I’ve been back in Westminster this last week after the long Summer recess, and it’s been back to business as usual in more ways than one.
Following the Referendum, a debate was held in the Commons last Tuesday, which quickly became dominated by the so-called West Lothian question, namely the fairness of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voting on legislation that applies only to England, and on which the devolved parliaments legislate in their respective countries.
‘English Votes for English Laws’ has been the rallying cry, and I have quite a lot of sympathy with that view.
It can’t be right that I should be voting on, say, English policing, when equivalent decisions affecting policing in Scotland are made by MSPs in Edinburgh. I (along with my SNP colleagues) already abstain on such issues at Westminster, unless there are clear knock-on impacts on Scotland, but not all MPs from the devolved nations observe this self-denying ordinance.
Most people would agree that devolution has strengthened democracy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I think it’s important that decision making in England is brought closer to the people too. There were some interesting contributions on how that might be done on Tuesday from English MPs of all political persuasions.
But the real disappointment of the debate was how little time was dedicated to debating the extensive further powers promised for Scotland. Indeed, the party leaders who abandoned Prime Minister’s Questions in the week before the Referendum to make their celebrated ‘Vow’ to the people of Scotland didn’t even show face at the debate. How quickly they forget.
Nevertheless, change is underway. The Smith Commission, established to determine the ‘extensive new powers’ for Scotland, has already received submissions from the political parties. While the outcome will fall far short of independence, it has the potential to bring new powers to Scotland that can improve our society and economy.
For me, the test of the Commission’s proposals will be whether they contain the powers to create jobs and boost our economy, build a fairer society, and improve Scotland’s voice in the European arena. All this can be achieved short of independence. It’s also important that the process is not dominated by politicians, and I’d encourage civic organisations and individuals to make their voices heard.
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