The new First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that SNP MPs will start voting on devolved matters in England after the election.
Currently, the SNP have a self-imposed ban on voting on things affecting England that are devolved in Scotland. They have broken that rule from time to time but on the whole they have refrained from interfering in matters over which they have no moral or democratic mandate. However, this looks set to change in May and we can expect to see SNP MPs voting on things affecting England that they can’t vote on in their own constituency because it’s devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Sturgeon’s argument that MPs elected in Scotland can claim a legitimate interest in English affairs because it affects the amount of money they get from the Barnett bribe isn’t a new one. A Scottish MP whose name I can no longer remember said the same on the day the Tories announced English Votes on English Laws as their policy many years ago and of course he and the SNP are absolutely correct – EVoEL is nothing more than a sop to voters to con them into thinking the British are righting a wrong without actually doing anything.
The only way to answer the West Lothian Question is to devolve power to England just as it has in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Not by reorganising local government in English cities and pretending it’s devolution but by creating an English Parliament with an English executive with at least the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and abolishing the outdated and discredited Barnett Formula. If devolution is needed at a sub-national level in England – and it probably does – then what is devolved and how it is done is a matter for the English Parliament to decide just like it would be for the Scottish Parliament to decide in Scotland, the Welsh Assembly in Wales and the Northern Irish Assembly in Northern Ireland. Local government is a devolved issue so it’s not an appropriate decision for the British government to make, especially as any devolved assembly within England would have to be subordinate to the English Parliament.
Sturgeon’s decision to start voting on devolved matters in England is a clever one because it will increase the already sizeable outrage on this side of the border at MPs elected in Scotland interfering with English domestic affairs. If the demands for change get loud enough the British will be forced to do something and that will go some way to closing the democratic deficit between England and Scotland. If the Scots think that they aren’t getting enough of an advantage over England then support for the SNP will increase. It will also allow the SNP to say that they had no choice but to abandon their principals and fight against the cuts in England to save the Scottish NHS which will again increase support for the SNP.
However this plays out, the SNP and Scotland can’t lose. As usual.