The West Lothian Question: An Answer.

England has no Parliament.

It hasn’t had since the Act of Union was given the Royal assent over 300 years ago.

Yet a lot of people – including English and Scots MPs alike – labour under the misconception that it has, that the Westminster Parliament is its direct successor and that the English Parliament subsumed that of the Scots. The reality is that both ended at the same time and were succeeded by the present Westminster body, the Parliament of the UK.

Any rumblings of unrest among some (English) MPs about Scottish representation at Westminster arise in part, I’m sure, out of this misunderstanding – if it’s not just deliberate mischief making.

Yes, there is now an imbalance in that English MPs have no say over devolved matters. Note, however, that no Scottish, nor Welsh, nor Northern Irish MPs at Westminster are in a different position in this regard. All are MPs of the UK Parliament and all are as unable to vote on devolved matters as any English MP (except insofar as they may be a constituent in Scotland, Wales or N. Ireland – when their influence is as minimal as mine – unless they happen to be a dual member.)

But this imbalance is only a corollary to that which prevailed before devolution, when English votes could override any combination of Welsh, Irish and Scots.

But that is actually still the case, the more so since the number of Scots MPs was reduced after devolution. If every English MP so decided they could easily all vote one way on any particular issue and to hell with the Celtic fringe.

However, that would be to deny that there is a union and that the constituent parts of the Union ought – while the union exists – to be aware of the interests of all the other parts. It was precisely for this reason that Scotland’s number of MPs was, before devolution, much higher than it ought to be on a strict head count.

In this regard, the US system whereby the lower House (of Representatives) is elected on a by-head basis and the upper House (the Senate) where each state – no matter how big or small – has two senators each, is just such an attempt to reconcile the rights of parts of the federation with the whole. (The position of the District of Columbia is an anomaly.) Whether it succeeds or not is another matter.

That’s the point. Every system is imperfect. Short of a federalised UK where the representation of each of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland was more or less equal (and how likely is that to come about?) or similar devolved powers being given to England (and Wales and NI) as now exist for Scotland – which would mean the UK Parliament needed a large reduction in size (a consummation some quarters would no doubt fervently desire but for which MPs are not going to be turkeys voting for Christmas) – we won’t be getting one.

For the moment (or, do you think, until a Tory UK administration conspires with the SNP to remove Scotland from Westminster completely and therefore embeds its English hegemony in the rump UK Parliament that would be left?) we’re stuck with the situation as it is.

And that means the answer to the West Lothian Question?

Is, “So what?”

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8 comments

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  1. Michael Knowles

    I am presuming, on writing this comment,that Jack Deighton is a Scot.I say that because I am inclined to think only a Scot could write this facile article on the West Lothian Question Another Scot who came up with almost exactly the same response to the WWQ was Derry Irvine, Blair’s first Lord Chancellor (Blair being a member like his wife of Irvine’s barrister chambers in London). ‘The way to deal with the WLQ,’, said Irvine in a respite from decorating his House of Commons suite with the most expensive wallpaper since the Act of Union, ‘is not to ask it’. Maybe you can’t blame these Scots. After all, they are on a blinder.
    Scotland cannot pay its way, it spends far more than it produces in taxation. Its deficit is £11 billion a year. which the Englaish taxpayer foots the bill for, each of them paying an extra £282pa to keep the Scots in the style to which they have become accustomed. This is what the Barnett Formula consists in. It gives each and every Scottish man, woman and child £1600 more pa than what the English get for education, healthcare, social servicdes, you name it. Not a bad deal! But that’s just the financial part of the deal, there’s the political handout as well. With the 1998 Devolution legislation it’s called the WLQ. In every single interior matter Scotland now rules itself with no English involvement whatsoever, be it education, health, forestry, culture, sport,agriculture, fisheries, social services, the lot, with no Engish MP and no UK government having a say at all. While in total contrast each and every Scottish MP can vote on every item of legislation for England and be a Minister in the UK government for English only matters and be the Prime Minister and
    everything else. Talk about being in the Union with the snout in the trough for every benefit going and at the same time for 75% of what matters to Scotland having total self-rule. Little wonder the Derry Irvines and the Jack Deightons of this world chuckle and chortle over the WLQ. . Their country is quids in. And little wonder that in 1998 Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar couldn’t get the devolution legislation through the Commons quick enough. In March 1989 Brown and co signed the Scottish Claim of Right pledging to put Scotland first and foremost in everything they did. They’ve done that all right. But we -the English- are on to them now.If they want to stay in the Union, it’ll have to be on equal terms. We’ll see to that.We’ll get what they’ve got, an English Parliament with the Scots totally excluded from English internal affairs and the same amount of money spent on each individual English person. Jack Deighton and crew had better get ready for it. The party’s over. They are in the Union on equal terms or they are out of it, on their own, paying their own way if they can -something they haven’t done for over 300 years. The days of the Scottish begging bowl will soon be over.

    Michael Knowles. 1 Howey lane, Congleton Cheshire CW12 4AE Tel: 01260 271139. And a member of the National Council for an English Parliament.

  2. jackdeighton

    Hmm. Touched a chord, methinks.

    How to respond? How to respond?

    1. I’m actually half English, and only a quarter Scots.

    2. Facile?
    Provocative maybe, but facile? I did say in my post that constitutional arrangements are not perfect. My final remark was about the present situation. That’s the way it is – which is the only response to the question. The post’s title an answer, not the answer (compare Swift’s “Modest Proposal”) was a signal that this was my intention.

    3. I welcome your recognition of a democratic deficit. I don’t remember hearing much from England in this vein, though, when the boot was on the other foot and Scotland was being governed (almost uncomplainingly – the poll tax riots were an English phenomenon) by people whom it had overwhelmingly rejected. Come back with that argument after three hundred years of being on the wrong end of it and I’ll have some sympathy with you. I note you did not address my point that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs are in as much a deficit as English ones vis-a-vis legislation at Holyrood, Cardiff or Stormont.

    4. Taxation?
    Perhaps that should be higher. Ever contemplated that, Mr Knowles? Especially for folk on million pound salaries and bonuses. Or even those on £100,000 a year. The average UK annual wage/salary is around £25,000. In that context even 40% tax payers are rich and can surely afford to pay more tax.

    5. Quids in? Snouts in the trough?
    What about the Scottish mineral wealth the Thatcher – mainly English – government appropriated and then frittered away on unemployment rather than on infrastructure or building up modern industries; after creating said unemployment in the first place? Or the national assets they sold off to line their friends’ pockets? Not to mention the vast majority of UK government expenditure on services which could be located anywhere in the UK but are centralised in London.

    6. Nowhere in my post did I resort to such intemperate language. It would be possible to to traduce the English (i) on the basis of this comment (ii) on their electoral behaviour in the 1980s but that would hardly be fair, would it?

    7. Equal terms.
    That would be good. I did hint at that. On that basis Scotland and England, as two sovereign nations, ought to have the same number of Westminster MPs.

    8. An English Parliament.
    I’m all for it. (As long as it’s not also a UK Parliament.)

    9. “We’re on to them now.” “We’ll see to that.”
    Both of those sound a bit to me like demanding money with menaces. That is the language of bullying. Nobody likes a bully, Mr Knowles.

    10. National Council for an English Parliament.
    Which nation could that be, then? Not the UK, obviously.

    11. By the way, I’m quite keen on accurate spelling and punctuation. I tend to think they represent a measured thought process rather than a venting of spleen.

  3. John

    “But this imbalance is only a corollary to that which prevailed before devolution, when English votes could override any combination of Welsh, Irish and Scots.”

    —–not so. What prevailed before 1998 was a union parliament for all of the union ie a British parliament.It has never been very fair , England has always been underrepresented. It also surrepticiously operated a longstanding tax and spend policy( Barnett rules) which discriminated against the English on a national basis and in favour of cotland nad Wales also on a national basis. Still does- even though those countries have their own parliaments.
    ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

    8. An English Parliament.
    I’m all for it. (As long as it’s not also a UK Parliament.)

    —– now I’m with you there , and particularly with you in that it should on no account be a subdivision of the UK parliament ie not just the MP’s for English constituencies meeting in another room and calling themselves an EP.

    11. accept it Jack. The level of spleen on this matter is in fact unbelievably limited and restrained, given the moment of the subject under discussion.

  4. jackdeighton

    “—–not so. What prevailed before 1998 was a union parliament for all of the union ie a British parliament.It has never been very fair , England has always been underrepresented.”

    So English votes couldn’t override any combination of Welsh, Scots and Irish?
    How come, then, Scotland was landed with the poll tax before the rest of the UK? That English “underrepresentation” still rode roughshod over everyone else.
    What went around has come around.

  5. John

    I can’t be bothered to get into a debate on the poll tax of the 1990’s; that of 1381 is a lot more real to me. Just bear in mind that we in England payed poll tax too. Or didn’t you know that?

    The central point is that after 1998 Scotland and Wales have their own parliaments as well as still exerting power over England via the British parliament. Numbers are not actually very important here. The same principle would apply if there were only one or a thousand foreign MP’s in a parliament for England.

    a little bit obtuse, I think. I am sure you know that constituency sizes in the British parliament are highly skewed against England and in favour of the other three. In England’s book of fairness, that aint fair.

  6. jackdeighton

    But they’re not foreign MPs. They are full members of the UK Parliament – as are all MPs for English constituencies (not all of whom may be English, by the way, in the same way that some members representing Scottish constituencies may well be English.) As such they have exactly the same rights as any other MP. That was my point.
    Whether it’s fair or not is another matter. (And the remedy would be an English Parliament with powers similar to Holyrood.)

    And yes you did have the poll tax too. Eventually.
    But it was foisted on Scotland first – and there was no gnashing of teeth from south of the border about the unfairness of that.

    Constituency sizes. As I said in my post, in the US Senate each state has two members; no more, no less. It doesn’t matter how big or small the state is. We have no such equalising counterweight in the UK constitution. The imbalance in constituency sizes in the UK Parliament was supposed to redress by a little way the possibility of the more populous parts of the polity ignoring or overriding the needs of the other parts but it quite often failed to do so. And, again as I said in my post, after devolution the imbalance is now much less.

  7. John

    No Jack , the imbalance is now much more.

    Poll tax – pshaw, can’t be bothered to tackle the fixed delusions of some Scots on this – waste of time.

    “Foreign MP’s” —- it actually takes me a little wrench to say that as I was brought up British therefore with the assumption that all of those within the ambit of the word British were “us” and not foreign. Things have moved on though and the key fact in causing the moving onwards is the emergence of national parliaments for Scotland and Wales. If,at the same time,there had also been a national parliament for England then we could all have continued rejoicing in the overarching concept of Britishness as well as our particular country nationalities.
    Pity. 12 years of nations and regions pap from New Labour has damaged Britishness probably beyond repair.

    Your point re Hse of Representatives/ Senate is one I agree with
    -not a lot different from Stalin’s 1936 Soviet Constitution(in theory only!)

    T’would have been a good idea to have put that into place in 1707, together with a new federal/confederal parliament located somewhere in the centre of the British Isles eg Anglesy. A bit late now. I do not recall the(mainly Scottish) advocates of Union in 1707 voicing these ideas.(n though federalism was mentioned in passing—- in England also)

  8. jackdeighton

    Scotland and Wales have fewer MPs since devolution so the imbalance in UK constituency size is now smaller than before.

    Britishness was screwed well before 12 years of New Labour pap. The little Englanderism of the Thatcher government was the real final nail.

    Yes. The UK Parliament ought not to be located in London. And a federal arrangement would be good.

    The Union of 1707 was widely opposed in Scotland at the time but the opponents mostly didn’t have the vote. Some of those who did vote for it were effectively bribed to do so – a fact which doesn’t reflect well on the bribees (Scottish) nor the bribers (it was English money.) “Sic a parcel o’ rogues in a nation.”

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