The Lion and the Unicorn


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Saturday, July 19, 2003

West Lothian Question - 19th July 2003, 23.40

The West Lothian question has come home to roost with the vote on 'foundation hospitals' that was only won for Labour through the support of Scottish MPs. Tam Dalyell sounded suitably prophetic, Liam Fox presented himself in whinging mode but the most uncomfortable stance was put forward by Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South:

But a Scottish Labour spokesman said: "It has always been the case that MPs sent to Westminster will be entitled and expected to vote on all issues."

Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South, said it was ridiculous to suggest MPs should only vote on matters affecting their constituents.

She said: "That is a nonsense because it means government would not be able to govern Northern Ireland, for instance, where there are no Labour MPs.

"This is a national government, a UK government, and we legislate for things that come before the House of Commons."

Ms Begg said both the Scottish National Party and Scottish Liberal Democrats voted against the government in the Commons on Tuesday.

She added: "It works both ways - if there are people voting against the government from the other parties in Scotland, then it's perfectly legitimate for the government's MPs to do it."

Anne Begg's statement is correct in that the current convention remains in place but does not address the underlying principle whereby representatives have the power to play a pivotal role on English and Welsh matters that would not be the case if the roles were reversed.

If the next election reduces the Labour majority, then this question may become an 'issue' - it isn't yet. The roles of the parties will then come into play. Peter Duncan, Scotland's only Tory MP abstained on principle. As there's only one of him, that stand costs very little for the party. The SNP voted on the grounds that the policy coudl have implications for the Barnett formula. The hypocrites will have to pay for their lipservice to devolution, since they derive some satisfaction of playing a pivotal role at Westminster whilst removing Scotland from English oversight. The Liberal Democrats respect the conventions and recognise the problem - asymmetric devolution.