Friday, 3 December 2010

For Scotland's sake, the Daylight Savings Bill cannot win

Another hurdle jumped and there is light at the end of the tunnel for Rebecca Harris' Daylight Savings Bill, which today passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons by 92 votes to 10.  Unusually for Private Member's Bills, it shall advance to committee stage.  Also unusually, it has garnered wide and vocal support.  For reasons of constitutional harmony, however, I caution its advance.

There are two notable observations to be made about the vote itself, then I will come to my concerns.

First, barely one hundred were present because Parliament does not usually sit on a Friday. Most MPs spend Fridays (and Saturdays) working in their respective constituencies. So it is impossible to gauge true levels of support for this Bill, with the vast majority of MPs away. One backbench Tory MP told me: "on balance I am inclined to vote for it but I have to put my constituents first." How many had similar commitments but thought otherwise? We don't know.

Secondly, and linked to the first point, most Members present at the debate represent English constituencies, and a great amount of those not northern constituencies. Barely any Scottish MPs attended, which if it weren't for the inclement weather we have and the desire to get back home in good time, would strike me as odd because it is the position of Scotland (geographically and politically) on which this policy shall succeed or fail. Northern Ireland is similarly affected but it is not as politically prominent at Westminster.

Rebecca Harris (C, Castle Point) said in support of her Private Member's Bill that it "does not enforce an immediate change" but asks "that the government should take an objective, informed decision based on the best available evidence." The usual arguments in favour, such as a reduction in evening road accidents, more tourism and lower energy use were trotted out by supportive Members.

Edward Davey (LD, Kingston & Surbiton), the Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, opposed the Bill on behalf of the Government, making the crucial point about the change's impact in Scotland:
"Under the proposals, sunset in Edinburgh in mid-October would move from 6.15 pm to 7.15 pm, but sunrise would not be until 8.45 am, and on new year’s eve, it would not get light in Lerwick until after 10 am, as I said earlier. It is therefore unsurprising that the Scottish Government are nervous of such a change, and that they have said that they would not want it imposed on their population."
My greatest fear is that imposing this change on the UK as a whole, as the failed experiment between 1968 and 1971 did, will ultimately lead to Holyrood declaring unilateral horological independence. Mr Davey also alluded to this possibility.
We should remember that Scotland is not only further north than the rest of the United Kingdom, but quite far west too—surprisingly, Edinburgh is west of Bristol—which means that, come winter, it has relatively little daylight, in fact about eight hours, and that that light comes later. It is possible in principle to have two UK time zones—one for Scotland, which could perhaps include Northern Ireland, and one for England and Wales—but we should rule out that option on such a relatively small island as ours. We should remain a United Kingdom.
We must remain a United Kingdom. I wrote earlier this week about how in 2004, the votes of Scottish MPs imposed top-up tuition fees on the graduates of English universities, against the wishes of English MPs. The complaint works both ways. The time change might sound like a good weeze to the MPs in the south of England who turned up today to vote for the Bill, such as Andrew Tyrie (C, Chichester), Simon Hughes (LD, Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Karen Buck (Lab, Westminster North) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), but their colleagues in the north have very real concerns.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (SNP, Na h-Eileanan an Iar) pointed out that "more electricity would be used on darker mornings" in Scotland. Furthermore, Dr Eilidh Whiteford (SNP, Banff & Buchan) made the smart case that Scottish farmers are "less opposed to the measure than they were 40 years ago [because] they now have heating and lighting in their steadings [which] rather undermines the carbon saving argument." Two Liberal Democrat MPs, Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) and Alan Reid (Argyll & Bute) also spoke out against the Bill.

A pair of Scottish MPs did surprise me by voting in favour of the measure - David Hamilton (Lab, Midlothian) and Gordon Banks (Lab, Ochill & South Perthshire) - as well as Naomi Long, the Alliance MP from Belfast East. Mr Hamilton said he was approaching it "with an open mind." Both Mrs Long and Mr Banks spoke fairly of wanting to make better informed decisions based on proper evidence.

Until recently, I couldn't care much either way. Even now, I am willing to see what sort of arguments for and against are thrown up by a report, and to make a decision on that. Yet as things stand, this seems to me a dangerously unnecessary move. It has been tried before and this is the eighth occasion since the 1970s that someone has tried to revive it - all previous attempts ended in failure. If this attempt is successful, I worry that it would be another step down the road to the breakup of the United Kingdom. It would be another message of disunity sent north of the border - a selfish and antagonistic act inflicted on the Scots, on behalf of English and Welsh MPs.

The SNP are prone to nonsensical shortbread hyperbole (see the comments of Peter Wishart in my article on Wednesday) but Angus MacNeil hit the right tone today when he said:
"The progress of this bill is literally a wake-up call to the prospect of dark mornings for everyone north of Manchester, and has been pushed through by MPs from the south with no regard to the impact these changes would have on the quality of life for people in the north. This change would be acutely felt in Scotland, raising real safety and quality of life concerns, and this is now a real test for the Tory government and its claims of a respect agenda for Scotland."
I am still willing to be convinced, if the evidence is such to disprove my concerns. Yet I doubt it. The impact on Scotland is too great. The costs must surely outweigh the benefits and, judging by Ed Davey's comments today, I expect the Government believes this too.

UPDATE (4th December, 17.09): Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP for Wycombe now writing at ConservativeHome, a right-wing website, pointed out in an article the day after the debate that Mark Lazarowicz, Labour and Co-op MP for Edinburgh North & Leith is another supportive Scot.  Do have a glance at Goodman's piece: you get a better flavour of the debate itself as he quotes at greater length.  He also picks up on the point about a north-south divide in terms of support for the Bill.


  1. It is not just Scotland and Scottish people who will suffer a move to SDST. In fact we should revert to pure GMT (see

    I understand why someone wrote: The whole DST issue is very symbolic of how some humans seek to shift reality--in this case, the flow of time--to meet with their desires, instead of making simple behavioral changes. DST embarrasses me as a human.

    One of the few research studies into the actual effect of extended DST (, in Australia during the Olympic Games in 2000, concluded:
    In this paper we question the findings of prior DST studies, which often rely on simulation models
    and extrapolation rather than empirical evidence. By contrast, our research exploits a quasiexperiment,
    in which parts of Australia extended DST by two months to facilitate the Sydney
    Olympic Games in 2000. Using detailed panel data on half-hourly electricity consumption, prices,
    and weather conditions, we show that the extension failed to reduce electricity demand. We further
    examine prior DST studies and find that the most sophisticated simulation model available in the
    literature significantly overstates electricity savings when it is applied to the Australian data. These
    results suggest that current plans and proposals to extend DST will fail to conserve energy.
    In the US research ( ) was carried out in Indiana after the trial 2 month extension of DST in 2007 started. It concluded:
    Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy's intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately
    1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. DST causes the greatest
    increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when estimates range between 2 and 4 percent. These
    findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for
    lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. We estimate a cost of increased electricity
    bills to Indiana households of $9 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution
    emissions that range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year. Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to
    be even stronger in other regions of the United States.

    The California Energy Commission mentions this research and there have not been any other studies done on actual usage after DST changes since the mid-70s. The patterns and types of electricity usage have changed considerably since.

    So in fact the research indicates that we should stay permanently on GMT if we wish to reduce our energy bill. This would also have the added benefit of not penalising Scotland or people who get up early. Noon is supposed to be when the sun is at its highest; let’s have it that way.

    As for road accidents the evidence is unclear. argues that there was quite likely an overall reduction in injuries but also accepts that some reports suggest that changes to the drink-driving law made in 1969 were the main cause and also that there was a siginificant folk feeling of an increase in accidents, very evident to children walking to school in the dark. Almost certainly there were more accidents in Scotland where the delayed morning light is most felt.
    As for the trading partner argument that is clearly a non-starter. If the DST argument makes sense for us then clearly Europe, or most of it, should also be on GMT +2 and GMT +3 so no change in present time difference. If they do not change then we already have such an enormous overlap there would be little benefit. Instead cancelling DST would mean a proportionally much bigger overlap with the US, Brazil and booming South America (if they stayed as they are) which would be much more helpful for business.

  2. To be frank I have never heard of such rubbish and the mere fact that very little were in attendance kind of proves it makes very little sense.

    What I don't understand is the point? Yeah I get it might reduce road accidents and entice more people to visit. But I don't actually understand where the idea was fathomed in the first place. How does changing daylight savings have a huge impact?

    Seriously, there are more important things to pass in government. It just does not make any real sense whatsoever!

  3. "We must remain a United Kingdom"

    Er why?

  4. Nik -

    Thank you...but Lazarowicz did speak on Friday. Here he is shortly after 9.34 -

    Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I have tried, as best I can, to assess the opinions in my constituency. This is in no sense scientific polling, but the majority of opinion seems to be in favour of giving the proposal the green light. Having said that, the views are most mixed among those who remember the last experiment. That is why we need a proper assessment of the evidence.

    "As I understand it, under the Bill, the commission would make the final decision on whether to introduce the new time arrangements and the House would not have an opportunity to have the final say. That concerns me, and I would be interested to hear the hon. Lady’s comments. Perhaps the issue could be addressed by amendments at a later stage."

    Paul Goodman

  5. Paul - thank you for letting me know. Strangely, my search did not throw anything up. I note, however, that he did not vote in the division. As he spoke so early in the debate, perhaps he had somewhere to be (a delayed train to Edinburgh, I'd imagine).


  6. the sooner this bill passes and puts us in line with most of europe the better , we should have the same time in the uk as in spain etc year round ,if some scots dont like it then the other option is to have scotland remain as it is and england to go an hour ahead ,this will happen ,the majority want it