Rachel Banner was the main spokesperson for the No campaign (True Wales) during last year’s referendum on direct law-making power in Wales. She is also a long-standing member of the Labour Party. This is the second of a two-part article, the first can be found here.
Labour MP for Torfaen, Paul Murphy, has argued that creating a Parliament where elected members have differential voting rights would create an “unjust “two-tier” system of MPs”. There is a real logic in his view that “it should be a point of first principle that when UK tax revenue is spent, all UK MPs should be entitled to vote – in other words, ‘representation where there is taxation’. But that principle has been discarded. There is already a two-tier system in the British parliament, and it penalises England.
He argues that “Members of the UK Parliament represent their constituency first and foremost, but importantly we also represent the United Kingdom as a whole”. But isn’t it the case that in many significant areas of policy English MPs do not represent the UK as a whole? He asks which legislation those in favour of a review of the West Lothian Question regard as applicable to only England and that legislation passed in Westminster has vast implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But in what sense is it more difficult to determine which are England-only matters rather than Wales-only or Scotland-only affairs?
From a Welsh perspective, it is a sad fact that the historic influence Welsh MPs have had in Westminster is now on the wane. One might well ask whether significant Welsh figures like Nye Bevan, Michael Foot, Jim Callaghan and Neil Kinnock, all Welsh or MPs for Welsh constituencies, could have been such large figures on the UK stage if there had been devolution. Indeed, one wonders what Nye Bevan would feel about the transmutation of his National Health Service into a collection of disparate regional services.
Perceived inaction among Westminster representatives means that MPs are becoming increasingly marginal in Welsh political life. With the continuing devolution of so many powers to the devolved parliaments, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh MPs ought now to be forging a new role for themselves. They are, after all, paid the same wage as their English counterparts, though their duties are significantly reduced in comparison.
There are now few areas beyond the economy, defence, criminal justice and energy which have not been devolved to the national assemblies. Judging by the direction of political debate in Wales, the two latter areas are likely to be devolved over the next fifteen or twenty years. Is it right, then, that Welsh MPs elected by Welsh constituents, not voted in by the English electorate who have no say on devolved matters in Wales, should maintain their influence over England-only policy matters?
So, we might ask, where does the future of the United Kingdom lie? Former Head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell and others have warned that the break up of the UK is a real risk. Those on the Silk Commission panel and in government at Westminster and in Cardiff Bay are also surely aware of that danger. Nevertheless, the journey continues without care for the consequences and largely without any genuine interest in what really matters, that is jobs and prosperity.
What we have is not devolution for the people but power grabbing – the hoarding and exertion of power by one institution rather than another. While the four Assembly parties fight for their place in the new ‘political nation’, and as the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats strive to out-nationalist the nationalists, the considerable powers that the Assembly already has to improve the Welsh economy remain largely unused. Worse, we have yet to see many MPs of any party outlining the benefits of being part of the UK to the people. We can only hope that the referendum on independence for Scotland will change that.
The devolution trends are taking the UK to the brink of disintegration. We in True Wales have no doubt that, unless a coherent case for keeping the Union is presented to the people, those intent on breaking up our country and dividing us all will win.Share on Facebook