Friday, October 23, 2015

The End of the Union

I'm actually in favour of English Votes for English laws, at least in principle. It is, actually, dead right that politicians from England should be the ones to decide policy on matters that don't affect Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, just as the devolved assemblies deal with devolved matters here (and there).

But there's a big problem with EVEL as it is being implemented. Actually, there are two.

The first big problem is that there are very few truly English-only matters. Because of the way funding in the UK is determined, any change made to (say) the NHS in England has a direct effect on Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - if the budget is cut there, the badget is similarly reduced here. Likewise education, likewise policing, and so on and so forth.

That's not an insurmountable problem by any means. There are a couple of fairly simple solutions: they could reform the Barnett Formula so that those knock-on effects don't happen; or they could split decisions about allocating the money (UK matters) from those on spending the money (England-only).

Naturally, they're not doing that. Instead, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs are going to be excluded from votes that have critically important consequences for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Our budgets are going to be determined in votes on which our voices are entirely excluded.

Which ties in to the second problem.

As a consequence of EVEL, it is now effectively impossible for an MP from a Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish constituency to ever again be Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary, or indeed most of the other "great offices of state". The Foreign Office remains open and the now-vestigal Offices for the three other nations, but that's about it. (And, for the same reason, they couldn't be leader of any party with serious ambitions of forming a future government.) Of course, there's no legal impediment, but as a practical matter it would be unthinkable to have a PM leading a government who was himself barred from voting on most of that government's policies.

Having formally lost any input into the budgets that so crucially affect their constituents, and having practically been barred from high office, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs are now second-class citizens in Westminster. They're not equals; they're there to make up the numbers.

And with that, this is no longer a union of equals. As of now, Scotland is a colony.

(Incidentally, the was EVEL should have been implemented is as follows: set up one or more English assemblies, whether for England as whole or for different regions, that would then deal with local matters. Then replace the House of Lords with an upper house that deals with UK-wide matters - each regional assembly would send a number of representatives to the UK body, which would be responsible for oversight, setting the budget, and dealing with any international matters. That would have given us a nice, modern solution, would actually have been a nice, stable arrangement, and it might actually have led to the union enduring long-term. As it is, we've got a badly-considered fudge, and the clock is ticking.)

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