KEN HOUSTON asks if the constituency boundary review goes far enough…
Scotland is set to lose six parliamentary seats at Westminster if the current boundary changes before the government go ahead. This will reduce the current number of Scottish constituencies from 59 to 53, with the overall number of MPs in the Commons trimmed from its current 650 to 600.
Notwithstanding the fact that the more pressing candidate for change is the House of Lords – formerly a respected revising chamber but now a meaningless superannuated assembly stuffed with redundant politicians and former prime ministerial cronies – let us hope that the loss of six seats in Scotland does not lead to too much girnin’ particularly from the party most likely to be affected, i.e. the SNP.
With the original devolution settlement untested, the coinciding reduction in Scottish seats at Westminster – a modest 13 (from 72 to 59) – seemed sensible enough. But given the recent substantial increase in powers (e.g. part-control of income tax) that has now made Holyrood, according to some observers, the strongest devolved parliament on the planet, is there any justification for even 59 MPs holding Scottish seats at Westminster?
Scotland must surely now be the most over-governed country of any in the democratic world. Before devolution the constituency in which I live, Edinburgh West, was represented by one MP, the very able (and much-underrated) James Douglas Hamilton. Now I have two representatives to do the job where one sufficed and to emphasise the point both representatives – Michelle Thomson, MP and Alex Cole-Hamilton, MSP – have public constituency offices located side by side in the local neighbourhood shopping area.
And with all due respect to Ms Thomson (rumoured to be about to return to the SNP fold after being suspended as a result of unsavoury allegations over residential property deals involving distressed sellers), it is Mr Cole-Hamilton who has become the more relevant. This is not in any way an endorsement; not having needed, so far, to contact Mr Cole-Hamilton I have no idea if, in terms of constituency matters, he is brilliant, rubbish or somewhere in between. What I do know is that had I a problem with one of the issues that most affect ordinary people – transport and road traffic, the environment, crime, education, planning, social services – it is to Mr Cole-Hamilton that I would take it. I can only see myself contacting Ms Thomson about a problem with my ISA account or to seek her views on Trident, the former being much more likely than the latter.
So what are Scottish MPs (and to a lesser extent Welsh MPs) at Westminster for unless it is to reinforce the ‘national’ identity of the UK Parliament?
I cannot, for example, see why a Scottish MP should be paid the same as one representing an English constituency when clearly the workload is no longer the same. Nor, for that matter, his or her expenses (travel to and from London excluded, of course).
A more equitable (and for the taxpayer less expensive) result of any future boundary changes would be to elect only MSPs in Scotland and for around 50 of these to also sit at Westminster, perhaps based on proportional representation.
Turkeys are always reluctant to vote for Christmas so it is unlikely that the proposal to reduce the Scottish contingent at Westminster by six seats will go down well with the SNP, given that the party currently occupies all but three of the current 59.
Yet, at least in abstract terms, this would make Westminster less relevant to Scotland and Holyrood more so – and is that not the party’s raison d’etre?
MORE FRACKING FRICTION
The issue of fracking has come back to the boil following the publication of a paper, by Dr Stuart Paton, an energy analyst for Reform Scotland. Dr Paton, former chief executive of Dana Petroleum, said that with proper regulation, safety and environmental fears over fracking could be overcome. “There is significant potential for unconventional development in central Scotland in shale oil and gas- and oil-bed methane.”
Yet according to The Times, Nicola Sturgeon remains insistent that the current moratorium on fracking will remain unless it can be proved that it will not have an adverse effect on the environment.
That’s rich coming from someone who is fully supportive of wind turbines, which are hardly friendly to the environment – i.e. despoiling Scotland’s uniquely beautiful landscape, chomping emigrating birds into a thousand pieces with their blades and dementing small ground creatures as a result of the noise they make.
In addition turbines are, of course, highly inefficient (they don’t work on freezing, windless days and have to be closed down if the wind speed reaches 85mph). And despite receiving huge taxpayer subsidies they have increased the price of electricity, putting more consumers closer to fuel poverty – something that, one would have thought, our lefty First Minister deplores.
But at least the SNP is limited to a moratorium on fracking (with, perhaps, wiser heads within the party waiting for the right moment, politically, to let it happen). Scottish Labour is still demanding an unqualified ban despite the distinct possibility of fracking producing lots of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled manual jobs for the type of households which once supplied the party’s core vote.
But given that Labour is now the party not of ‘the workers’ but of teachers, sociology professors and human-rights lawyers, its illogical stance on fracking should not come as too much of a surprise.
THIS CHRISTMAS IS CRACKERS
They’ve started rolling out the programme for ‘Edinburgh’s Christmas’ which will begin on 18 November and not finish until 7 January next year.
Oh pleez, gie’s a break, eh? That’s more than seven weeks of tinsel ‘n’ stuff – whatever happened to the 12 days of Christmas?
At this rate the festive season will eventually precede bonfire night at one end and succeed Valentine’s Day at the other.