Just made the 6pm train to Edinburgh after a mad dash from the House of Commons. The debate of the day was EVEL (English votes for English laws). This was the third – or was it the fourth – attempt by the government to force through this shoddy procedure. And they won – predictably.
History was made today - and not in a good way. For the first time ever the rights of Scottish MPs have been curtailed in the Westminster Parliament. There will now be two classes of MP – those that can vote on everything and those that can’t.
I made a speech which you can see here but it's worth highlighting a couple of points. The UK parliament has decided to devolve power within the British state over the last 18 years – hence the creation of Scottish and Welsh parliaments and the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I’d be the first to admit that this has created an anomaly in terms of the governance of England.
This is a constitutional imperfection, but it’s pretty minor in comparison to others. If you’re looking for flaws in our political system wouldn’t more of a priority be that a party can have a majority in the House of Commons with barely more than a third of the votes cast, or that most members of the parliament aren’t elected in the first place.
That said, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t look at the problem. Every SNP MP would gladly, and with good grace, vote for measures which would give the people of England more control over their own lives. There are many ways to do this: an English parliament, regional legislative assemblies or even new powers for the existing structure of local government in England.
The EVEL proposals involve none of this. They are not about devolving power to the people; they are about the Tories keeping power for themselves. In truth, this is a political campaigning move, not a constitutional reform. It is about the Tories pandering to an English nationalism promoted by UKIP which sees them leeching support on their right flank.
The irony is that they are doing this in such a way as to fuel distrust and resentment amongst the people of Scotland. At the moment all MPs have equal rights in the parliament. No MPs can vote on devolved matters, me included.
The Tories are trying to make the House of Commons into two different things: a UK legislature on the one hand and an English legislature on the other. You can only do this if some MPs have more rights than others.
The proposals themselves involve an additional consent stage where English MPs will have to meet and give their consent. Effectively this means we get asked to step outside whilst they have a discussion. But crucially, at this stage English MPs could kill a proposal stone dead and we would get no further debate on the matter. When I pointed this out, quoting the proposed clause (84 N (4) if you can be bothered) you could see Tory MPs scouring the order paper to check. I genuinely think many of them did not realise this.
The other problem is how you define what is a piece of England only legislation. The proposals say that it is where only England is affected geographically and is a matter where the Scottish (or Welsh) parliament can legislate separately. Sounds fair? But hold on a moment, sometimes things that happen in England affect people in Edinburgh. Let’s take the example of tuition fees. If there’s a proposal to increase tuition fees in England it would make it harder for students in Edinburgh to go to Newcastle or Manchester universities. It would also mean Edinburgh’s universities would have to put up fees for English students. Anyone telling me that the people who elected me wouldn’t want me to try to influence that decision?
Or what about the health service? The SNP has always voted against the privatisation of health services in England because of the knock on effects on the health service here – and because we don’t want US health care corporations getting a foothold on our border. But from now we may be unable to vote on particular proposals.
All of this is unnecessary given the Tories have a UK as well as an English majority. There will not be a single piece of legislation passed as a result of these proposals that would not have been pushed through anyway. It just makes it a bit easier and the majority a bit bigger for the Tories. But in doing so they have made Scottish MPs second class citizens in their own parliament.
All of this fuels the arguments for the most obvious way of all to rectify constitutional anomalies – and that is to take the power to govern ourselves. That day just came a little closer after today’s votes.
Tommy, your speech today was inspirational, " you cannot throw pearls before swine'" they will rue this day.
Hopefully the opening we need to move towards an independent Scotland.
I watched the debate and I was very proud of the SNP and in particular your speech. It was glaringly obvious how the vote was going to go. The 'debate' was never ever going to change their minds and as long as the Tory's have a majority any debate on anything will just be paying lip service . They don't care, they don't listen and they don't respect the people of Scotland.
I don't think enough people will be aware of how bad this is, and the knock on for Scotland could be catastrophic
You can only do what you can do Tommy, and all of you did
A sad and bad day
You wrote "I don't think enough people will be aware of how bad this is, and the knock on for Scotland could be catastrophic".
If you are right then there will be another referendum in Scotland and Scotland will get independence. If you are wrong then no harm no foul. Seems like a win win for the SNP.
Or is the whole article written with same disingenuousness as your appearance on Newsnight after the fox hunting in England vote was abandoned?
Your speech was brilliant.
Some folk are saying SNP MPs should leave WM and come home but completely disagree with that as they would just carry on without us.
Stay and fight every bill, I know this will be a lot of work for you but we are behind you all 100%
Your speech today was awesome...thank goodness we have MPs like you fighting for us here in a Scotland. Please help us toward Independence, we cannot go on with this arrogant WM Government walking all over us. Thank you! x
Scotland moved a bit closer to being free I hope all no voters just realised how many lies better together camp told Scottish people
Going back to Westminster after the summer recess you can almost feel the impending doom in the air. It’s the calm before the storm. Everyone knows something bad is going to happen. Just not what exactly. Like waiting for the ghoul to reveal itself in a horror movie.
And as the dread unfolds the discussion about whether there should be another Brexit referendum will intensify.