ONE OF THE SIDE EFFECTS of devolution has been an increase in localised Scottish editions of UK newspapers, such as the Times, Mail, Sun and Telegraph, all of which are now printed in Scotland with significant local editorial content. And one of the side-effects of this trend has been the almost complete elimination of any Scottish news in their English editions. Perhaps understandably, London-based editors seem to be largely unmoved about verbal punch-ups between Tom Devine and Neil Oliver, or the job-swapping of ministers in the Scottish Government – just the sort of thing that Scottish editors think fascinate us Scots.
However, there are much more important issues to be debated than how to explain Scottish history, or minor ministerial swaps, and these do not just affect us, but also Northern Ireland and Wales, and these are concerned with the ongoing constitution of the UK.
Although most people in England don’t seem to have noticed much, the governance of the other bits of the UK have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, but the constitution has only been updated in the devolved nations – nothing has been done to modify the UK parliament in Westminster and it remains unchanged.
MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t have a lot to do in Westminster these days, as most debates and legislation undertaken there concern issues such as health, education, local government and so on, for which they have no responsibility, and if they do vote on such affairs they are accused of interfering in English affairs.
But wouldn’t it have been much more sensible to have created an English parliament at the same time as the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ones. The MPs from the other nations could be invited in to Westminster for, say, one week in four when UK-wide subjects such as the Economy, Foreign Affairs and Defence would be debated. Even more radically, the elected Members of the devolved parliaments could pop down to London once a month to do that job, or even rotate the UK meeting around the four capital cities
Reform of the second, revising, chamber – the anachronistic House of Lords – has not been completed. It still contains hereditary members whose ability to legislate over us all is based on an accident of birth. It beggars belief.
Wouldn’t it have been far better to eliminate the hereditary Lords, and to replace them with members representing the three devolved nations. This might have created a legislature with some credibility.
And, here’s the funny thing, although most English people haven’t even noticed the constitutional changes that have created the devolved parliaments, and their newspapers don’t ever report them, the one group which should have known better have been running the UK Government over the last 12 years.
After all, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Alister Darling were all born and educated in Edinburgh, and the latter two still represent seats based here. Over the last 12 years the likes of Robin Cook, John Reid, Donald Dewar, Gavin Strang, George Robertson, Derry Irvine, Douglas Alexander, and Jim Murphy have accompanied them in senior levels of government. And surely they know very well the growing ridiculousness of our current constitutional setup.
For a number of reasons it is now seems inevitable that such a Scottish political force will ever win anything like this level of power ever again in the UK. So it is a real shame that they are going to leave the UK’s constitution as even more of a dog’s dinner than ever.