Scotland’s relationship with England is complicated. The Auld Enemy is the international football team we Scots wish to beat most. We desperately want England to feel the same way about us, whilst secretly worrying Germany or Argentina matter more. And when we hold our own against them – as we did at Wembley – it’s a moral victory

Our chippiness towards England goes beyond sporting bragging rights. We’re always alert to any suggestion England doesn’t take Scotland seriously. Not everyone in England, after all, has the emotional intelligence of Marcus Rashford.

Yet when it comes to Union politics, England’s the one not taken seriously. Scotland and Northern Ireland dominate coverage. Yet England represents over 80 per cent of the UK. The elephant in the room, or the Union, is England. And as we know, if elephants throw their weight around they can do a lot of damage.

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Unfairly, England often gets a bad press. England’s sheer size may make it the dominant part of the UK, but it’s never for the most part sought to dominate. Sir Tom Devine – leading authority on the Anglo-Scottish Union’s history – attributes the stability and strength of this partnership for most of its 300-plus years to England’s tolerance and respect for Scotland’s position as a historic nation. This has meant that when England could have exerted power over Scotland, it has chosen instead to act with restraint.

Devolution exemplifies this. Over two thirds of spending in Scotland is controlled by the Scottish Government. And when the fiscal powers recommended by the Smith Commission become fully operational, over half of Scotland’s budget will come from revenue raised in Scotland.

I remember, as a minister, describing to the Deputy Minister-President of Bavaria the Scottish Government’s and Parliament’s powers. She was staggered by their extent of it compared to her own historic German state. It’s odd therefore that Scottish nationalists are hell bent on leaving a union devolving power, to re-join a European one remorselessly moving in the opposite direction.

In their fascinating book, Englishness, Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones address the gap in understanding English attitudes. Their research evidences English discontent with the constitutional status quo and the risk of growing ambivalence within England to the Union. When asked their constitutional preferences, English respondents eschewed the most radical solutions. Only 16% supported the creation of an English Parliament. An even smaller 9% favoured regional assemblies. The most popular option by far was English Votes for English Laws at 40%.

All the more surprising then that Michael Gove proposes to abolish English Votes for English Laws to rejuvenate the Union. The Times reported that Scottish MPs will be given the right to vote down English legislation in what is described “as a major constitutional re-form”.

My reaction to this news was like Manuel’s stock response to Basil’s latest baffling instruction in Fawlty Towers – “que?” What on earth does he mean by that?

“EVEL” certainly makes status-conscious Scottish MPs hot under the collar. Hard to believe it’s the talk of the steamie though or will make a difference to how Scots feel about Scotland’s place in the Union.

David Cameron certainly erred badly in launching his answer to the West Lothian Question on the morning after Scotland voted decisively to remain in the UK. An error compounded by his then Chief Whip – ironically one Michael Gove – over-briefing the Times that further devolution promised during the referendum was conditional on delivery of EVEL. It never was.

Many urban myths have grown up around EVEL – an acronym doing no favours to what is a very modest Commons procedural change. And one making little practical difference when the Government enjoys a majority of 80. But it may matter one day.

The most visceral opposition to Cameron’s announcement came not from the SNP – whose EVEL rage is synthetic and opportunistic – but from the Labour Party, then sitting on 41 Scottish seats. Following their 2015 Scottish near wipe-out, Labour have tried to re-write history and, incredibly, blame EVEL for their demise north of the border.

This continues Labour’s years of demonising in Scotland the ‘wicked Tories’, a strategy which helped to open the door for the SNP. Blaming someone else is easier than confronting your own failings. Labour will, however, find it hard to recover in Scotland without accepting their own part in the rise of Scottish nationalism. Not least neglecting – when establishing the Scottish Parliament – the glue holding together the UK.

More significantly, EVEL doesn’t do what the Times report alleges, but the opposite. Scottish MPs’ right to vote against English legislation remains intact. They can continue to vote throughout the passage of English-only legislation. Such legislation cannot however be imposed on England, without the consent of a majority of its elected representatives. The best way to think of EVEL is as an English legislative consent motion.

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We’re already used to Scottish legislative consent motions. They reflect the convention – now embedded in statute – that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Prior to Brexit this process worked well. Only once did the Scottish Parliament withhold legislative consent and that was to a bill on a matter reserved to the UK Parliament.

Few would argue that Brexit has been a normal event. That said, the concept of legislative consent today looks pretty battered. If the UK Government is serious about rejuvenating the Union it might be better advised breathing new life into Scotland’s legislative consent motions, rather than ditching England’s. This would better demonstrate the restraint and tolerance at the heart of the Union’s 314-year-old success. It might also help reassure the English elephant that throwing its weight around isn’t necessary to ensure its interests are properly recognised.

Parity of consent – how could fair-minded Scots or English object to that?

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