It doesn’t seem that William Hague has offered a decisive answer to the West Lothian question today. Indeed, judging by the reaction of the SNP and Tory MPs, the proposal that the Conservative Leader of the House has set out is encouraging many more questions.
These questions include ‘just how much havoc can the SNP still wreak in Westminster’ – something that Tory MPs are asking but one the SNP will surely be voicing in private too. Or ‘how much more devolution can we wrangle from Westminster?’ – something the SNP is saying quite publicly, with Stewart Hosie saying ‘until income tax – for example – is devolved in full, it is illogical and wrong for anyone to carve Scottish MPs out of important decision-making’. Hosie added that ‘paradoxically William Hague has actually made the case today for full fiscal devolution’.
Tory MPs accept in private that they won’t cause trouble about today’s announcement because they don’t want to jeopardise their party’s chances in the General Election. But some are miffed that Hague has announced something tricky that he won’t then have to deal with himself because he is standing down at this election. One says ‘it’s all very well for Hague to say this now but he doesn’t have to face Mr Salmond in May’.
Bill Cash predicts that Hague’s chosen ‘effective veto’ will lead to chaos in the Commons. He says:
‘I find it extremely difficult to understand the logic to support option 3 [the effective veto]. I do not think the issue is resolved.’
Andrew Bridgen, who also favoured the first option of an outright ban, says:
‘It’s going to be hard to explain to the electorate. I am very concerned that Alex Salmond and the SNP will ruthlessly exploit the proposals. Alex Salmond is a shrewd political operator and will cause chaos with this as he studies the political weather before he even decides which side of bed to get out of.’
So the next question about the West Lothian question is when is this all going to kick off again? The only answer we have is that it won’t be before the election.