Roger Scruton is a writer and philospher.
We know that electoral boundaries are currently drawn in ways that disadvantage the Conservative party. There is a pressing need for reform, if the Members elected to Parliament are effectively to represent the people who vote for them. But neither the Labour Party nor the Liberal Democrats will cooperate, since both of them, in their heart of hearts, wish to marginalise the Conservative Party, and to deprive the Party of its electoral base.
In the current dispute within the coalition, there is one boundary change that is not discussed. Our government is a coalition; so too is our country. And the boundaries between our component nations are drawn in such a way as to disadvantage the people of England – in other words, the people who reliably vote for Conservative Members of Parliament. In a hundred ways the Labour Party used its spell in office to secure a long term balance of forces in its favour – and this fact has already been much commented upon in ConservativeHome. But no move that the Labour Party made was more damaging than that of creating a Scottish Parliament without removing the Scottish Members from the Parliament of Westminster.
This move has had two disastrous effects, from the Conservative point of view. First, it has given to the Scottish electorate two votes, one to govern themselves, and another to control the English. Secondly it has given a reliable block vote to the Labour Party in Westminster. The two effects are connected. For although the Scots don’t wish, on the whole, to be governed by the Labour Party – as we see from elections to the Scottish Parliament – they do want the English to be governed by the Labour Party. Hence they vote to place Labour politicians, whom they don’t want at home, in Westminster, where they can reliably pursue the interests of Scotland without imposing their censorious opinions on the Scots.
Here is an example. One of the first acts of the Scottish Parliament was to pass a law governing hunting with hounds, that quintessential English custom that gets up the nose of all who dislike the English. The law was duly passed, and the Scottish hunts have learned to live with it. The Labour Party then forced a similar law on the English and Welsh, through the Westminster Parliament. It is a controversial law, and a bill for repeal, if presented to the current Parliament, would gain considerable support. But it would not pass, largely because the 41 Scottish Labour Members would all vote against it – despite the fact that the matter concerns a law operative in England and Wales only, and despite the fact that the Scots have a hunting law of their own.
You may or may not be concerned about the hunting question. But no constitutionally minded person can really accept that this situation should continue. Either there is a boundary between England and Scotland or there is not. Which is it to be? Currently there is something called a boundary that is entirely permeable from North to South, and entirely impermeable the other way. If the Conservative Party has any concern for its constituents it should surely make it a priority to change things, so that the boundary is either permeable or impermeable in both directions. The least that can be proposed is that the Scottish MPs be barred from voting on laws that do not apply in Scotland. Better by far would be to exclude them altogether.