Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Cameron's democratic conundrum.

I am not at all impressed by the simplicity of 'English votes for English laws'.  Introducing a rule in parliament that says only MPs representing English Constituencies can vote on matters affecting the English doesn't solve the problem of how we move forward with the United Kingdom. On the contrary it hammers yet another nail into its coffin. But my main argument against it is that it denies, yes denies, the same level of democracy that voters in Scotland or Wales etc would have. Far from solving a problem it creates a new anomaly.  If I were then to be a voter in Scotland I would have the opportunity to split my vote - I might for example vote SNP (well I wouldn't but that is a different matter) for the Scotland Parliament but would vote Tory (certainly wouldn't but then this is an example) in the UK wide vote.  If I lived in England I would not have these opportunities. I would have to choose the same party to represent me in England as UK wide.

Now you might ask why a voter might wish to do that. But that is often what voters do. In local elections they will often vote for a different party than they would in a general election. The same is the case in European elections. Voters it seems are more sophisticated than 'English votes for English Laws'.

The British Constitution is an odd make up of conventions and statute. It has its anomalies. Some might argue that it is these anomalies that give it value. After all, if we are talking about democracy and votes counting, then why should someone born into a particular family have any greater say in our affairs than any other person? That of course is so with the monarchy. It is also the case with  hereditary peers. If Cameron really believed in democracy he would surely have abolished the remaining hereditary peers and finished the reform of the House of Lords. He won't of course.

Our 'democracy' is neither perfect nor thoroughly bad. To pick on one particular problem and elevate it above all the others is simply party politics. The West Lothian question is not the most vital issue in politics. It is a conundrum.  If Cameron wants to 'save the union' then he had better come up with something better.  He should stop playing for party advantage following the Scottish referendum. In doing so he puts the Union at risk.

I have no doubt that some kind of federal settlement is required. But that will require proper devolution of powers in England - or perhaps I should say 'to England'.

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