The West Lothian Question has been an enduring conundrum. Reading a book by the late journalist Arnold Kemp, it was interesting to learn that it raised its ugly head long before Tam Dalyell turned it into a cause célèbre in the 1970s.
Apparently it can be traced to AV Dicey’s book England’s Case Against Home Rule written in 1885 during the debates on the Irish question. Even though it is an old concept, events of the last few months show this is a can of worms whose time has well and truly come. Yesterday politicians were reaching for the tin-openers once again to open up the question of why Scottish MPs should be allowed to vote on English-only issues when English MPs are denied the chance to vote on devolved Scottish issues.
It was David Cameron’s English Votes for English Laws (Evel) solution to the anomaly that was troubling the SNP at Prime Minister’s Questions.
With typical craftiness the SNP engineered a change of stance on the English issue as it became clear that it was to benefit from an influx of new members in the general election. The SNP “principle” of Nationalist MPs declining to vote on English matters, because they don’t apply to Scotland, has been unceremoniously ditched.
In the interest of maximising the party’s influence at Westminster, the SNP has decided it can vote after all on English health and education on the grounds that decisions taken at Westminster will have an impact on Scotland’s budget.
So it was that the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson stood up at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday to complain bitterly about Cameron’s Evel plans that prevent English MPs from being over-ruled by the House as a whole on English matters.
According to Robertson, the proposal would consign Scottish MPs to “second class status” by excluding them from taking part in committee stages scrutinising votes on English matters. Cameron defended his plans, pointing out that all MPs would be allowed to vote on legislation at its third reading.
That cut little ice with Robertson, who remarked that 58 Scottish MPs out of 59 had just voted to give Holyrood more power over welfare, only to be defeated by the Conservative majority.
No fewer than three other SNP MPs then expressed their concerns about Scottish MPs becoming second class citizens at Westminster. Finally, Cameron drolly remarked that he was “baffled”. “I thought the whole point of the SNP is that SNP members want to exclude themselves from the UK Parliament forever. I thought that was the whole point,” he said.
It will come as no surprise to Tam Dalyell that his and the late AV Dicey’s question is more topical than ever.