Will Tam dalyell’s ‘West Lothian Question’ now be answered?

LINLITHGOW. Donaldson's School, Book revue launch. Far from the Madding Crowd presents, James Naughtie and Tam Dalyell in conversation. GROUP PICTURES FEATURE "FAR FROM MADDING CROWD" ORGANISERS (L TO R)  SALLY PATTLE, JAMES NAUGHTIE, JILL PATTLE AND TAM DALYELL
LINLITHGOW. Donaldson's School, Book revue launch. Far from the Madding Crowd presents, James Naughtie and Tam Dalyell in conversation. GROUP PICTURES FEATURE "FAR FROM MADDING CROWD" ORGANISERS (L TO R) SALLY PATTLE, JAMES NAUGHTIE, JILL PATTLE AND TAM DALYELL

A question first posed in Parliament in 1977 has returned to the forefront of the political agenda nearly 40 years later in the wake of the Scottish Independence referendum.

Although Scotland rejected the option of going it alone, much of the post-referendum speculation has been on the likelihood of greater devolved powers from Westminster to Holyrood.

That pledge has led to plans for greater devolved power for Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as regions in England.

Such promises, which came late in the Referendum by the Better Together coalition, have been picked up on by pro-Independence campaigners as the reed which swaying undecided voters clung to and, as such, were persuaded not to take the massive leap of faith required for Scotland to gain independence.

What that has done, though, has renewed speculation over the fate and role of Scots MPs in Westminster.

In effect, it has exhumed a ghost which many politicians would prefer remained undisturbed as it is a Gordian knot which, if unraveled, could dismantle British politics as we know it.

That takes us full circle to the introductory paragraph which is, of course, an allusion to the “West Lothian Question”, the then Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell’s most telling interjection in the House of Commons in his long, distinguished and, on occasion, controversial career in the House of Commons.

Simply put, the “question” is: ‘‘Why should Scots MP at Westminster vote on exclusively English affairs when English MPs do not vote on exclusively Scottish affairs?”

It is a question which has come to haunt Mr Dalyell, now aged 82, over the years and one on which he was quizzed again in light of last Thursday’s referendum result.

In an interview with Kirsty Wark for the BBC, Mr Dalyell resorted to classical allusion to explain his relationship with the “West Lothian Question”.

It was that theme to which he returned this week.

“I see myself as Cassandra,’’ he said with seeming regret, “who was raped by the God Apollo and, as compensation, was given the gift of prophecy.

“But it was a curse as no-one believed her and, in a sense, that is my position.”

Mr Dalyell said he was still “very engaged in constitutional issues” and that he was “extremely concerned for the future of Scotland.”

He said that while he was appreciative of the enormous turn-out to vote in Thursday’s Independence referendum (more than 84 per cent of registered voters went to their local polling station), he did not think the majority of voters had paid much heed to constitutional issues.

“They may have been politically engaged on issues like deprivation and the health service,” he said, “but on constitutional engagement, I think, less so.”

Mr Dalyell, elected to Westminster at the age of 29 in 1962, was formerly a teacher at Bo’ness Academy.

He did National Service with the Royal Scots Greys in Germany, an experience, he said, which gave him more authority to challenge the Government on military policy than the majority of members of Parliament who had never worn a uniform. He was educatedat Harecroft Hall, Cumbria, and Eton College and read Mathematics at Cambridge.