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The SNP's EVEL Crocodile Tears

23/07/2015 11:26 BST | Updated 22/07/2016 10:59 BST

Pete Wishart is not one to mince his words. The nationalists' de facto spokesman on English votes for English laws (EVEL) launched a broadside on the floor of the house last week. For the SNP leader of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the proposals on the table are "a complete and utter mess".

Of course, it's easy to see his bone of contention. The official party line is that it's virtually impossible to disentangle English only legislation from interests north of the border. Staffers in the party's London HQ reckon the Government is underestimating the number of bills that affect Scottish voters.

During the mammoth debate on EVEL last week tensions were running high, the session had to be extended by three hours just to fit in those eager to speak. Nicola Sturgeon's party were predictably incensed, with Alex Salmond on notably boisterous form.

I'm not entirely convinced at this display of muscle though, the SNP stands to gain much more than it'll loose from EVEL for three key reasons.

Firstly, there's an argument to be made that no matter what form the settlement arrives at, it will do irreconcilable damage to the union. Of all the arguments against the Government's plans this one holds particular weight within the Labour Party.

The biggest proponent of that line is Gordon Brown. The former Prime Minister's valedictory speech in the Commons was a rallying cry against a system which "mimics the nationalists by driving a wedge between Scotland and England".

Some nationalists will be licking their lips at the prospect of specific MPs being singled out for special treatment. It's another step towards a more defined English identity, and a further proof point to the 'them and us' narrative.

Secondly, it appears that the SNP's practical concerns over funding will be taken seriously by the Government. Chris Grayling, who is leading on the plan for the Government, returned to the Commons last week to make that point "crystal clear".

The Leader of the House confirmed that all MPs will approve departmental spending, which in turn affects the amount of cash received by devolved institutions via the Barnett formula. In any case, new bills that affect funding arrangements in other parts of the UK have to be absorbed into an individual department's overall and agreed budget.

Lastly, it's debateable how much influence the SNP will actually be losing if the Government's plans are put in place. One well-worn estimate suggests that only 21 out of 5,000 divisions since 1997 would have produced different verdicts if Scottish MPs weren't involved in the vote.

Nationalists will still be able to exert their clout over legislation at the second and third readings which involve the whole house. As things stand, English and Welsh MPs will only be able to veto amendments, not make any additions to the text.

Nicola Sturgeon's outrage at the plans seems a little insincere, given she stands to gain much more than she'll lose. It's understandable though, bashing the Tories is something that'll win votes back home. Expect more fireworks when Parliament is reconvened in September.