WILLIAM Hague’s unveiling of a series of options for “English votes for English laws” marks a significant moment in the UK’s shift to something akin to federalism.
It remains unclear which of the options for EVEL – an unfortunate acronym – will emerge as the government’s favoured choice, but it is clear that each of them will require a radical change to the way power is exercised in the House of Commons.
The responses of the SNP and the Labour party to yesterday’s developments show how slowly they are coming to terms – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say failing to come to terms – with the changing shape of the United Kingdom.
The nationalists in particular do not seem to be able to grasp that more English home rule is good news for proponents of Scottish home rule. EVEL is, by definition, a positive development for those who want a reconfigured UK with more autonomy for each of its component parts.
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The SNP yesterday sought to paint EVEL as a conspiracy against Scottish interests, characterising it as “another Tory attack on Scotland”, because it will mean the influence of Scottish MPs at Westminster is circumscribed.
This is poorly thought through. It fails to take into account the fact that Scottish devolution in 1999 circumscribed the influence of English MPs over Scottish affairs, and quite right too.
Enthusiasts for home rule cannot have it both ways. Scotland cannot win new powers for the Holyrood parliament and at the same time expect Scottish MPs to wield the same amount of influence over those self-same powers at Westminster, over the rest of the UK (rUK). The nationalists cannot demand a federal UK – which is their interpretation of the famous “Vow” – and then complain when England demands to have reciprocal autonomy.
Specifically, the SNP cannot claim full income tax powers for Scotland and then complain, as they did yesterday, that the right of Scottish MPs to vote on English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) income tax is under threat. In fact, English home rule is the friend of Scottish home rule, and will pave the way for a more federal and flexible UK.
Labour’s position is even less clear. Ed Miliband seems to regard EVEL as a dastardly Tory plot to deprive him of the keys to Downing Street. It is no such thing. But it does mean that if he does get to Number 10, EVEL will ensure that the job of governing the UK will be very different to what it is today.
It will require a less monolithic form of central government, and a new accommodation of national and regional differences.
To some traditionalists, such changes are intolerable. For them the majesty of Westminster rule is a seamless robe: perpetual and indivisible.
They had better get used to the new reality. The days of Westminster’s untrammelled rule from the centre are numbered.
Horror that is hard to comprehend
The scenes of horror from Pakistan, where Taleban gunmen opened fire in a school with callous disregard for the loss of young and innocent lives, are hard to watch and even harder to comprehend.
What twisted ideology or grotesque reading of theology could justify such carnage?
The attack appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to a tough crackdown on Taleban militants in Peshawar.
It bodes ill for the areas over which the Taleban still holds sway – the tribal areas of Pakistan and large parts of Afghanistan – that a mindset exists that can justify and even celebrate such an atrocity.
To western eyes, the extreme Islamist prejudice against a liberal education for boys and any kind of education for girls is one of the most incomprehensible aspects of a culture that in so many ways remains opaque.
It can be seen not only in the attitudes of the Taleban but also in the casual brutality of Boko Haram, the group in north-east Nigeria whose name can be literally translated as “Western education is forbidden”.
This is the mindset that thought it permissible to shoot in the head a young Pakistani girl called Malala Yousafzai, who committed the crime of writing a blog describing the simple joy she experienced through the thrill of learning.
Malala last week received the Nobel Peace Prize, and yesterday issued an appeal for the world not to surrender ground to barbarous groups such as the Taleban.
Who can disagree when she says: “We should stand up together and fight against terrorism and we should make sure every child gets safe and quality education.”
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