Regular readers to The Sharpener will remember that back in the spring I dedicated numerous column inches to the arcane issue of the West Lothian question: How can it be justified that Scottish MPs have the right to vote on English issues that do not concern their constituents, while English MPs do not have the same right to vote on Scottish issues?
In my previous posting I argued that, personally, I did not think that the West Lothian question was so big an issue that it required further constitutional change. Very many disagreed with me. Some pointed to an English parliament as a workable (if, in my view, hugely expensive, complex and disruptive) option tied to UK-wide federalism.
A totally unworkable solution, one betraying a deep ignorance of and contempt for the British constitution, was the one chosen by the Tory party at the last general election. This is how I described it then:
The Tories’ proposal at the last election was to formally deprive Scottish MPs of the right to vote on English issues. The best adjective for this is bonkers. That it should issue from a party that describes itself as both ‘unionist’ and ‘conservative’ is beyond parody. At a stroke, this measure could make the UK ungovernable.
Say a Labour government were elected with a good UK majority but without a majority in England (as has happened in the past). Under the Tories’ ideas, that government would not be able to implement any of its health, crime, education, etc, proposals, as it would lack the necessary votes. Only Tory proposals could pass. But given that only the government has access to the Civil Service, Parliamentary draughtsmen, etc, this means that none of these areas could be touched. Of course, you could say that this would be a good thing, but it would transform the nature of the way Britain is governed.
If you did want things done, then you would need two separate governments acting in parallel, with two different prime ministers depending on the subject in question (Labour for defence, pensions and welfare payment, Tory for health, education and crime). It would not be a continental-style coalition, but some curious new animal for which I can think of no precedent around the world. Prime Minister’s Questions would be interesting, with the two party leaders having to run from one side of the dispatch box to the other depending on what the subject matter was.
And if you could solve it in parliament, what about executive decisions? Who would be the bona fide health minister, a Labour or Tory politician? Most laws give sweeping powers to the ‘Secretary of State’. The Secretary of State is appointed by the Prime Minister (in turn appointed by the Queen), ie, Labour in my scenario, or would it be Tory, or both or… It just gets too ludicrous once you start going down that path.
I had rather thought that, once the election was over, the Tories would drop this ridiculous and dangerous proposal having recognised it for the nonsense it so clearly is. But David Davis now seems determined to resurrect it.
Either Davis knows it will not work, which means he is simply being populist in a despicably cynical way, or he thinks it will work, which betrays an ignorance of the way Britain is governed that is frankly staggering in a man wishing to be Prime Minister.
Whichever is the truth, it does precious little to commend David Davis as a future leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.