Westminster clouds the issue

Brian Donohoe, the Ayrshire MP – who controversially wants even more rain in the West of Scotland! – quoted here, has been recently explaining his views on why a list MSP should get less money than a constituency MSP in the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking on STV’s Politics Now show he argued that it seemed to him that the list MSPs do less work than their constituency colleagues, and there should be a two-tier system of MSPs in all but name.

One thing is striking about these comments. Mr. Donohoe has never been a Member of the Scottish Parliament; either as a list or constituency MSP. He is in no position to give an informed comment on these matters.

Gradually the conversation was brought round to Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Michael Crow asked him why he should get the same pay as an English MP. After all, he argued, English MPs represent their constituents for everything; in Scotland a great deal of the Westminster Parliament’s responsibility has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Ah, Mr. Donohoe replied but the recent boundary changes have meant that my constituency has increased and so my workload has also increased. This obviously implied that the constituency increase compensated for the reduction of responsibility.

Besides, he argued, if a “wee wummin” mistakenly wandered into his MP office, instead of an MSP office, and complained about housing – a devolved matter – he would still write a letter to the council or whoever.

I’m sure MSPs similarly deal with any mistaken constituents’ non-devolved issues in the same way. That argument hardly stands up to scrutiny. They wouldn’t use that to justify their payscale.

Alas, Michael Crow left it at that, not bothering to argue.

He missed the obvious point that the Westminster boundary changes in 2005 meant that the Scottish constituencys were increased to bring them into line with those in England. (Previously Scottish constituencys were smaller due to the lower population density, otherwise causing very large geographical constituencys; and to compensate for Scotland being so remote from Westminster. The creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 changed this thinking.)

Now all Scottish Westminster constituencys have around the same population has their English counterparts. We are comparing like for like, no matter what Brian Donohoe says.

So, an English MP is responsible for all matters of its constituents, while the Scottish MP is only responsible for those matters not devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Of course, Brian Donohoe and the other unionist Scottish MPs would always accept this as part of the devolution settlement, but it is hardly fair to the English MPs.

How to sort this anomaly?

A two-tier system of MPs? Less money for the Scottish Westminster MPs? That would be an option.

In practice though, that wouldn’t work. It would cause resentment and virtually guarantee the breakup of the Union. Scottish MPs could also argue that they have much greater travelling distances to Westminster and need the extra revenue.

It suggests Brian Donohoe should keep out of the debate over two-tier MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, if he wanted to keep his salary intact at Westminster. A two-tier system would be unacceptable both in Holyrood or Westminster.

What about reducing the number of Scottish MPs again? This time the extra constituency population would compensate for the reduced responsibility that the Scottish MPs have.

I doubt that would work either. Not only would it again fuel resentment and probably break the Union, but it would make a mockery of the last boundary changes implemented so recently.

Also under the Treaty of the Union, Scotland is guaranteed at least 45 MPs; any number below that would break the treaty and end the union. The 45 Scottish MPs granted were in comparison to the 486 English MPs, 27 Welsh Mps and 100 Irish MPs in 1707.

Since 1922 when the Republic of Ireland left leaving Northern Ireland, the no. of MPs for England has risen from 492 to 529 (533 next election); for Wales 36 to 40; for Northern Ireland 13 to 18; only Scotland has decreased 74 to 59.

Only 59 MPs out of a total of 646 MPs (next election 650) at Westminster is already straining the Union now. Scotland’s influence in the Union has been greatly diminished and any further reduction would negate Scotland’s role being part of it.

An English Parliament would be an alternative, handling devolved issues just like the Scottish Parliament; leaving Westminster for non-devolved matters. This would be a neat solution, ending the call for English votes on English matters, and solving the West Lothian Question. Whether the union could survive a powerful English Parliament remains to be seen, however. It is struggling to survive the devolved governments it already has.

Less powerful parliaments? Federalism as argued by the Liberal Democrats, splitting England into devolved regions. The northeast of England was seen as most favourable to the idea, and was seen as a test case before extending the concept to the rest of England. A referendum was held in 2004 for a northeast Assembly. The No vote was 78%. Federalism is not wanted by England any time soon.

The neatest solution would be independence for all countries in the UK. The Westminster parliament would just become the English Parliament and all those political grievances throughout the UK towards our separate Parliaments would instantly end. We’ll all stop moaning at each other and behave like good neighbours again.

Who needs the rain?!!

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