Another week, another fabricated grievance myth from the SNP. Only this time it comes with a massive side order of hypocrisy.
On Thursday, a House of Commons Standing Order enforcing what has become known as English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) was passed by a majority of 44. Predictably, the SNP have seized on its application to warn that it “threatens to tear the union apart” and “can only bring independence for Scotland closer”. Of course not a single event has taken place since 1707 that didn’t, according to the SNP anyway, bring independence closer so make of that what you will.
Loathe to break the habit of a lifetime, the SNP have spent the last few days exploiting the combination of general ignorance and pervading apathy with which the vast majority of the public will view EVEL. Cries of “betrayal” and “second class MP’s” have accompanied misleading descriptions of what EVEL actually is and does; claims which have since been mindlessly parroted by the SNP’s willing warriors of social media and the usual pro-independence blogs.
As you’d expect, the rhetoric has very little basis in reality.
First it’s important to establish what EVEL is and isn’t. To do so, the very best thing you can do is read this excellent blog from Andrew Tickell (EDIT – also the postscript), a pro-independence lawyer (a fact I recount only so as to dismiss any desperate claims of bias).
To summarise – the devolution settlements of 1997 created an asymmetrical situation in the UK where non-English MP’s could vote on ostensibly English-only laws when the reverse was not the case (NB – it’s worth noting that “English-only” is commonly used when, because the 3 devolved Parliaments have different powers, it should also cover “English and Welsh only” or “English, Welsh and Northern Irish only”). However, because block grant funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is based on the spend in England via the Barnett Formula, there is a clear pan-UK impact from the vast majority of laws even where the actual legislation may only affect English constituencies.
In a very small minority of cases, there is no fiscal impact from English-only laws and, prior to May, the SNP would take “a principled stance” to voluntarily abstain in bills which did not impact Scotland. Examples included same-sex marriage, the smoking ban and… erm… fox-hunting?
After including it in their 2015 manifesto, the Tories were committed to codifying EVEL and so brought forward a Standing Order which introduces a new English-only committee stage between the second and third readings of a Bill, at the discretion of the Speaker.
In this way, EVEL can only veto bills which have been passed by the full House sitting through the regular Parliamentary process. It cannot push through a Bill which has been voted down by the full House.
No rights have been removed from any MP. Non-English MP’s can, and probably will, still vote on English-only laws. The only change is to insert a “double majority” clause to ensure that no law can be enforced on England without the consent of its representatives. Forgive me if I fail to see the moral reprehensibility in that.
What I do see, though, is a completely inadequate, half-baked attempt at correcting some of the asymmetrical devolution that has existed in the UK since 1999. This is weak from the Tories. Actually, it’s pitiful. It’s a fudge aimed at appeasing English nationalists who have a not-unreasonable grievance that England has been left behind in the devolution process. Yet it does absolutely nothing practical to address these issues. Instead, this non-effort at a short-term fix will politicise the role of the Speaker and only exacerbate the long-term problems whilst offering nationalists elsewhere in the UK an easy excuse to create more grievance.
One which even the SNP have been only too willing to accept, despite supposedly being EVEL’s strongest proponents. After all, here’s Angus Robertson:
It is unfair to England for Scots Labour MPs to act as lobby fodder at Westminster on English-only issues – such as foisting top-up fees and foundation hospitals on England against the wishes of a majority of English MPs.
SNP MPs already refrain from voting on exclusively English, Welsh and Northern Irish matters, which do not impact on Scotland.
“This self-denying ordinance stands in stark contrast to Labour, Lib Dem and Tory MPs who, to date, have been happy to impose their will on the other nations of the UK.
… the inconsequential issue of English Votes for English Laws, an issue the Scottish people could not care less about… We’re not interested in your inconsequential spat on English Votes for English Laws… I’ve got no concern or issue with English Votes for English Laws. I don’t vote on English legislation… because it would be a supreme waste of my time. The voters of Perthshire couldn’t care less about policing arrangements in Peckham or Plymouth.
And Mr Wishart again:
I believe that it would be undemocratic and wrong for MP’s from Scotland to rule on what is an issue for England’s representatives to make
Undemocratic. A waste of their time. Unfair. Inconsequential.
That is, of course, until there was more grievance to be had with the opposite approach. Now EVEL is “the most profound constitutional announcement since Gladstone”, is set to create “second class MP’s” and, of course, brings independence closer.
This is nothing more than opportunistic grievance mongering. Embarrassing, hypocritical and, ultimately, counter-productive.
For not only have the SNP provided further evidence, should it have been needed, that they have no principle which cannot be cast aside for The Cause, but their attempts to justify this volte-face completely undermine that cause. Take, for example, Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire:
Forgive me but this is from a party who wanted to be excluded from ALL votes at Westminster. Why would assisted dying in England have any less impact on Scotland were we independent? So why would we want to voluntarily revoke any influence on those laws and any number of other statutes with more significant, direct impact upon us? That would clearly be illogical.
And surely the opposite must also be true and Scottish assisted dying laws have an equal impact on England, Northern Ireland and Wales? Yet constituents in those countries have no say on what is implemented here and any suggestion that they should do would be met by howls of derision from the SNP. Does Dr Whitford believe that Westminster should be required to ratify a Holyrood assisted dying bill?
Of course not. The SNP simply want to have their cake, eat it and then blame Westminster for the indigestion.
The fact is that Pete Wishart was – whisper it – right. Just once, mind. EVEL is, relatively, inconsequential. It introduces a Parliamentary technicality that most people in Scotland won’t know about, much less care about. Secondly. it seems unlikely that it will be put into practice very often. Something which even the SNP admitted to, Alan Brown (SNP MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
It has been estimated that under the last Government, there were only two England-only Bills that would have fallen under EVEL.
Two votes in five years. I’d love to know what the two votes were. Anyone?
One of the SNP’s alternative suggestions is that it should be left to non-English MP’s to decide which votes do not include them. Trust us, they say, we’ll be very honest and fair in selecting which laws are English-only. We can even suggest some examples… like… oh, I dunno… Nicola?
The SNP have a longstanding position of not voting on matters that purely affect England – such as foxhunting south of the border, for example – and we stand by that. Where any issue is genuinely “English-only”, with no impact on Scotland, the case for Evel can be made.
Well that seems like an entirely reasonable suggestion. Except, of course, that you may remember the SNP performing a spectacular u-turn and promising to vote against the very same fox-hunting bill less than 6 months later because she wanted to:
actually remind the government how slim their majority is and perhaps that’s an opportunity for the SNP
Cynical opportunism with the added benefit of pissing off the English nationalists and increasing the clamour for EVEL. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t think leaving the decision to the good graces of the SNP is a wise idea. Let’s be clear – the SNP were desperate for EVEL to be enacted and it didn’t matter what form it took, they were going to generate maximum grievance from it regardless.
And we know this because the SNP’s outrage is so insincere they have had to resort to making stuff up in order to get any traction. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, for example, who tweeted that:
Not one bit of this is true. MP’s from every constituency in the UK will be able to debate every single piece of legislation that goes through the House of Commons; and they’ll be able to vote on all the stages they currently vote. Nor will EVEL apply to Bills which impact the Scottish budget, as was made clear during the debate.
(I’ll accept there will be a debate on what constitutes “material impact”)
Once again, the English-only committee can only veto Bills that have passed the full House. They cannot enforce laws which the House has voted down. So quite how this affects any plans the SNP have to vote against a privatisation bill that doesn’t yet exist is unclear to me. And as an aside, we’ve already seen the SNP under-funding health and suggesting that the English NHS and Scottish NHS budgets are inextricably linked is disingenuous at best.
And as for Heathrow, well there’s only two possibilities: either the investment is deemed to affect the whole of the UK because of the obvious impact on global travel, trade and connection flights for the whole country – in which case no EVEL; or it’s deemed to be an England-only infrastructure project – in which case the ~£500m+ Barnett consequential impact would surely trigger the “material impact” referred to by the Leader of the House. It’s difficult to see how EVEL would apply.
Of course, the reason the SNP have to “misrepresent” its potential impact is that there would be very little grievance to be had if they were to report on EVEL. By now, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fabricating grievance is pretty much the SNP’s MO – it’s all they have left and I doubt I’m the only person in Scotland that’s getting pretty sick of it.
I’m not defending EVEL, far from it. As I’ve already said, I think it’s a crappy move from the Tories with plenty of flaws – not least that there needs to be better definition around what does and does not constitute a “material impact” on devolved budgets. But the faux outrage and rank hypocrisy from the SNP on this has been laughable and, were I the sort of person that believed the actions of my countrymen and women reflected on me in the slightest, I would be embarrassed. As it is, I’m just bored.