An EVEL plan that’s doomed to failure

The arguments over English votes for English laws are not only complicated but also irrelevant. Emily Hohler reports.

This week David Cameron unveiled his "EVEL plan for Westminster domination",says Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph. Or rather, he unveiled his possible solution to the West Lothian question, the "constitutional anomaly whereby Scottish MPs can vote on devolved issues in England but English MPs cannot vote on devolved issues in Scotland".

There are several reasons for this. First, he can sense "political advantage". Since Labour wins many of its seats in Scotland, without the votes of Scottish MPs, Labour effectively cannot govern. Secondly, he has come under pressure from nationalist backbenchers. Thirdly, he sees a threat from Ukip, who are "banging their own nationalistic drum".

But the real reason is that the Scots and their political representatives are forcing the issue by repeatedly throwing their "constitutional rattle out of the pram".

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They are already demanding another referendum; thenewly elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jim Murphy, has been insisting that "what happens in Scotland will be decided in Scotland", whileAlistair Darling, Gordon Brown and Danny Alexander have all warnedagainst demanding English votes for English laws even as the English "keep picking up the tab" for the Scots.Quite some provocation.

So what is being proposed? On Tuesday, William Hague, the leader of the Commons, put forward three options, a "tacit admission that EVEL is a simple concept to grasp but a difficult constitutional principle to implement", says The Times.

One proposal removes non-English MPs from the House of Commons' committee stage; another gives English MPs the power of veto over English legislation. But both of these retain an "unfair degree of Scottish influence" and final assent still has to be given by the whole house.

The third option is to bar Scottish MPs from having any involvement with English legislation. The problem with this is deciding what legislation affects only England.

"Given that the Barnett formula, which allocates money to the Scottish government, is a function of public spending in England, Scottish MPs have a clear interest in legislation that alters English expenditure."

This week's debate was always going to be pretty pointless, says The Independent. Legislation that changes the way the House of Commons operates is "always complex and time-consuming" and best done with agreement between the parties.

There was "no prospect" of that and "a glance at the electoral geography indicates why". At the last election, the Tories won 297 out of 533 seats in England, but only one in Scotland and eight in Wales. Labour won 191 in England and 67 in Scotland and Wales. Even if the gap closes in England at the next election, it's clear why Labour is against EVEL.

The Lib Dems have a "distinct solution" based on proportional representation, which is best for their own party. The fact that all three are pursuing their own partisan interests instead of the public good is, however, "almost an irrelevance" because there is "not the slightest chance of Parliament agreeing to EVEL unless or until the Conservatives have an outright majority. There is no prospect of that, at least until 2020".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.