What a superb week it’s been in the Mother of Parliaments, as long as you’re enthused by buttock-clenchingly awful puns and not too concerned about democracy. The buzz-word on everyone’s lips was EVEL, the stench of which filled the House of Commons on Tuesday. But, as our imperial masters’ exchanges steadily eroded listeners’ will to live, it was an open question whether it really was a pun, or simply stood for “Egotistical Vultures Endlessly Lying”.
The debate was supposed to be about Scotland, but just for a laugh economy-sized Speaker John Bercow invented a new school rule that banned everyone from actually using the word “Scotland”, on pain of being forced to do gym in their underpants. This didn’t bother 90% of the participants, who weren’t planning to venture anywhere near the S-word, preferring to stick to self-righteous whining on behalf of constituents they ordinarily despise. However, it utterly discombobulated the embattled enclave of SNP MPs, who found their attempts to haul the discussion back on topic constantly smothered by pompous put-downs from the chair.
The three authors of the notorious Vow – that is, the guys who were happy for the Daily Record to print any old plop in their name as long as it was written on authentically scabby-looking parchment - were absent on snivelling coward duties elsewhere. So it was left to the Government’s one-man public address system, Wee Willie Hague, to announce in booming tones that new powers for Scotland would definitely arrive on schedule. Or maybe that was the 15:10 Trans-Pennine service from Wakefield, it was hard to tell. Anyway, this is a bloke who once wore a back-to-front baseball cap and boasted about sinking 14 pints in a half-arsed attempt to look cool, so who fancies relying on that sort of judgement?
Not Gordon Brown, that’s for sure. Aghast at the public’s growing realisation that his planet-sized brain occupied a thumbnail-sized universe, and having been taken for an absolute mug by David Cameron, he was in full fidgeting and fuming mode. Still, you couldn’t help but feel he was focusing less on constitutional innovation than on panic-button damage limitation, now that Dave’s new-found fascination with curtailing Scottish MPs’ voting rights was threatening to rip the Labour Party’s knitting permanently to shreds. (It’s touching that Gordy thinks the Scottish public will be daft enough to vote for Labour in the first place, but I’m buggered if I’m going to be the one to tell him otherwise.)
Elsewhere in the chamber, MPs’ reaction to the Vow was as if they’d just opened the fridge and found a giant rat smirking at them. “Not in our name,” they spluttered, inconveniently for the Three Stooges and predictably for everyone else over the age of five. The Smith Commission cement mixer can chunter away as noisily as it likes, but its end results will still have to face the wrecking ball of Parliamentary scrutiny. Oh, and planning permission may have to wait while MPs fart about with a decades-long project to turn the UK into a federal paradise half of them don’t want, so don’t get yer hopes up, Jock.
Of course, advocates of “English votes for English laws” do have a point, as long as you can work out what an “English law” is without your cerebellum bursting like a clapped-out sofa. The West Lothian Question may have broken loose from the attic at a spectacularly inconvenient time, but it’s a serious constitutional issue. SNP MPs, uniquely, acknowledge this by voluntarily abstaining from votes that don’t concern them, which is why we never hear their views on the regulation of toad-sexing in Dorset.
At the risk of being inundated with furious tweets from constitutional experts with nothing better to do, I’d say that most sentient beings accept that the Question has three possible answers. The first, to abolish Holyrood entirely and line George Square with tanks to keep the peace, is probably a non-starter, though I’m sure Call Kaye could come up with several punters who think it’s a tremendous idea.
The second is devo-max bursting out all over, with all parts of Britain enjoying more autonomy and Westminster’s responsibilities strictly limited to defence, foreign policy and, er, belisha beacon maintenance around Whitehall. Sorry, I must have been inhaling my screen wipes again, that’s a pipe dream. 800 unemployable peers scraping a living as the world’s most exquisitely attired buskers? Civil service mandarins forced to move to areas where their neighbours might keep whippets? London property prices collapsing to merely extortionate? Never gonna happen to the UK, and by the same token never to Scotland either.
There is (ahem) a third possible answer, and I know it’s irritating for self-appointed commentators who’d like its advocates to get back in their boxes so they can apply padlocks. Independence is off the table for the moment, although, with odds shortening on the parliamentary Conservative Party morphing into a terminally Eurosceptic Tory-UKIP coalition, that may soon change. However, and I’m sure John Redwood, Vulcan ambassador to the Court of St James, would agree with me, as an answer to the West Lothian Question it’s perfectly logical.
In that light, you can see why the powers-that-be within the UK broadcasting cartel want to exclude Nicola from their General Election debates. She’d probably talk the other participants around to the idea in no time.