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West Lothian Question is 30

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.

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