Not Saussure

January 13, 2007

The Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question

Filed under: England, local democracy, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 6:53 pm

As people doubtless know, the West Lothian Question is that posed by Tam Dalyell, then MP for West Lothian:

“For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate… at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

It’s a question that’s never really received a satisfactory answer; it seems most odd that, for example, Gordon Brown, the Hon Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, can vote on matters like top-up tuition fees for students from England at English universities but not for students from his his own constituency who attend St Andrew’s University or on smoking in public places in England but not in Scotland.

Among the answers proposed, of course, include having only English MPs vote on matters that affect only England, either by changing the rules of the House of Commons so that only MPs for English constituencies may vote on matters that only affect England or by setting up a completely separate English Parliament, with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament, and leaving Westminster to get on with reserved matters such as defence, national security, foreign affairs and monetary and economic issues.

Such arrangements do not go down well with the Hon Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who warns in today’s Telegraph against

“English votes for English laws” – a Trojan horse for separation.

As it happens, I agree with him. That’s precisely why I thought devolution for Scotland was a bad idea, since I thought it would inevitably lead to similar demands for England, to the detriment of the Union.

Since apparently Lord Irvine of Lairg thinks the best answer to the West Lothian question is to stop asking it, let’s have a new question, similarly named after the constituency of the MP who first raised it, the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question:

Why, since “English votes for English laws” is a Trojan horse for separation, is not “Scottish votes for Scottish laws” not a similar Trojan horse? And why did the hon member not foresee this when he helped introduce this Trojan horse north of the border?

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  1. That’s as maybe, Notsaussure and I do understand the lopsidedness of it but if they go they’re own ways, they don’t live happily ever after, as Cityunslicker thinks but they get gobbled up by the big bad wolf and have sand kicked in their face if not. Britain is an Empire. Separately, it would not be England – it would be Northumbria, Cumbria, Wessex and so on, all over again. At least Hadrian’s Wall will get some use, after all these years. Welcome to the new feudalism.

    Comment by james higham — January 13, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Oh, I agree with you, James. I’m all in favour of the Union and I share Gordon Brown’s fears that ‘English votes for English laws’ would be another step on the road to breaking it up. My point, though, was that a separate Scottish Parliament was the first step on this road and that since even I could see that at the time, he certainly should have been able to.

    Logically, Brown should be promising us that, should Labour win the next General Election, they’ll scrap the Scottish Parliament precisely because it’s not only itself a Trojan Horse for separation but has acheived the feat, remarkable in wooden horse, of siring an English foal.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 13, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

  3. I clearly didn’t read your piece as thoroughly as I should have. Good points in the comment here.

    Comment by james higham — January 13, 2007 @ 10:52 pm

  4. Really unhappy with all this English parliament stuff. As I’ve posted elsewhere, this whole thing is a conspiracy by Federalists like Blair to destroy the Union. We must resist.

    Comment by Jeremycj — January 14, 2007 @ 12:42 am

  5. Devolution was always, in the British tradition, a botched job. The main parliment for the UK also has to serve as a parliment for England, and this raises to many consitutional issues. One solution would be to create an English Parliment with the same powers that the other subnational bodies have, place it in Birmingham, Manchester etc, and have Westminster deal soley with national issues.
    An even better solution is to have regional parliments across the country, the issues in Cornwall are very diffferent to Cumbria. It would nto lead to the break up of the country. Has Germany broken up? Has the USA broken up? Look at Switzerland!
    I get offended when people seem to suggest that my identiy if SOLEY confined to a building with a bunch of overwhemingly fat white middle class men. If being British is nothing more than that, the UK DESERVES to break up!

    Comment by MattUK — January 14, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  6. The other issue to consider is what the alternatives to devolution are, which is to have decisions made in the centre with the result likely to be a centralised system. Devolution at least in theory allows for decentralised decision making, and competing approaches to running services to be tried. Frankly I’d like to see more of it, with powers over education and health handed completely to the regions. If other things remained the same Wales and Scotland would have the real Labour Party running these services, and the south of england would probably end up dominated by the conservatives. We could then at least have competing policies and the oppourtunity to learn.

    If not devolution (including an english parliament) then what other options are there for de-centralising decision making?

    Comment by Planeshift — January 14, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  7. Matt, I agree that the issues in Cornwall are very different to the ones in Cumbria, which is why Cornwall and Cumbria have their own county councils. It’s by no means clear to me that their different issues could be better addressed by setting up another tier of government to deal with the issues common to Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and … well, who else do we include? By all means devolve more power back to the county councils rather than have so much of what they do determined by Whitehall, but it’s by no means clear to me that anyone’s going to benefit very much from having an extra level of government and bureaucracy imposed on them.

    I don’t think anyone’s suggesting your identity is solely confind to a building containing a bunch of politicians. That would indeed be nonsensical. However the laws that govern us,the taxes we pay and how they’re spent have to be determined somewhere, and it’s how and where that’s done that bothers me.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 14, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  8. Planeshift, I’m really not sure about the questions you raise. I mean, most people are concerned about things like education and health-care provision as they directly affect them. Like, I suspect, most people, I’m primarily concerned about easily being able to get appointments with my GP, being able to find a dentist, there being an A&E department and a general hospital that doesn’t have long waiting lists in the vicinity and being able somewhere to access highly specialised treatment somewhere in the country if I needed it (you can’t try to replicate the expertise and facilities of, for example, Moorfields everywhere, and it would foolish to attempt it).

    How that’s acheived and where the decisions are taken, I don’t really mind.

    Tell me, when you speak of having competition between different systems and the ‘Real’ Labour Party running things in some places, who decides how taxes are raised? That seems to me one of the main questions that needs answering about any set of proposals for government reorganisation.

    In general, I’m a great believer not only in ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but also — at least when it comes to organisations — ‘if it ain’t too badly broke, don’t fix it’. Radical changes almost always have unlooked-for consequences, and it’s my experience that tiers of government never give up power or money willingly, so more tiers is likely to mean more government requiring more money to pay for it.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 14, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

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    Pingback by Little Man in a Toque » What hope is there for Gordon Brown — January 20, 2008 @ 3:18 am

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