Chest puffed out and still swaggering following the election result, David Cameron’s majority conservative government is beginning to look like the Conservative party of old.
Unshackled from the Liberal Democrats, the mask has not so much slipped as it has fallen off completely.
Gone is talk of the big society, one nation and hug a hoodie and in has come proposals to outlaw strike action, cut taxes for millionaires, attacks those facing poverty and plans to slacken restrictions on blood sports. The Conservatives really are a party fit to govern in the 19th century.
Amongst this maelstrom of retrograde legislation, the UK Government has put forward proposals to introduce English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).
Since the conception of the Scottish Parliament, English MPs have pointed out that it is unreasonable for Scottish MPs to vote on matters that do not affect their constituents. On the surface, this would appear to be an uncontroversial idea. Indeed, as a party in favour of independence, it would seem logical that there should be an English Parliament to deal with English only matters. Far be it for me to say that the people of England are uniquely incapable of governing their own affairs!
However, the EVEL plans brought forward by the Tories are an ill-considered shambles which would have serious repercussions for democracy in the UK.
According to the House of Commons library, of 3,800 divisions between 2001 and this month, a mere 0.7% of votes would have concluded differently without the votes of Scottish MPs. Despite this, David Cameron’s government seems hell bent on driving through these hasty reforms – without consultation, debate or scrutiny.
Through lack of understanding and by riding roughshod over parliamentary procedure, proposals to enact EVEL will have profound consequences in all of the devolved legislatures of the UK and will see Scottish MPs reduced to second class Members of Parliament.
At the core of this matter is the fact that the UK Government has been singularly unable to provide a definition of what constitutes an ‘England Only’ matter.
A piece of (poorly conducted) research by the UK Government suggested that 20 Bills in last parliament did not apply to Scotland. However, proper analysis by the Scottish Government demonstrated that 13 of them actually did have an impact.
Embarrassingly, a written response to one of my colleagues even suggested that the Scotland Bill was an ‘England Only’ matter.
Under these back-of-an-envelope plans, it would be up to the Speaker of the House of Commons to decide what an England Only matter is. This decision would be taken in secret and the Speaker would not be held accountable. To top it all off, English MPs would then be issued with special iPads to allow only them to vote on the matter.
Due to the current political set up of the UK, most decisions taken in Westminster have a direct impact on the devolved nations. For example, the Health & Social Care Bill only affected the NHS in England and Wales, but had a corresponding impact on the Scottish Government’s budget.
It is therefore essential that the voting rights of Scottish MPs are not taken away.
Of course, the hypocrisy of the Conservatives was exposed when every single one of the amendments to the Scotland Bill tabled by SNP MPs (95% of Scotland’s MPs) were defeated by the Tories who have only one MP in Scotland.
During the referendum, the people of Scotland were ‘love-bombed’ by a litany of leading UK politicians who assured us that we were valued partners in the UK family and should ‘lead not leave’ the UK. I would imagine I am not far wide of the mark when I suggest that even the most ardent defender of the Union would baulk at the passage of these disrespectful and calamitous plans.