Dammed If They Do; Dammed If They Don’t

MILIBAND: Ed searches for answers

MILIBAND: Ed searches for answers

Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has found himself in a very difficult situation over the issue of Scottish devolution, and the Prime Minister’s calls for “English votes for English laws” (EVEL).

Under David Cameron’s proposals, Scottish MPs would be denied to vote on issues which are limited to just England. At the moment, this is what is known as the West Lothian Question, where MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can vote on English matters.

What is strange about this situation is that many in Scotland will be feeling snubbed, duped, and tricked by the Westminster parties, as First Minister Alex Salmond said yesterday. This is true. It appears the main parties have already lost sight of what this debate is all about. To many just now, it appears that Westminster is in fact taking powers away from Scotland, not giving them any.

This eventually may have detrimental affects of the actual power Scottish MPs would have at all. They would only be able to vote on matters specific to Scotland or the whole of the UK. Looking ahead, if Scotland gets full powers from Westminster, the role of these MPs is going to be nullified, due to the very small amount of issues they will be able to have a say on.

As we have seen so far in the media, however, the actual timeline of the delivery of those powers is in jeopardy, as it now appears reliant on Ed Miliband agreeing to let the EVEL proposal go through.

This appears to be a must, as the Conservatives are determined to make the two issues go through simultaneously. Michael Gove, Government Chief Whip, has gone as far as to say that Scottish powers are “impossible” to put through without addressing the EVEL issue.

The Conservatives are playing this very cleverly, and Ed Miliband is going to find himself in one of those “dammed if he does; dammed if he doesn’t” scenarios.

William Hague indeed appears to place the delay of Scottish powers on the Labour leading saying: “If other parties make it impossible to death with this issue in tandem, then it will be an issue…in May, and the people…will decide”.

EVEL: Cameron sets out his plans for devolved powers to all 4 regions of the UK

EVEL: Cameron sets out his plans for devolved powers to all 4 regions of the UK

For Miliband, this is a difficult scenario. If he continues to refuse to give in to the EVEL matter, he will not be doing any favours for Labour’s vote in England, whilst also aggravating Scottish voters for potentially holding up Scottish devolution. On the other hand, if he accepts, Labour’s strength would be brutally diminished in parliament, with the majority of English MPs being Conservative or (most likely by 2015) UKIP. In this situation, Labour are in a lose – lose scenario.

However, by simultaneously providing EVEL and further Scottish devolution, the parties are putting Gordon Brown’s timetable at risk. Under the timetable laid down by the former-PM, signed by the three Westminster leaders, a “Command Paper” will be published by the end of October, with draft legislation published by the end of January. With this additional issue to deal with, the process is likely to be longer. But even without the EVEL issue, this is an extremely ambitious timeline, and potentially volatile.

Firstly, the legislation will have to pass through government, where Scotland only has 59 MPs in parliament out of the total 650 who sit in Westminster. Therefore, Scotland’s actual say in the powers it receives is very small. On top of this, if the passing of the new Scotland Act goes on into the next government, following the election in May, it may be delayed depending on the approach of that government.

Even now, what powers Scotland will receive is extremely uncertain. We have not even got down to the nitty gritty of negotiation between all concerned on the actual details of new powers. All the parties laid down their own version of devolution, and we are yet to see that battle out. What I found amusing was Gordon Brown’s statement that “the change that’s going to happen, in my view, will meet the vast ambitions of the Scottish people”. One thing in that sentence that is indicative of the whole debate here: “in my view”. It is up in the air, and down to the opinions of Westminster parties to thrash out their differences.

In the end, it will be a very arduous process, with the potential for delay very high. The poignant thing about it all, though, is summarised, once again, by the former-PM: “…that resolution is signed by all three leaders of the main political parties. The Prime Minister, the deputy-Prime Minister, and the leader of the opposition…and myself”. This debate has gone from being “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands” to “Scotland’s future flung in the air by the Westminster parties”.

It is a shame how quickly we have done exactly what the Yes campaign warned against throughout the campaign.

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