The year 1977 is perhaps best remembered for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the triumph of the last British woman to win at Wimbledon, and the first appearance of Star Wars in our cinemas.
It was also the year that a Scottish Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, first posed what has since become known as the ‘West Lothian question’.
Dalyell asked why –as a result of devolution- he should be able to vote on matters concerning England when English MPs could not vote on similar issues in Scotland. Though this paradox was highlighted 38 years ago, it only became a practical concern following Tony Blair’s decision in 1997 to create devolved government in Scotland and Wales.
Those of us who warned of the constitutional complications at the time – indeed I spoke during the passage of the devolution legislation – were ignored. That Scotland’s MPs enjoy the ability to overrule decisions taken by English Parliamentarians has created a democratic deficit which must be addressed. Now, with Scotland about to take on a greater range of powers and responsibilities, the time is right for a resolution – one which means a fairer deal for England.
The solution to the ‘West Lothian Question’ is English Votes for English Laws – giving English MPs a veto over laws which don’t apply to Scotland. As well as a vote of the whole House, a majority of English MPs will be needed to make such bills laws. The days of MPs who represent constituencies north of the border imposing laws on England are, at last, coming to an end.
Let’s take income tax as an example; the existing –and frankly ludicrous – situation whereby Scottish MPs can have the decisive say on English income tax rates, whilst Scottish rates are a matter for Holyrood, must end. With Scotland gaining yet more power over its tax affairs increasingly it should be able to pay its own way in the world, meaning that the rest of the UK will subsidise Edinburgh less as time goes on.
As a patriotic unionist, I cherish our United Kingdom and want to see it held together. Last year’s independence referendum was clear - the people of Scotland voted decisively to keep our family of nations unbroken. Now, as we strengthen Scotland’s abilities to shape their future within the UK, we must ensure that England and the English do at least as well.