A week can be a very long time in Scotland’s 300 year struggle for independence. The “ No” vote last week that seemed to end the cause of Scottish independence for a generation, has turned out to have had an enormous fish hook attached, especially for the British Labour Party. The problem has emerged in the wake of promises made during the desperate scramble to head off the “Yes” vote in the last week of the campaign. Before getting on to that though, have a look at just how skewed the vote for and against independence was, among different age groups. By and large it was older people who bought the scare messages, and voted “No” while young age groups, with one narrow exception, had voted “Yes”….
If that’s not depressing enough, what about the aftermath that’s now unfolding? As you’ll recall, a united front of Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem leaders campaigned together to promise Scottish voters a package of new, devolved powers on taxation and other issues if they voted “No”.
Since the “No” victory however, British PM David Cameron has sprung a trap on the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband by appearing to add fresh conditions to the proposed devolution that were never mentioned to Scottish voters last week – while simultaneously denying that he is doing any such thing.
An 11th-hour vow by the three Westminster leaders last week, promising more devolution if Scotland rejected independence, has been in disarray after Cameron appeared to attach new conditions. The prime minister said on Friday that negotiations on only English MPs voting on English laws “must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace, as the settlement for Scotland”.
Fears that the Tories were planning to renege on the pledge were fuelled when the Scottish-born Conservative chief whip, Michael Gove, said on Saturday that it would be “impossible” to devolve further powers to Scotland without addressing the position of Scottish MPs at Westminster.
As you’d expect, the defeated “Yes” supporters have been utterly outraged at this development. At the heart of the shenanigans in the past 72 hours has been an anomaly that arises from the very nature of devolution. The anomaly even has a term of its own – the “West Lothian question”. Essentially, it means that if devolution proceeds as promised, English MPs will have no say on devolved matters in Scotland, but Scottish MPs can still vote on English-only matters. Cameron has therefore proposed that if, as promised, Scotland has power devolved to Holyrood then only English MPs should get to vote on legislation to do with England at Westminster.
There’s the trap. There is only one Conservative MP in Scotland, but there are a great number of Scottish Labour MPs. By proposing “an only-English MPs for English-only issues” plan, the Tories would severely limit the ability of the Labour Party to raise the numbers to oppose such legislation in the Commons. And if Labour opposes such a plan, it can be attacked on the campaign trail for not being sufficiently patriotically English, when Britain goes to the polls next year. If the Tories themselves don’t press home that attack, you can bet that their allies among the extremist UKIP legions of Nigel Farage certainly will.
Cameron is using some fancy footwork to get this one into the net. No, Downing Street is insisting that the “English only” proposal is not a fresh condition being imposed on the devolution promised to the Scots; it will merely need to proceed “in parallel” with those ‘unconditional’ promises. Thus:
No 10 was forced to clarify Gove’s remarks [above] saying the prime minister was committed to the timetable agreed by the three main UK party leaders to hand greater powers over tax and welfare to the Scottish parliament. A government source said: “There was an unambiguous commitment by the party leaders to deliver more devolution to Scotland on a clear timetable. That is not conditional on anything else. No ifs, no buts – that will occur.”
Government sources stressed that the two proposals – further devolution to Scotland and changing the status of Scottish MPs at Westminster – should be considered in parallel and at the same time. But the sources said that progress in one area would not depend on the other.
Is there another way out? Committees have been set up to explore a compromise proposal whereby English-only MPs get to sit at the select committee stage, but the Commons as a whole gets to finally vote up, or down the legislation. Presumably in time, an extension of the same logic will mean that only Northern Ireland MPs can get to scrutinise issues affecting Belfast, and only Welsh MPs on matters affecting Wales.
It is a near perfect example of the sort of thing from which the “Yes” vote sought to liberate Scotland. How many “ No” voters would have realised that by voting to keep Britain united they would be actually promoting an exercise in political de-centralisation across the entire “United” Kingdom? Not many, if any. And this is even before Westminster gets to consider Britain’s ties with Europe, and the growing Conservative mood for taking Britain – and Scotland along with it – out of the European Union. Oh, and there have also been claims vote rigging occurred last week.
Goodnight…. Some critic once called “I Bid You Goodnight” the most beautiful song in the English language. Maybe. It is a lovely song from the Bahamas that functions equally well as either a funeral song, or a child’s lullaby. I first came across it in the original version by the Pindar Family and the eccentric guitarist Joseph Spence (a big influence on Ry Cooder) and the song has since been recorded by the Grateful Dead, the Incredible String band and countless others. Here are two versions. One features a terrific theatrical enactment of the song by Patricia Bazard. The only Youtube video that has a rendition by the Pindar Family and Joseph Spence has their typically strange and wonderful version of “Trouble In Mind” on before it, with “I Bid You Goodnight” kicking in at the 3.42 mark…Its worth the wait.