Monday, 29 October 2007

That question again

The English are discovering that devolution is a process and not an event.

The Conservatives' latest version of their "English votes for English laws" policy gave constitutional anoraks the weekend of their dreams.

The arguments were familiar, even if the unionist case is now made most loudly by pro-devolutionists.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said of the Tory policy: "It would lead to the break-up of Britain.
Devolving power, whether to Scotland or Wales or to London has acutally increased the sense of cohesion."

Some might argue that the presence of nationalist Ministers in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff (in coalition with Labour) would slightly jeopardise that cohesion.

Mr Hain said of Conservative leader David Cameron: "He's creating two classes of MPs; the first class MP who's English, Scots and Welsh would be second class."

Isn't the creation of different classes of MP an inevitable consequence of devolution? Welsh MPs can no longer question Ministers about the NHS used by their constituents (it's run from Cardiff), whereas MPs from England can still hold Health Ministers to account in Westminster.

Mr Hain added: "This is a prescritpon for balkanising parliament and in the end for Scottish and Welsh voters to say if their MPs are second class then why should they remain within the union?"

A question the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond (a supporter of an English parliament) , is happy enough to ask - frequently. Part of the SNP strategy for delivering Scottish independence is to win support for the cause among English voters who read every week how they are subsidising public services in Scotland.

From a Welsh perspective (bubble?), it's sometimes difficult to appreciate there are two sides to the argument over how devolved governments are funded. A cursory reading of (UK) national newspapers recently will show you how pressure is mounting in England for a narrowing of the gap on public spending per head between England and the rest of the UK.

This debate all flows from the West Lothian question, with which constitutional anoraks have been struggling for more than 30 years.

Perhaps the solution to the West Lothian question, as apparently suggested by the former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, is not to ask it at all.

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