As has been widely reported on the web (pro-independence sites, at least), Polly Toynbee made comments which have created a stir [See WoS and ‘No Jocks Please, We’re British’]. I asked her to clarify, an opportunity which she didn’t take.
What caused the original ruckus?
On Sunday Politics London, Toynbee said,
‘….. After we have the Scottish referendum it's quite clear that Scotland, one way or another, will be moving further away. I don't think you could have ….. a leader of a national party being a Scot. ….’
After Andrew Neil interjected she continued,
‘…. I think a Scottish constituency as a leader of a national party would now be too difficult or indeed to hold a lot of the great offices of state.’
I can understand, but don’t agree with, the logic which I believe lies behind her comments and so I gave her a chance to clarify her views. In a short exchange of emails she wrote 5 sentences in total in reply to my two quite lengthy messages. I’ve put my emails at the end and Toynbee’s replies are below,
‘Yes, an MP for a Scottish constituency can certainly be Foreign or Defence secretary or DWP or any non-devolved role. But not say, health or education, or universities or care etc. So I think being leader, but not with a credible role in those key areas would be difficult. I suspect Brown will be the last.‘
‘Well, it does concern me. Just as the West Lothian question does too. These may not be resolvable in an altogether logical way and we shall just muddle along. Douglas Alexander will be a fine Foreign Sec – [sic]‘
The opportunity was there to give us some insight into her thoughts but, unfortunately, she decided not to go there AND she ignored almost all my questions, one of which was asked twice.
She is concerned ….. but about what I do not know.
My original email (sent 23.48 13 April)
I'm interested in your comments, made on Sunday Politics London on 13 April, about it being too difficult for an MP from a Scottish constituency to lead one of the UK national parties or to hold some of the great offices of state.
You said (my best attempt at transcribing your words),
As for Danny Alexander you'll not possibly have a Scot ..... After the ….. After we have the Scottish referendum it's quite clear that Scotland, one way or another, will be moving further away. I don't think you could have the leader of a national, do you think so, a leader of a national party being a Scot. I don't mean we'll be sending them home.
After Andrew Neil interjected you continued,
Oh, indeed, absolutely. I don't think a Scottish constituency as a leader of a national party would now be too difficult or indeed to hold a lot of the great offices of state.
I'm interested in why you believe this.
In what way would "Scotland ..... be moving further away"?
What particular offices of state should be beyond Scottish constituency MPs?
What you suggest seems to go way beyond, in the opposite direction, the unfairness of Scottish constituency MPs being able to vote on rUK matters which are devolved to Scotland. I understand it is Scottish MPs from the UK national parties who vote on such matters, the SNP MPs abstaining.
After a No vote in the independence referendum, Scotland would still be in the Union, would have its devolved administration and UK national parties would operate in Scotland. This is the situation which has pertained since the Scottish Parliament re-opened in 1999.
Why then should there be the two restrictions you suggest?
Even if Scotland were 'moving further away', why should this prevent a Scottish constituency MP from leading his/her national party?
Would you see it possible for a Scottish constituency MP to hold office for a UK department whose responsibilities were not devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
I hope you are able to reply in which case please accept my thanks. If it was inappropriate to contact you then please accept my apologies.
My second email (sent 10.49 14 April)
Thank you for your very prompt reply - you must be very busy - but if I may ask five more short questions.
In what way would "Scotland ..... be moving further away" in the event of a No vote?
I understand the logic of your position but, as always, it is the implications and perceptions which play loudest.
Following through on your views, is it not the case that the leader of a UK national party and, therefore the Prime Minister, must be an English constituency MP, given that there are devolved administrations in the other 3 countries?
Does it concern you that one country, albeit by far the largest, would have a 'lock down' on these roles?
Does it concern you that a Scottish constituency MP with ambitions for high office would have to move to England?
The perception, I suspect, amongst many will be that Scottish constituency MPs are second tier politicians because there is now a 'glass ceiling' separating them from their (possible) ambitions. Does this concern you?