In the months preceding the Scottish referendum, much has been made of “The West Lothian Question”. It is difficult to make sense of the complex constitutional issues that lie ahead without understanding what this is and what is likely to change.
Devolution so far has been the transfer of power from the UK Parliament to the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast. All three countries decide their own policies on Education, Health and Environment. Scotland has the most devolved power and can also raise or lower the basic rate of income tax (by up to 3%) although it has never done so.
The West Lothian Question dates back to the 1970s when a Scottish MP (the MP for West Lothian), asking why, as a Scottish MP, he should be able to vote on issues relating to English health, education and environment when an English MP couldn’t vote on Scottish matters. Until recently, many people outside Parliament didn’t pay much attention to this discrepancy, however, a recent poll by YouGov showed that of those polled, 62% of English people believe that Scottish MPs should not be able to vote on England only laws.
The West Lothian Question has been most apparent in terms of Health and Education policy. In England, Universities charge tuition fees and prescription charges for medicine. However, Scottish MPs have created policy where University is free for Scottish students and there are no prescription charges.
The focus on the Scottish referendum has reignited this question – and has led to calls from many MPs to have English devolution. The Prime Minister has committed to making devolution more fair, but no one knows what this actually means.
Devolution – either through English only votes in Westminster, or a new institution would be likely to result in Conservative majorities on English matters more often. If devolution was more localised, with more powers being handed to cities or regions, it would likely result in enclaves of Labour strongholds. It isn’t difficult to see the problems that lie ahead in reaching an agreement between the main political parties.
Depending on what is agreed with regard to devolution in England and in Scotland, it is likely that Wales and Northern Ireland will be watching closely to ensure they too receive further powers.
Normally, a big constitutional change would be given plenty of time with committees established to hash out every detail. In this case, the main parties have agreed that the Bill for devolution will be included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015 – just after the formation of the newly elected Government. This means that an answer to the West Lothian Question will need to be found, and fast!
More info on financial implications – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29278544
All views and ideas represented in this blog post are exclusive to Resham, and do not represent those of any other third party