Although Wendy Alexander has other things on her mind at the moment, she found time to make an unexciting but thoughtful speech today at Edinburgh University to mark St Andrew’s Day. The main ‘news line’ was her intention to establish a Scottish constitutional commission via a bill at Holyrood, but there was also lots of stuff about the historical development of the UK/Scottish constitution, including mentions of the (Labour) Scottish secretaries Tom Johnston, Bruce Millan and Donald Dewar. Alexander, of course, worked for Dewar as a special adviser.
This week marks forty years since British troops withdrew from the former UK colony of Aden. The Scottish regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was a prominent presence in the region, led with panache by Colin ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell. He became famous in July 1967 when he led the Argylls in the British reoccupation of the Crater district of Aden, which had briefly been taken over by nationalist insurgents
Mitchell was later wooed by the Conservatives to stand for Parliament and was elected to represent Aberdeenshire West at the 1970 general election. Although he served for a year as PPS to the Scottish Secretary, Gordon Campbell, Mitchell did not take to Parliamentary life and stood down at the February 1974 election.
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP and deputy leader, has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament to mark the anniversary.
Interesting story in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday in which the First Minister Alex Salmond called for the Scotland Office to be scrapped and have Westminster deal directly with the Scottish Parliament (and, presumably, the Scottish Government). It seems to me rather like kicking a man while he’s down, following as it did unprecedented criticism from five former defence chiefs of staff who called on the Defence and Scottish Secretary Des Browne to ditch his Scotland Office duties. Scotland on Sunday claimed that an analysis of his official engagements over the past few months contradicted Browne’s claim that his Scottish brief did not interfere with his day job at the MoD.
More on the West Lothian Question in today’s Scotsman, which has so far run a double-page spread every day this week. Today’s compares public opinion in two towns called Broxburn, one in England and the other in Scotland. There’s also an opinion piece by the former Scottish Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, reiterating his so-called East Lothian Answer.
Even I’m beginning to get bored…
The former Scottish, Northern Ireland and Home Secretary John Reid has been confirmed as Celtic’s new chairman. The Scotsman carries details of the AGM, at which a vocal minority condemned his appointment. BBC Sport Online has more about the objectors.
Following the 30th anniversary of the West Lothian Question (or at least the term, not the question itself) last week, today’s Scotsman has gone big on the issue once more, this time quoting several not-very-senior Scottish Labour MPs who are telling the PM that something must be done, and that reviving English regional devolution might be that something.
There’s also a column written by Tam Dalyell, although I think he’s mis-remembering the date on which Enoch Powell coined the phrase ‘West Lothian Question’. It was in November 1977, not 1978.
Today (Wednesday) is the 30th birthday of Tam Dalyell’s long-standing constitutional query, the so-called West Lothian Question, called as such by the late Enoch Powell on 14 November 1977 during a debate on the Scotland Bill.
In that debate, Dalyell asked: “For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate… at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
He illustrated his point by pointing out the paradox of a Member of Parliament for West Lothian being able to vote on matters affecting West Bromwich but not his own constituency of West Lothian. But it was Enoch Powell, by then an Ulster Unionist MP, who said: “We have finally grasped what the Honourable Member for West Lothian is getting at, let us call it the West Lothian Question.”
I interviewed Tam for stv’s Politics Now a few weeks ago and mentioned that his question was nearing its 30th anniversary; he remembered Powell’s contribution to the debate clearly. My cameraman joked that if there were royalties for questions, Tam would be a very rich man. He was very tickled by that.
By coincidence, I managed to locate a second-hand copy of Dalyell’s polemic, Devolution: The End of Britain?, a few days ago. It was published in 1977, but before the term ‘West Lothian Question’ had been used by Powell.
Interestingly, Prof Robert Hazell of UCL’s Constitution Unit chose the anniversary to make an original, if a little peculiar, proposal. He said Lord Ashcroft’s famous fund for financing marginal seats should be focused on Scotland and Wales and renamed the ‘West Lothian Fund’, his argument being that a revival of Conservatives in those parts of the UK would help solve the so-called West Lothian Question. BBC Online has the story in full.
This week’s Spectator has an interesting editorial on Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s so-called East Lothian Answer to Tam Dalyell’s (or Enoch Powell’s) West Lothian Question. The Conservative-leaning ‘newspaper’ (as the Spectator likes to call itself) backs Rifkind’s proposal as the only way post-devolution to save the Union.
I was interested to see David Cameron flagging up ‘English votes for English laws’ in his contribution to the debate on the Loyal Address this week. Given that he reportedly favours Rifkind’s scheme, the tone and language jarred ever so slightly. All will be revealed when Ken Clarke’s Democracy Taskforce reports by the end of this year.
Interesting feature in today’s Scotsman about the demise of the so-called Silicon Glen, which reached its height in the 1980s under – believe it or not – Margaret Thatcher’s governments, otherwise known for shutting everything down (or selling it off).
It isn’t online, but a picture caption in the newspaper is incorrect. Ian Lang, of course, was not Scottish Secretary in 1986 (it was Malcolm Rifkind), but the under-secretary for industry in the Scottish Office at the time.
BBC Online also carries the news that Scottish Questions will now take place every five weeks instead of once every month, and at 11.30am on a Wednesday (before PMQs) as opposed to a Tuesday afternoon.
The change comes as part of a wider Commons’ timetable shake-up and is, I think, the first change since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.