and understandably, has ruffled a number of feathers. David Cameron, in response to the SNP leader in Westminster Angus Robertson’s argument that Scottish MPs will be excluded from decisions that will ultimately affect Scotland stated that “English MPs are entirely excluded from any discussion of Scottish health or Scottish housing or Scottish education… That [EVEL], I think, is only fair in a system when the Scottish parliament and the Welsh parliament and indeed the Northern Irish parliament have increased powers”
The attempt to introduce a major piece of constitutional reconstruction in the guise of tweaking of parliamentary procedures and mechanics will only add to the friction felt between London and the devolved parliaments. All of this being music to the ears of Nicola Sturgeon who, at best, can push for a second Scottish independence referendum or, at least, can point out the further alienation of Westminster from the political reality of the near one-party state north of the border. The only way to save the United Kingdom is then, paradoxically, to pander to the demands of both the Scottish nationalists and supporters of EVEL with the creation (or reconfirmation) of bodies to have direct control of their region with clear lines showing the responsibility of regional and central government.
Such a system works well in Germany, where the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the federal government extends to areas such as defence, foreign affairs, immigration, transportation, communications, and currency standards. In some areas the federal and state governments share concurrent powers including civil law, refugee and expellee matters, public welfare, land management, consumer protection, and health while in other areas the federal government offers guidelines to state legislatures, such as for nature conservation.
The clear definition of responsibilities between central government and devolved regions will help remove many of the tensions that exist between London and the rest of the country. Rather than creating Westminster into an English parliament that discusses some national issues, let’s create a Westminster that discusses what affects us all and let the governed in the regions govern themselves.