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A guest slot on the big vote and the West Lothian Question
Linlithgow and East Falkirk includes much of the late, lamented constituency of West Lothian. Last week its Labour MP, Michael Connarty, was one of 51 Scottish representatives to vote against Higher Education funding reforms, even though only English universities were directly affected.
Of course, his constituents would pay more to study in England, and, indirectly, spending changes south of the border affect Scottish funding. Rather than unravel how â€œEnglish Votes for English Lawsâ€ could be defined, lets examine its Commons arithmetic at the tuition fees vote.
English MPs were 311-209 in favour of the measures with 8 absent or abstaining, a hefty majority of 102. Yet the overall margin of victory was slashed to 21 by MPs from Scotland (majority of 45 against), Wales (24) and Northern Ireland (12).
It may seem strange to grandstand over a vote with no direct impact in your seat, but Lib Dem rebellion was strongest in Wales with all 3 MPs voting no; their Scottish MPs voted 5-4 (2 abs) while surprisingly their English colleagues were most loyal at 23-14 (6 abs).
This suggests local circumstances, and the leftward political centre of gravity in the Celtic nations, were factors in the Lib Dem rebellion’s size and shape: more so than their English MPs’ calculated aversion to cutting subsidies for their own constituents.
Total discipline from Labour, SNP and Plaid, and cross-party consensus in Northern Ireland, accentuated the Anglo-Celtic gulf. In contrast, all eight Tory rebels â€“ 6 noes, 2 abstentions â€“ hold English seats, although so do all bar nine Tory MPs!
The West Lothian Question also worked against the Conservatives in 2004, when Labour’s plan for â€œtop-upâ€ fees in England scraped through by five votes. English MPs disapproved, but 46 loyal Scottish Labour MPs, with less to lose, proved crucial.
England’s MPs are now distributed 296/188/43 plus one Green, Speaker, three Deputy Speakers and a vacancy. The Coalition’s theoretical majority there is 150, while the Tories alone have an outright majority of 64. Some form of EV4EL may tempt Cameron, particularly if the Lib Dems look unreliable. But if even the difficult fees vote could be steered through, does he really need it? And with its potential to reduce their leverage, should the Lib Dems be wary?