This week will see David Cameron return again to the House of Commons with EVEL proposals. His aim will be to address the “West Lothian Question” – the situation where Scottish MPs can vote in Westminster on English issues which are devolved to Holyrood.
Cameron will propose that an extra “parliamentary stage” will be added to allow English MPs to scrutinise legislation without the involvement of Scottish MPs. Basically, England’s MPs would be asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting England before it passed to a vote of all UK MPs at its final reading in the Commons.
Labour’s position is that this should not be rushed as there is a danger it may drive a wedge between England and Scotland. Instead, it would rather that a cross-party constitutional committee be formed to consider this issue along with others such as the reform of the House of Lords and the overall of the voting system.
The SNP’s position is less clear. As ever, they prove to be consistently inconsistent in their views. Despite claiming eye watering expenses, SNP MPs traditionally have one of the worst voting records in Westminster. I once had an opportunity to quiz Pete Wishart on this and he explained that he only voted on issues which were relevant to Scotland. The chart below shows the extent of the SNP shortfall during the 2010-15 parliament. SNP MPs took part in only 48% of votes on average.
Needless to say, despite the dire voting record, most SNP MPs still claim all the expenses they can.
Despite how it looks, the voting record of SNP MPs reflects the principled position adopted by the SNP as a whole. For example, the SNP Government declined an opportunity to comment on a consultation relating to David Cameron’s creeping privatisation of the NHS in England.
Within this context, I find it hard to understand the concern the SNP has regarding the move towards EVEL as it is entirely consistent with their own views. Indeed, Just a week or two ago, Pete Wishart complained vehemently about English MPs daring to vote against his party’s wishes on Full Fiscal Autonomy. Admittedly, Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray MP was also accused of “talking Scotland down” for questioning SNP rhetoric on the issue.
Furthermore, in last week’s debate Wishart claimed the EVEL proposals were a “constitutional outrage” despite having said in 2014 that EVEL was “an issue that the Scottish people could not care less about”.
Things unravelled further yesterday. For a long time the SNP, on their website, gave fox hunting in England as an example of the kind of issue it would not vote on. Yesterday, that text disappeared from their website and they announced, righty, that they would back Labour in its efforts to block the Tory plans to reintroduce fox hunting in England.
If the SNP is to be taken seriously as a political force in Westminster, and that is everyone’s interest, they must adopt principled positions on the issues of the day.
The political opportunism and the manufacture of grievances must be set aside. Sniping from the side-lines was fine when the SNP was a small force in Westminster and had to fight to be heard, but now that they have 56 MPs it is time for a mature debate.