Thursday, 21 May 2015

The EU Negotiations & The West Minster Question - Why Can't We Become The EU's Scotland?

It used to be said that Parliament could do anything except turn a man into a woman - a restriction on its powers that Labour removed under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

However, there are times when Parliament has a self-denying ordinance - and this is thanks to the Scotland Act 1998. When I looked at the West Lothian Question I outlined that sovereignty still resides at Westminster, and that there are procedures where the British Government can prevent Bills passed by the Scottish Parliament from becoming law.

There are 3 stances on devolution:

  • If you believe in legislative devolution then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Scottish Minister for Education answerable to the Scottish Parliament
  • If you believe in executive devolution then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Scottish Secretary answerable to the UK Parliament
  • If you believe in integration then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Education Secretary answerable to the UK Parliament

All major Unionist parties support legislative devolution.

In the UK, devolution is asymmetric - the Scottish Parliament has more powers devolved to it than the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly, and there is no English Parliament.

Within the European Union, there are ways in which the United Kingdom is distinct, just as Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own distinctive characteristics within the United Kingdom.

To begin with, there is the political centre-right. The British Government is composed of the European Conservatives & Reformists. Now, the ECR has led governments in both Poland (where their main rival is the European People's Party) and the Czech Republic (where it has shared power with the EPP), but the UK is different in having the ECR being able to form Governments on its own.

Mentioning the EPP in the above paragraph brings me to the next distinctiveness. The EPP is the European Union's leading party, producing the Presidents of both the European Commission (Jean-Claude Juncker) and the European Council (Donald Tusk), and in the United Kingdom it is - well, where is it? 0 Members of the European Parliament, 0 MPs, 0 peers, 0 Members of the Scottish Parliament.....

It's as if the Conservatives not only returned 0 MPs from Scottish constituencies but had 0 MSPs and 0 councillors in any of the 32 councils in Scotland.

We accept that Westminster is sovereign, but in certain policy areas it allows its powers to stop at the border. So, why can't we push for the same in the European Union, arguing that we have a system in the United Kingdom that works and allows Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to express their distinctive characteristics?

What I think we should be arguing in any re-negotiations is that the heartland of the European Union - the Benelux countries, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and maybe others - is the European Union's "England". It is the dominant section. But just as there are circumstances where Westminster only legislates for England and Government ministers only have powers in England, then we could push for something similar in Europe. Have policy areas where the European Parliament only legislates - and the European Commission only has executive powers - within that European heartland.

In Scotland, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats hold that things like transport, health and education should be matters for the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, to legislate for and have executive authority over - but they are still fully signed up to being in the United Kingdom. And the same way, the Government should emphasise to the other European Union governments that there is no contradiction between the United Kingdom playing a full part in the European Union while - in some policy areas - Brussels' powers stop at the English Channel.

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