Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The West Lothian Question

British politics is in a mess over devolution. 85% of the UK's population lives in England. The United Kingdom has one Parliament. Scotland has a second in Edinburgh, which has voted - for example - to provide better healthcare and free university education for Scots. Labour's Scottish MP's at Westminster, however, have voted with the government against such measures in England. Without those Scottish MP's, Labour could not push through its programme.

Meanwhile, England subsidises Scotland. Estimates vary, but ten billion pounds a year seems the most common round number. It's cheap by comparison with the EU, but it provides even fewer benefits to England. It has never won an ounce of goodwill from ordinary Scots, whose hatred of the "sassenachs" seems actually to have become worse with increasing economic dependence. Englishmen like me who love Scotland and like to visit learn to play up real or imagined Celtic antecedents so as to be treated with moderate courtesy while we are relieved of our money.

Soon it is likely that all three major national political parties will be led by Scots. Scots dominate the present cabinet and will probably dominate the next. 80% of the voters of Gordon Brown's Scottish constituency derive their income from the state, one way or another. This is fairly typical. Scotland is a Socialist "voter farm".

English anger at the "Scottish Raj" is rising to dangerous levels. Ordinary working-class English people are sick and tired of being blamed for everyone else's problems because of the alleged misconduct of their ancestors. St Georges' Day was a non-event when I was a boy with The Times snootily commenting on one occasion that "...nationalism varies inversely with the importance of the nation..." Now the flag of St George flies on that day and the long-slumbering beast of English nationalism is stirring. Debates on the England/Scotland question in the blogosphere are becoming quite disturbing in their intensity.

There is no ethnic difference between us. The DNA of the people on our islands (including the island of Ireland) is so mixed as to make the pretence of ethnicity ridiculous. We are one people, but sadly we don't feel it. Like Conan Doyle, I would like the entire Anglosphere to be politically united, but that's an idealistic dream. What Billy Connolly calls "...the wee pretendy Parliament..." will probably develop into a real one. The original West Lothian question will be supplemented with a new one; how can a United Kindgom government and parliament dominated by Scots negotiate Scottish independence with the Scottish Parliament without the English being stuffed for one last time?

We need an intermediate stage; ideally one which costs no more money and gives employment to no more wasters and scoundrels than the present set up. Here is my proposal

The present House of Commons should remain, but with fair representation for England, Scotland and Wales (i.e. fewer Scottish and Welsh MP's). The House of Lords should be abolished. An English Senate should be elected. The Welsh Assembly should become the Welsh Senate and the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Senate. The three "Petty Senates" should meet separately on issues solely relating to England, Scotland and Wales respectively as unicameral local parliaments with specific delegated powers (identical in each case, rather than the present mishmash).

The three Senates combined (the "Grand Senate") should fulfil the present functions of the House of Lords.

The appointment of judges should be delegated to the chairman of each of the Petty Senates, so that independent judiciaries can emerge over time. The Grand Senate should be charged with forming a new constitution for the United Kingdom. That constitution could include entrenched provisions (e.g. on civil liberties) which could only be amended with the consent of all three Petty Senates.

In the short term this would provide fairness and improve parliamentary democracy. In the long term it would create constitutional perforations which could later be torn to separate two or three of the nations if they so require.

I anticipate it would be England that first decides to go. At least its Petty Senate, rather than the Scots-infiltrated House of Commons, could then provide the negotiating team for the constitutional settlement that would follow.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excallent article, but you are wrong where you say England has one Parliament,and that Scotland has two, England has NO Parliament, Scotland has its own, but has also as you say heavily infiltrated the 'UK Parliament' that just so happens to be in England, it may aswell be on the moon, its still not English, although it once was and i suspect will be again.

You would have a case though in calling the 'UK Parliament' the Scottish Parliament 'South'.

Tom Paine said...

Anonymous, you are right. I have made the correction in bold. Apologies.

Simon said...

The West Lothian question has indeed created problems. For example, Trust hospitals being forced upon The English through Whipped Scottish MP's when Scots would not entertain the idea in Scotland.

However, I disagree with the Senate idea. We need a strong and independent upper house to clip the wings and curb the governing party. The amount of legislation that this Government creates is ridiculous, and the amount which is a threat to our civil liberties is a great worry.

The Australians took our model, but with an elected upper house.

Tom Paine said...

Only three years late, but welcome!! I got quite nostalgic dealing with a comment on this long-dormant site. Do please visit the current incarnation of the Last Ditch at typepad.lastditch.com.

My thinking was that the Grand Senate would be a very strong Upper House, with all members elected. If we sort out a proper entrenched constitution, it could require a majority in all Petty Senates to change that, giving some sort of constitutional legitimacy to the UK. Still, I think it would most likely be an intermediate step on the way to an independent England. Things have only got worse since the post was written I am afraid.

Thanks for your comment.