The interesting thing about the lapsing of Scotland’s tax-varying powers is…….. No, just joking, I think 3 posts in a row is enough on that subject for now. Not that it’s necessarily time to move on but it may be time for a short break at least. (And yes, I know the power hasn’t lapsed, earlier error(s) on that score to one side)

A great hip-shaking man once said that we need a little less conversation and a little more action and so it will prove with regard to the great debate over tuition fees as a vote on the issue that has sent many a student into a foaming frenzy is drawing ever closer.

While frustrated Lib Dems are quite free to question what Labour’s alternative policy would be, you don’t enter into a powerful coalition only to point fingers at the other side when the going gets tough so Labour are equally free to vote the coalition proposal down. So, putting things simply, were the vote on tuition fees to be split by the parties of the coalition against everyone else, then, as I understand it, the result would be as follows:

For – 363
Conservatives – 306
Liberal Democrats – 57

Against – 286
Labour – 258
DUP – 8
SNP – 6
Sinn Fein – 5
PC – 3
SDLP – 3
Greens – 1
Others – 2

With students south of the border already successfully targetting Lib Dem MPs to make good on their signed pledges to oppose rises in tuition fees (through the unfortunately named ‘decapitation strategy’), the result of any future vote may well come down to what the Scottish MPs decide to do.

Needless to say, Scottish MPs do not have many constituents who will be affected by these changes (although it could be argued that Scotland would receive less money if England goes ahead with this plan for fees) so, following that logic, Scottish MPs should really abstain from the vote. However, it is unlikely to work that way in practice with the many Labour and SNP MPs expected to vote against the proposal and David Mundell (bless) expected to vote in favour. That leaves the 11 Scottish Lib Dems MPs in an even more awkward position than their southern colleagues and, even more awkwardly, quite possibly holding the balance of power.

It is therefore worthwhile to examine in detail what the position on tuition fees is for each of the Scottish Lib Dem MPs:

Charles Kennedy/Menzies Campbell – An open and shut case. The former Liberal Democrat leaders have stated unequivocally that they disagree with the “direction and thrust of the Coalition’s approach to tuition fees” and “would find it very difficult to abstain”. In what is a startling example of the change in direction that the Liberal Democrats have taken from recent past leaders to the current incumbent, it is clear that Kennedy and Campbell will be voting against Nick Clegg’s preferred result.

Mike Crockart – The newly-installed Edinburgh West MP is said to be considering his position as aide to Michael Moore as he wrestles with the “difficult” decision having signed a pledge not to raise fees. Looks likely to abstain or vote against.

Malcolm Bruce – Has said that he is “very sympathetic to the students’ cause” but has not yet stated how he will vote.

Alan Reid/John Thurso/Robert Smith – The latest explanation for not yet providing a decision from these Lib Dem MPs is a mix of waiting and seeing, wanting time to study the proposals and wanting as progressive a solution as possible. All perfectly valid points of view for such a complicated vote to have to make but this trio will have to go down as undecideds for now.

Alistair Carmichael – As Deputy Chief Whip, the Orkney & Shetland MP is largely expected to vote in favour of the increase to fees in what is, geographically, the most extreme example of the West Lothian Question in action. Indeed, the Daily Mail reports that he is at the forefront of a deal that would see backbenchers abstain and Minister vote in favour.

Jo Swinson – Has valiantly put her head above the parapet early and explained in fine detail why she will be voting in favour of a fee increase alongside the coalition.

Michael Moore – Cannot vote against the coalition’s proposals without losing his job and neither Nick Clegg nor David Cameron would want a third Scottish Secretary in such quick succession. Will surely vote in favour.

Danny Alexander – Given that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had written before the election that the Liberal Democrats should abandon their pledge on tuition fees, it will come as no surprise that the MP representing Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch, & Strathspey will vote in favour of increasing fees.

So, I make that to be:

2 Scottish Lib Dem MPs against
5 Scottish Lib Dem MPs undecideds
4 Scottish Lib Dem MPs for

It’s a mixed bag but the complications do not stop there. The next vote on tuition fees is largely expected to take place before Christmas and one of the biggest issues in the Holyrood campaign will be whether Scottish students should pay fees north of the border. Is it feasible for a constituency to have a Scottish MP voting in favour of English universities charging up to £9,000 a year in fees while the Scottish MSP of the same party and for the same constituency is campaigning for no fees to be applied in Scotland?

The West Lothian Question is a problem that won’t go away. There have been many proposed solutions to the anomaly, two of which came from either side of the coalition Government.

As far as I can make out, The Conservatives Party’s proposed solution is ‘English votes for English laws’ (as included in its manifesto) and the Liberal Democrats’ proposed solution is a form of federalism where England would have an English Parliament within which it would make its own devolved decisions. Both solutions would dictate that Scottish politicians, now and then, should not have a say over how other nations within the UK will conduct its own affairs.

So, for me, there are two and a half reasons why Scotland’s Liberal Democrat MPs should not be voting in favour of increasing tuition fees in England – (1) their party’s proposed solution to the West Lothian Question precludes them from having a say, (1.5) it would reduce the money going to Scotland and, more pertinently, (2.5) they signed a pledge promising not to.

I’m not going to talk about something as unseemly as ‘decapitation’ but, well, let’s just wait and see what all of our Scottish MPs contribute to this vote, and why, particularly unpredictable the Lib Dems.