Unionists need proposals to address English grievances

Morning View
Morning View

The former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael says that English votes for English laws will make it more difficult to keep the UK together.

Resolving the West Lothian question, in which Scottish MPs vote on matters that only affect England whereas English MPs cannot do the same on matters only affecting Scotland (due to devolution), is fraught with risk.

Mr Carmichael says that the Tory plans are an act of “wanton constitutional vandalism”. The Liberal Democrat politician believes that English votes for English laws will foster “a sense of grievance” in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is true that no unionist in the Province will be happy at the notion of two classes of MP. Once the principle that one set of MPs cannot vote as often as another set of MPs has been established, where will it end?

But a greater risk to the UK lies in a rise of the English nationalism that partly explains why Ukip got 14 per cent of the general election vote in May, and why Tory and Ukip combined got almost half of the votes cast across the UK.

English people are tiring of what they perceive as whining on the Celtic fringe, particularly in Scotland. English taxpayers feel, with good reason, that they subsidise Scotland to such an extent that it can afford privileges such as free prescriptions and tuition fees that the English do not enjoy.

This growing sense of resentment is not yet targeted at Northern Ireland, but it could soon be so.

The discrepancy of English MPs being at a disadvantage to MPs from devolved parts of the UK needs to be addressed fast. Mr Carmichael wants a federal UK, but there is no appetite for English parliaments. Artificial regions suggested by Tony Blair for assemblies were rejected at the polls in 2004.

It would be good to hear unionists in Northern Ireland put forward suggestions for how the imbalance against England can be resolved in a way that minimises damage to the integrity of NI MPs as full members of the House of the Commons.