Tuesday, March 14, 2006

An English Parliament?

The English Parliament question is currently the flavour of the month for those who take exception to MPs from Scottish constituencies being able to vote on legislation which affects only England, while MPs representing English constituencies have no reciprocal rights to vote on Scottish legislation on devolved matters. For some, establishing an English Parliament is the best way of resolving this variant of the West Lothian question. Of course it has no support from the current government, as was made very clear by Lord Falconer in his widely reported (and blogged) speech to a conference in London on Friday. For him, the downsides of the English Parliament are political (what if the Tories ruled England but Labour ruled the UK?): pragmatic (when – and who would decide – was a Bill a truly English Bill?): and institutional (a large English Parliament will dominate the smaller assemblies of Scotland and Wales). But methinks there is more lurking beneath the surface than Lord Falconer will admit to.

Readers of this blog will know that I have commented on the West Lothian question before, making the point that as long as Scotland’s domestic expenditure is financed via the Barnett-formula block grant, there is a compelling case for MPs from north of the border having a say in English legislation – or at least those elements of English legislation that impact on departmental public expenditures. Indeed, this is precisely why Alex Salmond today is meeting with Ruth Kelly – if he is assured that adverse Barnett consequences will not flow from the current Education Bill (or will have such effects neutralised), the SNP MPs will abstain from the Westminster vote. Otherwise the SNP will vote – and, let’s be honest, it should vote. But, give the Scottish Parliament responsibility for raising the money it spends, as proposed most recently in the Steel Commission Report, and this problem vanishes. There would be no convincing case for any further interference of this sort by Scots-based MPs (although as politics is the art of mischief-making, there will always be some sort of case for interfering wherever possible!).

But what of the constitutional position? If fiscal autonomy is granted to Holyrood, should the West Lothian question finally be laid to rest by the creation of an English Parliament? As a democrat I have no problem with that. But, for some, this does pose a problem. For decades now successive Westminster Governments have moved mountains to protect the Union by containing the nationalist movements on its northern and (to a lesser degree) western borders. And it has done so reasonably successfully. Both Scotland and Wales remain part of the UK – devolution having taken care, for the moment at least, of the nationalism that was nurtured as a direct result of 18 years of English Tory misrule in Scotland and Wales. But here is the question. Could the Westminster Government contain the nationalism of England were it to be granted the first stage of re-invigorated nationhood by having its own Parliament? Here I think the truth lies rather than the concerns about institutional dominance. Ironic as it might seem, it is English nationalism that poses the greatest threat to the Union, not Scottish or Welsh nationalisms. And there is no 'plan B' for that contingency. Let that particular genie out to play and just sit back and watch the Union unravel.

9 Comments:

Blogger The Blind-Winger Jones said...

I agree with that analysis. There has been a rise in English national feeling since devolution to Scotland and Wales, but not to the degree that was promised (feared ?) by some commentators. One very real inhibitor towards English nationalism developing as a political force is the very real difference between the political priorities of Northern and South-Eastern England. Northern England has never returned a Tory majority since universal suffrage and has had its democratic will protected by the British context. There is much less angst about the Scottishness of Gordon Brown and the West Lothian question in Northern England than there is in the South. A centre-left Scot is infinitely more preferable than a southern Tory to many Northern voters, myself included.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006  
Blogger roadrunner said...

The problem is that English devolution was supposed to be the lightning conductor for English nationalism, and one that would protect the UK against potential calamities of a deviant form of that nationalism. But the rejection of a regional assembly by the voters of the North East has foreclosed that option. And that leaves an English Parliament as the (only?) show in town. And that is a worry...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Toque said...

Why is that a worry?

Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger JohnJo said...

Indeed. I can't possibly think of why that should worry anyone any more than a Scottish parliament would. Hang on, don't tell me, it's coming....wait .... here it it....could it be that it's a worry because there are too many English people?

Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

Bugger this bloody useless thing! tque - johnjo - I suggest you read some of BondWoman's comments on this point - sorry it won't allow me to put a link this morning!

Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger The Blind-Winger Jones said...

All three major parties are coalescing around ideas for devolution towards existing local authorities and new emerging, self-defined "city-regions". The problem with North-East regional devolution was that the powers offered were derisory and the region had the classic characteristics of "lines drawn in the sand" by distant government. In other words, it looked like a Whitehall stitch-up, and therefore easy to present as a complete white-elephant. It would be wrong to draw from that however that there is no appetite for local decision making across England or that English Nationalism is anything other than a peripheral sideshow. None of the major parties want to embrace it and few individual MPs show much interest, the only party organised on that basis, the English Democrats have received absolutely derisory votes wherever they've stood, including in the South-East from where they draw the bulk of their membership

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Terry Heath said...

The Blind Winger Jones. You make too many unsubstantiated assumptions.

As a northerner I can tell you that I, and a great many others I know, have a HUGE problem with a PM who represents a none English constituency. Yesterday, I had to listen to a Chancellor banging on about areas protected from budgetary cuts, ie English Health, English Police and English Education (he obviously didn’t say English, but that’s what he meant). Darling, like Brown, isn’t responsible to ANY electorate on such essential matters.

It’s not a question of north and south, it’s a question of democratic and constitutional equality.

The EDPs (I’m not a supporter) have had one significant win and that was in Doncaster, Yorks… and I think you’ll find that’s in the “North”.

Friday, December 11, 2009  

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