Why cutting Scottish MPs won’t solve the West Lothian Question

Today’s Daily Telegraph brings us the IPPR’s solution to the West Lothian Question:

yesterday, the influential Institute of Public Policy
Research entered the row by raising the idea of a cut in the number of
Scottish MPs. Currently, out of 646 MPs overall, 59 are Scottish – down
from the 72 before the Scottish Parliament was created.

But the IPPR report, entitled The End of the Union?, said "they are still over-represented compared to England".

their number, along with MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland which also
have devolved assemblies, "would be justified on the grounds that,
since devolution, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have less to
do at Westminster".

The move would also reduce the "possibility of Scottish MPs carrying
votes against an English majority", said the report written by senior
research fellows Guy Lodge and Katie Schmueker. (Telegraph)

I can’t find a reference to the report on the IPPR website, but there is a Tribune article by one of the authors from last month which makes a similar argument and criticises  the Tory position of English votes for English laws (EVOEL).

While it sounds like a seductively simple solution to this knotty
constitutional problem, in practice it would be unworkable because the
devolution settlement is not so clear cut that whole policy areas can
be designated ‘English’.  For example the legislation introducing top
up fees contained clauses extending to Scotland.  English votes would
require each clause of each bill to be designated ‘English’, ‘English
and Welsh’ or ‘UK wide’, resulting in legislative ‘hokey cokey’ in the
But a more fundamental problem with English votes is that it would
create a constitutional crisis far greater than the current anomaly the
‘West Lothian Question’ poses. It raises the prospect of a UK
Government with a majority in Britain but unable to govern England. (IPPR)

The fundamental problem with EVOEL is that it attempts to combine an English Parliament and a UK parliament within a single chamber. This, however, is also the problem with the status quo.

The difference is that, at the moment, UK matters and English matters are decided by exactly the same people in exactly the same way.  A reduction in the number of Scottish MPs would still leave them with exactly the same influence on English matters as on UK matters.

A reduction that left the Scots with significant influence over UK matters would leave them with significant influence over English matters.

A reduction that left the Scots with negligible influence over English matters would leave them with negligible influence over UK matters.

This is not a proposal to resolve the West Lothian Question. It is a proposal to shift the burden of the democratic deficit, to a greater or lesser degree, from the English to the Scots.

Ultimately, the most democratic outcome is an English parliament. The IPPR’s Katie Schmuecker is probably right to argue that such a parliament would be too powerful to be part of a stable federation. The solution may be a much looser arrangement of the kind proposed by the Scottish government.



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