Yesterday, the Welsh government announced new guidelines to make school uniforms gender-neutral, which would mean an end to trousers being advertised for boys and skirts for girls. You can imagine the outrage if the UK government now tried to over-ride that decision, saying it was a load of silly nonsense.
The rumblings in Cardiff would bring down a building or two: how dare you interfere with the decisions of Wales’ democratically-elected government, would come the cries. And they would have a point.
When the Welsh voted – very narrowly – for devolution in 1997 that was that. Many areas of governance were handed over to the Welsh and they were allowed to get on with it – even if it meant, as eventually it did, to long waiting lists at Welsh hospitals as a result of different decisions on the NHS being made in Cardiff compared with Whitehall.
It seems to be a very different matter, however, when it comes to gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland. Yesterday the Commons voted to impose its own values on the province and passed motions to legalise gay marriage and make it easier for women in Northern Ireland to obtain an abortion on demand.
The laws won’t necessarily come into effect – if the currently-suspended Stormont Assembly is back up and running before the end of October then it could reverse the Commons decision.
Nevertheless, what the Commons did last night – and which it seems to be remarkably proud of this morning – is a liberal power-grab. Certain decisions need to be made in London while Stormont is suspended – over budgets etc. But there was no need whatsoever to impose changes in the law on abortion and gay marriage. English, Welsh and Scottish MPs have simply decided that the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland on these matters are beyond the pale and these poor, unenlightened people must be corrected.
The pro-abortion lobby likes to quote a poll by Amnesty International – the campaign organisation set up to champion human rights but which has since morphed into a pro-abortion campaign, refusing to recognise that unborn children might have any rights – which claimed that 66 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland wanted Westminster, in the absence of the Stormont Assembly, to reform the law.
Yet funny enough a Comres poll – held, like the Amnesty International one last autumn – found the opposite: 64 per cent said they didn't want MPs from other parts of the country to decide Northern Ireland’s abortion law and only 23 per cent believed that Westminster MPs should make this decision for them.
The most absurd spectacle is seeing Sinn Fein welcome the decision. Yes, a party whose very existence is based on the notion that Britain has no role poking its nose into Northern Ireland’s affairs and should get out, is now cheering on Westminster when it tramples on Northern Ireland’s democracy.
Some issues do make strange bedfellows. But from the point of view of consistency it is pretty obvious that, whatever the personal views of Westminster MPs on gay marriage and abortion, Westminster had no business interfering in these issues. To do so undermines the whole principle of devolution.