They left England out of the devolution settlement. As part of the fudged devolution agreement which helped to produce the modern crisis of the Union, Blair and Brown quite deliberately refused to offer devolution or equal treatment to England. They had no interest, it seems, in offering powers to what would be more likely to be a Conservative-led English administration, but were happy to do so to what they believed would be an eternal Labour government north of the border.
They tried to break up England. In 2004, rather than equalise devolution or localise to existing counties, cities and boroughs, John Prescott brought forward a plan to break England up into arbitrary regions, which had more to do with EU designations than any traditional or practical administrative areas. After cancelling referendums in Yorkshire and the North West, he went ahead with one in the North East, apparently because he assumed Labour’s writ would run regardless of the quality of the idea. Happily, the North East rejected his plans – but Labour continued to pursue its regionalisation agenda through other means, such as the unaccountable Regional Development Agencies and the top-down Regional Strategies.
They used Scottish MPs to win votes on English matters. Having introduced an imbalanced devolution settlement, in part because of their lack of representation in England, Labour then proceeded to use its Scottish MPs to win majorities on matters that, being devolved, only applied to England. Most notably, the extension of top-up fees for English students required the votes of 46 Labour MPs representing Scottish constituents who would not have to pay the fees.
Now they oppose English Votes on English Laws. This site believes the ultimate solution to the challenges of the Union is a federal UK – attempts to fudge anything less have so far generated more trouble than not. But whichever your preferred system might be, it’s time English MPs were given a vote on English laws. Labour, however, refuse to support such a reform – unsurprisingly, given it was they who left England out of devolution and then used their Scottish MPs to defeat the wishes of English representatives. There is no sign of a sudden conversion to democracy on the topic – the furthest their manifesto will go is “to consider how English MPs can have a greater role in the scrutiny of legislation”. Whoop.
They may well find themselves beholden to the SNP. With the polls still suggesting a hung parliament, and a greatly increased group of SNP MPs in Westminster, there is a distinct possibility that Ed Miliband may find that the essential hurdle for him to form a government is: are Salmond and Sturgeon happy? Given that the SNP shares Labour’s opposition to English Votes on English Laws, and its undemocratic willingness to use Scottish MPs to overturn the will of England’s MPs, that is bad news for England’s interests. Given that it was Labour who created the current devolution settlement, and helped in so doing to create the SNP as the force we see today, that’s bad news for the future of the Union. Given that the SNP may potentially be in a position to demand anything they want if Miliband wishes to gain power, that may well be bad news for our pockets, too.