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Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Time for an English parliament?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Two phrases were once guaranteed to glaze the eyes of even Westminster anoraks - the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula.

Westminster and Holyrood
Commons clash with Scottish parliament

A few understood them. The rest were happy to know only that they related to the relationship between England and Scotland, and leave it at that.

But suddenly, thanks to Ken Clarke and, it is suspected, the World Cup, they are the issues of the day.

So much so that demands for an English parliament, demanded by groups including the English Democrats, are growing.

And the notion that England will never now accept a Scottish MP as prime minister is being put about - most loudly, it has to be said, by Tories attempting to undermine Gordon Brown.

Right to vote

It is widely claimed that Mr Brown's loud proclamations about Britishness and his support for England in the football are indications of his own nervousness about his Scottishness.

So what's it all about, and why?

Lord Joel Barnett
Lord Barnett has called for funding change

First, there is the West Lothian Question, named after the parliamentary constituency held from 1962 by the man who first raised it, Tam Dalyell.

This basically highlights the unfairness of Scots MPs in Westminster being able to vote to bring in a policy for England which, thanks to devolution, does not actually cover Scotland, while English MPs have no say on that same issue in Scotland.

Since devolution in 1999 those policies include education reforms, health, prisons, agriculture and transport.

So, for example, Tony Blair's controversial education reforms, which recently sparked a backbench Labour rebellion, were passed thanks, not only to Tory votes but those of loyalist Scottish MPs whose constituents are not affected.

Now, the Tories seem set to meet their manifesto commitment and come up with a mechanism for barring Scottish MPs from voting on English-only issues.

They are not, however, going so far as to back demands for an English parliament - something the government is firmly opposed to - although pressure groups pushing the idea believe it is the only way to square the circle.

Whole hog

Tory frontbencher Alan Duncan has declared he believes it is "almost impossible" to have a Scottish prime minister, because of the West Lothian question.

All this has also been seized on by Scottish nationalists who insist the only effective answer is to go the whole hog and give the country full independence.

Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke
Ken Clarke is proposing a ban on Scottish MPs in some votes

The World Cup played its part because of the number of Scots - including the Labour leader in the Scottish parliament, Jack McConnell - who declared they wanted England to lose to other nations.

Meanwhile the Barnett formula is the mechanism under which the Treasury divides public spending between England, Scotland and Wales, broadly based on population.

It was created in 1978 by Labour's chief secretary to the treasury Joel, now Lord, Barnett and currently sees Scotland getting 1,500 more cash to spend on public services for each member of the population than England.

But Lord Barnett has now claimed the system is unfair and should be based on need.

The Tories say the whole questioning of England/Scotland relations is the inevitable outcome of devolution which, they claim, created the problem and placed impossible new strains on relations between England and Scotland.

Whether this is all a passing storm, or will lead to a fundamental review of relations within the United Kingdom - or even an English parliament - remains to be seen.


English voters 'oppose Scots PM'
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19 Jun 06 |  Scotland

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