21 Jan 2015

SNP MPs would vote on English matters – Sturgeon

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon causes a stir ahead of the election after saying that nationalists elected in May would be prepared to vote on the English NHS at Westminster.

Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs do not currently vote on English issues which do not directly affect Scotland, but Ms Sturgeon said this would change after the general election.

With the opinion polls pointing to another hung parliament, this could prove significant.

Amid calls for “English votes for English laws”, as more powers are devolved to Scotland following the no vote in the independence referendum, the SNP leader said her MPs would take part in votes on the English NHS as a way of protecting the Scottish budget and thwarting privatisation.

Her stance is controversial in some Conservative circles, where there is pressure to bar Scottish MPs from voting on English-only issues.

‘Union at risk’

Conservative Defence Minister Anna Soubry accused Ms Sturgeon of fuelling demands from some English MPs to be given a greater say over English-only matters to undermine the union.

“She puts our union at risk again. I think she plays with dangerous stuff,” Ms Soubry told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“She is playing into the hands of those people who get much more irate than I do about ‘English votes for English laws’. You’re just fuelling those people who want to see this separation in our parliament.”

In contrast, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said Scottish MPs were entitled to vote on all issues at Westminster.

“Scottish colleagues can vote on all issues in parliament and it is really important that they do so,” he said.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said Scots should vote Labour if they wanted a better health service.

‘Good for England’

The SNP government in Edinburgh has control over the NHS in Scotland, but Ms Sturgeon said it would be “good for England” if SNP MPs voted to protect the English NHS from privatisation.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “The current Westminster agenda of austerity, privatisation and patient charging in the NHS in England threatens to harm Scotland’s budget, on which our NHS depends.

“Therefore, SNP MPs elected in May are prepared to vote for a bill which would restore the national health service in England to the accountable public service it was always meant to be.”

Although the SNP was on the losing side in the referendum in September, its membership has increased significantly since then, along with its standing in the opinion polls.

If it succeeds in increasing its representation at Westminster in May, it could find itself holding the balance of power in a hung parliament. It has ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives, but a deal with Labour is a possibility.