Monday, 27 January 2014

Could There Be An 10 Month Labour Government of 2015-16?

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will be aware that on 18 September, the people of Scotland vote on whether to become independent or not. If they vote "Yes", then independence is likely to be for March 2016.

In the meantime there is a United Kingdom general election in May 2015.

The last election, in May 2010, gave the following result:

  • Conservative - 306 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Labour - 258 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Liberal Democrat - 57
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 8
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

The Speaker and Deputy Speakers do not vote - bringing the number of voting MPs down from 650 to 646. But the Sinn Féin MPs don't take their seats, so there are 641 voting MPs. To have an overall majority thus needs 321 MPs.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had 362 MPs between them, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats just had 313.

Now look at the Scottish result:

  • Labour - 41
  • Liberal Democrat - 11
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Conservative - 1

That is 59 MPs. Hence, if Scotland voted to leave, then there would be just 591 MPs in the remaining United Kingdom (often shortened to rUK). Using the logic above, with 9 non-voting MPs there would be 582 voting MPs, and hence to have an overall majority of 2 a party or coalition would need 292 MPs.

If we look at the rUK result, we have:

  • Conservative - 305 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Labour - 217 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Liberal Democrat - 46
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 8
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

As we can see, the Conservatives would easily pass that 292 MPs threshhold, and thus would have been able to form a majority Government.

Suppose that two things had happened:

  1. Prior to the 2010 election, Scotland had voted for independence, but it had not happened by the time of the election
  2. In rUK, Labour won an extra 10 seats from the Conservatives

In those circumstances, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have 352 MPs between them, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have 323. And in rUK, the Conservatives would have 294 MPs.

Coalition forming would have been interesting. The Liberal Democrats would have had the choice to back either main party, knowing that once Scotland had become independent and the MPs representing Scottish constituencies left the House of Commons, there would be a Conservative majority Government. So, which way to go? Form a short-lived Labour/Liberal Democrat Government, knowing it'll be out of office the following year, or form a Conservative/Liberal Democrat one, knowing they'll be dumped by the Conservatives the following year?

Now, instead of it being 10 seats switching from the Conservatives to Labour, imagine it was 20 - hence the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have 342 MPs between them, while it'd be 333 for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But for rUK, the Conservatives would have 284 MPs, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have 281. Seems like a similar situation as the previous paragraph - but the Conservatives would not have an overall majority of the rUK seats. Hence for a majority Government to be formed in rUK, it would have to be the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats together.

This creates an interesting set of possible outcomes:

  • From the start the Liberal Democrats enter Government with the Conservatives, knowing that it'll have a majority both before and after Scotland leaves the UK
  • At the start the Liberal Democrats enter Government with Labour, but once Scotland leaves the UK, that Government loses its majority and the Liberal Democrats switch sides to form a Government with the Conservatives
  • At the start the Liberal Democrats enter Government with Labour, and once Scotland leaves the UK, that Government loses its majority, and looks around minor parties for the extra 11 MP they need (note that they would need the Democratic Unionist Party, as the other minor parties and independent only have 9 MPs between them)
  • At the start Labour and the Liberal Democrats sit down with minor parties to get the onboard from Day One, and a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government backed up by confidence-and-supply deals takes office, although it doesn't need those deals while Scotland is still in the UK

Next, consider 31 seats switching from the Conservatives to Labour. In this case, across the UK, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have 331 MPs between them, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have 334 MPs between them. And for rUK, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have 319 MPs between them, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats having 292. Hence the Liberal Democrats could form a majority Government with either party, with or without Scotland.

So far, we have scenarios where the Liberal Democrats would have to plan carefully for a Government that could survive the loss of Scotland, or simply being temporary coalition partners prior to a majority Conservative Government running rUK. But the Liberal Democrats might not always be as powerful. What if they had a severe collapse?

Could we have the situation where a majority Labour Government would exist in the UK, but a majority Conservative one in rUK?

We need the following circumstances:

  • The Conservatives have 292 seats or more in rUK
  • Labour has 321 seats or more in the UK

There are 13 voting MPs from Northern Ireland and Plaid Cymru are reasonably safe in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, whilst being the party most likely to win Ceredigion from the Liberal Democrats.

So that gives us at least 15 minor party seats in rUK. If the Conservatives have at least 292 seats, there are 15 for minor parties, then there are at most 275 for Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined.

Assuming no there are no Liberal Democrat MPs in rUK, then Labour would need 46 of Scotland's MPs to have an overall majority in the UK as a whole. And for each Liberal Democrat MP in rUK, the number of Scottish constituencies Labour would have to win would increase by 1.

While it is possible, it would rely on a rare set of circumstances. Gone are the days when you just have Conservative, Labour and Liberal MPs. It is much more likely that a Labour Government relying on Scottish seats would be forced to seek a coalition partner or confidence-and-supply deals.

But there is an issue - would Scotland leaving the UK mean that Scottish MPs would have to leave the House of Commons?

We can look back at the Irish example of 1922. On 31 March, Parliament passed the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922, and the following day an Order-in-Council provided full devolution to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland (the devolved part of the UK that is equivalent to the modern day Republic of Ireland).

One of its provisions stated:

(4) No writ shall be issued after the passing of this Act for the election of a member to serve in the Commons House of Parliament for a constituency in Ireland other than a constituency in Northern Ireland.

But from April, while Southern Ireland was de jure a devolved part of the UK, it was de facto an independent nation. In December 1918, there had been a general election, and the result for what became Southern Ireland was:

  • Sinn Féin - 70
  • Irish Unionist - 2
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • Independent Unionist - 1

The Sinn Féin MPs did not take their seats, so this left 5 MPs (Edward Kelly, Nationalist, Donegal East; Maurice Dockrell, Unionist, Dublin Rathmines; Arthur Samuels, Unionist, Dublin University; Robert Woods, Independent Unionist, Dublin University; William Redmond, Nationalist, Waterford City) who were sitting in a House of Commons which no longer legislated for their constituencies.

In the autumn of 1922 there is a sequence of events:

  • October 19 - the meeting at the Carlton Club from which the 1922 Committee does not take its name, voting to leave the Government, leading to Austen Chamberlain, then the Lord Privy Seal, resigning as leader of the Conservative MPs
  • October 23 - Andrew Bonar Law becomes Conservative leader, David Lloyd George resigns as Prime Minister, with Bonar Law replacing him and forming a Conservative Government
  • October 26 - Parliament is dissolved
  • November 15 - General election. Although Southern Ireland is still legally part of the UK, no writs are issued for there
  • December 6 - Irish Free State created
  • December 7 - Northern Ireland secedes from the Irish Free State

The timings of the creation of the Irish Free State and the election are a coincidence.

But what is the lesson here? Presumably if Scotland votes for independence, then in the various Acts of Parliament, there'll be one stating that no writ will be issued for a Scottish constituency. But would this be before or after the 2015 election - i.e. would it be framed in such a way that only rUK goes to the polls and Scotland has 10 months of being part of the UK but with no MPs?

And if after the election, would it explicitly remove the Scottish MPs on Independence Day, or put them in 4 years of limbo - sitting in a Parliament that has no authority over their constituencies. But is this different from Kelly, Dockrell, Samuels, Woods and Redmond spending 6 months in this situation?

For the current Government (or at least the Conservative part of it), it would be in their best interests to have an Act with such a provision on the statute book this side of the 2015 election. While if Labour win the next election (or lead a coalition) then it would be in their best interests to allow Scottish MPs to remain until Parliament is dissolved in the spring of 2020, and for there to be natural wastage (i.e. as Scottish MPs die or resign, their seats remain unfilled).

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Abdication of The Queen - Why It Won't Happen

There was an interesting story in the Daily Telegraph this week, that the bookmakers, Coral, have stopped taking bets on the Queen abdicating this year.

The old story of the Queen abdicating does the rounds. She is nearly the longest-reigning British monarch, and on 9 September 2015 she reaches the 23,226 days achieved by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Although if we want to look at who has held the title of Queen longest, we have to look at her mother, Queen Elizabeth, on 23,850 days (as Queen Consort and then as Queen Dowager) - a point the Queen reaches on 25 May 2017.

This week saw the birth of the Queen's fourth great-grandchild, Mia Tindall. Currently 16th in line to the throne, and she will be moved down the line as more descendants of her great-uncles (the Prince of Wales, Duke of York and Earl of Wessex) and of her uncle (Peter Phillips) make their arrival into the world. But thanks to the Succession To The Crown Act 2013, she cannot be moved down the line to make way for younger brothers.

Can't she?

The legislative process is a little bit more complicated than "It gets Royal Assent. It becomes Law". Often there are provisions in Acts (or Bills as they are before they get Royal Assent) to say that they don't just come into effect. I noted the way that Acts are often prescriptive or permissive, and this is permissive:

5 Commencement and short title.

(1)This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.

(2)The other provisions of this Act come into force on such day and at such time as the Lord President of the Council may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.

(3)Different days and times may be appointed for different purposes.

(4)This Act may be cited as the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

What is this saying? Basically that the rules it introduces - the changes in the marriage laws for descendants of George II, changes concerning marrying Roman Catholics, and removing the gender bias in succession - are on the Statute Book, but cannot be introduced until an order is made by the Lord President of the Council, who is currently Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader.

Last year, Easter was 31 March. This year it's 20 April, and next year 5 April. But the Easter Act 1928 has different ideas, defining it to be "the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April".

OK, hang on a bit. According to an Act of Parliament - that has not been repealed - Easter Day should have been on 14 April. This year it should be 13 April. Next year it should be 12 April. We seem to have a discrepancy here.

This is resolved by a clause stating when it comes into force - there has to be an Order-in-Council passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This has never happened. The Government could lay an Order before Parliament next week if it wanted to, and if both Houses passed it, then the date of Easter would be changed. Indeed, the Guardian has called for this to be done.

It is possible that Prince George of Cambridge could have 4 children, in order:

  1. An elder daughter
  2. An elder son, married to a Roman Catholic, and without children
  3. A younger daughter
  4. A younger son

As the rules stand, the fourth child, his younger son, would be the heir after him. And even though the Succession to the Crown Act has been passed, the younger son would still be the heir. Following on this example, we could have the situation 80 years down the line, where a historian digs out the fact that in 2013 Parliament passed a law that would make the elder daughter George VII's heir, but that the Order to put it into effect was never issued.

The reasons for waiting a while are obvious - the Queen is Head of State of more than just the United Kingdom, and the Government is sensible to avoid the possibility of the rules of succession being changed in some of her realms and not others. Hence, wait till all the other countries she is Head of State of have completed their legislative processes before issuing the Order.

If you read some of the more excitable Daily Mail commentators, then something comes across. It was an attempt by Brussels to Europeanise the monarchy. It was there to keep the Liberal Democrats on board. And I'll come back to that in a bit.

Since the Union of Crowns, Parliament has removed reigning monarchs on 3 occasions. Charles I was found guilty of treason and executed. James VII was deemed to have abdicated his duties and removed - with Parliament deciding it had the right to select new monarchs and draw up rules for the order of succession, who could be debarred from becoming monarch etc. There was no Hanoverian army marching in to seize power - simply Parliament drew up rules which led to the Hanovers becoming next in line after Queen Anne.

The third removal is more recent - and was done by His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 removing Edward VIII. While in Johnny English, the Queen's abdication - the result of someone putting a gun to a corgi's head and telling her to sign it - is something the Prime Minister learns about after the event, in real life there needs to be an Act of Parliament.

The pattern there was on 10 December, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, read to the House of Commons a statement from Edward stating he intended to abdicate, and there was a debate, while Edward Wood, the Chancellor of Oxford University (who was in the Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords), read out the same statement to the House of Lords. And the following day, the Bill completed its passage and gained Royal Assent.

That Act took effect immediately:

1 Effect of His Majesty's declaration of abdication

(1)Immediately upon the Royal Assent being signified to this Act the Instrument of Abdication executed by His present Majesty on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, set out in the Schedule to this Act, shall have effect, and thereupon His Majesty shall cease to be King and there shall be a demise of the Crown, and accordingly the member of the Royal Family then next in succession to the Throne shall succeed thereto and to all the rights, privileges, and dignities thereunto belonging.

Technically, there was a "Demise of the Crown", which normally happens when the reigning monarch dies.

There are other explanations for the abdication - Edward didn't do it willingly, and his broadcast afterwards had an air of petulance; the Government didn't like him as he had criticised them when Prince of Wales etc.. An important thing to take away is that Parliament is sovereign (pun intended) over who is the sovereign - it can remove, change the laws of succession etc. via an Act of Parliament.

Suppose the Queen approaches the Government with her intention to abdicate this year. What's to stop there being a quick Bill drawn up, passed, signed, and the Duchess of Edinburgh toddles off into retirement?

Something has changed since her uncle's abdication - namely the Commonwealth. Just as Clegg is waiting for the other realms to complete their legislative processes before he issues the Order that brings the new laws of succession into effect, he would have to wait for the other realms to complete their legislation removing the Queen, unless we wished to have the anomalous situation of the Queen handing over to Charles at different dates in different realms.

This process could take weeks, or months or years. And maybe Australia decides to add a republic referendum to it, which leaves various options:

  • The abdication could take effect across all realms before Australia has its referendum, and Charles becomes King of Australia
  • Australia votes for a republic, and the abdication takes effect between that and Inauguration Day, leaving Charles becoming King of Australia for the interim period
  • Australia votes for a republic, and the abdication takes effect between that and Inauguration Day, but the legislation treats that as the Presidency falling vacant and there is a procedure for an Acting President to take over from the Queen until the first elected President takes office
  • Australia votes for a republic, and the abdication takes effect on Inauguration Day, so the Queen ceases to be Head of State of all her realms on the same day
  • Australia votes for a republic, Inauguration Day happens, and abdication takes effect across the Queen's remaining realms simultaneously at a later date

And remember that it would be the Lord President of the Council issuing the order that causes the Demise of the Crown and hence Charles becoming King. Consider if it were Clegg in office at this point. Given some of the reaction to a change in the succession laws which will have no impact for decades, imaging what fun papers like the Daily Mail or Daily Express would have. Drawing attention to Charles' views on the environment being more palatable to the Liberal Democrats and "Brussels". Clegg's signature on a piece of paper removing the serving Head of State being seen as the Liberal Democrats having gone too far. And if it happens under a Labour Government....

While abdication is an interesting idea, it would easily be spun out of control by sections of the media, and come across as being a politically partisan move.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Why Does It Feel Like Only A Mug Would "Do The Right Thing"?

I am still jobhunting and I have looked at that annoying 10 week gap from the summer. That job fell through - the recruitment agency was withholding key information and providing me false information, and when I made clear to the relevant jobsworth that I did not wish to talk to her due to her consistently providing false information to me and withholding information, she withdrew the offer in a fit of pique. Sadly her Compliance Manager believes all her actions in this respect were simply accidental.

My reply was to explain to the Compliance Manager that the jobsworth had been consistently dishonest.

And yesterday was a trip to another recruitment agency, and a similar problem. After all, a 10-week gap could mean anything.

There is one thing that grates with the argument that "well, you could have been incarcerated". Because it shows an ignorance on their part.

Assume for a moment that this 10-week gap was at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Well, firstly the agency does a CRB check - and do they seriously think that somehow time spent banged up inside would not appear on this?

Secondly, they say they would have to get a letter from the Jobcentre. Well, if someone had been in prison, then when leaving they would go on the Work Programme. And the Jobcentre wouldn't mention it?

Online I found a phone number for their Head Office. The first woman I spoke to simply explained it's a matter for the Jobcentre not for them (?) but gave me a number for their new Head Office (I had an old number, which is now simply one of their offices). And the lady I spoke to there explained that failure to be paid Jobseekers Allowance (?) is a matter for HM Revenue & Customs to deal with (??)

As I do not suffer prats gladly, I hung up.

What I find annoying is this - for those 10 weeks, I was not jobhunting due to my health. My decision to Do The Right Thing and not claim JSA now has this effect. Yet if I had chosen to be dishonest, claim JSA when I didn't meet the requirements and committed benefit fraud I would not have that 10-week gap and they could register me. Because I decided not to do that, their rules mean that they cannot register me.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Where My Body Lies

This week I have been visiting the local cemetery. The reason for my Wednesday visit was that it would have been my maternal gran's 98th birthday. I have noted all the centenaries of grandparents' birth, and it makes me feel old. And she was the last of my grandparents to be born and the only one to die when I was an adult (my paternal gran died way before I was born, I was only a baby when my maternal grandad died, and a teenager when my paternal granddad died). She is buried alongside her parents.

But I knew she was not the only gran buried there. So I contacted Southampton City Council and got the details of where my other gran is buried. And on Friday I went back to the cemetery. I had actually walked past the grave before but not noticed it. She is buried with her parents. She died not long after her mother did, while her father outlived her by 7 years.

If you walk through a cemetery, things strike you. "Titanic widow", outliving her husband by 48 years; and other people who were widowed for decades. "Daughter, wife and mother", died aged 21. Parents outliving children. Grandparents outliving grandchildren. A lady who lived 1904 - 1999, but ahead of her on the grave where she is "our mother", is "our brother" (1941 - 1999) and "our sister" (1947 - 1999). And then you realise, there are at least 2 people who in the same year, lost their brother, their sister and finally their mum.

There is one type of grave which gets my attention. That is the one where the person buried there is an immigrant. I recall one former housemate considering whether to become a missionary in Bolivia and recounting one bit of advice she had been given - she has got to be committed enough to be buried there. And for these people, being buried in Southampton is a comment - this is the city they considered their home, far away from their birthplace. Maybe there are siblings who will never be able to make the journey to their grave. To be buried somewhere, and who you are buried with, is a statement.

One part of the Bible, in the book of Ruth, gives me goosebumps:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16f.)

Ruth is talking to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Both their husbands are dead, and Ruth is a Moabitess.

She is not simply telling Naomi that she'll look after her until she pops her clogs and then go back to Moab. She isn't saying that when it's her turn to die, she wants her body taken back to Moab, back to her sibling and nieces and nephews. No, she is saying "Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried." That is her level of commitment. She makes Israel her home. She wants her corpse to end up under Israeli soil, far away from her family.

I have recounted the events that led to me becoming a Christian, and in particular how I became convinced that Jesus' tomb was empty. Luke recounts the first Easter:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the Apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:1 - 12)

There is no grave of Jesus to look for. He isn't there - He has risen.

When you walk round cemeteries, you see the vague hope that people who die are somehow reunited in death. That is not our hope, as the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second Man is from Heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the Man of Heaven, so also are those who are of Heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven. (I Cor. 15:35 - 49)

Our hope is not that of cartoons - that of a sort of spiritual afterlife. As Paul reminds his readers, Jesus was raised totally, with a body. His body did not lie in the tomb. And one day, we too will have our resurrection bodies.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The European Union (Referendum) Bill

Yesterday saw the House of Lords debate the European Union (Referendum) Bill, drawn up by James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South.

There is one objection that gets made - namely that this is all a big con, as no Parliament can bind its successor, so surely even if it gets passed, and Labour wins the May 2015 general election, all they need to do is repeal it.

The thing about Acts of Parliament is that they are often prescriptive ("the Secretary of State shall/must...") or permissive ("the Secretary of State may..."). While it is true that no Parliament can bind its successor, a Parliament can bind a minister in subsequent Parliaments unless there had been unbinding legislation in the meantime.

One thing ministers do is making Statutory Instruments. For a recent example, take the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011, which gave us the referendum on switching the voting system for the House of Commons from Single Member Plurality to the Alternative Vote.

In this Act, there is Section 8:

8. Commencement or repeal of amending provisions.

(1)The Minister must make an order bringing into force section 9, Schedule 10 and Part 1 of Schedule 12 (“the alternative vote provisions”) if—

(a)more votes are cast in the referendum in favour of the answer “Yes” than in favour of the answer “No”, and

(b)the draft of an Order in Council laid before Parliament under subsection (5A) of section 3 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (substituted by section 10(6) below) has been submitted to Her Majesty in Council under section 4 of that Act.

(2)If more votes are not cast in the referendum in favour of the answer “Yes” than in favour of the answer “No”, the Minister must make an order repealing the alternative vote provisions.

(3)An order under subsection (1)—

(a)must bring the alternative vote provisions into force on the same day as the coming into force of the Order in Council in terms of the draft referred to in paragraph (b) of that subsection, but

(b)does not affect any election held before the first parliamentary general election following that day.

This basically made the referendum binding. If the people vote yes, then "the Minister" (i.e. the Lord President of the Council and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg) must make an order which changes the voting system to AV.

If, as indeed happened, the people voted no, then Clegg had to introduce a different order. He had no choice. He was bound by the legislation to do this.

You could, correctly, note that this all happened in the same Parliament. What if a general election gets in the way?

The Scotland Act 1978 was an attempt to introduce devolution, and in the referendum of 1 March 1979, the people of Scotland failed to approve the Government's plan (I am phrasing it like that as a majority of those who voted did vote in favour, but it failed to achieve the threshhold of 40% of the electorate in Scotland). And events happened fast that month.

On 22 March, the then-Prime Minister, James Callaghan, announced that Bruce Millan, then the Scottish Secretary, would lay an order before Parliament repealing the Act. And the reason for this was that the Act itself required him to do this. At the time, Callaghan and Millan would have had no idea that they would soon be out of office - technically, unless the Government lost a confidence motion, there was no need for the election to be until November 1979.

On the following Wednesday, 28 March, the Government was defeated by 1 vote on a no confidence motion. On the Thursday, the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election saw the Liberals' David Alton win the seat from Labour; on the Friday, Airey Neave, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and Conservative MP for Abingdon, was assassinated; and on the Sunday, Alfred Broughton, the Labour MP for Batley & Morley, died; and Parliament was dissolved on the following Saturday, 7 April - without the Scotland Act having been repealed.

Let's move on to 20 June. The Conservatives are in power, with George Younger as the new Scottish Secretary. And he has a task to do - ask the House of Commons to approve the order. As he puts it:

We start today's debate in a rather curious situation in that I find myself inviting the House to approve an order the draft of which was laid by a previous Government of a different complexion. In theory, that should almost guarantee unanimity between both sides of the House, but I think that I might be extending my luck a little further than I should if I were to assume that result. It might be truer to say that I am today inviting the House to approve an order that the previous House insisted should be laid in certain circumstances. I think it true to say also that the previous Government did not agree with the House on that matter. The Conservative Party did so agree and still does.

New Parliament, new Government. Surely Younger could not be bound by a previous Parliament? Actually, he was.

Wharton's Bill requires:

1 Referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union

(1) A referendum is to be held on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

(2) The referendum must be held before 31 December 2017.

(3) The Secretary of State shall by order, and before 31 December 2016, appoint the day on which the referendum is to be held.

Suppose this becomes law, and Labour wins the next election. Is a Labour Government bound by it? As the example above shows, yes they are. The only way they can cease to be bound by it is by passing another Act.

So, suppose Labour wins in 2015, and immediately propose a Bill repealing Wharton's. House of Commons might not be much of a problem - although there could be a backbench rebellion. But we'll assume that Labour gets it through the Commons. Despite what they protest about, Labour is over-represented in the House of Lords and to correct this, a massive peerage creation would be needed.

But even in its over-represented state, Labour does not have an overall majority in the House of Lords. Even a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government wouldn't. Hence, they would need to win over Conservative, Crossbench and other peers to get a Bill through.

So, the House of Lords could reject a Labour Bill, in which case, Labour would have to rely on the Parliament Act 1949 to get the Bill on the statute books. They could just about do this by June 2016.

Wharton has chosen an odd date - odd for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is too late - a Labour Government could manage to get legislation passed which would remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to set a date for the referendum. If Wharton had replaced "31 December 2016" with "31 December 2015" or even "30 April 2016", then an incoming Labour Government could not guarantee that it could remove that obligation in time.

The date is odd for a second reason. In the European Union, countries are put into groups of 3 when it comes to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union - often called the Council of Ministers. We are teamed with Bulgaria and Estonia. The idea is that, in an 18-month period, each of the countries in a group holds the Presidency for 6 months, assisted by the other 2. The United Kingdom's turn is July to December 2017, followed by Estonia from January to June 2018 and Bulgaria from July to December 2018.

So, the referendum could be in the middle of our Presidency!

Now, suppose we do vote to leave the EU. The rules are set out in the Treaty of Lisbon:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 188 N(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

Basically, this comes down to a couple of scenarios:

  1. A withdrawal agreement is agreed with the European Council (by Qualified Majority Vote) and the European Parliament, and we cease to be members of the EU once this agreement comes into force.
  2. Following the referendum, the Government notifies the European Council of its intention that the UK shall leave the EU, and no agreement is made, so we simply cease to be members 2 years after the notification.

There is a Parliament research briefing which looks at some of the implications for withdrawing from the EU.

If we do come to a withdrawal agreement following a referendum, then there needs to be a withdrawal date. Recently, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment & Cities, gave Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016 as the date Scotland would leave the United Kingdom if the people voted to leave. This is 18 months after the referendum. Also, it is 6 weeks before the next elections to the Scottish Parliament.

This suggests the spring of 2019 for leaving the EU, if that is what the people vote for. It would be just before the European Parliament elections, so the British Members of the European Parliament elected this May would just be coming to the end of their terms of office. Whoever the UK's Commissioner is would also be in their last few months of office, allowing the President of the European Commission to temporarily ask another Commissioner to double-up on roles.

There is another argument I have seen put forward as to why Wharton's Bill is a waste of time - namely that "Brussels" won't let us leave. We'll simply be told to vote again and again until we get the "right" answer - with Ireland being given as the example.

But Ireland voted on a slightly amended Treaty of Lisbon in the second referendum, which took into account concerns about the original version. And this leads me to an idea.

The Government should also introduce a European Union (Negotiations) Bill. This would do a couple of things. Firstly it would create a set of referendums on 7 May 2015 - to coincide with the next general election. What would these be on?

Well, the Government could set out positions it intends to take in negotiations, on subjects such as the Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, Working Time Directive etc., and in a set of referendums ask the people to approve or disapprove of its stance.

Secondly, such a Bill could require the Government to enter into negotiations, taking into account the results of these 2015 referendums. Now, unless an incoming Labour Government managed to repeal this Bill, they would be bound by it. And setting an early date by which the Government has to enter into negotiations makes it harder for Labour to repeal this.

So, this would lead to a situation where an incoming Labour Government is required by legislation to enter into negotiations about aspects of our membership of the EU, having to take into account in negotiations the will of the people as indicated by a set of referendums on the same day as the general election.