Spare a thought this morning for the poor staff working for the Boundary Commission for Scotland. They might not typically be top of your sympathy card list, but this is an important body charged with ensuring that our parliamentary constituencies are drawn in the fairest way possible. Their work influences the outcome of elections and ultimately who governs us.
Yesterday should have been an landmark day. The Commission published its revised proposals after further months of hard work which took account of the responses from interested parties.
Our law requires the size and shape of parliamentary boundaries to be periodically reviewed to keep with up population changes.
The last review took place in the mid-2000s in time for the 2010 general election. The current review is based on plans initially agreed by the coalition government in 2011, but subsequently put on hold.
But now many MPs – and in all probability the UK government itself – want to shelve the review which calls for 50 fewer MPs, with a cut of six in Scotland. If abandoned, the plans will be the latest Tory manifesto pledge scrapped in the wake of the snap election in June.
Right now those MPs may have a point. We are in a constitutional maelstrom with Brexit and diverting attention with a reduction of MPs – which would, in some cases, result in colleagues from the same party going head-to-head for selection – would be foolish.
Turkeys rarely vote for Christmas; but in this case the turkeys have a pretty good excuse.
But the delay cannot be indefinite. The work of the Boundary Commissions is vital in safeguarding democracy. And a lowering in the number of MPs could save £50 million over the lifetime of every parliament.
The Commons remains a club where all its members defend their interests with a hawk-like intensity – remember the MPs’ expenses scandal? All parties will lose seats as a result of the changes. And the biggest losers are often in the party that is currently the most popular with voters.
In the long-term, self-interest in not what’s important. The wider principle of parliamentary democracy must be maintained and that means taking tough decisions.
One wonders whether MPs should actually have the final say on such changes, when they themselves could be the big losers?