Don’t forget the Welsh….and the Paddies

The political truce that saved the Union collapsed on Friday as David Cameron’s plans for English “home rule” were condemned by Labour.

Following Scotland’s No vote, the Prime Minister immediately set out plans to ensure that there are “English votes for English laws”. Those plans could result in England having its own first minister and would herald one of the biggest reforms of Britain’s tax system.

But they could prevent Scottish MPs voting on English-only issues in the wake of the independence referendum.

Excluding Scottish MPs from votes concerning only England would represent a disaster for the Labour Party.

Westminster sources said Mr Cameron’s announcement was calculated to kill Labour’s electoral chances.

For it’s not just the West Lothian question any more, is it? Both Stormont and Cardiff have powers: the MPs elected from areas that have those powers shouldn’t be voting on those matters for England.

And there’s a lovely problem. For the delegated powers differ. So on some matters all UK MPs can vote, on some only the Scots are excluded. On others the Paddies have to stay still and on still others the Welsh as well can shut up. It’s going to be a fine old mess: unless we simply equalise the devolved powers of course. Which does sound rather sensible.

45 comments on “Don’t forget the Welsh….and the Paddies

  1. Even if you equalise devolved powers, it still leaves open the question of who has a majority. If labour have a majority on UK questions, but the tories have the majority on English-only questions, who gets to be prime minister? Who wins the election? Who gets to introduce legislation? Or does the labour leader become prime minister for the UK while the tory leader becomes first minister for England? Or do they swap, depending on what the vote is?

    Interesting!

  2. That does seem sensible.

    I briefly pondered if it would be worth excluding London from a English parliament, for a couple of reasons. 1, an extra layer of government between UK parliament and the city mayor/ government would be very excessive. 2, it would prevent London’s dominance within an English parliament, the precedent being Washington DC being excluded from US government.

    Though I can’t decide if a segregated London would suck up more or less investment than the rest of England.

  3. The system is a mess anyway. The appointment of the executive out of Parliament is a long standing problem, which the USA avoided over two hundred years ago. The majority system is fundamentally bad. Devolution has made it indefensible and unworkable.

    It’s not just Commons votes. How can it be acceptable for a Scot to be a minister let alone Prime Minister, deciding on matters of policy for England to which he is not himself subject?

  4. NiV – it doesn’t necessarily follow that the MPs elected to UK parliament have to be the same people elected to English parliament, people have just been assuming they are for some reason, which is odd considering that’s not how Scotland does it.

    We could have elected council leaders who also act as our representatives in an English parliament. Or just completely different people elected to an English parliament as MSPs are to Scotland.

  5. At the risk of creating more bureaucracy and cost in the first instance we need a Secretary of State for England so that someone at cabinet level and across Govt is looking out for England in the devolution negotiations..

    If MPs had any integrity they would recuse themselves from votes that didn’t affect their constituencies, but that will never happen because the party system is so entrenched and politics has degraded to the lowest depths of tribalism.

  6. If devolution is going to work properly then devolved nations, cities or whatever we end up with, have to be allowed to fail Detroit style.

  7. Curious how the net result of the Jocks voting to reject independence may well result in Scottish independence.
    If Scottish MPs no longer vote on English matters then a UK majority party, dependent on its Scottish MPs for that majority, would find it almost impossible to govern.
    If the majority of Scots are voting for one flavour of government & the majority of English for a different, what’s holding the two together?

  8. This is going to be a stone in the Labour shoe from here to the election.
    Of course they’ll oppose it (they are the opposition) but they are going to have to be very careful about HOW they oppose it.

  9. Slightly off topic, the No vote is not a good sign for, ahum, any political party seeking to change the UK’s relationship with the EU. I think I’ll stop there.

  10. Yes, as John Redwood points out, it really is very simple.

    A couple of things though: there is no need to elect an English parliament; our present MPS will do.
    The First Minister and English cabinet, though from the same cohort of MPS, will need to be different people. The PM will probably choose the First Minister.
    Should taxing powers be limited to IT/NI or should they include, say, CT?
    And should the devolved gov’t get borrowing powers?
    And what affect would an accordingly reduced UK – GOV tax base have on its borrowing capacity, the cost of its borrowing and in particular it’s legacy debt? Should it therefore load the devolved gov’t with some debt?

    None of these alter the fact that devolved government for England is an idea who’s time has come

  11. Ian B has it. The non-separation of powers means things are broke all the way up. If we want a system that actually makes sense then we should start with a clean sheet of paper, a few history books, and have a go at doing what the yanks did.

    I’m actually quite a fan of the structure of the US government. All their problems stem from the two-party system and an absurd legislative process.

    Alternatively, we tinker with what we have once again. Then people get bored and stop talking about it, a few more PPE grads get employment opportunities, and all the real power remains in the hands of the cabinet of the day and our friends in Europe.

  12. Sooner or later bills on English only issues come down to a vote in the House. Can Parliament pass a law which prevents it’s own members from voting?

  13. @Ironman,

    I can’t see that working. There’s only one thing that unites Labour, a loathing of Tories. There is no way a Labour PM will countenance having an English Tory First Minister anywhere near the seat of power in Westminster.

    The only way I see it working is to have an English Parliament outside London. York would be my favorite.

    Maybe English MPs could automatically sit in both to save money and time although that would mean a 3rd place to live 🙂

  14. They’d never have gotten into this mess if central government hadn’t taken so much power from local authorities. You don’t need the decision about 5-a-day co-ordinators or licensing hours to be decided at any level but a local one. Let local people pay for the local services like the police and most healthcare, let them set priorities on what crime they care about most.

    The problem with devolution is that determining the priorities of a country will just end up with even more division. You make Wales a separate country, the people in mid-Wales will get pissed off at the dominance by the south, that is really like a different country.

    You still need some things done at national level, like defence, the major road infrastructure and so forth.

  15. To look at things from another angle – it isn’t just autonomy for England that matters it is also about clearly defining what is Union responsibility and what is devolved responsibility and having a system and size of governance that fits those responsibilities. If the Union work shrinks to foreign policies and defence then the Union parliament should be much smaller than it is now. I suspect some of the political support for English votes for English legislation is aimed at preventing that reduction in size and prestige by getting as far as English votes but no further.

    Bloke in Wales said: “Essentially, ministers for devolved areas would be chosen by whoever had a majority in England. ”

    That’s not quite what Redwood means I think, unless I have misunderstood what you mean. Ministers for devolved England would be chosen by whoever had a majority in England. He is describing, in effect, an English parliament operating within the UK parliament.

    To me this is a cheap but sub-optimal arrangement. What if, in my constituency, on England matters a candidate talks sense but talks utter bullshit on Union matters and beyond while a candidate from another party is the reverse? Who should I vote for?

    It is important to not overlook Redwood’s comment that the parliament within a parliament is only the first step. It is also nice to see that Redwood identifies the niggling conflict of devolving the UK into 3 nations and a load of regions. Either England is a nation or it is not, and if England cannot be allowed to exist then neither should the others.

  16. I suggest we replace the House of Lords with a “Grand Senate” of members chosen by proportional representation in each of the home nations on a rolling programme of elections. We could then abolish the wee pretendy parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies.

    The Grand Senate would sit together as the UK Parliament’s second chamber. Its members from each nation would sit as its “Petty Senate” (local parliament) exercising whatever powers have been devolved (and raising the local taxes necessary to fund their largesse). It would involve *less* cost than the present system, would occupy the premises currently used by the Lords and be perfectly fair.

    I would entrench the new constitution in such a way that a qualified majority of each Petty Senate would need to approve it, preventing any abuse of England’s economic and demographic dominance to warp the settlement – and any one nation throwing a spanner in the works a la Ecosse in future.

    On the other hand, if our pseudo-Celtic brethren don’t like that, we could just have an English #indyref and get the hell out of both the UK and EU, leaving them to fund their own socialist dreams.

  17. There would have been less support for devolution and independence if people felt fairly represented in Westminster. It is long past time we consigned FPTP to the midden where it belongs.

  18. Yeah Howard Reed is pushing for PM over on Tax Research. My objections to it are twofold:
    1. The Left only gets interested in it when it fears the Tories winning something. Reed happily acknowledges the present constituency boundaries work against the Tories – and he has no problem with that at all. “Fairness” is only of interest when it works in their favour.
    2. Israel. Have a look at how the small parties, the shall we say slightly hand – banger parties, have a disproportionate effect on Israeli policy. The Israeli g iv ‘ t is trapped in a place where it cannot be brave and think outside the box.

  19. Am I the only person who struggles to think of anything best done by a layer of government in Westminster? Bin collection and similar is best done by local government, public goods are best done on the largest possible (implying European, or preferably global) scale. What exactly is it that we need a ‘country’ for in the modern day?

    If old-style counties could become obsolete, why can’t countries the size of England or the UK?

  20. @The Stig,

    A major problem with devolution, be it nations within a union, local authorities, or a mixture/combination of both is financial transfers. Germany illustrates. The federal government defines the government’s duties. Many (most) of those are devolved to the states and then devolved down to local authorities.

    So the states and authorities have a legal obligation to deliver X. But they are run by politicians voted for by people living in area X. So they are loathe to raise taxes in those areas for fear of falling off the gravy train. Instead they say “the state/federal authorities have given us the legal obligation to deliver X. X costs A+B, we can only raise A in taxes, therefore the state/federal authorities have to make up the difference.

    This is how we end up with the current government quite seriously proposing, having abolished all of Germany’s land borders via Schengen, to set up a toll booth to charge an entry fee to Germany on every vehicle entering Germany. And thereby unsolve the border queue problem solved 15+ years ago while collecting a negative amount of money overall, and destroying all of Germany’s border area economy.

    I’d be forgiven for thinking the Soviets won. They were all up for devolution too, within the equally ridiculous strictures of their federal system, weren’t they.

  21. Tim N,

    “Couldn’t you have stopped there?”

    Well, I’m not in favour, but I’ve come to realise that you can’t convince a lot of people. But you can at least make them pay for it if they want it. Want more 5-a-days? That’s a couple of quid on council tax.

  22. Ensuring MPs votes don’t get counted on a matter if their constituency has devolved powers on it needn’t be a fine old mess. Give each one a unique RFID which they swipe when they vote, and equip the vote counter bloke with a Mil Spec tablet running an app that applies the who-gets-to vote-for-what rule.
    That way, every MP has their say but not all are counted.

  23. @ ukliberty
    Have you been reading some media lies?
    The current government won over 50% of the votes. This is the first time since 1935 (although Eden would have done so if any opposition party had put up a candidate in a handful of constituencies where his candidate got a walkover – SuperMac’s 49.6%, excluding those for The Speaker, whose was deemed non-party, of the votes was not really quite as good).
    It is quite true that we are not fairly represented at Westminster – the Labour-favouring areas are heavily over-represented thanks to the cunningly-devised remit given to the Boundary Commission by New Labour. Blair got a workable overall majority in 2005 with a smaller %age of the vote than Cameron got in 2010.

  24. I don’t get how a majority of Scots can vote for the status quo but somehow this is supposed to mean a radical change to the Constitution. Cameron is an idiot.

    Or maybe not. They have kept Scotland in and may yet get the Labour Party out of English politics – all those goodies going to Tory rent-seekers not Labour ones. Perhaps it is secret genius.

  25. All we can be sure of is that any constitution written by incumbent politicians will not be written with the interests of the electorate in mind. Anyone in the House who does have the electorate’s interests foremost in their mind is certain to be excluded from meaningful participation. I fear that the ensuing months will be a disappointing time for constitutional reform enthusiasts.

  26. What exactly is it that we need a ‘country’ for in the modern day?

    If you are asking that, Dave, you really aren’t paying attention. The UN, the Greens and global NGOs would love a global government so that they can control every aspect of everyone’s lives and indulge in a massive redistribution exercise involving the transfer of wealth from individuals in developed nations to corrupt organisations in the developing world. It is bad enough having one’s vote diluted by the inadequate electoral systems in western democracies, having it diluted to the point of having zero influence by hundreds of millions of voters with a strong sense of entitlement to everything you own is the stuff of nightmares.

  27. Ian B – ” any constitution written by incumbent politicians will not be written with the interests of the electorate in mind”

    You can also bet it won’t be written on a couple of sides of A4 in plain English.

  28. BWAB
    “The only way I see it working is to have an English Parliament outside London. York would be my favorite.”

    Norwich used to be the capital of England. My sister lives near it – nice city if a little off the beaten track.

  29. DocBud>

    If you feel that way about vote ‘dilution’, I struggle to see why you’d be against a system where your vote was one of only a few tens of thousands on important issues, rather than one among many millions as now.

  30. magnusw-

    You can also bet it won’t be written on a couple of sides of A4 in plain English.

    It will also be entirely devoid of any citizens’ negative rights, but say a great deal about equality, diversity, social justice, discrimination, etc etc. There has probably never been a worse time in history for an Establishment to pen a constitution.

  31. One of the things politicians look for in any political system is that it enables them to Get Things Done. I don’t see why the public should share in the delusion that this is a Good Thing. When someone says that a quickly cobbled-together solution using the existing Parliament couldn’t work because what if we had a Labour Prime Minister and Tory First Minister getting in each other’s way, I think “Sounds great. Where do I sign up?”

  32. Ah, yes. My rather stupid mistake: I was simply conflating the current Government with the Conservatives. In my defense, I’ve been arguing with Scots nationalists for weeks and have simply got into the habit of checking total numbers of votes won by the Conservatives in various elections. Also, who ever remembers the Libdems exist?

    I will still nit-pick the claim, though. The current government certainly did not win over 50% of the vote, because the current government has never stood for election. Two separate entities won much smaller percentages of the vote and then privately agreed, after the election, to pool them. The current government uses over 50% of the vote.

    If I could write the Constitution, parties would have to declare prospective alliances before elections. Seems like a basic requirement of proper democracy to me.

  33. I see your nitpick and raise you my nitpick: we don’t elect governments, we elect MPs and – by convention – the Queen appoints as PM the MP who can command the confidence of the Commons.

  34. I agree, but the electorate do still cast their votes while understanding that, if Party A wins, Party A will form the government, and that therefore a vote for Party A is a vote for Party A’s manifesto to become policy. The same is not true of coalitions, but would be true if they had to announce the terms of their alliances prior to elections.

    Your nitpick is technical and theoretical; mine is practical. Also, your nitpick makes the case stronger that the current government did not win over 50% of the vote, so it doesn’t counteract my nitpick, it reinforces it.

    So nerr.

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