Saturday, 18 October 2014

Gordon explains

In today's Guardian there is an article by Gordon Brown, in which he explains his objections to English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) being inextricably linked to more Scottish Devolution.  His argument rests on the basis that the Union is paramount and is to be preserved at all costs, although he doesn't really explain why that is.  He then goes on to discuss why EVEL will make second-class MPs of Scottish MPs and, in the longer term, of Welsh and Northern Irish MPs as well.

His article appears to be somewhat illogical.  For example, he says

Taken alongside the Conservative proposal to devolve all income tax decisions to the Scottish parliament, Scottish MPs would find themselves excluded not just from ordinary English lawmaking but from some of the most controversial and sensitive decisions a parliament can make – on income tax and the budget.
 Well, yes.  If the Scottish parliament has responsibility for all income tax decisions in Scotland, why would we need to have input into income tax decisions for the rest of the UK?  Any why would we want input into English laws when we have our own legal system?

Similarly he says

Chaos would follow: for, once Scotland and then Wales and Ireland became exempt from contributing to UK income tax – but still benefiting from it through Barnett formula allocations...
Isn't the Barnett formula about redistributing income from all taxes, not just income tax?  Therefore if responsibility for income tax is devolved in total, but not for corporation tax, National Insurance, inheritance tax, VAT, and so on surely we need to retain the Barnett formula or something similar to ensure distribution of the income from these other taxes?

There is also a strain of hypocrisy in the article.  He says

Everything that has been said since that fateful morning has confirmed that the central Tory proposition is the reduction of Scots’ voting rights in the Commons – an issue material to the referendum that should have been announced before, rather than after, the vote.
 Remind me again who it was that brokered and announced the last-minute Vow?  The Vow that was made after many people had cast their postal ballots?

Really the logical solution to the EVEL problem is the setting up of a separate English parliament, keeping Westminster only for those matters to be managed for Britain as a whole, such as defence and foreign affairs.  But this appears to be a solution that Mr Brown doesn't like either.

He discusses how federated nations like the US and Australia are managed and goes on to suggest

So there is a way forward that can keep the UK together, one that recognises the sizes of each nation and region and is founded on both a sensitivity to minorities and self-restraint by the majority.
 Yes, I think we've seen how much sensitivity and restraint there has been by the majority over the past 307 years.  Can't really see this working, given that English MPs outnumber MPs from all the other home nations put together, and can therefore pass into legislation anything they like, regardless of the views from the other nations.

He then goes on to say
 But it could also involve changes in Commons committee procedures that would recognise an English voice on English issues without undermining the equal status of MPs – while enthusiastically supporting more powers for Wales, Northern Ireland and forms of devolution that meet the distinctive needs of English cities, counties and regions.
I'm confused.  He says that the Union should stay together under one parliament but then goes on to advocate devolution for English regions as well as the other home nations.  Which is it?

Overall the article strikes me as ill-thought out special pleading from a senior Labour figure who sees their grip on power slipping away and who is desperate to cling on to it at all costs.

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