In the event of a Yes vote, where would Westminster politicians from north of the border go?by Peter Riddell / September 5, 2014 / Leave a comment
Of all the many uncertainties that would be created by a Scottish Yes vote on September 18th, none may be trickier than the position of Scottish MPs at Westminster. The challenges are both constitutional and political and could affect the legitimacy and viability of a UK government formed after next May’s general election. Could a majority or minority government headed by Ed Miliband have the authority to govern if it was dependent on Scottish Labour MPs who would be departing only a year or so later?
The referendum itself will in legal or constitutional terms not change the position of the 59 MPs from Scotland in Westminster at present. It starts a process of disengagement, and does not complete it. The MPs can only be removed by an act of the Westminster Parliament linked to the completion of a period of negotiations about how to separate Scotland from the present UK. So the MPs will remain at Westminster not just up to the general election but beyond it, since it is very unlikely that the negotiations will be completed by the end of next March when the Westminster parliament will be dissolved and election campaigning will start.
The real challenge is political. Whatever their legal rights, many English MPs and the press will see the Scottish MPs as different—a transitional group—from the day after the referendum if the vote is Yes. There will be pressure on them not to “interfere” in non-Scottish business.
A thorough report by the Lords Constitution Committee earlier this year said Scottish MPs should remain members of the Commons for as long as Scotland remains part of the UK. Until then, nothing would legally change and the Scottish MPs would be entitled to represent their constituents. But should they retain their current rights? Should they be permitted to vote on non-Scottish issues? Or, should they recuse themselves and some type of formal limit be introduced immediately? And should Scottish…