Since 1977, when Scottish MP Tam Dalyell raised the issue, the West Lothian question has become a perennial issue in British Politics.
The West Lothian, that is, whether or not Scottish and Welsh MPs should be able to vote on issues which are only to the pertinence to England has split debate since the 70s.
Many people are, perhaps rightly, annoyed that certain elements of important policy can be influenced by those who are unaffected by it. It has led to political decisions which do not represent the will of the people. Even though, for the Scottish, Welsh and Northen Irish, many areas of policy such as health, policing and education have long since been devolved from Westminster control, and often the vote will have no direct effect on MPs from constituencies where powers on such issues have long since been devolved.
Concern over the issue has grown due to the recent referendum on Scottish Independence. According to a YouGov poll of English voters conducted at the time of the referendum 72% of respondents said they wanted Scottish MPs to be banned from voting on ‘England-only’ issues.
However, despite the gravity of the issue from a political and democratic standpoint, it would appear that there is no clear solution or answer to the question. Devolution varies between areas of the UK, which would mean that the effect of limiting voting on certain issues to English MPs could have an adverse impact on other areas of the UK. This also raises the issue of what exactly can be determined as an ‘England-only’ issue, as the potential effect on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland would be difficult to assess. There also appears to be little initiative among politicians to consider proposals to resolve the issue. The Conservative Party has only just started discussing the issue in light of the result of the Scottish independence vote and pledges made in order to incentivise voters to stay in the UK. While the Labour Party appear to be worried about the impact of any change to the status quo on their electoral performance as 40 of its MPs in Westminster represent Scottish constituencies.
One major proposal to deal with the issue is the creation of a separate ‘English parliament’ that would deal specifically with policy and issues which are only of importance to England. This may be the best proposal in terms of giving constitutional equality to all areas of the UK.
This proposal has failed to gain much support in England and it could become problematic if the party elected to lead a devolved English institution was different from that elected to control a UK wide parliament. This could potentially lead to a situation where no party could guarantee that it would be able to fulfil its manifesto promises if they referred specifically to England.
Simply banning MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from voting on issues which are only of importance to England is another proposal, though this could prove tricky to implement due to the political implications for parties involved. Especially those, like the Labour party, with more Scottish MPs than other nation-wide parties. One thing is clear, in light of the changing political landscape in Scotland the demand for an answer to such a complex question is only going to increase, and it will not be easy to find.
Featured image by Joshua Samways.