As many people have pointed out (e.g, Lallands Peat Worrier and The Huffington Post), the Tories’ current plans for English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) actually are pretty meaningless at the moment — they would simply give the English MPs the power to block laws from being passed by a majority involving Scottish MPs if the subject area is devolved (like when Scottish MPs were happy to introduce tuition fees in England under Tony Blair), but they wouldn’t allow English MPs to create or modify laws on their own (such as the current relaxation of the English fox-hunting law).
In effect, the EVEL rules would basically not have any effect during this parliament (given that the Tories have an absolute majority that doesn’t depend on their sole Scottish MP). They might of course become very important under a future Labour government (if we don’t get independence before that happens), but then they could just abolish the EVEL rules again, given the UK Parliament is sovereign.
I have a feeling that many ordinary Tory voters aren’t aware of the current impotence of EVEL, but once they realise, they might get pretty angry and will demand that an even better variety of EVEL is introduced (let’s call it EVEL-ER, borrowing the Chinese word for ‘two’, 二 èr).
So what would EVEL-ER look like? Presumably it would actually exclude Scottish MPs from voting on certain laws altogether. Rather than forcing the Speaker to exclude the MPs at random times, it would probably be easier to assign days to each voting group (e.g., English MPs on Mondays and Tuesdays, English and Welsh MPs on Wednesdays, all MPs on Thursdays). In effect, EVEL-ER would set up at least two new parliaments (an English one and an English-and-Welsh one — I’m not entirely sure where the Northern Irish MPs come into the picture), but sharing MPs and facilities with the House of Commons.
The new EVEL-ER Parliament would thus be a matryoshka parliament — a large parliament containing a smaller parliament containing an even smaller parliament.
EVEL-ER would raise a lot of questions, however. For instance, would the English MPs have their own matryoshka ministers, or would the UK ones simply wear a lot of matryoshka hats?
I can’t help thinking it’d be simpler to set up a proper English Parliament (but then I’m not English) or to split up the UK once and for all (but then I’m not a Unionist).
It’s a well-known fact that Scottish Labour MPs played a crucial part in imposing tuition fees on English students, feeling safe in the knowledge that their own constituents wouldn’t be affected directly.
Many voters did notice, however, and it surely played a part in the downfall of Scottish Labour.
So I was a bit surprised when I read the following in a long article in The Guardian called “The Clegg Catastrophe“:
Many senior figures […] warned that supporting a rise in tuition fees would be disastrous. […] Danny Alexander, who had taken over from Laws as chief secretary to the Treasury, insisted the party should go along with the rise in tuition fees. Alexander, who participated – alongside Clegg, Cameron, and Osborne – in the “quad” meetings where coalition policy was hammered out, was less interested in the politics of the issue than the economic impact; he believed it was a necessary step to reduce the deficit. Far from being abolished over six years, as the Lib Dem manifesto had promised, fees were to treble over two years. […]
In December, on the eve of the Commons vote to raise fees, Martin Shapland, the chairman of Liberal Youth, went to see the chief whip Alistair Carmichael to make a final attempt to persuade the party to change course. “I told him the damage was going to be permanent and he disagreed,” Shapland said.
It would appear the Scottish Lib Dems repeated the errors made a few years earlier by Labour: They assumed they were safe because Scottish students wouldn’t have to pay to attend university (thanks to the SNP), and so they were much keener to toe the party line and treble the fees than their English colleagues.
Were they really too naïve to understand that the consequent lack of trust in the Liberal Democrats would affect them, too?
It’s odd how Unionist politicians often are much worse at understanding the dynamics of post-devolution politics than the Nationalists.
I think Paul Mason might be right that the UK has effectively disintegrated into three tribes: Scandi-Scotland, the asset-rich south-east and post-industrial Britain. At least, when I sat down to write down some helpful advice for Labour, I realised I couldn’t think of any meaningful advice that would apply to both
Scottish and rUK Labour, and the latter might be easier to understand if seen as straddling two quite diverse areas. However, let’s first have a look at the pandaified party north of the border.
Some observers — mainly those based in London — seem to think Scottish Labour might bounce back in five years’ time. I don’t think so. Of course they might regain a few seats, but most of the new SNP voters have switched for good — they haven’t just temporarily lent their vote to another party.
Furthermore, they might still be Scotland’s second-largest party, but their voters are in the “wrong” places, making it very hard for them to stage a come-back. For instance, there are only four seats that can be taken from the SNP on a swing of less than 10%: Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk (which will fall to the Tories on a swing of 0.8%), Dunbartonshire East (4.9% to go Lib Dem), Edinburgh West (7.5% to go Lib Dem) and East Renfrewshire (8.1% to go Labour).
All other seats require a swing from the SNP of more than 10% to go Unionist, and a great number of Labour’s old seats require a swing of more than 20% to revert to the status quo ante referendum. This is simply not going to happen unless Labour completely reinvents itself, and even then it might take decades.
Even if the three Unionist parties decided to merge as the Better Together Party north of the border, it wouldn’t save them. If we imagine such a party had been standing last Thursday, only 19 of Scotland’s 59 seats would have gone Unionist (assuming that all current Labour, Tory and Lib Dem voters had supported it). Sadly for Labour, they were the largest of the three amigo parties in only 8 of them (4 lean towards the Tories and 7 towards the Lib Dems).
Nevertheless, the Better Together route is probably the least bad prospect for Labour. The swing required to retake most of the Central Belt seats is so enormous that it’s simply not going to happen. At least as a new Unionist party they will have a chance to win some seats back in five years’ time (if Scotland hasn’t left the Union by then, of course).
In the rUK, Labour’s main rival isn’t a progressive Social Democratic party, so the way forward is likely to be very different.
At the moment, the most prominent candidates to take over the leadership of UK Labour (such as Chuka Umunna) seem to be focusing on the swing seats they failed to take from the Tories, and as a result they’re prescribing Blairite medicine, i.e., copying the Tories’ policies. However, we know well where that ends: Voter apathy in the first instance, and eventually it allows new parties to take over from the left — it would have been almost impossible for the SNP to become so popular if Tony Blair hadn’t pulled his party so far away from the Scottish consensus. In other words, a Blairite leader might retake some southern seats, but it will probably lead to huge advances for the Greens and UKIP (and perhaps even the Lib Dems) in Northern England in five years’ time. Triangulation might work in the US, where there are only two significant parties, but in multi-party Britain it leads to electoral disaster after a few years.
To return to Paul Mason’s tribes, the Blairite Third Way might work in the asset-rich south-east, but it will eventually cause Labour to collapse in post-industrial Britain, just like what happened last Thursday in Scotland.
I doubt UK Labour are mentally ready to set up two separate parties in England (just letting Scottish Labour go is going to be hard enough), so let me suggest another way forward for them:
In England, the Tories got 41% of the votes, while Labour got 32%, the Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 14% and the Greens 4%. Now, I don’t believe all UKIP’s voters are racists; many of them are just ordinary people who feel abandoned by the political classes in London, and UKIP seems to them to represent the most authentic working-class voice in England, so let’s assume that a more traditional working-class alliance could recapture at least half of them. If such an anti-Tory alliance could unite Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and half of UKIP, it would have won 51% of the votes in England last Thursday, which would have been translated into 299 seats (and the Tories would have got the remaining 234 seats). Given that this alliance would also have gained the majority of seats in Wales and would have found it easy to work together with the SNP, if would have been able to command an enormous majority in the House of Commons.
In other words, UK Labour doesn’t need to copy UKIP’s xenophobic ideas or the Tories’ austerity policies to win. All it takes is a genuine working-class alternative to the Tories, probably with policies very similar to the SNP’s in Scotland. Let’s not forget that the Tories got more than half the votes in only 175 constituencies, so the only reason they’re in power today is because the English opposition is fragmented.
Of course, assembling such an alliance wouldn’t work in Scotland because the SNP is already occupying this space, so here a better alternative for Labour is probably to set up a Unionist alliance, as discussed above.
[T]he SNP appears to have given no thought to the perceived legitimacy of a nationalist-tinged government in swaths of England, not to forget Wales and Northern Ireland – while it also risks coming across as arrogant: promising to implement “progressive politics” in the rest of the UK, whether it likes it or not, just as Margaret Thatcher “imposed” rightwing policies on Scotland in the 1980s.
Under current SNP logic, the Iron Lady had a perfect right to do so, for she commanded an overall majority within the “Westminster system”. Funnily enough, nationalists did not defend her governments on that basis at the time. Rather, up went the cry of “no mandate”. Where, then, would the English, Welsh and Northern Irish mandate be for the policies of a party that doesn’t even field candidates outside Scotland?
This is total nonsense. The problem with Thatcher’s governments was that they had very little support in Scotland and yet ruled Scotland (in those ancient times before the recreation of the Scottish Parliament, providing the Secretary of State for Scotland was the equivalent of running the Scottish Government). However, even if all the three smaller nations in the UK ganged up together, they’d only have 117 MPs in total (59 Scottish ones, 40 Welsh ones and 18 Northern Irish ones), but a majority in the House of Commons requires 326 seats, so at least 209 English MPs would need to take part, too.
In other words, in the worst case England will be ruled by its second-largest party in a coalition in which at least half the MPs are English. I don’t think Scotland would have found such a situation intolerable at all.
It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the main argument:
There’s only one good argument for an independent Scotland. But it is a very good argument indeed. It can be stated in the following way:
Scotland is a country.
Countries ought to be independent.
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.
In order to defeat an opponent it is necessary to put forward his best argument and then refute it. The only way to refute an argument is by either refuting the reasoning or the assumptions. […] In order to defeat the SNP we must defeat their assumptions. The initial assumption “Scotland is a country” must not be allowed, for if we do allow it, the rest of the argument follows as a matter of course.
We must attack the SNP at their roots. I have tried to outline how to do this in the past few weeks. First, accept that the UK is one nation, that is indivisible. Therefore, cease treating the parts of the UK as if they were really countries. […] It has turned out to be a long-term historical mistake that in a number of respects the parts of the UK have been treated as if they were independent countries. No other nation state in the world allows its parts to have separate money and separate international football teams. […] Secondly, rule out any further referendums ever. No-one would allow Aberdeenshire a referendum on independence. Well, on the same basis we should say that Aberdeenshire is to Scotland as Scotland is to the UK. Because it is an indivisible part of the whole, there is no right to secede. […] Thirdly, don’t make any sort of deal with those who have only the goal of destroying our country. Don’t work with them even if they pretend to be our friends. They are nothing of the sort. They are the greatest threat to the UK in over 300 years of history. Treat them as such. […] Fourthly, we must find a way to bring about more unity into the UK and promote a feeling of common identity.
Effie Deans is not very explicit here about what exactly will need to happen to stop Scots from perceiving Scotland as a country, but I reckon it will include the following:
Abolish Scottish separateness in sports, such as the Scottish national football and rugby teams and the Scottish football leagues.
Abolish Scots law and introduce English law in Scotland.
Abolish the Scottish education system and introduce the English curriculum, GCSEs and A Levels in Scotland.
Force all charities to set up UK-wide bodies (outlaw Scottish charities).
Merge the Scottish NHS with the English NHS.
Remove all powers from the Scottish Parliament that wouldn’t be granted to an English regional assembly (if these are ever created).
In my opinion, Effie Deans is both right and wrong. She’s right that only by making Scots think of Scotland as a British region (like Yorkshire) would the dream of independence ever die. However, she’s wrong to think that a plan such as this could ever gain widespread support in Scotland. I reckon only a very small part of Scots (perhaps 10%) think of Scotland as a region of the UK, and the rest of us agree that Scotland is a nation within a political union called the United Kingdom — we just disagree whether this union is a good or a bad thing.
Unless I’m completely mistaken, any plan to execute Effie Deans’s plan would cause opinion polls to show at least 80% support for independence within a fortnight, and Scotland would become independent soon afterwards.
Perhaps her plan could have been implemented successfully in the 1980s, when Scottish self-confidence was at a historic low. Not today.
That said, many leading Unionists — both in Scotland and in England — might quietly agree with Effie Deans, and we should watch out for any threats to Scotland’s status as a constituent nation of the UK. They’d probably start with small things and only deal with the highly symbolic areas (such as the education system) after many years.
Finally, I’d like to quote her request that many more Scots should join the SNP:
Some people who voted No in Scotland will object to what I write here. My answer is as follows. If you think that Scotland is a country in the same sense as France is a country, you should join the SNP. If you don’t feel particularly British, you likewise should join the SNP.
I very much agree, but how she can possibly think that’d help the Unionist cause is beyond me.
BBC Scotlandshire’s April Fool’s story about the SNP standing for election in England was very amusing, but it also made me wonder whether it could happen.
Naturally the SNP in its own right would never stand in England (not even in South Berwick or Corby), but the excellent partnership between the SNP and Plaid Cymru could — and should — be extended to England.
Unfortunately, English political parties have tended to belong to the xenophobic right, but now that Nicola Sturgeon is taking part in the leadership debates, the SNP’s political programme will become better known in England, and surely a lot of voters there will be thinking to themselves that they agree with her (and with PC) more than with any of the parties standing in England.
I therefore call on such English voters to create their own English version of the SNP. To ensure that voters don’t mistake it for a UKIP or BNP clone, perhaps the best name for this party would be “England’s Social Democrats” or similar.
The SNP could liaise with the ESD to ensure their aims were compatible, and they could be voting together at Westminster a lot of the time.
The ESD would define itself as a non-violent, non-xenophobic, anti-austerity social democratic party in favour of the creation of an English parliament as a step towards English independence.
Being English rather than Scottish, it would of course not agree with the SNP in every regard, just like Plaid Cymru doesn’t. However, using the SNP’s policies as a blueprint for this new English party would surely be a winning formula.
As part of the ongoing “cash for access” scandal, Malcolm Rifkind said the following about the salary paid to MPs:
I think also if you’re trying to attract people of a business or professional background to serve in the House of Commons and if they’re not ministers it is quite unrealistic to believe they will go through their parliamentary career being able to simply accept a salary of £60,000.
That sounds a lot to a lot of people earning less than that but […] the vast majority of people of a business or professional background earn far, far more than that.
I’m sorry, but although that might very well be the case in the City of London, in Scotland and other non-metropolitan parts of the UK, only the select few earn in excess of £60k. I think the problem is that the MPs are living in a London bubble full of the über-rich and famous, and they almost feel like the poor relative in comparison.
However, there’s absolutely no law that a country’s parliament must be placed in the largest city. Washington DC didn’t even exist when it was made capital of the US (the capital was moved from Philadelphia to an area outwith the territory of the states), and Germany thrived when the capital was Bonn (by no means a big city).
If living and working in London is too dear and overwhelming for UK parliamentarians, perhaps the best solution would be to move the UK parliament up north somewhere. (Westminster is falling to pieces anyway.)
I don’t really care where it gets moved to, so long as it’s not in commuting distance from London. Ideally I believe it should be close to the population-weighted centre of the UK, and not too far from any of the four nations of the Union. My own suggestion would be York (just because I like it, and perhaps due to a bit of Viking nostalgia), but when I mentioned this idea on Twitter, I received many suggestions, such as St. Kilda, Clatt, Stornoway, Liverpool, Inverness, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Some of these might have been made tongue-in-cheek, but Liverpool is actually an excellent suggestion.
Once the new political capital of the UK has been chosen, Halls of Residence for MPs can be built next to the new parliament so that there won’t be any need for second home allowances and all that.