EVEL: the wrong policy for the wrong reasons


I want to make every person I am about to meet redundant.  I write this as a wait for a meeting with my colleagues in the House of Lords - a pretty powerful group in our party these days.  As a reformer you may expect a Liberal Democrat leader to seize every opportunity to replace the cogs of the anachronistic Houses of Parliament. Yes, I want to abolish the Lords. And yes, to complete the Federalism project we need substantial reform to decentralise power in England.  But any reform must be substantial rather than just Conservative tinkering that helps, eh, the Conservatives.

We have heard much faux outrage from the SNP about English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) especially as they have previously expressed support for the policy and practised it for years. They happen to have a point this time even though they have dispensed with a strongly held principle to make it.  

For one moment, put aside the inherent challenges in disentangling the English, English and Welsh from UK bills. Put aside the abuse of parliamentary process on standing orders. Put aside the problematic veto it establishes for the Sewell Convention with the Scottish Parliament.  Put all that to one side. This EVEL proposal is a classic example of new unfairness being introduced to the British constitution to compound all the existing unfairness. We are used to the establishment hunting down any rationale - no matter how obscure - to keep things as they are, for their benefit, but to entrench new levels of discrimination is a new low in self-interest.

The reason is this.  It is an insult that the Conservatives won over 50% the seats in the Commons with less than 40% of the vote and they don't even show a tinge of embarrassment that they won like that. If they were conscious of the circumstances of their victory they would not be advancing their plans for English Votes for English Laws. Their plans entrench the manifestly unfair voting system. At the very least any constitutional reform should place fair votes at the heart of the change as it has been for reforms to create the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

My objection to EVEL should never be read as opposition to change. I support calls for change to resolve the West Lothian Question.  It is not for me, as a Scot, to specify change for England but what we need is more substantial reform underpinned by a proportional voting system that drags power out of Westminster and closer to communities. That would be another step on the road to federalism that would play a part in keeping our United Kingdom family together.


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