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The West Lothian Question

When you think about it, perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Scottish referendum was that 45% of the electorate was prepared to take an enormous leap in the dark, for that is what it would have been, to escape from the deadening grip of Westminster. I hope that the imagination and energy generated by the debate can be sustained. By the time the votes were cast last Thursday it was hard to see how Scots could lose. Thanks to a last minute panic in Westminster which led to promises of more powers to the Scottish Parliament, the democratic deficit at the heart of the debate looked set to be addressed to some extent no matter which way the vote went. When I left Scotland it still had a colonial administration in the form of the Scottish Office. That's why I find the rediscovery of the West Lothian Question by English MPs something like 35 years after it was first asked so amusing. The West Lothian Question dates back to the devolution debate of the late 1970s. West Lothian MP and silver spoon socialist Tam Dalyell pointed out that if Scotland got devolution it was unfair that Scottish MPs at Westminster would still be able to vote on bills that affected only England and Wales. I agree. But when the Tories swept to power in 1979, falsely promising by the way to introduce their own referendum bill, the West Lothian Question lost its currency. English Tories flooded the chamber to vote on bills that affected Scotland only and imposed such joys as the Poll Tax. The Scots would probably still have the Poll Tax if the Tories hadn't tried to impose it on the English too and the voters south of the border realised just how unfair it was. I wonder how many of the English MPs who thought that was OK to vote on purely Scottish bills before devolution in 1999 have in the past few months suddenly rediscovered the West Lothian Question. And does the fact that they have say something about the extent of the powers presently vested in the Scottish Parliament? And why haven't the English MPs been screaming about Northern Irish MPs at Westminister following the 1998 establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly? What I'm worried about now is that the democratic deficit in England will be used as an excuse not to the fulfil even the vague promises made before last week's vote in Scotland. Westminster has always been the English Parliament in all but name. There is no need to create yet another level of government in England. And the English regions have up until now been luke warm about creating yet another tier of administration anyway. All that has to happen is that Scots and Irish MPs absent themselves from the chamber when the Blah Blah (England and Wales) Bill is debated and voted on. Too simple? I hope the rest of world is watching closely to see how much reliance can be put on the word of a British Prime Minister.


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