EVEL was never an adequate solution to democratic inequality in the UK
EVEL was a divisive and counterproductive step and its repeal is welcome. Unless we defeat the roots of the problems in our democracy, however, the EVEL in our politics will always come back to haunt us.
News that the government is to abandon its much-derided and divisive English Votes for English Laws system (by which non-English MPs were excluded from certain aspects of parliamentary business) has largely been met with a collective shrug. EVEL’s introduction was a great controversy at its time and I led the opposition with an emergency debate in 2015. It’s repeal has been rather less excitable, with just an hour allocated tonight to discuss what amounts to a major constitutional reversal.
EVEL was a divisive and counterproductive step and its repeal is welcome. While its deployment since 2015 will always leave a scar in our understanding of Parliament as a shared institution for the whole United Kingdom it will go some way towards healing the wound. I fear, however, that in reversing this misstep the government is merely treating a symptom of an enduring problem without any thought to curing the underlying disease.
We need a fully federal system for the UK and to move beyond this halfway house
EVEL was created by the Conservatives to exploit English nationalism, based on valid concerns that England’s lack of devolved government to match Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland left them underrepresented. Its imposition in 2015 led to a mirroring backlash of nationalism from the rest of the UK, based on valid concerns that our shared UK Parliament should not be distorted into a two-tier system.
Valid concerns all round – because the root of the problem has always been representation and equality, and the nationalist grievances that arise when these are not respected. When bad faith actors seek to divide us and drive borders between people in our country we should, at a minimum, not give them extra reasons to do so.
EVEL was never an adequate solution to democratic inequality in the United Kingdom – but a lasting solution is needed.
The establishment of regional English parliaments would be a welcome step along this road. We need a fully federal system for the UK and to move beyond this halfway house created by short-sighted Labour and Conservative governments of the past. This would address the imbalances that have fuelled the grievances of EVEL – and bring us a step closer to being the modern democracy that our citizens deserve.
Ultimately the problem is not really any one parliamentary procedure but a system that is incoherent and outdated – and crying out for reform both constitutional and political.
People from across the UK feel that the Westminster system is too often too distant from their lives and their views. We do not fix that either by applying arcane parliamentary procedures or by repealing them. We do it by making votes matter through more proportional elections, by empowering communities through giving power back from central government, and – ultimately – by treating the people of the UK not as subjects but as citizens.
Such bold and progressive changes may be beyond the imagination of our current government. Unless we defeat the roots of the problems in our democracy, however, the EVEL in our politics will always come back to haunt us.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland.
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