Next comes a U-turn on #EVEL
The West Lothian question, also known as the English question, refers to whether MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, sitting in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, should be able to vote on matters that affect only England, while MPs from England are unable to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The term “West Lothian question” was coined by Enoch Powell MP in 1977 after Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian, raised the matter repeatedly in House of Commons debates on devolution.
Despite the promises of the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems in what we all know as “the Vow”, the promise of a “Federal State, Home Rule & Full Fiscal Autonomy” were decimated the day after the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence. From the referendum, the question over which powers to be devolved to Scotland were passed to the Smith Commission who somehow managed to create a batch of powers with no teeth, a grouping of powers to be devolved which could easily be overruled through primary legislation reserved to Westminster, slammed with a simple tug on the fiscal strings that were not being devolved and by creating what can only be described as a fiscal trap with powers over budget and taxation being devolved that would see the Scottish Government have powers over setting the rate but not changing the underlying substance of things like state benefits. In other words, the only way to exercise such powers in a way which would affect any deficit would be to increase taxation or make cuts elsewhere. This, of course, giving the Tories the ability to point the finger and scream “why are you not using the new powers” if they didn’t use them, or yell “your hurting ordinary Scots” if they did use them.
After the Smith Commission, the devolution settlement was further watered down in the commons into a package of devolved powers with the consistency of wet pasta.
However, the biggest slight to the Scottish Parliament was the announcement on the day after the referendum that the Tories would introduce English Votes for English Laws to address the West Lothian question. As a pro-indy supporter, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t support the right of people in England to have autonomy over their affairs, but the only way to ensure that properly would have been the establishment of a federal system where England had its devolved parliament.
The problem for the Conservatives with such a federal settlement is that to devolve powers to a new English parliament, they would have to let go of control over a vast array of powers to Scotland. They would have to create, in affect, the full fiscal autonomy they had already promised and never delivered.
And so EVEL was born, the hap-hazard, off-kilter, skewed and useless policy that on English votes, only English MP’s would get to vote. It was in every sense of the word another way for the Westminster Government to create the illusion of devolving more powers while giving themselves more power to manipulate Scotlands budget via the back door.
For those of you that don’t know, the Scottish Government is funded by what is known as the “Block Grant”. The press will tell you that despite Scotland only having 8.4% of the UK population, we get 9.0-9.3% of UK spending via the block grant. What they always conveniently leave out is that general taxation derived from Scotland is between 9.3% and 9.9%. We pay more money to the UK than we get back. That makes the idea that Scotland is somehow subsidised by the UK Government a fallacy, a trick of switching the numbers around and applying selective quotations to suit the agenda.
So why is EVEL such a massive issue for Scotland?
Well, in a nutshell, the Scottish Block Grant is decided by what is known as the Barnett Formula. The Barnett formula is a mechanism used by the Treasury to automatically adjust the amounts of public expenditure allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to reflect changes in spending levels allocated to public services in England. The formula applies to a large proportion the Scottish Governments budget.
In its most basic form, a pound spent in England means that Scotland gets a proportion of revenue based on the percentage allocated. So if Westminster spends £1 in England on public expenditure, Scotland gets around 9 pence.
English votes for English laws is such a serious issue because it allows English only MP’s to vote on legislation and public expenditure in England, including transferring certain aspects of public spending into the private sector (privatisation) and reducing government spending in certain areas. In simple terms, the Tories privatisation and austerity agenda means that their MP’s can vote on English expenditure without Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MP’s having a say. The resultant reduction in spending then has direct consequences to the block grant to the devolved governments because of the Barnett Formula. This means that English MP’s can arbitrarily reduce Scotlands budget by only continuing with their Austerity agenda and Scottish MP’s get no say.
English Votes for English Laws also means that both Labour and the Tories were in the ludicrous position that they would never have been able to have another Scottish leader, mainly because he would be excluded from many of the votes on his or her own parties policies which applied only in England.
And then Theresa May shot her party in the foot and delivered a hung parliament.
In the House of Commons, a party requires a majority to be able to push through anything without being affected by the other parties. This requires that they hold a minimum of 326 of the 650 seat available. The Tories had that in 2015, they lost it yesterday.
With the Tories only holding 318 seats, they will have to make up the difference through a formal arrangement with the DUP who delivered 10 MP’s to Westminster. The only problem for the Tories is that if the other parties in the Commons disagree with them on any votes for England, they will be completely kiboshed because the DUP are from Northern Ireland (and their MP’s from Scotland) do not have the right to vote on English Only Matters. This means that they will be short by 20 votes because of EVEL.
So what will the first thing on the agenda be for the Tories? Well! To get any English votes through, the Tories are now going to have to repeal English Votes for English Laws or their own Scottish MP’s and their friends in the DUP will not be allowed to vote on any matters which are English Only.
The only potential issue that will stop it’s repeal is the fact that there are more lost opposition votes than allied votes, in which case every one of the tories will need to make themselves available for every vote. Of course on policies that the DUP disagree with, Theresa will need ALL of her MPs, The question now is whether Theresa May is willing to run the risk of losing based on the unavailability of her own MP’s and the DUP voting against her.