Scottish politicians are kicking off in discussions over “English votes for English laws” — a proposal designed to finally solve the dilemma known as the West Lothian question.
It comes as no surprise that Scotland is angry about the proposals, If the last two years have proved anything, it’s that Scotland’s politicians want a lot for very little in return. They don’t really like feeling excluded.
Meanwhile, Britain’s opposition Labour party has jumped to the aid of the Scottish National Party (SNP) because the party desperately wants to reclaim the support that it lost so spectacularly from Scottish voters..
If the “English votes for English laws” bill was passes, it will mean Scottish politicians won’t be able to vote on health and education-related matters that only affect England-based citizens of the UK. The Scottish National Party (SNP) said the proposals “simply exacerbate the further alienation of Scotland from the UK Parliament” and Labour said it could create “two tiers” of MPs at Westminster.
But the SNP, which rules in Scotland and won almost every Scottish seat during the 2015 general election, has demonstrated time and time again that it wants to break ties with the rest of the UK, enhance its power and autonomy, and still reap the benefits of being part of the 307-year old union. This includes everything from retaining a strong currency, having their welfare and benefits paid for by predominantly non-Scottish taxpayers, as well as holding on to revenue from anything from property to income tax.
Now, on top of that, nationalists are getting upset that devolution means they don’t get to then have power over bills or laws that wouldn’t affect their citizens anyway.
Compromise, what compromise?
Scots voted for their country to stay part of the UK on September 19. Pro-unionists won by a much closer vote than expected — just over 55% voted “No” when asked “Scotland should be an independent country?” while the 44% opted to leave.
Arguably, the “No” campaign gained more support in the critical last weeks before the vote because politicians promised that Scotland would gain greater devolved powers should it opt to stay part of the union.
It was a nice sweetener for those sitting on the fence. After all, during the Scottish independence campaign, the leader of the SNP at the time, Alex Salmond nearly went blue in the face promising Scots things that he couldn’t 100% deliver on — a thriving oil economy, keeping the pound, keeping European Union membership, the same levels of welfare provision.
British politicians are sticking to their word and are giving Scotland even greater powers. The Smith Commission, the report from Lord Smith over recommended Scottish devolution powers, includes some pretty hefty changes to the law.
For example, the report recommends that Scotland be given the power to set income tax rates and bands on earned income, and that all income tax raised in Scotland will stay in Scotland. Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish parliament, will also get greater control over benefits.
“This agreement is, in itself, an unprecedented achievement. It demanded compromise from all of the parties,” said Lord Smith in the report from November last year. “In some cases that meant moving to devolve greater powers than they had previously committed to, while for other parties it meant accepting the outcome would fall short of their ultimate ambitions. It shows that, however difficult, our political leaders can come together, work together, and reach agreement with one another.”
This is a pretty decent trade-off for Scots, considering that they will also still receive pensions and welfare that they can’t afford by themselves. The UK Treasury says public spending in Scotland is higher than anywhere else in the UK, and particularly in welfare spending, which is 6% higher north of the border. Basically, Scotland spends beyond its means and the deficit shows that it needs the rest of the UK to bail it out.
Scotland didn’t even have to break its marriage to the UK. It managed to get a pretty decent alimony for a divorce that never happened.
Why Scotland should stop moaning about the West Lothian Question
Scotland currently cannot survive financially by itself.
It’s been proven time and time again through OPEC and other reports that Scotland’s economy largely depends on an economy that is dying out — oil.
OPEC revealed last year that the average oil output from the North Sea in 2013 clocked its lowest level since 1977.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney highlighted how the country’s dependence on this one source of income is horrifically susceptible to market price fluctuations. He estimated that the oil price plunge alone will hit Scottish GDP by £6 billion over the next year, as around two-thirds of the industry’s profits and employment are generated in Scotland.
Meanwhile, each Scot receives an average of £10,152 in public spending. This is compared to just £8,529 per person in England. If Scotland was to leave the UK, it would have to find other ways to pay for its own welfare and pensions — not an easy feat when it’s oil industry is slowly dying.
The only difference now, despite not being an independent country post-referendum, is that Scotland has all the old benefits of being part of the union with added extras.
“The Scottish Parliament will be made permanent in UK legislation and given powers over how it is elected and run. The Scottish Government will similarly be made permanent,” said the Smith Commission. “The Parliament will also have the power to extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds, allowing them to vote in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.”
“These increased powers demand improvements in parliamentary scrutiny and strengthened collaboration between the Scottish and UK Governments. Within these overarching improvements to the devolution settlement, the Parliament will also assume a range of new, important, individual powers in policy areas such as taxation, welfare, employability, transport, energy efficiency, fuel poverty, and onshore oil and gas extraction.”
So why moan about “English votes for English laws”? After all, if they want greater autonomy, why should they get to vote on matters that would impact their residents? Well, because as Scotland demonstrated before, it wants the benefits of marriage and divorce all at the same time.