“English votes for English laws” risks fanning the flames of separatism and should be consigned to the scrap heap for politicians who wish to preserve and strengthen the bonds of a United Kingdom.

In an essay on the Future of the Union, for the Legatum Institute, Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at the Institute of Contemporary British History at Kings College London, says that devolution is long overdue and necessary but “English votes for English laws” is “incoherent”. It undermines the principle of collective responsibility under which a government must be responsible for all policies that come before it, not just a selection of them.

Professor Bogdanor argues that there can be no specific English domestic matters involving public expenditure. He says, “Even if all income tax was devolved to Scotland, the bulk of Holyrood’s income would still come from Westminster.” For example, were there to be any variation in spending on an English service such as health, there would be a direct knock-on effect in Scotland.

He says, “Suppose that there is a cut on health spending in England. The block grant to Scotland would be correspondingly reduced since it is fixed as a percentage of English expenditure. That is bound to be the case since England is the dominant part of the United Kingdom; and it explains why Scottish MPs must continue to vote on what seem to be English issues.”

Bogdanor also criticises the Conservative Party for pursuing what he sees as a “separatist proposal”.

“It is no accident that the SNP has a settled policy of not voting on “English” laws, for it is an openly separatist party. It is odd to find the Conservatives, a Unionist party, seeking to follow suit.

“Devolution, while an overdue and necessary reform, has made many English politicians believe that Scotland is another country with which they need not concern themselves. But constitutional reform should aim to link the various parts of the United Kingdom together, not separate them.”

The essay, published by the Legatum Institute on Monday, sets out a number of alternative proposals to strengthen the United Kingdom:

  1. A devolution of powers to local authorities including the ability to keep a proportion of tax receipts from property taxes, business rates and even more freedom over council tax rates
  2. The creation of a Royal Commission which would hold public hearings across the country to consider constitutional changes including a written constitution (The UK is one of three democracies without one, the others being New Zealand and Israel)


Notes to Editors

  1. The full version of Prof Bogdanor’s essay for the Legatum Institute is available here.

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