40 reasons to support Scottish independence: 9, 10, 11: The West Lothian question & problems with devo-max

9, 10 and 11 of 40 reasons to support Scottish independence - the West Lothian Question needs an answer, devo-max will make it worse and isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
29 April 2014

9) The West Lothian Question needs an answer...

If Ireland is to have domestic legislation for Irish affairs they cannot come here for English or Scottish affairs” - William Gladstone, 1886


Top up fees in England were opposed by the majority of English MPs, but imposed by Scottish Labour MPs

Without Scottish Labour MPs, English tuition fees wouldn't have been trebled to £3000 and there would have been no Foundation Hospitals. When you consider that these two policies laid the groundwork for £9k fees and the privatisation of the NHS, when you realise that these policies only affect England, the fact that they were passed despite most English MPs voting against them is not just an interesting constitutional quirk. It is an outrage.

When Tam Dalyell, the then MP for West Lothian, famously asked why he should have more say over domestic policy in Blackburn, Lancashire than its namesake in his constituency, he was pointing at a significant problem. The way it has played out in reality is worth considering. Because Scottish constituents care little what their MPs do on domestic affairs, they can vote how they want. Without being weighed down by the nuisance of accountability, they can suck up to their leadership. 24% of the MPs in Blair's final cabinet and 16% those in Brown's represented Scottish seats, despite Scots only making up 11% of the post-2005 Parliamentary Labour Party. This shouldn't be a surprise.

Whilst most MPs need to serve two masters – constituents and party leaders - Scottish MPs can spend their time sucking up to the latter, safe in the knowledge that, on domestic matters, the former aren't affected by what they do. In large part, Scottish MPs – Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy, John Reid, Douglas Alexander, Helen Liddle, Alistair Darling, George Robertson, Des Browne - imposed New Labour and so endless neo-liberalism on England. I never understood the idea that the English left should be afraid of losing Scottish Labour MPs lest they end up with endless right wing governments. It's largely because of Scottish Labour MPs that they already have.

If the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly do gain more powers after a no vote, then this difficulty will be further entrenched. Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs cannot be banned from voting on English affairs without risking robbing a government of its majority and so making it unable to govern. They can't continue to decide English affairs in a context of increased devolution without enhancing a dangerous democratic deficit. An English Parliament or regional parliaments as powerful as the enhanced Holyrood would answer Tam's question, but would leave a significantly weakened Westminster and, unsurprisingly therefore, aren't on the table.

This isn't a hypothetical problem. It's the chink in the democratic armour which helped allow English health and education systems be prized open to the market. It's a question which demands an answer. Dalyell wasn't the first person to seek one. As with Ireland, there is a logical conclusion to the asymmetry caused by home rule for the smaller parts of the union: independence.

10) ...and will only get worse with devo-max

after the referendum... I don't think we could have the leader of a national party being a Scot... or, indeed, any of the great offices of state.” - Polly Toynbee, The Daily Politics


Linlithow Palace, West Lothian

If significant powers are devolved to Holyrood, it's worth asking what the trade off would be. It's quite understandable under the current arrangements for English people to say that there shouldn't be another John Reid – a Health Secretary who ran NHS England while representing a Scottish constituency. But with more devolution, Polly Toynbee's point becomes a reasonable one. The Prime Minister would largely be responsible for English affairs. The mumbles of complaint when Brown and Darling were the top team would become harder and harder to answer. It likely would be near impossible for a Scottish MP to ever again be Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister. If it is a no vote, of course we should demand more devolution. But the idea it comes with no political cost is a pipe-dream. In truth it would always be an uncomfortable situation, and that's why the proposals from the Better Together parties are so weak.

11) And Devo-Max isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway

"it seems to me that Scots disagree more with the Westminster consensus with regard to defence and foreign affairs, not less. So why on Earth would a third of Scots want to retain these links?" - Arc of Prosperity

I never understood the appeal of devo-max. Unless you are a genuine British or Scottish nationalist, The question in a sense, is 'which powers should Westminster have, which powers should Holyrood have?'. The devo max answer is 'Holyrood should have power over everything but its own constitution, the power to send troops to kill and die in foreign adventures, get rid of trident, and fully extricate ourselves from the City.' I always assume the desire really is to have home rule, but retain a sense of belonging to Britain. If so, fine. Just as Scandinavians can be Scandinavian and West Indians can be West Indian, we can be British. That doesn't mean we need to keep Trident.

Buy Adam Ramsay's e-book, "42 Reasons to Support Scottish Independence" for only £1.99.

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