Clarke’s Constitutional Fix: Make Scottish MPs more like me

I’ve just realised what’s so funny about Ken Clarke’s surprisingly modest proposals to resolve the West Lothian problem. The changes he recommends are supposed to protect English people from colonial rule by technicality (the deliciously hyperbolic “Scottish Raj”) and Parliament from the criticism that it is illegitimate. But what they do instead is protect Scottish MPs from boring, humbrum Committee work.

The proposals preserve the right of Scottish MPs to vote on the Second and Third readings of Bills – the decisive votes on the broad principle of a piece of legislation. Clarke has designed a system in which Scottish MPs would still be privileged with the right to design the laws, but without actually having to go through the tedious process of making them clause by clause in the Parliamentary workshop. Clarke’s Parliament sans West Lothian punishes the Scottish MPs for the Holyrood Parliament by leaving all their important powers in place, whilst divesting their jobs of a great deal of ponderousness. Defying everything that we have learnt from superhero didacticism, he wants to allow these MPs to keep their great power, whilst disencumbering them of their great (but wearisome) responsibility.

This becomes funnier still when you think that this is exactly the sort of role that Ken Clarke has been playing in the Conservative Party for the last ten years. Since he left government in 1997 Clarke has remained one of the most respected Conservatives in the country and one of the most influential members of his own party, in spite of his reluctance to bestir himself from his corpulent Bagpuss-slumber to take on frontbench responsibilities.

Is it possible that Clarke has been tasked with solving this great constitutional problem by his leader, one which could at some point seriously delegitimise parliament, and that all he’s done is to decide that they should invent a new category of politician – the idling-Scotsmen – who ought to have the privilege of voting on matters of principle, whilst detachedly surveying the scene from a magisterial height like a hawk, swaying hearts and minds through sheer weight of presence in the tea rooms, swaggering through the lobbies on the way to the divisions on Second and Third readings – but without having to condescend to furrow their brows over the syntactical quagmire of lawyer-begotten legislation, draft unintelligible, irrelevant amendments, ask questions of expert witnesses to which no one wants to hear the answer, and sweat ignominiously through never-ending never-to-be-replaced afternoons in fetid Committee rooms like greenhorn MPs who are delighted when just anyone at all at Westminster remembers their name?

Well… is it?

I like the idea. If Cameron does accept Clarke’s plan – and apparently he thinks it ‘elegant’ (an ironic gibe aimed at Clarke’s dishevelled chic?) – then we might just get the two classes of politician that make the constitutional lawyers so nauseous. There will be the English mules, ridden to death across the ever-proliferating Andes of Criminal Justice Bills, and the idling-Scotsmen – a species of puttering, flaneur politicians ripe with the bonhomie that comes from knowing that whilst the mules can do things that they can’t, they don’t want to do them anyway. Not when they could have a nice nap, then a languid cup-of-tea, followed by a complacent tete-a-tete with an indulgent lobby journalist who finds their style of laid-back, raconteur politician altogether more appealing than that of their legislatively-addled colleagues in unhappy Albion.

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2 Responses to “Clarke’s Constitutional Fix: Make Scottish MPs more like me”

  1. Paul Linford Says:

    “Elegant” in this context is, I think, a bit of a Sir Humphrey-ism on Cameron’s part. In the same way that “ambitious” means “unachievable” and “courageous” means “daft,” I suspect that by “elegant” he actually means “too damn clever by half.”

    This is a rather good blog by the way…will be blogrolling.

  2. adammcnestrie Says:

    Thank you. I’d offer to return the favour… but I beat you to it.

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