Complicated aftermath of the Scotland referendum


Now that the Scottish referendum has resulted in a vote to remain in the union by a surprisingly large margin of 55-45%, some thorny issues will have to be resolved. I had not realized until I started following the referendum what a complicated political structure exists in the UK leading to all manner of problems, one of the major ones being has come to be known as the West Lothian question.

As I understand this messy issue (and I know that some readers here are much more knowledgeable and will chime in and correct me if I am wrong), there are separate legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that get to vote on designated issues that pertain to just those regions. But at the same time, those regions elect members to the Westminster parliament that governs all of the UK.

This leads to two kinds of problems.

MPs elected from (say) Scotland can vote in Westminster on issues that affect an area in England but cannot vote on a similar issue pertaining to their own constituency in Scotland, since the regional parliament is the only one that can do so. This is the original formulation of the West Lothian question.

Another issue that rankles some people in England is that as a result of England not having its own separate legislature, MPs from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can vote on matters that affect only England, while the reverse does not hold, in that MPs from England cannot vote on internal matters in the devolved areas. One proposed solution, of only allowing members from England to vote in parliament on matters pertaining to England, carries with it the unsavory connotations of creating separate classes of MPs in the same parliament. Practically too it creates problems, one being whether this would exclude an MP from one of the three regions ever holding a cabinet post, since those positions will necessarily involve taking policy stands that affect England.

And there are other problems as Patrick Wintour describes, not to mention how to accommodate the last-minute promises made by prime minister David Cameron and the leaders of the other two parties to give additional powers to Scotland in order to coax people into voting ‘no’.

The vote against separation has settled one question but opened up others. Frankly, it looks like a mess.

Comments

  1. Paulo Borges says

    The logical solution would be something like a federal system, similar to the american system.
    The main problem for a system like this to be fully implemented, is that I fail to see how the House of Lords and the monarchy would react to such an overwhelming change. There would be no logical reason for them to exist.
    Keep in mind that many of these extremely complex and odd European systems of governance come small changes and adaptations from older systems as a way to maintain the most of the status quo of the prevailing powers.
    The french put this in a wonderful expression, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose , the more it changes, the more it rests the same.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Paulo Borges @1:

    …as a way to maintain the most of the status quo of the prevailing powers.

    How does this differ from the American system?

  3. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The logical solution would be something like a federal system, similar to the american system.

    Well, the American system doesn’t look like much of a solution to anything.
    Another problem with a federal system would be that one part of the federation- England- would have 85% of the population, so it wouldn’t be any more democratic to give representatives of other parts or the federation indirect power over it than direct power. Equally, the purpose of a federation would be to stop England dominating the other parts purely by numbers. Breaking up England without be difficult too- English loyalties tend to be local- parochial even- not regional and culturally rather than geographically expressed. Wales too could logically be divided into three- South, central and North Wales are more closely connected with neighbouring parts of England than with other parts of Wales.
    In fact, the most likely outcome of the referendum looks like the rise of an English independence movement, with possible demands that London becomes a city-state.

  4. sailor1031 says

    MPs from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can vote on matters that affect only England, while the reverse does not hold

    If by the reverse does not hold you mean that english MPs can’t vote on matters that affect only Scotland and/or Wales and/or NI, this is not strictly true. The Westminster parliament where the english MPs sit remains the premier parliament with sovereignty over the entire UK. It can overrule decisions made by any of the other bodies. So english MPs can and do vote on questions that do not concern England.

  5. sailor1031 says

    If you ask me this whole question of scottish independence has arisen only because the english have bumbled their way through three hundred years of union with Scotland with no clear idea of where they wanted to go or how to get there. Just as they bumbled in Wales and NI. These inherited involvements in foreign countries have always been a pain for the english. What did they ever want in Scotland anyway? Had any of them ever been there before Edward Longshanks started the whole thing’ leading to a long period of inherited hostilities simply because “we have always been at war with Scotland”? Once having finally conquered it the english didn’t have a clue what to do with it and largely ignored it for the next three hundred years.

    Now suddenly we’re asked to believe that it would have broken Cameron’s heart to break up this wonderful UK? I call bullshit on that. At one stroke it would have almost completely removed Labour party representation in the Westminster parliament and left him in a commanding political position where he would not have to even consider Clegg and the libdems let alone form a coalition with them.

  6. AsqJames says

    @sailor1031,

    I 100% agree with your point in #4 – the UK parliament at Westminster cannot complain about “The West Lothian Question” when it: a) implemented the system which brought it about; and b) retains the power to overrule the devolved legislatures.

    However, I think the following part of #5 is wrong:

    At one stroke it would have almost completely removed Labour party representation in the Westminster parliament and left him in a commanding political position where he would not have to even consider Clegg and the libdems let alone form a coalition with them.

    Only twice since WWII (for 18 months between ’64 and ’66, and less than a year in ’74) would taking Scots MPs out of Westminster have resulted in a Labour government switching to a Conservative one. That’s a different government for less than 3 years out of 65. Of course involving the LibDems in the current coalition would have been unnecessary too, but I’m struggling to see how much of a difference that would have made! Nonetheless, I fail to see how that completely removes Labour Party representation in Westminster.

  7. Paulo Borges says

    Rob Grigjanis @2
    In its genesis the american republic in all its aspects the definite shattering of the status quo of the time.
    As all systems that do not evolve and adapt to new threats, they became the exact same entity they were suppose to counter.
    @3-
    As american style of federation, I was referring to a separation of areas of legislative power of the 4 states and country as the UK. Local parliaments of each of the 4 states would legislate on regional issues and a UK parliament would legislate in a broader level.
    The problem would be on how to define the boundaries and limits of the two legislative bodies. For that I have no clue on how to do it.

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