The British government had a bit of a chit chat about English Votes on English Laws yesterday with one Labour MP – Sir Gerald Kaufman – describing the idea of preventing British MPs from Scotland voting on things that only affect England as “racist”. Ironically, it was Sir Gerald who provided the sole voice of dissent in the late night debate involving a handful of British MPs who then voted to ceded Monmouthshire from England to Wales based on the rather flimsy pretext that it had lots of Welsh place names so he did have a sense of right and wrong where England was concerned at one time.
I’ve said many times that English Votes on English Laws is a nonsense – an unworkable, unconstitutional and insulting fudge – and I stand by that. Anything that costs money or has a perceived consequential impact on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland will allow MPs from those countries to vote on so-called English laws. It just won’t work and it’s an insult to expect us to accept this half-arsed fudge when the Scots and Welsh are currently getting even more powers for their devolved governments.
When the Tories first announced this policy many years ago it was immediately blown out of the water by an MP elected in Scotland who said he would claim an interest in every so-called English vote that involved spending money because it would affect the amount of money available to subsidise Scotland. This will apply to the majority of bills that are supposed to be English-only.
The opponents of a fair deal for England (not that this is one) – which includes the SNP – claim that stopping MPs elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from voting on things affecting England only which are devolved in their own countries and they thus have no say over, will create a two tier system in which the British MPs elected in England will have an advantage. But there is already a two tier system in place where MPs elected in England can only vote on the domestic affairs of the country they were elected in and where the affected voters can hold them to account through the ballot box and then there are MPs elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who can only vote on the domestic affairs of a country they weren’t elected in and where none of the affected voters can hold them to account through the ballot box. This English Votes on English Laws nonsense will create a third tier of British MPs being the MPs elected in England and Wales who can vote on the domestic affairs of each other’s countries provided that both those countries are affected by that matter!
This complicated and convoluted workaround involves the Speaker making a subjective decision about which lines of which bills should be restricted to MPs elected in England or both England and Wales and still allows MPs elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to debate, propose amendments to and vote on supposedly English laws. British politicians will still make British laws for England and England will still be the only country in Europe that has no form of self government. A much simpler, fairer and effective system is just to make England equal in the union with a devolved English Parliament made up of English parliamentarians elected to represent English interests in an English Parliament and make English laws for England. None of this faffing about with gentlemen’s agreements, forming grand committees to consider individual lines of a bill, arguing about whether something affects the money the rest of the UK gets so MPs not elected in England can have a say, buying 650 iPads to keep track of which MPs are voting which way, calculating English majorities and English & Welsh majorities on a line by line basis – just a simple devolved English Parliament with clearly defined areas of responsibility and a democratic mandate. Nothing crazy, nothing complicated, nothing scary and new, just the same setup that has been in place and tried and tested in Scotland and Wales for the last 18 years.
If the future of England and the democratic accountability of the people who believe they have a right to rule England wasn’t in question, the knots the British are tying themselves up in to try and make this unworkable mess work would be bloody hilarious.