EVEL: OUR NEW BEST FRIEND?

At the time of David Cameron's breakfast broadcast on the morning after the Referendum before, he caused a stir by saying that any progress towards further devolution for Scotland must be matched in pace by similar for England.  Wiser heads in Better Together (yes there were some!) suggested this notion was not only comprehensively ill timed and insensitive, but liable to encourage the very feelings of disenchantment and frustration north of the border he was supposedly engaged in damping down.

But, cloth ears being something of a speciality in his party - in England at least - he ploughed on with the very vocal encouragement of such towering parliamentary intellects as John Redwood.  The result this month was the advent of EVEL, English votes for English laws.  Cue much outrage, some real, some manufactured out of a sense of political duty. It's my contention that there is another prism through which to view this constitutional adjustment.

First of let's acknowledge that Scottish MP's having the freedom to vote on matters such as English health and eduction whilst their English counterparts have no such locus in decision making for Scotland is a long standing anomaly.  (The West Lothian question remains a stubborn conundrum all these years after Scotland's parliament resumed  those duties permitted to it).  I applauded the SNP's decision to take self denying ordinance with these categories of votes in Westminster, and was sorry they reneged on it over fox-hunting - even though I recognised the strategic arguments for doing so.

But now we have entered new and uncharted constitutional waters.  There are voices urging UK federalism as an alternative to independence for Scotland or as a means of "killing it stone dead." (Pace Lord Robertson!) There are calls for a second "Act of Union" with much the same aim.  There has been a concerted attempt not to fulfil or to dilute the rather modest proposals in the Scotland Act, and a dogged refusal to contemplate or debate perfectly reasonable amendments to it.

Yet if we apply the glass half full principle to these recent events, I think those of us still committed to independence as the endgame can see a gradual move towards it - however frustrating the pace of progress.

First off, EVEL will have precisely the effect predicted on that ill fated September morning.  Many people who plighted their troth to NO, will feel a real sense of injustice at the creation at a stroke of two classes of  UK MP's. English commentators - even those whose job it is to monitor matters political - can still be heard on the airwaves parroting the thought that "well after all English MP's can't vote in Holyrood".  Of course they can't m'dears. They weren't elected as MSP's were they?  But a very large tranche of Scots successfully stood for Westminster seats as - they thought - full members of the House of Commons.

Secondly the recent stushies over health and education in England, have underlined how differently things ae already done in Scotland and - although our comparable services are way short of perfect - we seem to have avoided wholesale industrial unrest in our hospitals or totally fragmented our educational provision. The policy paths in these and much else are ever more divergent.

And when we were denied last week the chance to re-instate the right to remain to foreign graduates whose skills and presence Scotland values and needs, even the Scottish Tories told their solitary Westminster representative - and therefore Secretary of State for Scotland by default - that his endorsement of the English veto was mince. (It's a technical term by the way.)

Meanwhile hearken unto the Holyrood culture committee's hearing  a few days back starring, inter alia, the good Lord Hall, top banana at the BBC.  And hints were strewn that the late lamented Scottish Six might finally become a reality. It is many years since I wrote approvingly of such a notion which was vetoed in London by, amongst other senior figures, Gordon Brown. If this is really being dusted down, then the proposal to federalise the BBC might again find some legs. (though it would also have to find decent resources.)

To recap - The Scottish Six was not intended to be a toy town alternative to the London based News at Six, with a bus crash in Bothwell - nobody hurt - climbing to the top of the news. Instead it would mean that Scottish based editors would deliver a pick and mix of top stories from here and abroad, taking those packages from BBC's international  correspondents which it couldn't hope to finance itself, but analysing these and other stories through the prism of Scottish sensibilities. And adding into the mix stories of major importance to Scotland but rightly judged to be of less interest in London or Cornwall.

The thing is that we are treated daily and nightly to the reverse of that proposition. Yesterday the top stories in the BBC's "national" offerings were the Anglican communion's row over same sex marriage, the English education system's failure to have enough places in its schools thanks to the dismantling of local authority strategic  control, the latest in the dispute between the English health secretary and junior doctors in England, and the progress of the English test team in South Africa. They might not have been ignored in a Scottish Six, but logic tells you they would be at the tail end of the news list if they didn't fall of it.  This is not parochialism, it's priorities.

In short, as we approach the run-up to yet another election there are, I believe, quite genuine reasons to be cheerful for all Scots of all persuasions who believe this small nation must take control of its own destiny, not only to be true to its own values and priorities but to usher in a new era of friendly co-operation with our nearest neighbours by removing cross border grudges.