West Lothian: the real answer…

It seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t ‘get’ the West Lothian question. Tim Dowling asks a supplimentary: why does it matter?


  • Crataegus

    Time someone sat down and worked out the interrelationship between Councils. Assemblies, Westminster and Europe. Set a common system throughout the country and apply it. The problem arises because this has not been done.

    My personal preference would be a massively reduced role for Westminster and as much as possible devolved down to the Councils and Assemblies. In such context do we need 646 MPs, do we need an Assembly in NI of 108? Do we need a House of Lords? Is there another way of fulfilling that role? Could many of the Councils be abolished in favour of local Assemblies?

    Britain is over centralised and at risk of being grossly over governed. Population 60 million.

    Population NI well less than 2million and look at the administration!! In a small region like this do we need councils at all what with one Assembly person for around 15,000 people? Perhaps a few more Assembly people and get rid of the councils would suffice? Increase the number to around 160 one per 10,000 people?

  • Alan

    Yes, but who decides in the tax carve up? Who balances regional need against central demands for tax cuts? How do you direct Armed forces? How do you ensure equality within and between regions? How do you agree benefit levels? Who decides on transport priorities? Who has responsibility for crisis intervention for health or other reasons? How do you agree policy on judicial or prisons matters? How do you co-ordinate foreign policy?

    Come to think of it – how do you co-ordinate policy on the EU? How do you co-ordinate the implementation of EU directives – without a central democratic organisation in which everyone is equally represented?

  • Occasional Commentator

    We don’t need an identical system across the UK. For example, we could scrap all the councils in NI and just run everything direct from the Assembly (if/when it’s properly set up). It wouldn’t matter to NI or to the Scots if the Scottish Parliament then went on to do the opposite, making more levels of local government and devolving more powers down. A West-Lothian-type question would arise however if Belfast were to keep its own council while the others in NI were scrapped.

    The real problem around the West Lothian question is that the Westminster Parliament’s powers are a hodge podge of different powers in different areas – full control in England, limited control in Scotland (although of course it could claim all that power back in a flash if it liked).

    All parliaments/assemblies/councils should have a clearly defined geographical area that it controls, a uniform set of powers available across that area, no power outside of that area, and a fair method of choosing representatives from across that area, and no representatives from outside that area.

    It really boils down to each body should have the same relationship with each of its subordinate bodies. By relationship I simply mean the list of powers it holds which the subordinate doesn’t. If Westminster controls planning over England, it should control it in Scotland too.

  • Fraggle

    We could scrap the assembly and run everything from a reduced number of smaller councils here.

  • fair_deal

    “Why does it matter?”

    As a Clinton supporter would say, its about democratic accountability, stupid. As it is the fourth of July it is apt to remember the most famous cry for it “No taxation without representation”. The West Lothian question is a more complex constitutional question than faced American colonists but the principle is the same.

    This debate is also CRUCIAL for Unionists. The half-baked, half-finished nature of Blair’s changes/additions to the British constitutional tradition need to be sorted out (something that Brown acknowleged in his Britishness speech).

    Regrettably Cameron rather than jettisoning this old Tory policy has continued with it, which is the worst possible answer to the question. The desire to paint Brown into a corner may provide short-term politic points but it runs the risk of unleashing the greatest threat to the Union, English nationalism. It also makes Cameron’s claims of wanting to regain ground across the UK as hollow.

    It needs to be remembered too that if devolution returns to Ulster the same demotion could apply to our MPs. Unionists need to join this debate and try and push it in a more positive direction.

  • Crataegus

    This one is a real stinker and needs to be thought through consistently so that you minimise anomalies.


    If you take the prime unit as the region then the inter relationship between each region and Westminster is the important factor. How they organise within a region could well be a matter for that region. No problem in that as far as I can see.

    The problem with the Regional approach is England has only the London Assembly. You either have to regionalise all of Britain or not at all. It is the differences that cause the problem.


    Do we accept that each area should be able to set different tax rates and different standards of care? What is the role of central government? How little does it need to do? How much should one region finance another?

    It really is a difficult political conundrum.

    As for Europe I pass on that one. Strikes me that you need a democratically elected European Parliament in control, but then what is the role of National parliaments or if the argument is the other way round how little should Europe be involved in?

    Strike me there is at least one layer of management that is surplus and in some small regions possibly two.