The wrong answer to the West Lothian question.

Posted on: 16th December 2014

West Cornwall MP, Andrew George, has responded to the Government statement in the House of Commons on the implications of devolution for England.

Mr George said, “After decades of head scratching and pondering over the so-called “West Lothian question” the Government submitted its first attempt at an answer.

“It was a good try, but woefully wide of the mark. Plenty of options. But all going in the wrong direction.

“The Conservatives have been pressing their so-called “English votes for English laws” answer to the “West Lothian question” since before the recent Scottish Referendum. Apart from being disastrous and wrong, it would close off far better options.  Let me explain:


1.      Creating first class and second class MPs in the UK Parliament would provoke the very separatism which I thought all parties (apart from the SNP of course) were seeking to avoid.

2.      The “English votes for English laws” slogan used by the Conservatives has been their policy since Scotland voted for devolution in 1997.  It was not Tory policy when Northern Ireland enjoyed significant devolution between 1922 and 1972; when Northern Ireland’s (Conservative supporting) Unionist MPs deprived the Labour Party of working majorities in 1950-1 and 1964-6.  Then, the Conservatives (because it was in their interests”) insisted that it was a matter of principle that “every Member of the House of Commons is equal to every other Member”.  Now that it is not in their interests they take a different view.

3.      It would create Governments unable to govern.  When a Government depended on Scottish MPs for its majority it could determine who the Prime Minister and the Cabinet might be and all non-devolved matters (such as foreign affairs and economics, etc.) but it may not be able to achieve a majority for all other matters.

4.      In reality it is less easy to separate “English” from “Scottish” matters than it appears.  Even if all control of income tax were devolved to Scotland, the bulk of Holyrood’s revenue would still come from Westminster.  Therefore, any variation in spending on an English service, such as health would have a knock-on effect in Scotland.  A cut in “England” would mean that the block grant to Scotland would correspondingly fall.  Therefore, Scottish MPs have a direct interest in what’s seen, on the surface, to be solely “English” issues.

5.      This isn’t just an “English” issue.  The parts of the United Kingdom to which little devolution has occurred is a “remainder” after not just Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are accounted for, but also London.

6.      The answer to the West Lothian question is to carry on the process of devolution and to offer devolved powers to those parts of the “remainder” which do not currently enjoy it.  Cornwall (and the Scillies if they choose to join in) should be first in line.


“Devolution has made many of my fellow politicians believe that Scotland is another country with which they need not concern themselves.  The Constitutional Reform the UK now needs should be to seek to link the various parts of the United Kingdom together, not separate them.  Instead of engaging in an “English votes for English laws” knee-jerk reaction, a UK Government should review the Constitutional settlement between the different parts of the United Kingdom so that the Union, now reaffirmed after the Scottish Referendum, can be strengthened, not fractured.

“These voting conundrums already exist in Parliament. I’m often invited to vote for the “Merseyside Tunnel” or other Bills which only affects one part of the country and not the rest of it.  As Members of Parliament we must make judgments about whether it is appropriate to intrude, if there is a UK-wide interest and if there is a knock-on effect to our own constituency.

“Equally, the Isles of Scilly has to be specifically incorporated in primary legislation or otherwise it doesn’t apply.  On the “English votes for English laws” principle, I could insist that the only person who could determine whether the Isles of Scilly is included in a Bill should be the local MP and no-one else!


“There is no effectively cohesive “English” entity to devolve to.  The UK Parliament should offer devolved powers to those regions (like Cornwall) that wish to adopt them.  Personally, I doubt that there can be a tidy and symmetrical solution.  Asymmetry is the price “England” has to pay to keep Scotland within the Union.  The solution to the English/West Lothian question must be political; not Party political.”