Thursday, 11 July 2013

Devolution with dilution solving the Lothian question

Right the way across the globe old political structures are being torn down, the Arab spring has turned to Muslim winter, austerity in Europe drives people against their politicians and more generally the catholic South of Europe is in conflict with the Lutheran North.  In the BRIC economies rapid growth has not assuaged the thirst for change.  It must be something in the water that’s affecting us all, or is it just money or the shortage of it?  Interestingly it’s the middle classes and in particular the young middle classes who are after a change and they have forgotten their manners;  the post baby boomer generation thought they had it all in the Credit Boom and now they are feeling the pinch and look likely to be in recovery mode for years to come. In Blighty we have been somewhat protected although we having to acclimatise to coalition government and the rise of independence fever.  We may not be rioting on the streets in protest to austerity but we are close to a more fundamental breakdown.

Interestingly our problems have been highlighted by the two stunning sporting victories last weekend; the Lions Rugby win in Australia and Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon in the Tennis.  Brits should be able to bask in the reflected glory of these two great achievements but the problem is that the Rugby win was predominantly a Welsh affair and we all know where Andy comes from.  These Celtic triumphs gnaw away at us English and add to the uncertainty of our provenance and erode our self-respect.   Since 1985 these island races have been on a path to divorce.  It is a matter of time before the Anglo Irish agreement leads to full Irish independence and devolution (semi independence) has set Wales and Scotland on the same path.  Our beautiful unwritten constitution evolved over centuries of convention and the Rule of Law is really struggling to hold us all together our United Kingdom is on the ropes.
Breaking up is never easy
The media has become polarised and there seems no middle ground in debate between keeping the Union and giving independence to England’s occupied fringe.  The self-expression of the Scots and the Welsh is hardening attitudes in England.  Rather than evolving our democracy to suit people’s national aspirations within a single constitution all the talk is of locking our cohabitants out of law making in Westminster.  The problems we have at the moment revolve around the rights of the 99 Scottish and Welsh MPs (Members of Parliament) at Westminster; should they be able to vote on legislation that will only be enacted in England?  In Justice, Health and Education powers have been ceded to Assemblies in Scotland and Wales so why do their elected officials get to vote twice?  There are a number a hair-brained schemes being offered up where MPs will be able to vote on some bills but not others and MPs from outside England may not be permitted to join certain committees or serve in various ministries.  All of this nonsense and fuels the argument for real independence, which would be a total disaster for all concerned.  It’s obviously in our national interest to have unified policies on the economy, defence, foreign affairs, the environment and so on.  But there are areas where a more local approach could be valuable – education and health being two examples that seem to work.
So how do we strengthen the Mother of Parliament’s whist devolving more powers to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff?   We certainly don’t want to establish an English regional parliament to mirror the devolved assemblies, we have too much bureaucracy already, so what to do?  A simple solution to this issue might be to dilute the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs in proportion to the devolved powers that have been ceded – so if the Scottish Parliament is responsible for half the law making they would get 50% of the current number of MPs and if less powers have been ceded to Wales the dilution would be say 75% of current seats.  Admittedly they might be some difficulty in agreeing the dilution % but this will ensure equal rights for all MPs whilst removing the angst of the English (Tory) MPs feel so strongly.  It is so important that MPs at Westminster can play a full part in the whole legislative process and that this is seen to be fair, but increasing the size on constituencies in Scotland and Wales we should be able to keep everyone in the same tent whilst reflecting the devolved powers that have been passed north and west.
This dilution would also have the benefit of improving the chances of a ‘No’ vote on Scottish independence and would allow a gradual approach to rebalancing the House of Commons; which has 99 MPs from Scotland and Wales of which 67 are Labour and only 9 are Tory.  Removing the rights of these MPs to vote on large chunks of the legislative programme would consign Labour to being a regional minority party for years, damaging our democracy.  The dilution approach might be the fairest  way of dealing with our evolving ‘Federal’ Government.  If we halve the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs we would still have 50 MPs from these countries able take a full part in our parliament preserving the mix of nationalities whilst removing the whiff of un-fairness currently exists.

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