West Lothian Question

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The West Lothian question is an issue associated with the marked overrepresentation of Scotland in the House of Commons, with the average resident of Scotland having more representation in that body than the average resident of England and Wales.

Origins of the term[edit]

The question was originally posed in 1977 by Scottish Labour MP Tam Dalyell when he was member of Parliament for West Lothian:

"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 English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?"[1]

His party then as now was under threat from nationalists in both Wales and Scotland, and the intent of the West Lothian question was to defend the principle that every part of the UK should be under the same degree of control from London. A principle opposed then and now by decentralists who consider the UK an overcentralised state and want power to be devolved to those nations, regions and communities that are ready and willing to take that power, and whose stock answer to that question is that if other regions want it they should have devolution as well.

Usage by opponents of Scottish and Welsh devolution[edit]

Conservatives and others have tended to use the West Lothian question to oppose devolution to Scotland and Wales, but have not used these arguments when:

  1. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London council and several other Councils her party didn't control and centralised their powers to Whitehall.
  2. For half a century from partition until the early 70s, Northern Ireland had greater autonomy than Great Britain, and was able to gerrymander boundaries and discriminate against Catholics in a way that would not have been allowed on the mainland. While MPs from Northern Ireland were able to sit in Westminster and vote on issues affecting all of Great Britain such as the legalisation of homosexuality, their Westminster colleagues from England, Scotland, and Wales were unable to reform the relevant laws in Northern Ireland, where in the late 60s and early 70s the "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign enjoyed widespread support.
  3. Since the Norman conquest the Channel Islands have had their foreign policy determined from London without representation (despite their argument that they are the last vestige of the Duchy that William the Conqueror had before 1066 and the UK is actually their colony)

Decentralisation in England[edit]

Following devolution elsewhere in the UK, the West Lothian question has been used to justify a decentralised parliament of some form in England, either a single unified English parliament or multiple regional parliaments.

The question has become more prominent in the public in recent times after it was revealed that Scottish members of Parliament had voted for education cuts affecting England in the House of Commons, and then voted for the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland through the Scottish Parliament.

Because of this, David Cameron implemented a procedure for English Votes for English Laws (EVEL), adding a new stage to a bill's progress through parliament where only English MPs vote on England-only laws. The first vote under the procedure took place in January 2016.[2]