Letter to Ming Campbell
Dear Sir Menzies,
On Tuesday’s Daily Politics Show you asserted that the English do not want their own parliament; that the English don’t want another layer of government; that an English parliament would put the English off politics, and; that you had only ever had one email on the West Lothian Question.
Whadaya know….I must be that one person that has contacted you over the West Lothian Question. Following is the reply that you sent me in January this year:
Thank you for your letter regarding Scottish MPs voting rights on English only matters, which raises some interesting debates. Let me take this opportunity to express my views on this subject in more detail than I was able to do during my interview on Sky News.
Tam Dayell famously posed his West Lothian question, which effectively asked why a Scottish MP could vote on issues which concerned England but which did not concern his own constituents, over 25 years ago. Now that we have devolution in Scotland it is clear that it is the wrong question. What we should be asking is the West Dorset question. Why should a citizen of West Dorset have less democratic representation than his or her counterparts in Scotland? It is the asymmetric nature of the current devolution settlement, and consequent democratic deficit for English citizens, which must be challenged.
A historical note often forgotten when discussing the legislative relationship between England and Scotland is that the 1707 Act of Union dissolved both the Scottish and the English Parliaments creating in their stead a single new parliament for Great Britain. The seductive argument that Scottish MPs should not vote on England only matters ignores the reality of both the Act of Union and the 1998 Scotland Act.
The 1998 Act delegated authority to legislate on Scottish matters to the Scottish Parliament but, crucially, it did not cede any power of the UK parliament to legislate for Scotland. Under the terms of the Act Westminster may at any time enforce any legislation it passes, whether on devolved matters or not, throughout the UK by simple Order in Council (section 30) whilst section 29(7) makes it clear that the power of Westminster to legislate for Scotland remains intact. Therefore any Act passed at Westminster could be applied in Scotland. To deprive Scottish MPs of the right to debate and vote on legislation, without removing the power of the UK parliament to legislate for Scotland, would remove the representation of Scots on legislation which any government could decide to impose upon them in the future, however unlikely.
The real debate therefore is twofold. First it is not about what the Scots have but rather what the English do not have - a lack of any devolved government for England. Second it is about creating a properly balanced federal framework to best serve all the citizens of the United Kingdom. There are those who would argue for an English Parliament with the identical powers to the Scottish Parliament. This has the merit of simplicity and would at a stroke create a symmetrical devolution settlement. However there are arguments against it, not least the danger of creating a parliament which did not properly represent the balance of interests of the regions. Others therefore argue for a regional model. As a Scot I do not feel it is for me to prescribe the best solution for England. It is however clear that until England is in some shape or another devolved the federal structure of the United Kingdom will remain out of balance.
Scotland achieved a wide consensus by convening a constitutional convention whose recommendations formed the basis for the current settlement. England deserves no less. It is time for an English constitutional convention.
Thank you again for writing to me on this most important issue.
Sir Menzies Campbell
‘It is time for an English constitutional convention’ you wrote back in January. May I ask what plans you have made since that time to set up an English Constitutional Convention, or to participate in the existing English Constitutional Convention that you failed to attend in October?
Given that your constituents are Scottish it is hardly surprising that you don’t receive much mail complaining about the West Lothian Question – the Scots, in particular Scottish MPs such as yourself, do rather well out of the failure to answer it. I am aware that you now have a standard response letter to questions about the Campaign for an English parliament and the WLQ, so I am assuming that other Liberal Democrat politicians do receive correspondence on this subject. If this issue was not important, or if the English were simply uninterested, there would be no need for any of this.
This standard response letter, approved by Simon Hughes (Constitutional Affairs), again calls for an English Constitutional Convention. I'm sorry for the repetition but may I again ask what plans you have made since January to set up an English Constitutional Convention, or to participate in the existing English Constitutional Convention that you failed to attend in October?
Turning to the other points that you made:
- the English do not want their own parliament
Can you provide me with evidence of this? According to Mori IPSOS (June 2006) 41% want an English parliament. And according to ICM (November 2006) 68% of us want our own parliament. Even back in April 2005 YouGov found that 71% wanted either an English parliament or English Votes on English Matters (which is unworkable), with only 12% supporting the Status Quo, and just 11% supporting elected regional assemblies. Even the outdated British Social Attitudes Survey - with its leading question - shows support for an English parliament 9% above support for the regional government that is peddled by the Lib Dems.
- that the English don’t want another layer of government
Can you provide me with documented evidence of this claim of yours? An English parliament does not necessarily mean another layer of government. For starters we can get rid of the unwanted and undemocratic regional layer and replace it with an English layer. Secondly we could look at the feasibility of dual-mandate MPs. And thirdly we can look at the role of the House of Lords with the aim of turning that into a federal and revising chamber, leaving the Commons as the English Parliament. In the final analysis it will be remembered that the Liberal Democrats supported an extra layer of Government for Scotland and Wales, and for the English regions. I put it to you that your opposition to English government has nothing to do with ‘layers of government’ and everything to do with your own party political ambitions.
- that an English parliament would put the English off politics
Again, can you provide me with any documented evidence for this assertion? Is it your opinion that the Scottish Parliament put the Scots off politics? Do you suppose that the English are particularly taken with undemocratic rule from Westminster and 'indirectly elected' regional assemblies?
Personally I think that you are floundering on this issue. You never come across as convincing or sincere when discussing the West Lothian Question. Whilst the Lib Dems and the other parties prevaricate on this issue resentment rises and the union is put at risk. Speaking personally I am no longer prepared to wait for resolution and would vote for English independence if it were offered. We've had ten years of constitutional farce and if none of the parties are prepared to address it then the union must end because I can not, and will not, accept that I, as an Englishman, should have less democratic representation, funding and national self-determination than you Scots.
I would expect the Lib Dems, with their interest in constitutional reform, to take a lead on this. Instead, under yourself and Charles Kennedy (another Scot), we get absolutely nothing. Sort it out or step down as leader and let an Englishman take charge. As a Scot, with the WLQ unresolved, you should never be allowed to be prime minister anyway - and you can pass that message onto Gordon Brown.
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It's probably a waste of electricity sending this email, but you never know...
Dear Mr Clegg,
I read with interest, and a fair bit of approval, your speech today (7th April 2010) on political reform. But I was dismayed that you did not tackle the West