Monday, 24 November 2014

One Parliament Or Two - The Flaws In "English Votes For English Laws"

After the Scottish independence referendum, there is a consensus that Holyrood (i.e. the Scottish Parliament) should be given more powers, and this raises the English Question - basically, what sort of devolution, if any, should be offered to England. Regional devolution? City-regions? More powerful local councils? English Parliament?

One thing to note is that local government is devolved to Holyrood. If it wanted to bring back the old regional councils - Borders, Central, Dumfries & Galloway, Grampian, Lothian, Strathclyde, Tayside - as the upper tier of two-tier local government, then it could. (Yes, I've missed out Fife, Highland, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Western Isles as these are each the same as a single local authority).

Therefore, if an English Parliament were set up then it would have the power to create regional assemblies, require major cities to have directly-elected Mayors, reform local government etc.

One "solution" being suggested is "English votes for English laws", which would mean that the Speaker of the House of Commons would designate some Bills as "English-only" and only MPs representing English constituencies could vote on them (there are weaker suggestions, such as Second Readings being for England-only MPs).

Sounds fair, doesn't it? After all, as some supporting it say, that would mean England would be getting what Scotland has - our own Parliament to discuss things that just affect us.

But it doesn't. And this brings me to the concept of the dual mandate.

When the Scottish Parliament was first elected in May 1999 there were people who were both MPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament:

MP/MSP Party Constituency/Region End of dual mandate
Dennis Canavan Independent* Falkirk West Resigned as MP in November 2000
Malcolm Chisholm Labour Edinburgh North & Leith Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party Perth Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Donald Dewar Labour Glasgow Anniesland Died in October 2000
Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party Moray Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Sam Galbraith Labour Strathkelvin & Bearsden Resigned as MSP prior to the June 2001 general election, at which he retired as MP
Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat Scotland Central** Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
John Home-Robertson Labour East Lothian Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
John McAllion Labour Dundee East Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Henry McLeish Labour Fife Central Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party Galloway & Upper Nithsdale Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Alex Salmond Scottish National Party Banff & Buchan Resigned as MSP prior to the June 2001 general election
John Swinney Scottish National Party Tayside North Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party Angus Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat Orkney*** Retired as MP at June 2001 general election

  • * Cananvan had been expelled from Labour in March 1999 after being nominated for the Scottish Parliament against the official Labour candidate
  • ** Gorrie was MP for Edinburgh West
  • *** Wallace was MP for Orkney & Shetland

There were also members of the House of Lords elected to the Scottish Parliament:

Peer Party Constituency/Region
James Douglas-Hamilton Conservative Lothians
David Steel Liberal Democrat
Mike Watson Labour Glasgow Cathcart

There are no dual mandate MSPs at the moment. The crucial thing is that if someone wants to be an MSP they have to stand for the Scottish Parliament, which sounds rather obvious, but there is an important point here. MSPs have one job, MPs have another, and if someone wants to do both they have to be elected to both.

English Votes for English Laws is not giving the people of England the same as Scotland has. It would create 533 people who would have a dual mandate - sometimes being being part of the UK Parliament and at other times being members of an English quasi-Parliament.

There would be nobody who the people of England would be electing to represent us solely on English devolved matters, while the people of Scotland can choose people to represent them on devolved matters.

When I looked at the West Lothian Question, I briefly looked at the issue of the "bifurcated Executive", whereby there would be a UK Government which would not have a majority in the House of Commons on "English-only" matters.

We can look at the results for England at all elections since 1945 (the Speaker is listed among their original party's tally and parties in bold are those forming the UK Government) - note that we are including the English university constituencies until their abolition at the 1950 election (Oxford University, Cambridge University and Combined English Universities each elected 2 MPs by the Single Transferable Vote and London University elected 1 MP by Single Member Plurality, or "First Past The Post" as it is often known as):

July 1945

  • Labour - 331
  • Conservative - 159
  • National Liberal - 7
  • Liberal - 5
  • Independent - 2
  • Communist - 1
  • National - 1
  • Common Wealth - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent National - 1
  • Independent Progressive - 1

Labour majority 152

February 1950

  • Labour - 251
  • Conservative - 243
  • National Liberal - 10
  • Liberal - 2

Labour/Liberal majority 0, Conservative/National Liberal majority 0, or Conservative/National Liberal/Liberal majority 4

October 1951

  • Conservative - 259
  • Labour - 233
  • National Liberal - 12
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative/National Liberal majority 36

May 1955

  • Conservative - 279
  • Labour - 216
  • National Liberal - 14
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative/National Liberal majority 75

October 1959

  • Conservative - 302
  • Labour - 193
  • National Liberal - 13
  • Liberal - 3

Conservative/National Liberal majority 119

October 1964

  • Conservative - 256
  • Labour - 246
  • National Liberal - 6
  • Liberal - 3

Conservative/National Liberal majority 13

March 1966

  • Labour - 286
  • Conservative - 216
  • Liberal - 6
  • National Liberal - 3

Labour majority 61

June 1970

  • Conservative - 292
  • Labour - 217
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative majority 73

February 1974

  • Conservative - 268
  • Labour - 237
  • Liberal - 9
  • Democratic Labour - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1

Conservative majority 20

October 1974

  • Labour - 255
  • Conservative - 253
  • Liberal - 8

Labour/Liberal majority 10 or Conservative/Liberal majority 6

May 1979

  • Conservative - 306
  • Labour - 203
  • Liberal - 7

Conservative majority 96

June 1983

  • Conservative - 362
  • Labour - 148
  • Liberal - 10
  • Social Democrat - 3

Conservative majority 201

June 1987

  • Conservative - 358
  • Labour - 155
  • Liberal - 7
  • Social Democrat - 3

Conservative majority 193

April 1992

  • Conservative - 319
  • Labour - 195
  • Liberal Democrat - 10

Conservative majority 114

May 1997

  • Labour - 329
  • Conservative - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 34
  • Independent - 1
Labour majority 129

June 2001

  • Labour - 323
  • Conservative - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 40
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
Labour majority 117

May 2005

  • Labour - 286
  • Conservative - 194
  • Liberal Democrat - 47
  • Respect - 1
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
Labour majority 43

May 2010

  • Conservative - 298
  • Labour - 191
  • Liberal Democrat - 43
  • Green - 1

Conservative majority 63

You can see why this is an attraction for some Conservative - longer periods of Conservative rule, forming an English Government without the Liberal Democrats at the moment...

To which I have a one-word response - Tullymander.

A tullymander is a gerrymander that backfires.

Although it might seem attractive to Conservatives in 2014, how about 2024? 2064? 2114? 2214? When I followed the debates on Scottish independence, I was struck by the short-termism of the Yes campaign, with an emphasis on how it would stop the Conservatives ruling Scotland. In 300 years' time, I expect the terms "Conservative Party" and "Labour Party" will sound as unfamiliar as the terms "Court Party" and "Country Party" are to modern ears.

A problem, as I have noted, is that English Votes for English Laws would mean that there would be Governments (normally Labour ones) which would not be able to get their business through the House of Commons on "English-only" matters. You could take three approaches to this.

One approach would be that we would just have to live with this - there is not much difference between the gridlock that exists in the US Congress when the House of Representatives and Senate are controlled by different parties. Labour and the Conservatives would have to sit down and decide "English-only" legislation that would be acceptable to both.

A second approach is that we would have to ensure that a Government could get its "English-only" legislation through, and if that means an early election, with the Prime Minister getting back the power to set an election date, then so be it. So, off we trudge to the polling booths until Scotland and Wales elect enough Conservative MPs so that there could be a Conservative majority Government for both the UK and England, or England elects enough Labour MPs for the other result.

Then there is a third approach - that of an English Executive, complete with an English First Minister (who may or may not be the Prime Minister).

When I looked at the West Lothian Question, I noted that objections were made when Labour's John Reid became Health Secretary and later Home Secretary, on the grounds that he was a Scottish MP overseeing departments whose remit did not cover Scotland. Actually, they do, in part.

If we look at the current Government and consider Ian Livingston, the Minister for Trade & Investment. Now, he is one an example of a recent development in ministers, namely who has a cross-departmental role, at both the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

So, does Vince Cable, the Business & Innovation Secretary, have an England-only department, an rUK department or a whole UK department? If you look at the list of departmental responsibilities, then the clear answer is that it depends.

Any English Executive - and I appreciate this would be an issue if an English Parliament were set up - would come across the issue that the way departments have evolved has been messy rather than logical, with fuzzy boundaries, rather than sharp, clear lines saying "this is an England-only department" or "this is a whole UK department". Any English devolution of this sort would give the civil service hours of fun as they determined which was which and then suggesting to the Prime Minister how departments could be created, restructured, abolished and merged to ensure that they were England-only, rUK or whole UK.

Related to this, any Bill would have to be carefully examined to make sure that it didn't combine two or more of these categories, as it would get very tricky if there were MPs who could vote on some clauses and not on others.

"English votes for English laws" most definitely does not create any sort of equality between England and Scotland voters. If we are to have a Parliament that decides England-only laws, then I want a vote for it. Not a vote for someone who sits in the United Kingdom Parliament and then has to moonlight as a Member of the English Parliament.

If you project Scottish election results onto the Westminster constituencies - as I did for May 2007 and May 2011, then you see the growing separation between how Scots vote for the Scottish Parliament and for the House of Commons. In 19 (out of 59) constituencies in 2007 the poll was topped by someone from a different party than the previous Westminster election; in 2011 this has increased to 43.

Once we separate out what is England-only and what is all-UK, then the logical consequence is that people may be attracted by different parties. You may, for example, support the Conservative stance on foreign affairs, defence and social security, while being attracted to the Labour stance on health, education and the environment.

If we want true equality on this issue, then we cannot go for a UK Parliament with English MPs dual-mandating as a pretend English Parliament. We need to go for a full English Parliament, elected by the people of England voting on manifestos that deal with England-only issues.

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