Marian Craig, a Labour activist who is studying politics at the University of Strathclyde, gives her take on yesterday’s debate.
“A No vote was not a vote for the status quo” – these were the opening remarks of Labour’s Sadiq Khan in yesterday’s ‘Devolution Within the UK’ debate in the House of Commons.
That theme of a desire for political change ran through much of the 5-hour debate on where power should lie within the United Kingdom following the result of the referendum.
A recurring proposal throughout the debate was that of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (or EVEL as some Tory MPs preferred to call it) which would limit Scottish MPs to only voting for legislation that affects Scotland. Gordon Brown summarised Labour’s position in one of the most eloquent contributions to the debate:
“You cannot have one UK if you have two separate classes of MPs … You cannot have representatives elected by the people who are half in and half out of the law making process.”
EVEL is of course not a new phenomenon, having been known as the West Lothian Question since the early days of Scottish devolution, thanks to Tam Dalyell. Whilst there is no doubt that EVEL would ‘solve’ the West Lothian Question, it is simply not practical to implement.
We all strive for a democratic system that is fair and accessible to all, but the reality is that much of what is commonly described as English legislation does in fact affect Scotland, directly or indirectly. This was highlighted in Margaret Curran’s closing speech, in which she told members that of the 434 pieces of legislation passed in this parliament, only 5 could have been said to have absolutely no effect on Scotland whatsoever.
It should come as no surprise then that the SNP sided with the Tories once again and spoke in favour of EVEL throughout the debate, scoring petty political points and once again demonstrating that they do not have Scotland’s best interests at heart.
On a more positive note, the theme of harnessing the energy and engagement displayed by the Scottish people during the referendum campaign was a key topic for many Labour MPs. The challenge before us, as Margaret Curran correctly pointed out, is to prove to people that politics can be used to improve people’s daily lives. The best way to do this is devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament, allowing us to tailor policies to our needs, and devolving powers to the English regions to allow our local authorities to use the power they need and deserve.
Of course, devolving power to a local level is not just an issue unique to England – the centralisation under successive Holyrood governments is something that we must challenge, and one of many issues we must seek to resolve over the coming months.