Monday, 20 October 2014

English MPs for a Scottish Issue?

A few hours after the majority of voters in the Scottish Borders rejected the chance to vote for an independent Scotland we witnessed the first divisions among Better Together campaigners with David Cameron's Downing Street dawn declaration promising English MPs for English laws. The slanging match surrounding the unsolved West Lothian question was well and truly under way.

The unholy alliance of Labour and Conservative politicians, and the eleventh hour intervention by a forgotten Fife MP by the name of Brown, may have salvaged the shaky Union. But it didn't take long for the uneasy bedfellows to switch to a "ferrets in a sack" posture after the No vote was delivered.

Cameron's pledge to ban Scottish MPs from voting on English matters in return for greater powers at Holyrood certainly received a warm reception south of the Tweed. But does it mean that under tit-for-tat reasoning three of his own MPs - Messrs Menzies, Paice and Reevell - will be precluded from further involvement in an important issue affecting the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway?

Earlier this year we brought you news of yet another Government backed 'probe' into the economic ills of the South of Scotland, a topic already done to death by an endless series of previous inquiries and investigations. Having already endured the 1968 Johnson-Marshall report which recommended a major injection of population to make the Sheep Country economy more stable, and a 1998 effort chaired by Scottish business and industry minister Gus Macdonald, there seemed little mileage left in such a tired old chestnut.

However, the current membership of Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) certainly didn't accept they were flogging a dead horse when they embarked on their own voyage of discovery earlier this year. Apparently they've already found out that the people of the Borderlands - their word not mine - are not getting as good a deal as they should. You don't say!

But surely if any of those previous investigations stretching back 45 years had been worth a candle then the Borders and its neighbour to the west should have been competing on the proverbial level playing field by now. These costly projects appear to have achieved the square root of absolutely nothing, and there must be a fair chance the current round of visits and consultations by the SAC will also fail to deliver a remedy for our complicated set of issues and problems even though a more generous allocation of resources would probably do the trick.

Which leads me back to the dilemma soon to face Menzies, Paice and Reevell, all of them Tory members of the SAC but representing English constituencies. Mark Menzies, who represents Fylde (Lancashire), Sir James Paice, the MP for South-east Cambridgeshire, and Simon Reevell, (Dewsbury, Yorkshire) sit on the committee because their Party doesn't have more than one elected MP in Scotland, and he's a junior minister in the Scotland Office.

If you haven't already sent in your written submission to the SAC with evidence of how they might improve the lot of us Borderers then you'd better get your skates on as the deadline for the consultation is Friday November 28.

But if Mr Cameron succeeds in his bid to banish Scottish MPs from debates featuring English subjects then should the three English Conservatives from his Party who serve on the SAC be allowed to read your submissions then discuss and vote on an exclusively Scottish subject? Not that it is likely to make much difference unless the Committee breaks the mould and produces something positive and useful.

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