Knieval and Wishart – something in common (but not much)
The enactment of the so-called ‘EVEL’ – English Votes for English Laws – has begun, to howls of outrage from the SNP. The SNP’s Pete Wishart led for them in the Commons debate on the subject yesterday and I could swear he was shaking with emotion and anger when he spoke. It may be one of the few things he has in common with the late Evel Knieval – they both had a career in show business and know (knew in Mr K’s case) how to put on a good show.
The truth is that the SNP’s conversion to the idea that EVEL is, er, evil has come very late. In the last parliament they had a principle that they would not vote on matters only concerning England. As recently as October last year the self-same Pete Wishart was quoted as saying that
it was an “inconsequential issue” that Scottish voters did not care about (BBC).
Some time after that Nicola Sturgeon began flagging up the possibility that SNP MPs might vote on some English-only issues. What had changed of course was not any matter of principle but that first whiff of power the polls started telling them might come with considerably increased numbers of MPs post-May 2015 and the prospect of a hung parliament.
The crunch came in July this year on a proposed but subsequently abandoned change to the law on foxhunting in England. The SNP suddenly discovered, supposedly after some agitated debate within their Westminster group, that contrary to any previous evidence they did actually care about this particular England-only issue. There was some posturing about a ‘progressive alliance’ to defeat the proposal and a bit of hand-wringing about Scottish foxes who might take a stroll South of Hadrian’s Wall and be torn apart by an English hunt out doing its dirty work. But it would be wrong to claim their opposition alone led to the withdrawal of the proposal. Most Labour MPs and some Conservatives also opposed the changes. Nevertheless, it contributed.
The SNP objection to the government’s proposals for EVEL seem to be based substantially on the claims that it would 1. make Scottish members ‘second-class MPs’ and 2. they would be unable to have a legitimate input to matters that might have a consequential impact on Scotland, for example through their budgetary implications.
I’m not convinced by the budgetary implications claim. ‘English’ laws will still be voted on by the Commons as a whole after consideration by a committee of England-only MPs.
As for the ‘second-class MP’ argument, the SNP should perhaps cast their eyes towards Holyrood. Of course, all MSPs can vote on every issue that comes before parliament. But the distinction between constituency and regional list MSPs in effect creates two classes of representative. If you doubt that, check the trajectory of MSPs of all parties first elected via the list and, if they’re deemed worthy, their subsequent nomination for a safe constituency seat.
If the current EVEL proposals introduce an anomaly into that amorphous beast the British constitution it is only one amongst many. It doesn’t strike me as a deal breaker, certainly not the ‘indyref2’ trigger that some have claimed previously and is now being almost hysterically punted by parts of the media. Pragmatism has its merits and I’ve no doubt that if experience of the ‘English’ committee system throws up problems they will be attended to. And although Labour also voted against the government’s proposal that is the duty of HM opposition – to oppose. Come the day when they’re back in power they’ll have the choice to continue something which everyday politics may have shown to work fine, vote in an alternative, or revert to the current situation.
As the bobby’s traditional injunction has it, ‘Move on. Nothing [or very little] to see here.’
File under: SNP, grievance