Brown’s nemesis: The West Lothian Question

Hamartia (Ancient Greek: ἁμαρτία) is used in Aristotle‘s Poetics,
where it is usually translated as a mistake, error, flaw, failure,
fault, or sin. The "tragic hero" attempts to do the "right thing" in a
situation where the right thing cannot be done. (wikipedia)

The West Lothian Question has long appeared as the tragic flaw at the heart of Gordon Brown’s ambitions. It is the one question to which our protagonist has no answer.

Hubris also spelled hybris,
in classical Greek ethical and religious thought, overweening
presumption suggesting impious disregard of the limits governing human
action in an orderly universe. It is the sin to which the great and gifted are most susceptible (Encylopedia Britannica)

The single reason that Brown cannot answer the West Lothian Question is
that any solution would threaten his hold over English domestic policy,
since he is a Scottish MP who is not acountable to the English
electorate. Overweening presumption indeed.

Nemesis (sometimes called fate) – in classical mythology, Nemesis was
the Goddess of Divine Retributive Justice or Vengeance. Written with a
small letter, the term means a rival or opponent who cannot be
overcome. It also means any situation or condition that one cannot
change or triumph over and an agent or act of punishment.

In a brilliant piece of dramatic timing, nemesis arrived in the form of
the Scottish elections last month, just in time for Brown’s accession
to the premiership. Two stories in the press today show how her
handiwork; the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland and the decision
not to prescribe sight-saving drugs Lucentis and Macugen.

This constitutional dilemma, known as
the West Lothian question, has become
more topical as Scot Gordon Brown
prepares to take over as Prime Minister in
two weeks.

David Cameron has sought to exploit Mr
Brown’s difficulties by announcing plans
to block Scottish MPs from voting on
legislation that applies only to England if the
Tories win power.

Shadow education spokesman David
Willetts said the SNP’s plans for
university fees highlighted the problem.

He said: "Brown is trapped. He can
hardly extol the virtues of university fees
in England when his own constituents in
Scotland will not be paying them." (Daily Mail)

Dr David Gillen, medical director of Macugen manufacturer Pfizer,
said: "Macugen has been shown to maintain vision in patients will all
types of wet AMD and has a licence to reflect this.

"From a cost perspective, it has been convincingly
demonstrated that Macugen’s cost-effectiveness can be enhanced when
treatment is started at an early stage before too much vision is lost."

Conservative health spokesman John Baron said: "This decision
is very off given that Gordon Brown’s constituents will get Macugen and
Lucentis on the NHS but patients in England will not." (Daily Mail)

There are still a lot of people in the Labour party who think the West Lothian Question is not a grassroots issue. Today’s press should give them pause. It was always going to be to the Tories’ advantage to wait until Brown’s succession was assured before stepping up the pressure on this issue. Now that the trap has closed over the Labour Party, they are giving it both barrels.

Bown’s instinct will be to address the Barnett Formula, the level of funding for Scotland, rather than the West Lothian Question. However, that will only strengthen the case for Scottish independence further, without addressing the fundamental political question for England.

Anagnorisis (Ancient Greek: ἀναγνώρισις), also known as discovery, originally meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for, what he or she represented; it was the hero‘s suddenly becoming aware of a real situation and therefore the realization of things as they stood; (Wikipedia)

Only when Brown recognises that the English domestic policies must be decided by politicians elected in England, will the Labour Party be able to turn its fortunes around.

Peripeteia (Greek, περιπετεῖα)
is a reversal of circumstances, or turning point. The term is primarily
used with reference to works of literature. The English form of
peripeteia is Peripety. Peripety is a sudden reversal dependent on intellect and logic. (Wikipedia)

Is it rational to expect reality to obey the rules of Greek tragedy? Yes, if you consider that the law of hubris and nemesis as an ancient counterpart to the modern scientific method of conjecture and refutation.

Hamartia =  False hypothesis = West Lothian Question does not matter

Hubris = False hypothesis tested and not refuted (and perhaps wrongly assumed verified) = West Lothian Question under Blair

Nemesis = False hypothesis refuted = West Lothian Question under Brown

Anagnorisis = True hypothesis = Labour need to address West Lothian Question by bringing in an English Parliament

Peripeteia = True hypothesis tested and not refuted (but not verified) = Labour no longer vulnerable on the issue



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2 responses to “Brown’s nemesis: The West Lothian Question”

  1. Baht At avatar

    Let’s think about this rationally for once, the major problem with politics is that politicians will do anything to get themselves re-elected so whenever they have to vote on a topic that a particularly effective section of their electorate (i.e the selfish middle classes) have strong views about they vote that way much to the detriment of rational legislation.
    What better way to solve this problem than to have politicians who have no constituents who have an interest in what they are voting for?
    The logical answer to the influence of pressure groups would be to abolish english MPs and only allow scots and welsh MPs to vote on english matters. That way we might stop the media and pressure groups influencing things.
    As to the West Lothian question the answer is don’t ask it (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    You may have a point. The comparative evidence from England and Scotland does sugest that giving people a choice is not the best way to promote the choice agenda.

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