"The people of England deserve no less than the same choice as the peoples of Wales and Scotland: a referendum on whether they want a parliament of their own." - David Davis MP
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Gordon Brown’s unprincipled opposition to an English parliament

English Commonwealth - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 03:00

Gordon Brown interviewed on 5News.

So according to Gordon Brown there is no need for an English parliament. He would say that. Without some form of English parliament Scottish MPs will retain the ability to subvert English democracy by having a potentially decisive say on English legislation, and Labour can use its Scottish and Welsh lobby fodder to impose unpopular legislation on England. It is true that MPs for English constituencies dominate the House of Commons numerically but the House divides along party, not national, lines. English MPs generally vote with their party, in accordance with the UK manifesto that they were elected on, rather than as a national bloc upholding English interests.

But this is not just an issue of which way MPs from Scotland vote [West Lothian Question]. It is a matter of who governs England and in whose name [English Question]. This was demonstrated by the 2010 General Election result when England voted for a Conservative government but received a coalition government because the Tories could not command a UK majority due to their relative weakness in Scotland and Wales. For a moment a ‘progressive coalition’ of Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties was explored.

The Conservative answer to the English Question is “English Votes on English Laws”. But that is an answer to the West Lothian Question rather than the English Question. English Votes on English Laws does not offer England the form of government of its choosing and neither does it assure England of the government it voted for. It merely prevents non-English MPs voting on England-only legislation once the multi-national UK Parliament, elected by the United Kingdom public, has decided who the government of the UK, and hence England, should be. English MPs could vote down or amend English parts of UK government legislation but they would be reactive, they would not control the political process or English governance. It would be a strange sort of democracy.

If a convention of English Votes on English Laws had been in place before the 2010 general election and a ‘progressive coalition’ government had been formed, it would have been a lame duck government insofar as England was concerned, unable to command an English majority on English legislation. The temptation would have been to overturn the “English Votes on English Laws” convention or run the election again.

Psephologists inform us that majority governments will become less common in the future – hung parliaments more frequent – so the uncertain situation that we found ourselves in 2010, if combined with an ongoing absence of English government, is a phenomenon whose potential to destablise the Union is only just being realised.

In his 1980 book The Politics of Nationalism and Devolution, Gordon Brown seemed to accept that Scottish MPs would be prevented from voting on English or Welsh domestic matters as the quid pro quo for devolution of Scottish tax-raising powers:

“It is scandalous for the British Treasury to deny that it is capable of devolving any powers to levy tax when so many other countries do it. Most of all, a revised Scotland Act could embody some form of the ‘in-and-out’ principle. Under such a principle the remaining Scottish MPs at Westminster would not be allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House when it was debating England or Welsh domestic matters. The ‘in-and-out’ principle ought to be attractive to Conservatives since it would ensure them a semi-permanent majority on most social issues at Westminster – no small prize. Labour remains formally committed to devolution and may be expected to consider a plan along these lines in the future.”

Why has he changed his mind? Having managed to get the party leaders to vow to preserve the Barnett Formula, Gordon Brown has seen a way to give Scotland a permanent advantage over England, both in terms of funding and the power to vote on English domestic legislation. The continuation of the Barnett Formula ensures that Scottish MPs have the constitutional right to vote on English business because of the knock-on affect it has on the Scottish block grant via the Barnett Formula. And if England is enfeebled as a political force through regionalisation, all the better; Scotland’s and – Brown hopes – Labour’s advantage will be pressed home and entrenched.

Happily Gordon Brown is wrong. If the people of England want an English parliament then there is need for an English parliament. Three recent polls demonstrate this want and need.

Future of England Survey, Aug 2014 Survation for the Mail on Sunday, Sept 2014

Scots wanted a national parliament and Brown helped deliver it for them. English wants and needs are no less important.

Before we rush head long into English Votes on English Laws let us first consider an English parliament elected under a proportional electoral system and with a commitment to devolving power within England to existing bodies. If required this parliament could also have regional grand committees for areas of England that showed interest. The House of Lords would be abolished (ridding us of 800+ cronies and a horrible system of patronage) and reinvented as a federal chamber elected on a county basis as proposed by Roger Gale MP.

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Gordon Brown’s Barnett Formula lies

English Commonwealth - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:34

Gordon Brown interviewed by Dimbleby on BBC Scotland Decides:

Gordon Brown repeatedly refers to the ‘nations and regions’ of the United Kingdom, whereby Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are ‘the nations’ and England is ‘the regions’. And he calls for greater powers for the English regions. But it is not his relegation of England from nation to a federation of British colonies that really jars, it’s his bare-faced lies over the Barnett Formula:

“On the system of sharing our resources, that we’ve built up over 100 years, that is of huge benefit to Scotland, that I defend on principle because it’s based on allocating resources according to need. And Scotland gets £425M more for pensioners, £200 per pensioner more, because we’ve got more pensioners with greater needs and more disabilities. £900M – £1,000M more for the Health Service comes from the Barnett Formula, and the reason for that is we’ve got rural areas that need to be staffed with doctors. More expensive! And we’ve historically had more pensioners and greater need. Now I justify these additional expenditures in Scotland because of need. And the principle is right, resources shared across the United Kingdom to meet need. What is being committed to by the leaders today in this vow is that they support these principles of equity and, of course, Scotland because of our needs has benefited from it.”

“I’m sorry, you don’t understand this: It [Barnett Formula] is right because it’s based on need….. It is this system where we pool resources across the whole United Kingdom that in the end benefits everybody because needs are better met irrespective of nationality…. I think people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland recognise that we’ve got something very precious, that it would be a shame in a world that is becoming more integrated, more connected, more interdependent to throw away this form of cooperation that makes such a defference to our country.”

The Barnett Formula is not and has never been a needs-based formula. It is a widely discredited formula that has been disowned by Lord Barnett himself. If it was replaced by a needs-based formula Scotland would be £4.5bn a year worse off.

It would be a scandal if the party leaders’ vow to preserve the Barnett Formula allocation for Scotland was upheld by Parliament to the detriment of England. Please sign our Barnett Formula petition to ensure that this does not happen.

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The Empire Strikes Back

English Commonwealth - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 04:13

Commiserations to Scottish independence campaigners. Project Fear has won through on the back of their last ditch Devo-Max and Barnett Formula bribes.

The interesting thing now is how the three Westminster party leaders are going to get those bribes through an English-dominated House of Commons in just four months as promised (they have seven months before the General Election). And what scraps will they throw the English from the devolution table?

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Conservative solutions to the English Question

English Commonwealth - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 02:06

Two interesting proposals from the Times.

Tim Montgomerie has called for David Cameron to ignore calls for English Votes on English Laws and go ‘the whole hog and promise the English people a legislature similar to that the other three countries of the UK already enjoy’. This new English parliament should, Montgomerie says, be financed by abolishing the Lords, should be based in the North and should be committed to addressing the unbalanced nature of England’s economy.

Bernard Jenkins MP has called for a resolution in the House of Commons for MPs to abide by a system of English Votes on English Laws. England would not have the guarantee of a permanent parliament, as Scotland has been promised, but would instead rely upon a self-denying ordinance of a House of dual-mandate MPs. It is Jenkins’ contention that the English MPs could form some sort of rudimentary English government:

There would, however, be consequences for Whitehall. We could never have a Scottish UK chancellor setting English taxes in England at the annual budget but not in his or her own constituency. So Parliament will have to consider how to establish an English executive, with an English first minister and finance minister, along with England-only departments for matters such as health, education and local government, made accountable to English MPs alone.
This does not preclude enhanced functions for counties and cities (rather than for artificial regions), but that would be a matter for the new English executive.

Dual mandate MPs are not a good idea. You can’t have an English government and British government drawn from the same pool of MPs double-jobbing in the same legislature. An English front bench and a British front bench, an English prime minister and a British prime minister, both commanding majorities – possibly from different parties or coalitions of parties – in a sovereign parliament. It’s a recipe for constitutional meltdown.

Montgomerie gets the thumbs up over Jenkins from English Commonwealth.

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It is Britishness, not Englishness, that is in the dock

English Commonwealth - Wed, 09/17/2014 - 08:51

Matthew Parris writing in The Spectator:

I doubt I’m alone among English readers of this magazine in having felt uncomfortable with our last issue. ‘Please stay with us’ was a plea I found faintly offensive to us English. Not only did it have a plaintive ring, but there seemed to be something grovelling, almost self-abasing, in the pitch. Why beg? A great many Scots have wanted to leave the Union; and by arranging a referendum Westminster has asked Scotland to make up her mind. Let her, then. When did England become a petitioner in this affair?

Well said, you’re not alone.

The Scottish independence referendum seems to be frequently reduced to an England-Scotland context, with Northern Ireland and Wales rarely mentioned. But the issue is not Scotland’s relationship with England, it’s about Scotland’s relationship with Britain, the British governing elite and their power structures. England has no democratic political identity, we have no first minister or parliament to speak on our behalf; beyond the imagination of its people and its sports teams there is no England for Scotland to have a relationship with. It is Britishness, not Englishness, that is in the dock.

It is the British nationalism that has brought us to this. British nationalists, or ‘Unionists’ as they prefer to be called, like to make out that Britishness is an all encompassing umbrella identity but it is their refusal to allow for an English political identity has been their undoing. They should have recreated Britain as a federal state – a Union of nations – back in 1997, during the first round of devolution, but instead decided to create an asymmetric democracy out of fear of a resurgent English political identity. Now Gordon Brown, a man who hates the idea of England with a passion, is being allowed to set the agenda, making the United Kingdom even more unfair on England by creating a Union of ‘nations and regions’ and entrenching the Barnett Formula. Creating a democratic English political identity might have helped the Scots feel equal ownership of Britain and British institutions. That was a failure of British nationalists who feared English nationalism.

So here we are. When the Scots look at British institutions like Parliament they see a de facto English parliament; when they look at the Prime Minister they see the de facto English first minister; when they look at the Conservative and Unionist Party they see a the de facto party of England, in no small part thanks to the Tories’ 15 year prevarication about English Votes on English Laws and abolishing the Barnett Formula.

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg do not speak for England. They rarely speak of England, let alone for England, which is why it makes many English people so angry to see them making grovelling to Scotland on England’s behalf. They never invoke a collective English consciousness on any other occasion, so why start now?

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Best of all worlds for Scotland, worst of all worlds for England

English Commonwealth - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 02:43

Those with an eye to constitutional reform will have found this an extraordinary week. On 8th September, in a miners welfare centre in Loanhead, a new semi-federal United Kingdom was realised on the back of a fag packet by none other than Gordon Brown, that Scottish bloke England never voted for but got as prime minister anyway. The three Westminster party leaders welcomed his proposal to fast-track extensive devolved powers for Scotland, and the rest of us asked: what the hell is going on here?

It was, Brown said, nothing less than a move towards a federal Britain. “A new Union is being forged in the heat of debate”, he said.
Great. But what debate? I’m not involved in it. You’re not involved in it. Unless I’m missing something, no one in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is being given a say over this radical new constitutional arrangement.
I’m not missing something. Gordon Brown was crystal clear yesterday. “These reforms will confirm that Scotland has helped changed not just our own country but the United Kingdom,” he announced.
Well, thanks for that. But I’m afraid that’s not Scotland’s prerogative.

Here was Scottish Labour’s big political beast unilaterally recasting the Union to try and accommodate Scotland. This isn’t how the House of Lords Constitutional Committee envisaged devo-max becoming a political reality:

….”devolution max” requires a distinct constitutional process for its achievement. As illustrated by the potential for competing tax regimes within the United Kingdom, such an arrangement for one member of the Union would necessarily have real, deep and immediate consequences for the other members and for the Union as a whole. Properly to secure the legitimate interests of each and all, proposals as to “devolution max” would first have to be developed through intergovernmental negotiations conducted, not just bilaterally with the UK Government, but on an inclusive, multilateral basis across the Union state. Whereas both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have recognised that independence is a Scottish question, “devolution max” is not. Proper constitutional process requires that negotiations involving all parts of the United Kingdom precede any referendum on an agreed scheme of “devolution max.”

By 15th September, Brown, this time speaking at a miner’s club in Edinburgh, was demanding guarantees for Scotland, in addition to the fast-tracking of new devolved powers:

      The new Scotland Act should enshrine in law the permanence of the Holyrood Parliament: semi-federalism.
      A guarantee of fairness: Gordon Brown wants politicians of all unionist parties to sign a statement that the aim of a “modern union” will be one that secures “security and opportunity for all” by “sharing equitably the resources of the nations and regions”.
      The Barnett Formula should be preserved in perpetuity and, in addition, Scotland should be able to raise taxes to protect spending on the NHS if necessary
      A permanent role for Scotland in the evolution of the UK, with Scots to be consulted on any changes to the way England is governed.

Nothing for England. No guarantees for us. Only the prospect of having an unfair Barnett Formula enshrined in law along with Scotland’s right to influence future changes to English governance. And to add insult to injury throughout all this Brown refers to the “nations and regions of Britain”: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being the ‘nations'; England being ‘the regions’. Does England want to dismember itself to be part of a ‘modern Union’ of ‘nations and regions’? Does anyone in the British political firmament care what England thinks? Cameron, Clegg and Miliband certainly don’t, they promptly signed a vow – brokered by Gordon Brown – to fast-track the UK to a semi-federal future.

The utter recklessness of this constitutional amateurism was best summed up by Janan Ganesh in the FT, who concluded that “Scottish home rule means English home rule, which in turn means a separate constitutional wrangle about what shape this should take”.

Unfortunately it’s hard to see how either Scottish home rule or English home rule is possible when the two nations are shackled to each other via the Barnett Formula. It is understandable that Brown would wish to guarantee Scotland’s obscene funding advantage over England but we should not underestimate his desire to maintain the constitutional consequences of the Barnett Formula.

If Brown can maintain the Barnett Formula in some sort of Establishment agreement, he can argue that Scottish MPs like him have the right to vote on English legislation, and meddle in English government, because English legislation and government policy in respect of England determines the Scottish block grant via the Barnett Formula.

If we had fiscal federalism instead of the Barnett Formula, or if the formula was a needs-based assessment, Scotland’s block grant would not be calculated as a percentage of what is spent in England – there would be no knock-on effect; and therefore English spending decisions would not impact upon the Scottish budget. By preserving the Barnett Formula, keeping Holyrood policy tied to Westminster’s apron strings, Brown can argue that Scottish MPs like himself can hold sway over English legislation and participate in the governance of England. Everyone will concentrate on the financial side of it (which is scandalous enough) but Brown understands the wider constitutional consequences. The Barnett Formula shackles Scotland to England and shackles England to meddlesome Scottish MPs.

If any of this this bothers you please sign our new Barnett Formula petition. Maybe some of our MPs also object to the way in which England has been stitched up.

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What manner of federal United Kingdom do UKIP favour?

English Commonwealth - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 20:20

The BBC has reported that Nigel Farage joined IPPR North and Nick Clegg’s calls for devolution to English regions:

Nigel Farage, who will campaign in Scotland later on Friday, joined calls for the English regions to be given some of the same powers being contemplated for Scotland. ‘

“At the moment, the English are feeling rather ignored in all of this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“We have been talking about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a lot over the last 16 , 17 years and a new constitutional settlement for a federal UK will suit everybody.”

It sounded implausible so I listened to the Today Programme to find out exactly what Farage did say. This is the transcript:

Nigel Farage: I am fully in favour of a federal United Kingdom. We need a new constitutional settlement but I’m afraid devo-max wasn’t on the ballot paper, and with that misjudgement David Cameron has risked the future of the Union.

Justin Webb: If we get devo-max, then you’re perfectly happy then to see proper devolution; Scotland will have tax-raising powers…greater tax-raising powers, tax-lowering powers, greater spending powers, and that the same must go for England?

Nigel Farage: Yes of course. At the moment the English are feeling rather ignored in all of this because we’ve been talking about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a lot over the last 17 or 18 years. Yes, a new constitutional settlement for a federal UK, that will suit everybody.

Justin Webb: If Scotland votes NO and there is going to be devo-max, and discussions start about that, is it right do you think that Scottish MPs should continue in the short-term even to vote on English matters at Westminster?

Nigel Farage: No, I don’t think it’s right at all. I think the overwhelming majority of opinion is that devolution has to be fair to everybody, and that at the moment that’s not working.

In fact Farage didn’t say anything at all about regions. Perhaps UKIP need to clarify exactly what sort of federal UK they are in favour of before the ‘impartial’ BBC does it for them.

This comes less than 24 hours after Nick Robinson was caught lying about Alex Salmond refusing to answer his question.

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Peter Hain vs John Redwood

English Commonwealth - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 07:40

The highlight of Newsnight last night was this encounter between Hain and Redwood. You can watch the full programme here.

If you want the people of England to have a say, instead of being rail-roaded into a Westminster approved scheme to stabilse the Union, then please add your name to our petition for a constitutional convention.

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Reigniting the Barnett Formula debate

English Commonwealth - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 02:32

The Liberal Democrats pre-manifesto was released yesterday. This is what it had to say on reform of the Barnett Formula:

The nations of the United Kingdom have long had different needs with regard to funding. The Barnett Formula is the mechanism used to adjust spending allocations across the UK. The Liberal Democrats have already delivered a substantial extension of financial powers to the nations of the UK and we would devolve further fiscal powers to the devolved governments. In order to ensure reliable funding at this time, we will retain the Barnett Formula as the basis for future spending allocations for Scotland and Northern Ireland. We recognise the findings of the Holtham Commission that the current formula underfunds Wales and will commission work to update this analysis. We will address the imbalance by immediately entrenching a Barnett floor set at a level which reflects the need for Wales to be funded fairly, and seek over a Parliament to increase the Welsh block grant to an equitable level. Fair funding for all the nations will then be secured.

Here’s that last sentence again: “Fair funding for all the nations will then be secured”.

Fair? Not really.

Applying a needs-based formula Holtham found that Wales was underfunded vis-à-vis England and that Scotland was overfunded. A fair needs-based formula would cut Scotland’s block grant by £4.5 billion a year, as Prof Bell explains:

“If its calculations were put into practice, it would have dramatic effects on the Scottish budget,” Prof Bell says. “The size of the block grant from Westminster to Holyrood would shrink substantially. Instead of the Scottish grant being 20 per cent higher per head than in England, the margin would shrink to 5 per cent.

“At current spending levels, this would mean a cut of around £4.5bn in Scotland’s annual grant from Westminster.”

One can understand why, in the present climate, the Liberal Democrats do not want to advocate cutting the Scottish block grant but please do everyone a favour and stop pretending that fairness is a motivating factor.

On Newsnight yesterday evening Emily Maitlis asked Douglas Alexander ‘When people ask “why aren’t we already better together?”, what’s your response?’

Alexander’s response demonstrated why preservation of the unfair Barnett Formula is a central plank of the Unionists armoury:

“Firstly, we’re £1200 per head of population better off in terms of public expenditure each and every year because we get a good deal for Scotland.

Secondly, how has Scotland gone from being one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom to being one of the richest parts of the United Kingdom over the past 30 years?”

The second line of Alexander’s response is answered by the first line. The Scots are actually a whopping £1377 per year better off than the English. In essence Alexander believes we’re ‘Better Together” because Scotland gets a lot more Barnett money, unfairly, from the UK Government. He must be one proud Scot.

With the three Unionist parties lining up to offer Scotland greater devolved powers, thereby increasing the prominence of the West Lothian Question and calls for English Votes on English Laws, expect the Barnett Formula to move centre stage. The Barnett Formula benefits Unionists on two fronts: It is essential for the Unionists that Scotland maintains an unfair funding advantage; and useful that funding for the devolved nations is directly linked to spending in England, so that they can argue that MPs elected outside England have a right to vote on English matters because English legislation has a direct effect on the budgets of the devolved nations. Unfortunately the recent Future of England survey had some sobering news for Unionist politicians who would rather do nothing about Scottish MPs voting rights and Scotland’s funding advantage.

Voters in the independence referendum would do well to remember that, outside of Westminster, there is little support in England for Scotland’s current privileged position.

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Yes Campaign take the lead in Scottish Referendum poll

English Commonwealth - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 01:11

The Unionist ‘Better Together’ camp appear to be in disarray in the wake of a YouGov poll which puts the Yes vote on 51%.

The Guardian suggests that Scotland is to be offered a federal alternative to independence:

The people of Scotland are to be offered a historic opportunity to devise a federal future for their country before next year’s general election, it emerged on Saturday night, as a shock new poll gave the campaign for independence a narrow lead for the first time.

Amid signs of panic and recrimination among unionist ranks about the prospects of a yes vote on 18 September, the Observer has learned that a devolution announcement designed to halt the nationalist bandwagon is due to be made within days by the anti-independence camp.

The plan, in the event of a no vote, is that people from all parts of Scottish society – rather than just politicians – would be invited to take part in a Scottish conference or convention that would decide on further large-scale transfers of power from London to Holyrood.

Will Hutton envisages how this would work:

Federal Britain, like the federal US and Germany, would need a second chamber that represents all parts of the federation. The House of Lords would become the House of Britain. The elected assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in control of the whole spectrum of domestic public activity, with a freshly created English assembly joining them. Cities and towns would be afforded the same autonomy, within broad indicative guidelines set by elected national politicians in the now smaller House of Commons.

It sounds great but it would be hard to take such an offer seriously, coming as it does just 11 days before the referendum. Scottish voters might instead be better advised to call Miliband’s bluff and get David Cameron sacked by October.

MPs say the view that Cameron may be forced to stand down is shared by some cabinet ministers. One senior backbencher said: “This is a mainstream view in the parliamentary party. It goes well beyond the usual suspects. Two people who are ministers have said to me that they feel they would also have to resign.”

One MP said: “I can’t see how Cameron can stay, frankly. He thinks he can just cruise on when the union of 300 years has been dissolved. Someone’s got to go. Heads have got to roll. The idea that something like this happens and nobody loses their job over it is nuts.”

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What England Means to Me - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 00:45

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