Archive for January, 2010

POWER 2010 and Conservative Policy

POWER 2010 must be pleased with themselves, as the 4th highest rated idea in its campaign so far is one which is not unlikely to make it into law, as it is something the Conservatives were considering back in 2007.

The idea is “English Votes on English Laws” and it dredges up the decade-old West Lothian question, which has proved unsolvable so far, though Labour have actually attempted solving it, contrary to the popular opinion conspiracy theory that they haven’t because they’re held to ransom by Scottish MPs. However, the regional assemblies referendum failed, meaning that England is as of yet left relatively untouched by Devolution, the GLA aside.

The POWER 2010 solution is astonishingly poor quality, something it shares in common with the Conservative from 2007. It is essentially the same — that Scottish and Welsh MPs should be forbidden from voting on “English” policy. Allow me to describe the number of ways in which the policy wouldn’t work:

a) As Ken Clarke himself recognised when talking about the policy proposals to come out a few years ago, you can’t attach this solution to committee level, where policies that effect England probably take place in nearly every committee. So Clarke recognises the divisive nature of the policy before the analysis has even properly started, something that makes it unlikely to be a good solution on any level.

b) Before you even think of forbidding Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs from voting on English matters, you have to formalise devolution and turn it into federalism, to recognise the devolved powers constitutionally. This could prove more tricky than many people might think, particularly in Northern Ireland.

c) The second argument provided in favour of the policy on the POWER 2010 campaign is that “It gives the English nation a political voice at the national level, which at the moment it lacks.” This is nonsense. The English would still have one voice, whilst the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish would have two. Enforcing new regulations about the voting rigths of MPs from these countries doesn’t change that fact. If you want to give the English nation a political voice at the national level, you need devolve power to England separately.

d) Now we get into the constitutional absurdities that are attached to this sort of solution. Imagine a government which achieved its majority through Welsh and Scottish MPs, but an opposition which had a majority among English MPs. This would demonstrate how shallow a solution the idea really is — you wouldn’t have two governments, one for England, one for the UK, after all. You would still have one government, but English policy would become a no-go area, for fear of the opposition dictating policy to the government. This would not be good for national unity.

I really had hoped that the consultation process that POWER 2010 held would have achieved better refinements than this. At the end of the day, the only real way to achieve equality in democratic status between the constituent nations is to have equal devolved settlements. This means either an English Parliament, or regional assemblies, or even more local reclaiming of power. But it does seem a point worth making that devolution was never a policy designed with the intention of being an equal settlement. It was meant to redress what was viewed as a skewed balance of power between the constituent countries of the Union — an effect caused by England’s dominance, at least partly exacerbated by the majoritarian system of election. Given this, I personally think there are more pressing reforms to consider.