My head hurts!

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Okay, so, we’ve clearly established that Lib Dem MPs are being a bit daft opposing new laws to devolve pub licensing to local authorities, right? Well, it turns out (well, it’s news to a lily livered southerner like me), that in Scotland – where they already have liberalised licensing hours – Labour have just reneged on a coalition agreement to introduce legislation to devolve off-license licensing to local authorities. And the Lib Dem MSPs are up in arms:

A Lib Dem minister said: “In the past, we fought very hard to prevent rebellions and there was usually only one [Mike Rumbles], but now you could see the whole party in revolt.”

The cause of Lib Dem anger was the vacillation and confusion among Labour ministers over changes to off-licence opening hours. The agreed coalition position was to hand over control of opening hours to local licensing boards but, at the last minute, Labour ministers were persuaded to drop this policy by mutinous back-benchers.

One Lib Dem MSP said: “Labour ministers actually voted against one of the guiding principles of their own bill. We cannot live with that.”

Another said members of the Lib Dem parliamentary group were “spitting blood” over Labour’s capitulation and that MSPs had decided they were now in a “looser coalition” with Labour than before and would approach legislation on an “issue by issue” basis.

Well, yay to Lib Dem MSPs then, but you’ll forgive me if I’m a little confused. In both the cases of the Lib Dems and Labour, it would seem that both parties are totally all over place on this issue.

5 thoughts on “My head hurts!

  1. Devolution has certainly been the final nail in the coffin for the notion that any of the political parties might actually be led by principle. Because of the make up of the Scottish Parliament, all of the major national parties are now evolving completely differently in the Scottish Parliament to their Westminster counterparts.

  2. It is certainly a challenge, but I don’t see how you can make that conclusion.

    I would agree with you to the extent that parties develop differently under a PR system than under a FPTP system, where there is far greater pressure to rush headlong to the centre. MSPs can afford to be more principled than MPs.

  3. I agree that MSPs can afford to be more principled than MPs to an extent, although the nature of coalition politics throws a spanner into the works. My point is, though, that policy is inevitably shaped by the environment in which a party operates — and the environment (voting systems; distribution of seats between parties; which items are on the agenda…) of the Scottish Parliament is very different to that of Westminster. Scottish Labour and the Scottish Lib Dems are forced to cooperate on issues where they otherwise would not. This isn’t a problem with coalition politics because the opposite happens in Westminster when parties may automatically take opposing views because of the need to differentiate themselves.

    It’s not just the coalition parties either. There are now significant differences between the Scottish Conservatives and the London-based party, including on the issue of devolution itself (with the Scottish Tories now realising that the Scottish Parliament is the only way they have a voice in Scotland any more)! I recall this caused a real rift during the General Election in May.

  4. One of the joys of devolution James is that these divergences of opinion develop within parties.

    It isn’t a joy if it suggests that there is no common ideological rudder.

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