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Dec 17

A House Divided: A Welsh Perspective on the West Lothian Question (Part 2)

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.

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11 comments

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  1. Old Albion

    As i said in my response to ‘part one’ We here in England know the problem with devolution only too well. What we need is a solution.
    That can only be either scrap all devolution and return to a single government state. (i’ll have a good laugh watching anyone tyring this option)
    Or complete the policy of devolution by creating an English Parliament and placing all four national parliaments under a federal UK body.
    Or carry on as we are, pretending England doesn’t exist and wait for us to seek independence.

    1. morgan

      I don’t see anything to laugh about, you in England may feel somewhat inconvenienced, I in Wales feel totally shafted.

      I will be more than delighted to support anyone willing to scrap this farcical devolution nonsense.

      I really cannot fathom why so many Welsh people initially thought it a good idea, many have come to regret it,
      especially now the costs of it all are coming under the spotlight. not to mention the insanity of the proposal to institute a Welsh Income tax regime.

      The matter of the language is another sore that constantly needs dressing, as again, the costs are perpetually escalating as the numbers coming to use it falls. We have a two tier state education system with preferential treatment, usually financial beneficial to the language specific schools, whilst beyond the school gates the kids instantly drop it in preference to the language they do their everyday activities in. which of course is the major language of the UK, … English.

      Even in it’s main heartland areas it is now down below 50% and dropping like the proverbial stone, yet the advocates for it are still rattling on about how it should be promoted more vigorously.

      So, you English who have legitimate complaint, keep in mind, we too, over this side of Offa’s Dyke, have probably even more to complain about, also legitimately, considering the phoney referendum result we have had weighed down on us.

      1. DaveDare

        “phoney referendum result”

        Do tell.

  2. IndependentEngland

    Well said Rachel. There are already two types of MPs. Those that can vote on matters such as health and education for their own constituents and those that can’t. Unfortunatley most of our Westminster MPs won’t listen to the argument but stick their fingers in their ears and sing la la la la la while the Union disintegrates before their very eyes! The 2011 cenusus found that most English people now identify themeselves as English first not British. It cannot continue. Either give England proper political representation or kiss the UK goodbye, certainly as far as England is concerned that is.

    1. Tom Hall

      There are also two types of voters in this Kingdom, those who have been given devolved legislatures and whose Westminster MPs can meddle in English-only legislation (most notoriously when Blair whipped his thugs from Scotland and Wales to impose university tuition fees on England alone), and, secondly, voters whose votes are worth far less than they ought to be (even though we form 85% of he Kingdom’s population) and whose MPs care nothing for our needs and rights, for fear of jeopardising the ‘Union’. I wonder if there’s any chance of people like Mr Murphy mentioning the system that allows different ‘classes’ of voters to exist.

      1. DaveDare

        This really sums up the reason why Welsh people voted for devolution and continue to support it – to remove the influence on our governance by people who regard us in Wales (and Scotland) as “thugs”.

        1. Tom Hall

          It isn’t ordinary decent Scottish or Welsh people I regard as thugs. It’s Labour MPs who are thugs, and the ones from Scotland and Wales are carpetbagging thugs, to boot. Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear.

  3. Open Unionism

    We received the following comment, anonymously, via email:


    me

    I don\’t see anything to laugh about, you in England may feel somewhat inconvenienced, I in Wales feel totally shafted. I will be more than delighted to support anyone willing to scrap this farcical devolution nonsense. I really cannot fathom why so many Welsh people initially thought it a good idea, many have come to regret it, especially now the costs of it all are coming under the spotlight. not to mention the insanity of the proposal to institute a Welsh Income tax regime. The matter of the language is another sore that constantly needs dressing, as again, the costs are perpetually escalating as the numbers coming to use it falls. We have a two tier state education system with preferential treatment, usually financial beneficial to the language specific schools, whilst beyond the school gates the kids instantly drop it in preference to the language they do their everyday activities in. which of course is the major language of the UK, … English. Even in it\’s main heartland areas it is now down below 50% and dropping like the proverbial stone, yet the advocates for it are still rattling on about how it should be promoted more vigorously. So, you English who have legitimate complaint, keep in mind, we too, over this side of Offa\’s Dyke, have probably even more to complain about, also legitimately, considering the phoney referendum result we have had weighed down on us”

  4. Neilyn

    As in Part 1, Rachel makes a sound case for either a fully federal UK, or separate states.

    Federalism is a tricky option because of the size of England, and because so many have, for so long, conflated the nation of England with the British state, the United Kingdom, that it just seems absurd, almost surreal, to devolve power to England from Britain. Indeed, where would you actually build the new English Parliament in a Federal Kingdom? That question alone could be a major obstacle.

    Separate states for Scotland, Wales and England, with an autonomous re-unified Ulster within the Irish state (a deeply tricky subject, I know), could very well be the more pragmatic solution, allowing us to establish a close relationship of equality based on a common island geography and familial culture as “British states” rather than the increasingly unbalanced nature of the existing British and Irish states and the nations within them.

    If Scotland says yes in 2014, I suspect the decision will have been made.

    1. DaveDare

      If Ms Banner “makes a sound case for either a fully federal UK, or separate states”, it is by accident rather than design, and depends largely on what you infer from her comments. She doesn’t argue for either.

      “Union good. Devolution bad” is really the sum total of her case.

      1. Neilyn

        Agreed, it’s by accident!

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