What do we with a problem like Scottish MPs following a Yes vote in the independence referendum? After 19th September we will still be Members of the United Kingdom Parliament and given that Scotland will still be part of the United Kingdom until March 2016 we will still be entitled to contest next year’s General election unless there is some sort of postponement. This is a question that is increasingly consuming my colleagues in Westminster who now see a real possibility of a Yes vote and are starting to consider some of the consequences for the rest of the United Kingdom, particularly the impact on how the House of Commons would function. So let me as a Scottish MP, intending to stand for a seat in the UK Parliament next year offer a view on what the role of Scottish MPs could be, and how we could still serve our constituents without affecting legislation or a rest of the UK Government.
Following a Yes vote, Scotland will still be part of the United Kingdom until the point of independence in March 2016. Accordingly, Scotland will still be entitled to send 59 MPs to Westminster. Westminster fleetingly looked at this issue in the Spring of this year and voted against a motion calling for Scottish MPs to be removed immediately following a Yes vote and a House of Lords Committee concluded that Scottish MPs should stay until independence. There is therefore no great enthusiasm to throw Scottish MPs out immediately following a Yes vote and there is an understanding that we should remain at Westminster to represent our constituents and participate in functions still reserved to Westminster in this transitional period. However, I believe that a new role, and new rules, must be found for Scottish MPs to make sure that we can still represent our constituents without upsetting the democratic will of the rest of the UK.
This is important because the period between a Yes vote and Scotland becoming independent Westminster will still exercise many responsibilities that impact on constituents in Scotland represented by Scottish MPs, and those constituents will still be dependent on Westminster MPs to take these up on their behalf. These constituents will require their MP to speak up for them on matters such as welfare, immigration, consular support and a whole host of other important issues that will still be discharged by Whitehall. Scottish MPs must be allowed to raise these on behalf of their constituents, ask questions on their behalf in Parliament and speak up for them if their interests require it. The people who we represent must come first in this transitional period and our constituents must continue to have a voice. There is also the little fact that the independence negotiations will be just about the main feature in the UK Parliament and Scotland will need MPs to put Scotland’s case in the House of Commons.
As for legislation, that is an entirely different matter. We should pledge that we will not concern ourselves with any rest of UK legislation and allow that legislation to pass without our input, vote or concern. An incoming UK Government will be more than aware that Scotland will becoming independent so they would therefore shape any legislative programme around that fact and ensure that in the territorial extent included in the first few paragraphs of a bill, Scotland is excluded. If they did (for some reason) decide they did want to bring in legislation to include Scotland, in the process of becoming independent, then we should be allowed to participate and vote. If there is any dispute in determining this a process of certification through the Speaker’s office would be established to officiate. To achieve this a resolution of the House could be drawn up which debar Scottish members from participating in or speaking on rest of UK matters. This recusal could then be enforced if Scottish members felt they could not voluntary agree.
This then comes to the thorny issue of the setting up of a UK Government. Again, we should exclude ourselves and play no part in the determining of a Government and our numbers should not count in any final outcome. Only MPs representing the rest of the UK should be allowed to be included in the numbers to establish an incoming Government. Again this could be agreed by a pledge, but another resolution of the House could be designed if any Scottish MPs felt they were not in a position to agree to this.
This then would allow us to represent our constituents and speak out on independence transitional arrangements without affecting the ability of the rest of the UK to establish an enduring stable Government and get its legislation through. This is surely better than leaving the matter unattended and allowing the possibility of a further election in 2016 because the votes of Scottish MPs are determinate in the composition of a UK Government.
Agreeing to an arrangement like that would demonstrate the good positive working relationship both new nations would wish to adopt and demonstrate mutual respect for each others position going forward. Our independence is all about securing the Government we vote for in Scotland. We must similarly respect that in the rest of the UK.