1 July 2015: Tories vote to keep veto over Holyrood’s welfare powers
Tory MPs voted to keep Westminster’s veto over the Scottish Parliament’s new welfare powers during last night’s debate on the Scotland Bill in the House of Commons. It was the third day of scrutiny of the Bill and the Conservative Government refused to accept any amendments put forward by the SNP or Labour.
Despite cross-party consensus from just about every Scottish MP on scrapping the vetoes in the Scotland Bill, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell refused to budge and claimed that no such veto existed – despite the report from the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Devolution (Further Powers) Committee saying that it did. Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s spokesperson on social justice and welfare, said Mundell was acting as if he believed the other parties were “a oot o step but oor Jock”.
As well as the amendment to scrap the veto, there were votes in the House of Commons debate that, if passed, would have devolved National Insurance, employment support programmes and housing benefit to Holyrood. All were defeated. A Labour amendment to allow the Scottish Government to top up reserved benefits, and mitigate against Tory cuts, was also defeated.
Speaking after the vote Whiteford told The National she was “very disappointed”. She added: “We’ve seen so little willingness from the Tory Government to listen to the democratic aspirations of the people of Scotland, and to progress when it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s elected parliamentarians recognise the need to remove the veto from the Scotland Bill to bring it line with Smith Commission recommendations. “The Secretary of State’s position seems to be ‘they’re a oot o step but oor jock’ as there’s huge consensus from Scottish MPs that we need to put this matter beyond all doubt.”
During the debate, SNP MP Pete Wishart pointed out that so far the Government had accepted no amendments and expressed concern that the Tories may try and make changes to the Scotland Bill in the House of Lords. Responding for the Tories, Priti Patel, Minister for Employment, asked the SNP to give the Government the “benefit of the doubt”.
Mundell, who was described by North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson as a shameless “colossal governor-general”, said the Bill did meet the spirit and substance of the Smith Commission and the SNP amendments could be described as “Smith-plus”.
The Government, Mundell said, was “listening to the points being made about the amendments, but we are also listening to what everyone is saying about the Bill in its current form and how it reflects Smith. Much of what is being said is predicated on the view that the Scottish Government and the UK Government are always at odds. That is simply not the case, and it should not be given common currency. On 90 per cent of issues, the two governments worktogether very closely for the benefit of the people of Scotland.
They are working together closely on very serious ongoing issues at this moment, and there are absolutely no problems and no need to resort to external review processes. The Smith process established a shared response for welfare, and I think that it shows that we must adopt a new mindset. That, to me, is what the spirit of the Smith Commission is about. Working together in a shared space. A commitment to doing that is as important as anything in the Bill.”
Earlier in the day, Deputy First Minister John Swinney wrote to Mundell to criticise him for claiming the two men had “productive discussions” over the Scotland Bill. He wrote: “There will have to be clear movement by the UK Government, otherwise it is becoming harder to justify that description.”
After the debate SNP leader in the Commons, Angus Robertson, was scathing of the Conservatives. The Moray MP said: “This was typical Tory arrogance – a single Tory MP refusing to listen to the representatives of the people of Scotland”. “We saw cross-party support on the Opposition benches for SNP amendments being voted down by a Tory government with a single MP in Scotland.
“At a time of savage cuts to the welfare state by the Tories – causing real hurt to hard-working families and vulnerable people, and driving more and more people to foodbanks – the choice is between having welfare powers in Scotland’s hands, or leaving them in the hands of Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne.” There will be further debate of the Scotland Bill on Monday.
2 July 2015: In the face of fears his Tory Government would use their Westminster majority to railroad through the Scotland Bill without consulting others, David Mundell gave assurance he would work hard to build consensus.
Just four days ago, Scottish Secretary David Mundell promised the people of Scotland he would listen to them. His words could not have been clearer and are worth repeating. “I have always made clear – and again I mean it – that we will listen to sensible suggestions which will be to the benefit of Scotland within the United Kingdom. Indeed the whole point of having the Bill examined line by line in Parliament is so people can suggest changes.” Lofty and welcome words. Unfortunately, Mundell’s actions since have provided no evidence whatsoever that he meant them.
On Tuesday night in Westminster, a rare and perhaps unprecedented event occurred. The SNP and the Labour Party joined forces on an issue of constitutional politics. Both parties wanted to beef up the Bill’s proposals on welfare to allow Scotland to design a different benefits system if so desired. When those bitter enemies are agreed on something, it surely merits close attention.
What happened next was a sickening slap in the facefor Scotland and democracy. Tory MPs trooped through the lobby to thwart the proposals – despite 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs giving them their backing. There was no consultation. No conversation. No listening to reason. Scotland is rightly horrified by the UK Government’s brutal welfare cuts.
The powers provided by the Scotland Bill will go a long way to giving those of us north of the Border the opportunity to protect the most vulnerable in our society. But in the aftermath of the SNP’s stunning general election result, everybody has to accept the goalposts have moved. Smith now looks like a baseline for further devolution, not the blueprint.
Of course, Mundell is not really the man in the driving seat at all. No, the Tory’s sole Scottish MP is just the monkey. It is David Cameron who is the organ grinder.
Since the Prime Minister stepped out of No10 in the early hours of September 19 last year, his attitude to Scotland has changed dramatically. He is no longer the man whose “heart would break” if Scotland voted for independence.
He is now the PM who spent the general election questioning the legitimacy of Scots MPs. There are now serious doubts about his commitment to Scotland’s part in the UK. The Tories’ actions have been a gift for the SNP.
Nationalism thrives on grievance. And Cameron is giving Scots a lot to feel aggrieved about. He was a signatory to The Vow of more powers published in the Daily Record just before the referendum. And he has a moral obligation to live up to those commitments.
That means implementing Smith and treating Scotland’s elected representatives with respect regardless of their political party. This includes the inevitable row over his English Votes for English Laws proposals, which are expected to be introduced to Westminster today.
It is not too late for the Tories to live up to their promise and take heed of the desires of the people of Scotland. But the clock is ticking.
2 July 2015: ‘EVEL’ announced for English MPs
The government will give MPs from English constituencies a new “veto” over laws affecting England only. Commons Leader Chris Grayling said the change, also applying in some cases to Welsh MPs, would bring “real fairness to our constitutional arrangements”.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon called the plan “staggering in the extent… of its hypocrisy and incoherence”.
Labour said it was an “outrage” that ministers wanted to rush into making “profound constitutional change”. Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle criticised the ‘back of a fag packet’ proposals and said the plans risked creating two classes of MPs. She further accused the Conservatives of a “cynical” attempt to “manufacture itself a very much larger” majority in the Commons.
Under the proposals, all MPs would continue to vote on all key stages of legislation. But English MPs – and in some cases English and Welsh MPs – will have a veto in Westminster when debating matters that have been devolved to the devolved administrations. “MPs will debate the changes on 15 July,” Mr Grayling said, and the system will be changed using the rules – known as standing orders – that dictate how Parliament conducts its business.
With more powers set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament after September’s independence referendum, Tory MPs have said it is not right that MPs representing Scottish constituencies can continue to determine laws affecting England only. Mr Grayling told MPs that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were getting a “stronger voice” and that it was “only fair” to do the same for England. “The Speaker will be asked to certify which bills or parts of bills relate to England or England and Wales only,” he said.
* The Speaker will judge which parts of a bill relate to just England, or England and Wales.
* An England-only committee stage will consider bills deemed “England-only in their entirety.
* Membership of this committee will reflect the number of MPs each party has in England.
* Where sections of legislation relate only to England or England and Wales, agreement of a “Legislative Grand Committee” will be required.
There will be no changes in the House of Lords, Mr Grayling said. But where Lords amendments are certified as England or England and Wales only, a “double majority” system applies, meaning it will need a majority of both the whole House of Commons and MPs representing English or English and Welsh constituencies. Tablet computers will be used to count MPs’ votes as they walk through the voting lobbies so officials can instantly register whether they have used their veto in votes where the “double majority” rule applies.
English University Students Celebrate in Glasgow
To jeers from opposition benches, Mr Grayling said “Today we are answering the West Lothian Question”, a reference to the constitutional anomaly that lets Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MP at Westminster vote on measures that only apply in England.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart described the English votes policy as a “cobbled together unworkable mess”, and said it was “totally unacceptable”. He said this policy showed that the Tories were doing their best to ensure Scotland would become an independent country. His party leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Tories have produced a constitutional shambles -staggering in the extent of its hypocrisy and incoherence.
Under these plans – which are all about cutting Scottish MPs out of votes which impact on Scotland and our budget – the Tories are proposing an ‘English veto’ and ‘double majority’. I have been very clear that, at least in part, the level of support for independence will be determined by what the Tory government at Westminster does, as well as what the SNP Government does.
And there is no question that the great disrespect shown to Scotland in these proposals is likely to have more people asking whether Westminster is capable of representing Scotland’s interests at all.”
Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman, the father of the house, said the title of the motion, English votes for English laws, “sounds racist”. He added: “This government is undermining the whole basis of British democracy, right through from when the Magna Carta was signed.”
3 July 2015: The First Minster says the PM’s proposal for English votes for English laws will drive the UK to the brink of separation.
Nicola Sturgeon threatened David Cameron with another independence referendum yesterday after he moved to restrict the voting rights of Scots MPs. The First Minister claimed the Tories are pushing Scots towards breaking up the UK by showing “great disrespect” with their proposals for EVEL – English votes for English laws. The row exploded after Cameron announced his Government will give MPs from English constituencies a new veto over laws affecting England only.
Commons Leader Chris Grayling said the change, also applying in some cases to Welsh MPs, would bring “real fairness to our constitutional arrangements”.
The First Minister branded it a “constitutional shambles staggering in the extent of its hypocrisy and incoherence”. Her comments were echoed by Labour and the Lib Dems after
Grayling outlined details of the proposed changes, which were promised in the Conservative manifesto. A new parliamentary stage will be introduced for passing laws that only affect England. English MPs will be asked to accept or veto legislation before it passes to its third and final reading for all MPs.
There will also be a separate committee stage for English MPs for Bills not affecting Scotland and Northern Ireland – meaning legislation can be amended without the consent of all MPs in the Commons. But there will be further opportunities to overturn any changes. Controversially, the Tories will try to introduce EVEL by simply changing standing orders – the rules which govern parliamentary procedure. Opponents say any such significant constitutional change should require proper legislation that can be scrutinised by all MPs.
MPs are currently debating a Scotland Bill that will devolve new tax and spending powers to Holyrood. But Nicola Sturgeon said the EVEL proposals “ride roughshod over the democratic rights of the people of Scotland”. She predicted the Tory approach would boost support for Scottish independence.
She said: “I have been very clear that, at least in part, the level of support for independence will be determined by what the Tory Government at Westminster do, as well as what the SNP Government do. And there is no question that the great disrespect shown to Scotland in these proposals is likely to have more people asking whether Westminster s capable of representing Scotland’s interests at all.”
Labour and the Lib Dems also voiced fears the changes could drive Scotland closer to independence. Labour Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “These proposals are a constitutional wrecking ball – they go far beyond what was previously discussed and risk reducing the UK’s democratic processes to rubble. “They will fan the flames of nationalism and are nothing more than a brazen attempt to secure party-political advantage for the Conservative Party.
Less than one year ago, the people of Scotland voted to remain within the Union of the UK. Now the Conservatives are once again placing that Union in jeopardy.” Murray repeated Labour’s call for a new constitutional convention to discuss the future of devolution. He said: “It seems increasingly clear that the Conservatives’ sole concern is to gerrymander the UK’s democratic processes in order to cement their electoral advantage within England, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the UK.