The West Lothian Question: Answers Please!
The issue around Scottish devolution is a very complex one. There are many who talk about the effects of devolution on the Scottish and how the strength of the Scottish parliament has increased over almost the last 20 years, but there is one main area of it that doesn’t just affect the Scottish political system, but it also affects the British system as well. The issue I am referring to is what is commonly known as the West Lothian Question.
Now explained in its simplest terms the West Lothian Question concerns MPs who are representing Scottish constituencies. Not Scottish MPs, the distinction may seem trivial but it is actually crucial to this discussion. Now through the process of giving power and a degree of autonomy to another part of Britain (devolution) they have a degree of control over what they can do, Scotland and its government is the key example. It has quite a lot of power and can make certain decisions about taxes, tuition fees and currency. This means for example that if a certain law was to be passed in Britain but the Scottish government had already passed legislation agreeing or disagreeing with the new law, they in certain cases wouldn’t have to follow it. This was the situation over tuition fees. Scotland has control over this so when the legislation was passed to increase tuition fees, Scotland and its people were unaffected. This might seem fair enough as they do have their own government, but this is where the West Lothian Question rears its ugly head:
The issue that is raised is that Scottish MPs knew that Scotland’s people would not be affected by the tuition fee increase, however they still voted on it. This meant that as people of Britain, we had people voting on something that would affect us, but not them. This has been called by many deeply unfair. William Hague for example stated that “English MPs should have exclusive say over English Laws”. Cameron has addressed this issue directly stating that before any more devolved power is giving away, England needs to addressed first. He has proposed the idea of English MPs voting on English issues and no other MPs would be allowed to vote as it wouldn’t affect them. This does seem like a good idea however and as someone who is proudly British I do see a problem here. If you do divvy up countries into their separate parts, you may as well not have a union anymore as all the separate countries within it would be voting on issues that only affected them and the Westminster Government would become no more than a central body to oversee everything, such as the EU, all technically linked, but not united as one large whole like the countries in Britain are.
This issue has been around for a very long time, the term first coined by Enoch Powell in 1977. The issue is still under debate and an answer still hasn’t been reached, even with “a government appointed commission to address it”.
I am torn between my want to maintain the United Kingdom and what it stands for – a strong union between four countries all working together, not split into its separate parts and voting as if we were in a federalist system like America. My thoughts are matched by Jack Straw who stated that if you start “to take a mechanical approach, this so-called ‘English votes for English laws’ approach, then they [the Government] will break the Union”. On the other hand I greatly dislike the idea of people deciding something for me, if it has nothing to do with them or the people they represent, that is not representative democracy. So how are we to solve this? Well no one has yet, but I’m going to give it a good go over the next year. I will keep you informed of any ground breaking developments or breakthroughs I make.
By Sam Toombs