On Sunday 30 April 2006, Andrew Marr held a discussion with Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Leader of the SNP; Jo Swinson - the MP who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Scotland and Sir George Young, a Conservative MP
Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Now I'm joined by Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Leader of the SNP and leader of the SNP group in that Scottish parliament, by Jo Swinson, the Westminster MP and speaks for Liberal Democrats on Scotland, and in our Westminster studio, by Sir George Young, a Tory MP who is worried that the English are now losing out.
Jo, let's start with you.
Your party is of course in joint government in Scotland. One of the statistics that I think would surprise a lot of people is that 54% of Scotland GDP is public sector spent by the government, much, much more than the UK average which shows the level of subsidy which is still coming from England into Scotland.
Do you really think that's sustainable?
Well I think Scotland, having its own parliament and making its own choices in Edinburgh, gets a block grant from Westminster and it's up to the Scottish Parliament MSPs like Nicola, how to spend that. And in Scotland we've seen priorities such as introducing free personal care for the elderly. Such as abolishing tuition fees. Things that Labour hasn't done down in Westminster despite calls from many groups of people, that they should do that.
Nicola, one of the things that people say about Scotland is clearly true if you look at its statistics. It's simply more left wing than England. But one of the implications of that is that when it comes to something like the Health Service and Health Service reform actually there's lots of money going into the Scottish Health Service but you haven't had some of the improvements that have happened south of the border.
I think that's very true. You know there has been a vast amount of money poured into the Scottish Health Service but we still have in many respects longer waiting lists than there are south of the border. I think it's important that we find the right way of reforming the Health Service in Scotland so that it meets the needs of patients in Scotland.
But to back to the point you raised with Jo, you know, I think Scotland should become responsible for our own wealth creation. You know, we've had lower economic growth than the rest of the UK for 30 years or more. And we shouldn't simply be relying on a block grant. We should take responsibility for our own financial affairs.
If you did that of course...
...in order that we could create our own wealth.
If you did that of course, either in the short term, either spending would have to come down sharply or taxes would have to come up, wouldn't they?
That's not true. I think Scotland's a rich country, we've got a lot of talented people. If we had the ability to take our own decisions, cut corporation tax for example, like Ireland did, and do our economy, I think we'd be, you know, far better off.
But let's not also not forget that Gordon Brown is relying at the moment in North Sea oil. He's raking it in from the North Sea. Now I think Scotland would be better, in a better position if we took decisions ourselves about how to spend that vast wealth for the good of people here.
Diminishing asset mind you. But let's..
It's a long way to go Andrew.
Let's bring in Sir George Young, who's been listening to all of that down in London. Sir George, you are going to be backing what's called the Baker Bill which started in the House of Lords. Just explain to us the crucial point about that proposed change in the law.
Well the crucial point Andrew, is this, that I wish the Scottish Parliament well and I hope that takes roots and is a success. But there's unfinished business in that the English no longer have any leverage on social policy in Scotland. But the Scottish voter does have leverage on social policy in England. And actually it's worse than that because, by using Scottish MPs policies can be imposed on England against the wish of the majority of English MPs of all parties.
I think that's indefensible on the doorstep, I actually think it's unstable for the Constitution. And what the Baker Bill does is to say that where a Bill only applies to England and Wales, only English and Welsh MPs should vote on it. And that in a sense replicates the post-devolution situation in England but without going to the expense of an English parliament. And actually that procedure was backed by, unanimously, by a party, an all-party group some five or six years ago. But the government is in denial, they say the best thing to do about the West Lothian question is not to ask it. Now that's not a responsible answer, to actually quite a serious constitutional problem.
Do you think there's any chance at all, clearly with the Labour majority at the moment there isn't any chance, of getting this kind of change in the next few years?
Well I think the first thing to do is actually to persuade the government there is an issue. And there are a range of solutions - you could reduce the number of Scottish MPs, which was the response to what happened in Northern Ireland. You could have an English Parliament, which I don't personally favour. Or you can have the solution which I am actually quite keen on, which is English and Welsh MPs voting on domestic legislation. But so far the government refuse to admit there's a problem. They used to say, well the answer is regional assemblies.
But even that alibi has disappeared after the no vote in the north east. So I think in the short term there's not a lot of prospect. But more and more Labour MPs, and actually Lib Dem MPs, recognise there is an issue. And we ought to have a serious discussion now, before we get to a parliament where the position may be far more finely balanced than it is at the moment. And the Scottish MPs are crucial, not just to the occasional vote when there's a rebellion by Labour MPs, but actually forcing through the whole programme for a whole parliament. So I think it's important we get this on the agenda and have a serious discussion about a range of options.
People always say in response to this, or some people say in response to this it will be two classes of MPs and that wouldn't be sustainable at Westminster. And they also ask whether the common people of England are really that excited about this issue.
Well I think, I think they are getting more excited. Foundation hospitals, top-up fees were two votes that the government won and imposed on England solutions that actually don't exist in Scotland. The Scottish MPs were voting for England, something which they didn't actually have in Scotland. And it is actually going up the agenda on two classes of MPs. In a certain sense there are already two classes of MPs and that I get representations from constituents on health, social services, transport and education.
And the Scottish Westminster MPs don't, because all those issues are devolved to the MSP. So already there is a differential in the workload and the responsibilities of MPs. But I would keep the full voting rights on defence, on taxation, on foreign affairs. But in order to maintain the integrity of a constitution, in order to rebalance it, post-devolution, I do think the very modest step proposed in the Baker Bill is a sensible way forward for whichever government is in power.
OK. Thank you very much indeed. Jo, that is actually an irresistible argument in that it may be inconvenient for Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party but in logic you can't, you haven't got an answer to that, have you?
Well, I think Sir George Young is right to say that there is a problem at the moment, that Labour is in denial and want the issue to go away.
I think it's good that the issue is being discussed and this is a mechanism for it to be discussed. But while this apparent solution is superficially attractive and simple, there are actually problems with it. First of all, English only or English and Welsh only legislation is a mess. In the Scotland Act Westminster retains the right to impose in Scotland any legislation that's passed, without any further votes.
I mean there's no polite way of asking this, but do you feel under-employed as a Scottish MP?
Well I certainly think, my constituents know that I'm very hard-working MP and I certainly have more tasks to do than there are hours in the day.
I'm sure you are. Nicola, what's the SNP view of English votes for English laws?
SNP MPs don't vote on English-only matters, there will be occasions where something that appears to be English only does affect Scotland because it affects the Barnett Formula for example, but I think it's unsustainable to have Scottish MPs voting on matters that are purely English when the same doesn't happen in reverse.
Now, I think the solution, because there are anomalies in the situation of independence. Independence for England and for Scotland, and certainly the polls in Scotland show that that's a solution that is gathering support as did the Moray by-election on Thursday.
Well there we go, a cry for English independence from Edinburgh. Thank you both very, very much indeed for joining us. Thank you Sir George Young, also in London.
NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.
Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy
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