THE ENGLISH QUESTION
Wednesday July 2nd 2008
Southampton Street offices, Covent Garden
Michael Knowles Member of the Campaign for an English Parliament.
I attended this seminar as a member of the CEP, though, as will become clear, this reflection is my own. My interest in the seminar was twofold. First it was the topic. It is the issue that with my colleagues I have campaigned about in all sorts of ways throughout England for the last ten years. Just two examples this year, the weekend of September 6th in the market place Berwick on Tweed, and then the weekend of October 18th the same in Shrewsbury; and that sort of campaigning we have maintained in various way since our foundation June 14th 1998. Secondly, because it was an IPPR seminar. That interested me so much I travelled down from Kendal in Westmorland for it. The IPPR is a very UK Establishment body, so I thought I might get some useful insights into how the Establishment is moving to deal with England now that the English Question created by the 1998 Devolution legislation can no longer be ignored.
The IPPR was founded in 1988 by Lord Hollick, Lord Eatwell and Baroness Blackstone for the purpose of detaching the Party from its working class and socialist origins and principles and providing it instead with policies which would make it acceptable to middle and upper middle class electors, the CBI and suchlike bodies and the City. The unexpected death of John Smith provided the key opportunity for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to implement the changes to Party policy and its principles which groups like the IPPR were proposing, and in the following fifteen years, at least until the last few months of this year, the Party has been successful in establishing confidence among the professional classes and those of business and finance that it will represent their economic interests. Political parties represent economic interests. The manner in which Gordon Brown has recently employed all the resources of the state, not least its ability to borrow, to rescue the City and the banks from the consequences of their own actions, which he himself over eleven years had actively promoted, and with it he hopes his own reputation and electoral prospects, is evidence of this radical change in Labour political philosophy.
Labour’s privatisation policies, which under Brown are being extended into the NHS, its subordination to American interests, its participation in the illegal and indeed murderous invasion of Iraq, its hostility to workers’ rights, its tolerance of the wholesale exploitation of cheap labour from abroad in the interests of capital, its lip service to green concerns while it promotes environmental degradation on virtually every front (footnote 1), its management and active encouragement under Brown of a debt economy on a massive scale and an unregulated financial system, its curtailing of historic civil liberties and its conversion of the UK into a surveillance state, its dependence upon spin at the expense of truthfulness and integrity, and so on –all this has detached the Party from its socialist and working class origins and principles. There is a very deep dishonesty about the present Labour Party. Blair himself had no roots at all in the Labour Movement. He openly despised it. He came from a Tory family. His father was on the verge of being selected for a Tory seat before he was struck down by a very severe stroke from which, almost miraculously, he recovered. Brown’s roots are not in the socialism but in the Calvinism of his parents specifically his clergyman father. He is very definitely a son of the manse. Calvinism sits easily with the control instinct, the distrust of the human spirit, negativity and delight in surveillance.
The IPPR is a very Establishment body. Its leadership and membership cross-fertilise with other Establishment organisations -political, cultural and academic- with an ease a hive of bees in Spring might envy. The CEP is a much simpler organisation. It has no class base and no political party affiliations. It was founded in 1998 to campaign for the application of the principles of the 1998 devolution legislation to England.
The Labour Party is in power and still might be in power after the next general election. It created the English Question with its 1998 devolution legislation. If it retains power after the general election but with a reduced majority and dependent on the votes of Scottish MPs, or it enters into a governing coalition, it will have to confront the English Question far more often and far more head-on than over the past ten years. How it then does that might well be influenced by such organisations as the IPPR.
This seminar however might well be have been an indication that the IPPR is now preparing for that possibility; or indeed with the other possibility that it will be the Tories who will form the next government. After all, whatever the original political loyalties of a very successful think-tank, its members cannot afford to keep all their eggs in just one party’s basket. There are mortgages to pay, families to keep and careers to carry forward. The new IPPR dual leadership of Lisa Harker and Carey Oppenheim have only recently stated (interview with Alex Stevenson. Politics.co.uk, August 29th) that they wish to ‘help all parties’. They are acutely aware that ‘who the players are and where the power lies’ might soon be changing, and the ‘initial raison d’etre of their organisation, namely ‘preparing New Labour for government’ requires ‘a newly independent outlook’ (ibidem). Put more bluntly, Labour may be on its way out but the IPPR won’t be if they can help it. As Aquinas says in the Summa, the first instinct of all living things is self-survival. I was wondering if the seminar might be part of their preparation for whatever changes the coming general election might bring about. There is a buzz about being inside the circles of power, having the ear of the drafters and makers of legislation, of access to the corridors of ministries, of being listened to and consulted. There are few things that arouse the courtier class quite like being attended to by the rich and the powerful.
My own interest in devolution arises from my upbringing. For one thing being from a very ordinary working family being English was simply how we were. It wasn’t anything anyone talked about, it just was. There was nothing to talk about. Nothing to prove, nothing to make a thing about, it just was. No hang-ups, no misgivings, nothing at all. We were English, my Dad took me to see Matthews, Mortensen, Charlton, and Finney against Wales at Maine Rd. where we won 4-1, and everything was just taken for granted. It was only much later when in the London trade union movement I encountered the weird ideological mindset –the angst of the guilt-ridden- that, as I discovered later, George Orwell had written about.
And the second thing was, I was born –almost literally- into the Labour and Trade Union Movement when it still had the principles of its founders. I was born into a living tradition of struggle for justice; and today it is my country, England, that is being treated with gross unfairness and injustice. And that by its own rulers, though that is hardly new. The discrimination the people of England are experiencing because of the 1998 devolution legislation in all sorts of areas is wrong. Very wrong. This government has brought it about; while at the same time our 550 English MPs and a swirling courtier retinue of middle class academics, think-tankers and journalists maintain it by ignoring it. As we will see, the IPPR describes the injustices the people of England are having to put up with as ‘perceived’ which of course implies they aren’t real; and that’s how the Establishment want it. There is no point pulling punches. It is time for blunt speech. If any racial or religious minority in the UK were being denied the benefits the Scots and the Welsh are getting out of devolution, groups like the IPPR and newspapers like the Guardian would be making a roaring trade out of it. But when it comes to the English, there is indifference and silence. That is how it is. All sorts of things matter to these people but not England.
The situation is really incredible. Gordon Brown, the architect and engine of the 1998 devolution, mounts the rostrum at Labour Party conference in Manchester and pledges ‘fairness’ some 40 times in the space of his hour long speech, knowing all too well that barely a single English Labour MP will admit to the utter hypocrisy of that pledge when it comes to the people of England, much less raise their voice and do something about it. Barely a single one. Yet it is university students from their constituencies who are paying tuition fees and ending up with debts up to £15000 or more while Brown’s don’t pay a penny; their constituents who pay prescription charges and hospital parking charges while people in Wales and Scotland don’t.
My family has a long involvement in the Labour and Trade Union Movement in England going back well over a hundred years. The Movement was the backbone, the citadel, the voice of the struggle for justice in this country for the last 200 years until 1997 when it was defenestrated and disembowelled of its principles by New Labour –by the Blairs, the Mandlesons and the Browns, and the rest, both in the PLP and in the swarms of free university grant educated members of pressure groups and think-tanks. Members of my family belonged to the Clarion Club in Lancashire, cycling everywhere with the Clarion message. They were shop stewards in Metro Vicks, Manchester’s huge engineering works, one uncle was its chief shop steward, he was hounded out of his position by the Communist Party but he stood his ground, took his case to the TUC under Vic Feather, and it became the ‘cause celebre’ which put an end once and for all to the CP push to take control of the Trade Union Movement. My family provided Labour councillors in both Salford and Manchester. My grandfather on my father’s side was a friend of Kier Hardie who used to visit him in the house I was born in Pendleton in Salford. My mother used to tell us that, when we moved from Pendleton into Manchester in the slum clearances, by accident she left an ottoman –the word she used- of copies of the Clarion in the cellar. The street is there but the row of terraced houses has been bulldozed. Maybe the ottoman is there still under the concrete -like the vision and the principles of the Movement which I was born into.
I myself have been a Labour parliamentary candidate and local councillor, though my greater involvement has been in the trade union movement, particularly as a trades council secretary in the East End of London. My concern is JUSTICE. And I feel consumed with anger at the way devolution has brought none of the huge benefits to England which it has brought to Scotland and Wales while at the same time England’s taxpayers are paying for it. It is very unjust. I feel intense bitterness that there are 550 MPs representing English constituencies and they do nothing about it. Simply nothing. And, as I have just said, not just MPs.
Because it has influence in the places where Labour government policy is made, I was very curious why only now, as long as ten years after the English Question became a very serious issue, the IPPR was taking what appears to be a serious interest in it. And what line it might take? It supported the 1998 Devolution legislation, possibly unthinkingly. There just is no evidence that in the months when the legislation was passed, the IPPR so much as stopped to think for a single moment that that legislation was quite weird by actually barring not just English, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs but even Scottish MPs from participating in the internal legislation and government of their own Scotland, yet at the same time enabling them -the same Scottish MPs- to participate fully just as before in every aspect –every internal matter in fact- of legislation and government for England (footnote 2). I know the IPPR membership is at a very far remove from the country’s working class population. I know that it has been servicing New Labour since the 1997 elections despite the fact that New Labour has repudiated wholesale the values and principles of the Labour and Trade Union Movement. Nevertheless, the seminar might, I speculated, provide some insight into how Labour is approaching the English Question with a general election on the horizon.
The advertisement the IPPR put out for the seminar was as follows:
‘ENGLISH QUESTIONS: TOWARDS A NEW POLICY AGENDA FOR ENGLAND
The English Question has recently moved from the margins of British political life to centre-stage. Fuelled by concerns about the perceived inequities of devolution and a growing sense that England and the English are losing out in this unbalanced Union, concerns about the future of England are provoking widespread public debate. But to see the English Question in narrow constitutional terms alone is to overlook a range of important political, economic and cultural factors that have pushed this debate up the agenda. In short there is more than one English Question.
In this the first seminar from IPPR’s new programme of work on the English Question we want to explore some of the following key questions:
- Which English Question should we be most concerned with?
-What is driving this renewed interest in England and Englishness?
-What are the key political, constitutional and cultural challenges facing England?
-What do the public think? Which English questions do they care about?
It would have been more accurate if the IPPR had said that, whereas the English Question had been centre stage in British political life since it was created by Labour’s devolution legislation ten years ago, only now it itself was getting round to addressing it with any seriousness. I have just been informed that it produced a statement or a booklet on the EQ round about 1992 but over the last ten years of being involved in pretty every way possible with the matter I have never seen it referred to or quoted, not even at this IPPR seminar. The 1998 legislation will prove to be the main legacy of the Blair government, even though Blair himself had no appreciation at all of its historic importance. As I see it, and from what I know, the IPPR has taken ten years to recognise the historic importance of that legislation. That I consider very remiss.
The legislation has radically revised the 1707 Act of Union which founded the British state. As from the moment of the Act of Union the distraction and irritant of Scotland in England’s drive towards a worldwide commercial empire, which was already into overdrive, terminated. Scotland, small though it was, became instead a helpful associate in the enterprise. The British Empire’s impact upon world history politically, culturally and commercially in the two hundred and fifty years that followed has been immense, not least upon our own lives. By 1997 however, almost 300 years later, the requirement of a totally integrated Union had become politically and commercially unnecessary as far as England was concerned. The 1998 devolution legislation was recognition of that point being reached.
The 300 years of union hadn’t reduced the sense of difference in identity between the three nations. That in effect was the statement that the 1998 devolution legislation was also making, although of course, now that that has been realised and the consequences are becoming plainer by the day, the UK Establishment is trying to retain whatever they can by trying in every way it can to frustrate and hold back any development of national identity in the one nation of the three it denied devolution to. England is what matters. England is where the Establishment struggle to retain the Union in the form they have grown up with is taking place. That the Union can continue in a different form has not yet dawned on them.
It is in its way quite fascinating. The people who run England –political, commercial, academic and media- do not mind if some Scots, Welsh and Irish share in their government. They do not mind either what the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish get up to in their own national territories. That really is of little importance to them so long as it does not impact adversely on their interests. Devolution was given to the non-English because they are of fringe importance. Between them the Scots, Welsh and N. Irish amount to no more than 15% of the UK population and contribute at most 10% of UK wealth. Parliaments exist to protect and promote interests. With the English making up five sixths of the Commons, there was no way English MPs would have allowed Scotland to get the devolution Brown and Dewar were wanting if they had thought for one moment that it threatened English interests. MPs represent constituencies. If there had been any concern at all that devolution for Scotland, Wales and NI would threaten the interests of their electorate in English constituencies, it would not have been passed.
The ordinary Scottish people of 1707 had known that the Act of Union was being supported by the English Establishment because it was in its interests but they couldn’t stop their ruling class tugging on their forelocks to get access to English wealth and power. ‘A parcel of rogues in the nation’ Burns called them. Is it still the case today? The WLQ is a statement that for the English ruling elite the Celtic Fringe does not really matter. Scotland and Wales can do their own thing so long as England keeps its hold on trade, defence, foreign affairs and taxation for the whole island. The English governing elite agreed to the Union in 1707 because they judged it to be in their interests. Precisely as did the Scottish ruling establishment. They considered it to be in their interests and imposed it upon Scotland. It was straightforward ‘real politik’; and Gordon Brown typifies it pretty perfectly (cf. footnote 3). If anyone thinks that the Union represents some great moral ideal, they really are living in a political and economic cloud-cuckoo land.
That was 1707. However, 1997-98 was different. The Westminster ruling elite and their service units like the IPPR took all three countries, England, Scotland and Wales for granted; they thought they were in control. They thought they knew the plebs. How wrong they were. How pathetically badly they read us. First of all, the Scots haven’t taken devolution as piously and gratefully as they were supposed to. Instead their parliament has screwed the Exchequer ever since for every penny available, putting two fingers up to English resentment, goading us almost, over student fees, personal care and central heating installation for the elderly, a council tax freeze and top quality cancer and eye medication. It’s gone its own way over the NHS, alternative energy and nuclear power. And –and this is the unkindest cut of all- they’ve gone and put in a nationalist government for the first time in over 300 years, and that in a parliament which was set up by Westminster as sure defence against any move towards independence. What ironies reality produces! The very party that boycotted the Scottish Constitutional Convention and sneered at the whole devolution process is now using the Convention’s achievement, the Scottish Parliament, as its springboard towards independence. And in Scotland, Labour, the very party which put its heart, soul and mind into the devolution process, might possibly be rubbed out by the way devolution is developing.
England, as I have said, no longer requires Union with Scotland for whatever its future might be. That day is now past. Consequently the Scottish Constitutional Convention was pushing at an open door when it formulated its Claim of Right; and Scotland was itself becoming aware that it had the cultural and economic critical mass to move towards self-rule, indeed independence. Politically and commercially England has no requirement at all for union with Scotland. It will not oppose Scottish independence. Independence is now completely a matter for the Scots alone.
What the 1998 legislation has done is facilitate the beginnings of a most radical change in the Union which economic and political realities are now inviting. How big that change will be remains to be seen. The legislation gave what it explicitly intended, formal political and constitutional recognition to Scotland and Wales as distinct nations, and, unintentionally and by default, recognition to England too, though Establishment forces such as the BBC, the Constitution Unit, powerful elements within the Labour party and the IPPR are intent on preventing any formal recognition of England as a nation by substituting a process of balkanisation in the shape of regionalisation.
The 1998 legislation gravely unbalanced the Union by putting the three nations of this island in different relationships to the Union and to each other. It was in fact an ill-thought out and rushed legislation, drafted almost entirely by the Scots themselves and enacted in the interests primarily of Scotland. Though technically it could be revoked, it will not be. Instead, as an unstoppable outcome, it will move on to bring about one of three possibilities. Either both England and Wales will acquire the status Scotland now has within the Union, which Professor Trench (2005) aptly calls ‘permissive autonomy’; or all three nations will form a federation; or the three will become independent of each other and agree an association with each other as fellow members of the EU. That the IPPR has only now, after ten years of devolution, woken up, at least actively, to the historic constitutional and political situation that devolution has brought about is remarkable. However, that tardiness is typical of the English Establishment which the IPPR typifies. For the English Establishment Scotland and Wales are fringe elements and England is Britain. They were barely aware of what devolution had done to the Union. In matters of government they weren’t aware anything had really changed.
As I have said, it is ten years since the Labour Party’s Devolution Legislation of 1998, the main movers and drivers of which were Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar, created the English Question. That legislation gave self-rule –in varying degrees- to Scotland and Wales while denying it to England. It gave self-rule or home rule to Scotland and Wales in the form of a Parliament and an Assembly with a First Minister and an Executive. By that process Scotland and Wales formally acquired constitutional and political recognition as distinct nations within the Union. That is what Devolution 1998 was about, that is what it did, that is what it brought about. The chicken however was the egg and the egg was the chicken. Constitutional recognition of Scotland and Wales and self-rule go hand in hand. The one is pointless without the other. Self-rule implies constitutional and political recognition. The only issue is how far is self-rule to go or which of the three possibilities I have mentioned will come about.
It was, as the legislation explicitly and repeatedly affirms, as constitutionally recognised nations that Scotland and Wales got self-rule. As I listened to both speakers and attendees of the IPPR seminar, what came across was their failure to grasp that fundamental aspect of the 1998 legislation. There is no possibility whatsoever of the English Question being resolved unless the 1998 legislation which created it is properly understood. The English Question is whether or not the United Kingdom will extend the 1998 legislation to England as it was applied to Scotland. It was fascinating to see how the IPPR leadership of the seminar in the advert it sent out spoke of there being ‘English Questions’ rather than just an English Question. That is deliberately diversionary. It is an attempt to shift the focus created by the legislation away from the issue of devolution for England, above all from the issue of England being devolved on the principles of the legislation, to other matters such as were listed. That tactic speaks volumes about the attitude of the IPPR in this matter. As represented by the framers of the seminar it does not want devolution for England qua England.
There is also a Welsh Question which is not altogether different. Brown and Dewar brought Wales into the devolution process because they knew all too well that a devolved Scotland on its own would be unacceptable to the people of the UK as a whole. The naked purpose of the legislation would be exposed for what it was, to promote the benefit and advantage of Scotland. A devolved Scotland on its own however would have exposed their purpose, which was concern only for Scotland as they explicitly acknowledged and declared when they signed the Claim of Right in March 1989, which I will come to below. They needed a devolved Wales even if its powers were shabby in comparison to what they gave to their own country. The Welsh Question is now being worked on within the Assembly as Wales pushes for the powers Scotland has. It is being resisted of course by people like Peter Hain in alliance with Welsh Tories. (It is fascinating in its way to see a South African battling to save the departing form of the Union but possibly that is because he hasn’t, and cannot, shuffle off the notion of empire he was brought up with; and possibly he has no feel for what this island really is, and always has been, the home of three distinct nations. What Devolution 1998 has resurrected from the vaults of history is the English, the Scots and the Welsh as distinct nations. They are what this island is. That is what the legislation stated.
The IPPR has recently given an indication of how it understands devolution. On July 10th, it published ‘Fair Shares: Barnett & the Politics of Public Expenditure’ 10th July 2008 by Ian McLean, Guy Lodge and Katie Schmuecker in which it consistently speaks of Scotland and Wales as ‘Devolved Administrations’. That phrase represents a very critical misunderstanding of the legislation. Ask any Scot if their country is a Devolved Administration (a ‘DA’ as the authors abbreviate it) and he/she will look puzzled, to put it mildly. The Scots did not blazon the Declaration of Arbroath on the entrance to the Scottish Museum to say Scotland is a ‘DA’. Being a ‘DA’ is not what Scottish history and the Scottish Parliament are about. And emphatically being a DA just isn’t what Devolution 1998 was or is about either. Neither do the English people regard Scotland as a ‘DA’. Scotland is Scotland, a distinct historic nation. When the two countries meet at Wembley or Hampden Park, if anyone thinks –devolution or no devolution, union or no union- that just two ‘administrations’ of the UK are playing each other, they are on another planet. The match is blood and guts and nothing less.
‘Devolved Administration’ is colonial-speak. It is the language of the unionist, the language of Whitehall control. It is the language of the pre-1998 Unionist whom time and tide are leaving behind, gradually being left stranded on an alien shore. And something more. Indeed, as far as England is concerned, something much more. What the authors of the publication –and the whole network to which they belong and whose stance they articulate- are trying to do is disembowel the 1998 Legislation of its essential feature in respect of England. That crucial essential feature of that legislation was that it was about two nations, Scotland and Wales qua nations –and that is what I mean when I say that the English Question is about whether or not the United Kingdom will extend the 1998 legislation to England as it was applied to Scotland. These authors want to maintain the old colonial illusion that Whitehall can dictate the way the United Kingdom is going to develop. No longer.
If they can obfuscate the intent of the Devolution Legislation which concerned just Scotland and Wales as nations, and not as something they are now calling devolved administrations, they then can, they believe, apply devolution, as they want it to be understood, to England. That is, they can, they hope, provide the Labour Government with the ideological tools to ‘devolve’ England, not as a nation, but as an ‘administrative area’. That is their instinct. It is in their political guts. Their concern is not really Scotland and Wales. Their concern is England. Scotland and Wales do not worry them.
Strangely, though, the England which they, and a whole strata of English academic, politicos and think-tankers, are concerned with is an England they are not at ease with. They are not at ease in themselves with England, with the idea of England as a nation, with Englishness and English identity. They are English of course, but it is the sort of English whom Orwell had a lot to say about, people itchy and unhappy in their English skin. The mere mention of England brings them out in all sorts of strange political and cultural goose pimples. That was very much on display at the seminar. They duck and dive to avoid anything that might seem like a normal human attachment that love for one’s country is. They just cannot be English in the same relaxed and easy way a Scot is Scottish or the Welsh are Welsh or a person like me can be English. They torture themselves with all sorts of misgivings and hang-ups. They come up with every qualification available to the ingenious mind. They have an in-built default reflex which makes them identify England, just to take one example, with racism. Not Scotland, not Wales, just England.
The 1998 devolution legislation described the Welsh Assembly as ‘the focus for the concerns of the nation’ but for these people just the mere thought of England being considered a nation –their nation- with its own concerns would cause them ideological convulsions and bring them out in an emotional and intellectual rash second to none. Heaven alone knows what the extension of the principles of the 1998 legislation to England would do to their individual and collective psyche. The explicitly stated foundation principle of the legislation was devolution of self-rule to Scotland and Wales over internal matters as distinct nations within the UK, be it in the form of a national –not a ‘regional’- parliament or an assembly. They hadn’t any problem with that for Scotland and Wales; they got into bed with it like lovers on their first night. But England –their England? Now, that for them is a very different kettle of fish. Not a lover. Not even a bedfellow. More a very bad dream. A constitutionally recognised England self-governing itself through it own parliament? - a veritable nightmare. As I have said, George Orwell had them neatly summed up long ago now.
They want England divided into regions, they talk about England as ‘regions’, they hope that somehow that will resolve the English Question (which is as much a question about their attitude to England as about England itself). The IPPR Inquiry into the English Question will turn out to be a promotion of regionalisation. To represent the devolved nations of the UK as ‘devolved administrations’ is a terminological strategy for a political end. It makes no difference to Scotland and Wales. Their distinct nationhood has now been constitutionally re-established, even within the Union. But, they hope and intend, it is not too late to influence the debate about England, which is their real concern anyway. If England can be represented as an area of administration rather than a nation, Whitehall can carve it up as it wishes. The significance of these authors is not themselves of course; it is what they represent and what they articulate. In the UK Establishment what they represent has a powerful following.
However, the clauses of the 1998 legislation not only do not support them. In fact they flatly contradict them. In line after line after line, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph it is ‘Scotland’ and it is ‘Wales’ that are mentioned, never anything like ‘devolved administrations’ nor ‘regions’. Both Scotland and Wales, whether before the Act of Union or after it, have always been regarded by the Scots, the Welsh and the English only as nations. The text of the legislation has to be read. It is perfectly clear. There can be no dispute about its purposive nature, what it intended. The 1998 Devolution legislation was about nations. ‘The Assembly will be the forum for the nation, able to debate all matters of concern in Wales….A directly elected Assembly will provide opportunities for a fully informed debate in Wales, and will take decisions which can reflect the needs and circumstances of Wales’.
The documentation surrounding the legislation bears this out. 'The Assembly will let Welsh people express their own priorities…an elected Assembly will give Wales a voice’ declared the then Secretary of State for Wales. Ron Davies, in his Foreword to the Welsh Act (just pause for one moment, pause to imagine the unimaginable, force yourself to do the impossible and imagine the sort of people who inhabit think-tanks like the IPPR or the Fabian Society or the Constitution Unit or the Justice Committee of MPs speaking that way about England). ‘Scotland is a proud historic nation within the United Kingdom’ stated Tony Blair in his preface to the Scotland White Paper. Substitute ‘England is a proud historic nation within the United Kingdom’ and ask the inhabitants of those bodies to say it out loud. They’d all take to the hills, or rather their burrows, like frightened rabbits. The Establishment just doesn’t talk about England like that.
But now look at a very different declaration about England in the Scotland White Paper. ‘The Union will be strengthened by recognising the claims of Scotland, Wales and the regions with strong identities of their own’. By the phrase ‘the regions’ the Labour Government meant the divisions Whitehall had made of England. Scotland and Wales each has a national identity; they are the ‘nations’. England hasn’t. In place of England there are ‘regions’ and in place of an English identity there are ‘regions with, says the legislation, ‘strong identities of their own’. That is the language of the think-tankers for whom England is not a nation but a unit of administration. It is the language of the Campaign for English Regions (CfER) which became defunct after the November 2004 North East of England referendum, members of which campaign have since found employment within the IPPR.
Leading up to the North East of England referendum the CfER produced a booklet with an extraordinary statement in it. ‘The North East Region is entirely different from the South West region’. It is remarkable what people will lend themselves to to get what they want. Both those two parts of England speak the one language, live under the same law and government, have the same system of local government and education, enjoy the same national health service, watch the same television, listen to the same radio, read the same papers, play the same games, drive the same motorways, use the same railways, and all the rest, all support England in football, cricket, rugby and so on. But somehow, maintained the CfER, they are ‘entirely different’. As I have said, it is remarkable what people are prepared to do for their own purposes.
It is important to nail this IPPR stratagem of speaking about Scotland and Wales as ‘Devolved Administrations’ because it is a specific ideology concealed by a misleading terminology. It would enable the sort of unionist these people are to talk and write as though the United Kingdom is still in essence what it was before 1998 when it is not. Scotland -and progressively Wales- has government of its internal affairs, and that’s just for starters, and there is no going back. Indeed, the movement is the other way, from ‘permissive autonomy’ (Professor Trench) to federation, if not indeed to three independent nations (and logically Irish unification). The DA term is intended to disguise the fundamental element of the 1998 legislation. That fundamental element is that the devolution it brought in was about nations. If, however, devolution can be represented as being about ‘administrations’ and not about nations, Whitehall can carve up England, as it thinks fit; and that in a nutshell is the New Labour/IPPR/Constitution Unit ideology and perspective about England. And that is what this IPPR Inquiry is about. But if devolution as in the 1998 legislation is about nations, which it is, which fact has created the English Question, then England has to be recognised as a distinct nation, which it is, and the issue of self-rule has to be addressed.
The English majority of the Parliamentary New Labour Party sleep-walked into devolution in 1997 and 1998; and though its 1998 devolution legislation brought about the biggest political and constitutional change in our history in 300 years, they actually paid it little or no attention. They left it all instead to Members of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and to the Scottish MPs like Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar who were members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, to actually drawn up the legislation and take it through its stages. ‘Devolution? Oh, that’s Gordon’s thing’ said Blair, as recorded by James Naughtie in his book ‘the Rivals’. Members of the SCC like Canon Kenyon Wright, who weren’t MPs or civil servants –he was the Chairman of its Executive- took part even in the actual drafting of the legislation. The IPPR, New Labour’s leading think-tank, just like the sleep-walking members of the PLP, did not see the significance of it at all and paid it no heed.
In total contrast one English woman and five Englishmen, alive to the political, cultural and constitutional significance of Scottish and Welsh devolution for England, had been following it all closely and on June 14th 1998, precisely when the legislation made it to the statute book, they met in the home of two of them in Thetford Forest in Norfolk, made their response in the form of a policy statement and founded the Campaign for an English Parliament. Time is proving their meeting to be historic.
Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar knew exactly what they were about, in contrast to the indifference and ignorance of the English majority of the PLP. They knew what they wanted, and it was nothing whatsoever to do with ‘Devolved Administrations’. Their concern was Scotland. They had shown their hand quite openly on March 30th 1989 when they and 130 other Scots MPs and MEPs and others put their signatures to ‘The Scottish Claim of Right’: ‘We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests will be paramount’. Brown signed that pledge, fundamentally unconstitutional though it was for a Union MP to sign it. So did the present Speaker of the House, Michael Martin. But there, blood is thicker than water. Nothing tells us better than that what Devolution 1998 was all about. It was about, and it is about, the assertion of the distinct nationhood of the Scots whose sovereignty and interests in the pledge and conviction of Gordon Brown and the rest of the SCC are paramount. In a word, to speak of Scotland and Wales as Devolved Administrations is delusion. Nine years after signing their Claim of Right Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar showed they meant it. With the 1998 devolution legislation they made the interests of Scotland paramount precisely as they had pledged.
If people want to understand what Brown means by the ‘Britishness’ he is now promoting, they should look back at that pledge. Brown’s ‘unionism’ is pragmatic. For him Scotland is what matters. What else can that pledge possibly mean? Where he differs from the SNP is only his belief that Scotland is best served by being in the Union. As Brown sees it, the Union gives to Scotland now just what it gave to Scotland in 1707: access to England’s wealth and power and with it much greater employment and career opportunities for the Scottish population.
However, the weakness of the 1998 legislation, though Brown and co with their monocular focus only on their own country and in their haste to get it through did not see it, was just that. It was only about Scotland and it was rushed. Wales was included, as I have said, purely to lend support to its primary intent. Just consider what the devolution legislation did. It made Scotland some 75% independent of the rest of the Union by taking away from all Union MPs, even Scottish ones, any power to make laws and regulations for the internal affairs of Scotland. Yet it maintained the right of Scottish (and Welsh MPs) to participate fully and totally as before in making laws and regulations for England and to be ministers for every aspect of English life. In a word, the 1998 devolution legislation fundamentally unbalanced the Union. The balance of the Union was fatally compromised by the legislation Brown and Dewar, on behalf of the SCC, took through parliament. In other words, for Brown Scotland mattered more than the Union; and if he is promoting ‘Britishness’ now, it is because he has realised that by unbalancing the Union in the interests of Scotland he has in fact put its future at risk, which, as he sees it, and fears, will be Scotland’s undoing. The three historic nations of this island no longer stand in the same constitutional relationship to the Union and to each other. The 1998 Devolution Legislation was, in the legal meaning of the word, perverse.
The 1998 devolution legislation has brought about the biggest and most significant change in British political life in the last 300 years. I would not want to make an estimation of its significance as greater than that of our membership of the EU, which is transforming our legal system and body of law and the composition of the people itself to a degree quite unforeseen, and possibly unforeseeable. The devolution legislation however has made a radical change to the nature of the Union. And it is permanent. It has given political and constitutional recognition and an executive self-governing function to Scotland and Wales as distinct nations. From the vaults of history, from being politically and constitutionally one British nation, the legislation gave rebirth to three –the three historic nations of this island. Political and constitutional rebirth to two of them by intent with varying powers of self-government which will only increase, and very likely become the platform for independence. The consequences will surpass anything else New Labour has done or will do in the time left to it. So why has it taken the IPPR all of ten years to address in an active way the immense constitutional and political significance of the 1998 legislation and its consequences? And I ask that question about the IPPR as representative of the English Establishment in general.
The reasons could be various. It could be that the IPPR has now decided to address the English Question because it has had an infusion of new blood from the Constitution Unit and the CfER. It could also be that it has till now had the Former Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine’s notorious attitude towards devolution issues impacting on England. His response when asked what to do about the West Lothian Question was ‘Ignore it’. That was a response that encapsulated so much of the way the Establishment regarded England. They thought we could –England could- just be taken for granted. How many times in England’s history that has happened? And what a misreading of the English it represents. The English are a people of village Hampdens in all sorts of different guises. Village Hampdens, Levellers, Diggers, Chartists, Suffragettes, peasants in revolt, poll tax protestors, Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Peterloo massacred, Chartists, miners, Pentonville fives and Shrewsbury threes, the list is endless. It is the humble Hobbit mind that just keeps slogging on and on no matter what the Lords of the World throw at it, the quiet determined obstinate bloody-minded bravery the night before Agincourt and on the Dunkirk beaches.
The reason could also be the IPPR’s own instinct for survival. The IPPR is as aware as anyone that Labour is very possibly going to lose office. It has now woken up to what is happening in England, to what is brewing, fermenting and bubbling up among the English. Labour won fewer votes in England than the Tories in the last general election and as things stand it is only a matter of time before English resentment over devolution translates into seats. Labour is also losing out to the SNP who now govern Scotland with the narrowest of majorities in the very institution which devolution set up. Without its usual clutch of Scottish seats in the Union Parliament Labour will be very hard put to muster a majority in Westminster. It could be that the IPPR is now getting together an agenda for New Labour which might –just might- address the whole issue of widespread English resentment at the outcomes of the 1998 devolution settlement and make the Party less unelectable. It might indeed have been persuaded by its new members from the Constitution Unit and the CfER that it cannot ignore the issue for devolution any longer if Labour is to stand any chance at all.
But note how the IPPR approaches the matter. It is not an Establishment body for nothing. Re-read those first words of the blurb it put out about the Seminar: ‘The English Question has recently moved from the margins of British political life to centre-stage. Fuelled by concerns about the perceived inequities of devolution and a growing sense that England and the English are losing out in this unbalanced Union, concerns about the future of England are provoking widespread public debate’. Note that the IPPR speaks of ‘inequities’ as ‘perceived’. The statement is a very significant give-away if ever there was one. It’s a clever New Labour sleight of hand. To say the ‘inequities’ (a posh word, a harmless word) complained about by English people are ‘perceived’ is to imply they don’t really exist, are nothing more than ignorant plebian bellyaching, figments of the imagination. It trumps even the Derry Irvine solution to devolution.
The trouble is of course that the ‘inequities’ are facts, not fiction. English students don’t get university education without paying tuition fees as in Scotland; the elderly in England don’t get free personal care as in Scotland; the council tax of the people of England isn’t being frozen for three years as in Scotland; they don’t get free prescriptions and free hospital parking as in Wales; they don’t get the latest and most effective cancer and eye medications made available in the NHS in Scotland; they don’t have an iota of self-rule and their country has no political and constitutional existence as Scotland and Wales have; the Establishment wants to suppress its identity and balkanise it into regions; and they don’t get universal free eye tests as in Scotland. And in addition to all that the Scots and the Welsh through the Barnett Formula get some £1500 per head more than people in England.
These aren’t ‘perceived inequities’. They’re real inequities. They aren’t dreamed up as if in some fit of nationalistic envy or bias. Either you pay when you park in a hospital car park or you don’t. Either you come out of university with debts to the state to be collected by a private debt-collector or you don’t. Either a widow or widower or their children sell their house to pay for personal care in a care home or they don’t. The things have a real existence, not a perceived one.
So what does it tell us about the IPPR? It tells us that it is a typical Union Establishment body, one that says the ‘inequities’ are ‘perceived’ rather than real because it does not want to admit anything that might mean an acknowledgement of the unfair situation which England qua England is in post devolution. And without a shadow of doubt it tells us everything about what the outcome will be of this IPPR Inquiry. The purpose of this IPPR Inquiry is not really into the English Question created by the 1998 legislation. Its purpose is to find reasons why the English people must not, whatever the cost, be given the political and constitutional recognition Scotland and Wales got with the 1998 legislation. We are living in interesting times. Because of devolution England is reasserting itself after 300 years of self-negation. And it is England that matters in United Kingdom politics. The Empire has gone and the hard economic fact is that England no longer needs Scotland and Wales. And all that is scaring the socks off the UK Establishment. Their angst is because they do not know how they will fit in, all their status and privileges intact, in the new UK that is being brought about without it knowing it by the 1998 legislation.
Soon the big Scottish characters of the 90s will all have gone too. John Smith, Robin Cook, John Reid, Tam Dayell, Donald Dewar, in one way or other they have departed the scene.. South of the border we may not see their likes again. Scotland’s day in England might well be over. When in due course, Brown departs, will any effective Scottish influence in United Kingdom politics end too? To my mind it will unless the Union changes in response to the principles of the 1998 legislation. It just cannot continue if England is denied devolution, the devolution of 1998. The people of England will repudiate, and rightly repudiate, a union that makes use of it for the benefit of a mere 15% of its population and expects it to pay for those benefits. If ever a house is now built on sand, this is it. The Labour Party is crumbling throughout Scotland. The Conservative Part will not remain in Scotland except as a minor player. What we are now witnessing, something unforeseeable in 1998 but brought out of the vaults of history and kicked into life by the devolution legislation of that year –Brown’s own legislation- is England becoming England again, Scotland becoming Scotland again and Wales becoming Wales again. The three historic nations of this island are now re-asserting themselves. It is a process that will not be stopped. What we witnessed at the IPPR seminar was a small time skirmish, very indicative in itself, which is part of a much wider conflict. They are wasting valuable energy. The Union is going to change and if it is going to carry on, it will either be as a union of devolved nations or as a federation. The people now beavering away in such organisations as the Justice Committee, the IPPR and the Constitution Unit to stop England getting political and constitutional recognition as a distinct nation would do far better to assist that process and make it work.
The problem New Labour and its courtier affiliates and think-tanks like the IPPR have had with devolution ever since 1998 has been this unlooked for piece of grit in what they thought would be their tame and lovely cosy devolution oyster. That piece of grit has created the one pearl they never expected, and certainly did not want: a growing awareness among the English of a distinct English identity, with which as night follows day comes the demand for constitutional and political recognition. That demand is taking various forms: English votes on English matters, an English Grand Committee, an English Parliament -all collectively opposed by Labour and its supporters and agents like the IPPR. However, it is now only a matter of time before Labour itself, confronted by electoral realities, will join in. The voice of England is beginning to be heard; and as it is the strongest voice in the UK family, it will have to be listened to –if, that is, the Union is to survive.
After all, England does not need Scotland and Wales. So any political party that continues to gives Scotland and Wales political, constitutional and financial preference over England is asking for its own termination. That’s now dawning on the whole Establishment. They are beginning to wake up the fact that the preservation of the Union is conditional, not upon England not getting political and constitutional recognition as a distinct nation within the Union, which is the idea they’ve been sustaining themselves with till now, but upon actually getting it -and with it for good measure the financial, social and medical benefits which Scotland and Wales have been getting, with more to come, since 1998.
That’s just plain common sense. What’s the point of the Union for England otherwise? England doesn’t exist for Scotland’s and Wales’ benefit. England didn’t establish the Union in 1707 for Scotland’s benefit but for her own. People should get real. The fundamental issue is as always an economic one. The Union is of no economic benefit any longer to the English. People need to cotton on to that basic fact. If both Wales and Scotland became independent tomorrow, it would make very little difference to the people of England. They’d still be in the EU for a start. Their departure would barely raise an eyebrow among English people. We’d still have the same access to the whisky; we’d still be able to take holidays in the Isles; family ties would be just as strong and families just as accessible. Whatever Scotland and Wales produces, be it oil or electricity or water or anything else, can be obtained by trading arrangements just like French wine is. The Union doesn’t put a slice of bread on anyone’s plate in England that we cannot make or negotiate for ourselves. If it is to continue, it will have to be in the interests, not just of Scotland and Wales but equally of England; and that’s the long and short of it.
There were some thirty people at the seminar. In addition to three or so from the IPPR itself. And going on memory and from inquiries, they came from universities like the LSE, Ulster, Strathclyde, Nottingham and others, the Guardian newspaper, think-tanks like Open Democracy (which is doing trojan work on the Communities Bill/legislation), government bodies like the Ministry of Justice (the new department which sounds like something from a Graham Greene novel or Kafka), the House of Commons Library, the Hansard Society, the Constitution Unit, the Quebec Government Office, the Centre for Cities, the London branch of the SNP, three of us from the CEP, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (footnote 4), at least one MP, a former MP and other groups and institutions which I did not catch the names of. Guy Lodge, the Head of the IPPR ‘Democracy & Power’ Team and Dr. Wright MP for Cannock gave short introductory talks. The main speaker was Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde who took immense, almost school-boyish, bubbling delight in exhibiting and explaining the many graphs he had constructed on his research into public attitudes in England on devolution and Englishness. The conclusions he put to the meeting were less important in themselves, not least because they contradict the results of alternative polling, than what they revealed about the political concern behind them.
A most curious thing happened at the start of the seminar. When asked to introduce themselves, everyone round the seminar table with just a couple of exceptions did it by saying what country they were from. Not just what organisation, but also whether they were English or Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish or what precise mixture of that lot or whatever. Thinking about it maybe it’s the inevitable outcome of ten years of the devolution of 1998, namely an awareness of a distinct nationality. It just showed very graphically how wrong Gordon Brown and co had been on assuming power in 1997. They hadn’t a clue what the repercussions of devolution were going to be. They never applied their minds to it nor thought they had to. They never got beyond counting out the benefits for Scotland. They just wanted as much independence for Scotland as could be squeezed out of the Union while managing to stay in it and have its benefits on tap. Quite incredibly they thought that they could have it all and no one in England would mind. Well, they got all they wanted for Scotland all right but they also got a few things they never bargained for. Like the SNP in power in Edinburgh; and above all, for this is the most important and significant thing, the resurgence on the part of the English of the sense of their own national identity. As I keep saying, what matters in the Union is England; and Gordon Brown will go down in history for being the man who gave the occasion to England to revive its identity as a distinct nation. The very last thing in the world he wanted. As he sees it, it threatens Scotland; and he is now thrashing around trying to push the genie back into the bottle in the name of Britishness. Too late, Gordon, too late.
Guy Lodge did not show any movement from the position on England he has set out in his various publications when he was a member of the Constitution Unit. In the chapter he together with Meg Russell wrote in the CU 2006 ‘the English Question’, he accepted that in the event of changed voting procedures in the Union Parliament for the purpose of somehow resolving the West Lothian Question such as English votes on English matters (which any democrat even with only half a head must agree will not work), he’d stated: ‘it would be far more transparent and democratic to create an English Parliament' (p.88); but then went on to declare a decided preference for regionalism in some form or other. The issue he and his region-supporting colleagues do not face up to is that the ‘devolution’ they associate with regional assemblies is essentially different from the devolution brought into being by the 1998 legislation. The latter was addressed to nations, theirs is not. Theirs amounts to nothing more than yet another round of English local government reorganisation, as instanced with the GLA. Brown’s government has been explicit for example, open and brash about it, that the ‘regional ministers’ he has appointed are there to promote central government policies. They are agents of central government, not donors of devolved power. The decisions taken by Gordon Brown about HBoS and RBS, for example, are a very good illustration, namely in the things that really matter the Edinburgh government will just be ignored. And –picking up the things Lodge said at the seminar- when it comes to England, well, yes, the natives might be stirring a bit but it is all containable. The English, he said, are content to let the UK government look after England’s interests; Englishness is not on the increase; England accepts asymmetric devolution (footnote 5); and the perception the English have of various injustices are nothing more than ‘grumbles’. It is just old-time Westminster colonialism.
Much more interesting in my opinion was Dr. Tony Wright MP. His contribution was very brief, just a few sentences. He together with Selina Chen had edited a collection of essays in the year 2000 for the Fabian Society, the title ‘The English Question’, so I was pleased he was there. In the essay he contributed to that book, the opening chapter, he had acknowledged there was an English Question and said that England should have devolution of some sort, but he didn’t say what sort, though he was adamant that whatever it was it must not be an English Parliament. His one concrete proposal was to call for ‘a Commission on the Constitution with the future governance of England at its centre’. That was ten years ago and nothing has been done since despite his recognition of the urgency of the matter. ‘The English Question is now on the table and will not go away’ he wrote. He also stated: ‘The English propensity for muddling through is an exhausted option’.
At the seminar he called for an inquiry that is consistent with his previous call for a Commission. However, his final statement was curious in the extreme: ‘It is better not to press things to their logical conclusion but to muddle through’. That he was contradicting himself is obvious. But why was he doing it? What has gone on these last ten years to make him change his mind? And what does he mean by ‘muddling through’? Usually it means that we treat a problem in a Heath Robinson sort of way, ad hoc and patching up as best we can, without vision and foresight, getting there somehow, wherever ‘there’ is, and not upsetting the natives en route and avoiding offending vested interests wherever possible. Why, I speculate, as speculate I must, was an MP pre-eminent in constitutional matters, in a matter he had considered urgent, one he simultaneously believed merited a Commission of Inquiry, now asking not for a solution at all but for a ‘muddle through’? Doing in fact a Lord Derry Irvine on the issue?
As I have said, I speculate, as speculate I must. Could it be because Dr Wright is all too acutely aware that the English Question cannot be properly and adequately resolved without one almighty upheaval in the British state which for all its merits he and his fellow MPs just haven’t the stomach to contemplate, let alone carry out? I offer just one example because to set out the full range of the upheaval would require a book, and this piece has now gone on long enough. I would ask you to go back to that crucial feature of the 1998 legislation which cannot be mentioned enough if ever we are going to get this whole matter successfully resolved. This island historically and culturally is made up of three nations. Devolution 1998 was offered to Scotland and Wales as nations. That, as I have shown, is in almost every line of the legislation, sometimes very explicitly indeed, sometimes by the clearest implication. Devolution 1998 wasn’t about local government organisation, not in any shape or form. It wasn’t about mayors or regions or anything like that. It was in every sense the political and constitutional acknowledgement of the distinct nationhood of Scotland and Wales.
Dr Wright is an MP. He’s fully soused out what would happen to English MPs (and indeed to Scottish and Welsh MPs too because they wouldn’t get off lightly either as they did in 1998) if the principles of Devolution 1998 were extended to England. It was the principles of Devolution 1998 that created the English Question, nothing else. If those principles were applied to England, it would be as they were to Scotland and Wales, namely: as to a nation –the English nation. The resolution of the English Question would be to deal with England as the nation it is. In other words by means of a national institution, an institution which would represent the English nation precisely as the Scottish institution created by Devolution 1998 represents the Scottish nation and precisely as the Welsh institution created by Devolution 1998 represents the Welsh nation. Little wonder, in a moment of undisciplined generosity, Guy Lodge put forward an English Parliament as the ‘far more transparent and democratic’ way to resolve the English Question.
But what would that mean for the MPs of the British State? English MPs make up 550 of the 650 in the Commons. When Scotland got its own Parliament, in addition to the 70 or so it already had, it also got 129 MSPs, all to be paid for with good salaries, who took over some 70% of the duties of the Scottish MPs in the British Parliament. Yet, despite losing 70% of their former responsibilities, the latter kept the salaries in full. Just think about it. Think what happens to a teacher who transfers from full time duties to say 2 days a week. His/her salary is cut accordingly, and drastically. And rightly. But teachers are not in charge of their own salaries, MPs are. There wasn’t a bat in hell’s chance of the 1998 legislation going through if the Scottish MPs’ salaries had been cut as they should have been cut. The Scottish Constitutional Convention knew perfectly well that there’d be mutiny inside their own ranks if it as much as breathed the possibility. Besides, the mood of the Commons at the time was such that Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales, could pretty well have whatever it liked. The Scottish ‘devolutionaries’ ran the show.
However, any MP who applies his or her mind even skimpily to the English Question knows beyond any shadow of doubt that there’s no way that would happen if there was an English Parliament. The people of England just will not have it. If we have an English Parliament with the same powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and a similar Executive, then between the UK Parliament and the English Parliament the number of MPs jointly will not be allowed to exceed the present number sitting in the Commons. The English people will not stand for having more politicians. They will not stand for more money being spent on politicians. They will not stand for more government. Nor should they. Devolution does not create more people to govern. Where the population remains the same, there is absolutely no need for more MPs. And that should be the Iron Law of Devolution. And should have been in 1998. There simply is no reason at all why jointly the members of the English Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, when it gets one too, the Scottish Parliament and the Union Parliament should exceed the number of MPs in the present Union Parliament. There’s no more governing that needs to be done, no more people that need to be governed.
It is not just in that one way that an English Parliament will bring about the most radical changes in the way England will be governed and impact on the existing MPs. It will also bring in proportional representation and the control of lengths of parliament being taken from the governing party to exploit them to its advantage. It will mean existing MPs having to re-stand for election. If it is outside of London, which in my judgement it must be if London remains the seat of the UK government, say in Manchester or Leeds or Birmingham or Derby or Stoke, it will bring about the biggest transfer of power, employment, culture and media activities in the whole of England’s very long history, the most decisive decentralisation of power ever. It will be a new beginning, a new wave, and a radically new opportunity to break from the paralysing bureaucratic practices which have stifled English government for centuries. We are looking at a fantastic possibility. A new beginning. A new England. An England in control of its own internal affairs, where 300 years of the dead hand of stifling imperial bureaucracy can be removed and nation life restored. Where the Gordon Brown attitude towards England, which regards it just as a trading estate, a giant shopping mall, a monumental car park, one almighty enormous employment exchange, without myth or poetry or vision or beauty, can be dispatched once and for all.
However, books will be written and papers put forward on those great themes when the time comes, as it must. All I want to do here is make the observation that any knowledgeable and thoughtful English MP such as Dr Tony Wright will be all too aware how an English Parliament will impact directly on the salaries, constituency duties, parliamentary responsibilities and positions and career prospects of existing MPs. It is perfectly understandable therefore, that they would prefer the whole issue be put out to an Inquiry, as Dr Wright proposed in his short talk, and indeed proposed ten years ago in the Fabian book where he called for ‘a Commission on the Constitution with the future governance of England at its centre’. That was ten years ago and nothing has been done since despite his recognition of the urgency of the matter. ‘The English Question is now on the table and will not go away’ he wrote. It is not unfair or unkind to observe that an Inquiry would of course send the whole matter into the longest grass on the most ill-kept cricket pitch there is, and have the added virtue of it being dealt with by MPs themselves.
Maybe –I speculate of course- maybe the expression ‘to muddle through’ is another way of saying that ‘we are content’. Things as they are suit us. So nothing drastic. Yes, we can fiddle about a bit with this and that, muddle through on this problem or on that, but nothing that rocks our boat. A Commission of Inquiry? Yes, that’ll give a very good impression and we can sit it out for as long as it takes, and it’ll be our commission anyway and whatever it recommends will be our recommendations and they won’t threaten our jobs, our status, our salaries, our prospects. We are content. No one and nothing will be allowed to disturb that. And as for England –well, whatever it might become, it’s not going to trouble us.
Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University was the final speaker. The main one in the time he took anyway. With enormous zest and bubbling enthusiasm he produced graph after graph based on the polling he and his department had conducted. It was all about how the English are reacting to devolution for Scotland and Wales, to what extent they have a sense of having a distinct English identity and to what extent they want to govern themselves. The long and short of it all were words of comfort to those who are worried the UK might have a peasants’ revolt on their hands. The professor had found evidence they can all sleep secure in their beds. His findings were: The English accept the asymmetric devolution settlement (cf footnote 5); and, yes, though there are grumbles over funding differences and the West Lothian Question, they are all manageable and they have not found any detectable political expression, or shown themselves to be having an electoral effect.
And –and there were sighs of relief all round with this one- the Tories are keeping well clear of exploiting what dissatisfaction there is. In his Democracy Workshop report Ken Clarke made a few arcane proposals but what they really revealed was that the Tory Party under Cameron hasn’t the slightest intention of addressing the West Lothian Question in any serious way. Not the slightest. And the reason for that is patently obvious. If it gets into power at the next election with a workable majority, it will be on the back of English votes. And that will do. Its majority will be English seats. So no need at all for English Votes on English Matters in any guise. KC’s recommendations will gather dust on some obscure shelf somewhere or other. Not needed.
My conclusion is quite straightforward. I would advise the UK Establishment in all its forms to keep their eyes skinned for the likes of us. We are a broad coalition. We just want justice for the people of England, by which we mean anyone and everyone for whom England is their home and their future and that of their children. We want for England in all its great vitality and dynamic variety only what Scotland and Wales have been given. That will be fair and just. That will do. New Labour poured millions into their push for the regional assembly balkanisation of England and on a shoestring it was defeated, and we contributed to that defeat. It was an unjust measure. It would have turned England, our nation, into what the economist Will Hutton has called ‘a veritable witches’ brew of internecine rivalries’. We have kept the injustice of the 1998 legislation on the agenda when for a decade the Establishment wanted it ignored.
What we ask of the people in power and of the agencies that service them is that they do not fear England. England is noble. A new Union is possible where there is trust, where in what is desired there is fairness and justice. What we ask is an open mind, a mind open to a new vision, about which here and there I have presented a few suggestions. It just is no good trying to hang on to the past. The past is gone, it has done its bit, it has served its time; and it has gone to a degree they did not foresee or understand. It is ’mean and base and without noble lustre’ obstinately to stay there and not be open to ideas which challenge what one is content and comfortable with. The foundations for a new vision, a new Britain, have been laid. Now is the time for courage and generosity.
‘Ancient woodland in Britain is being felled at a rate even faster than in the Amazonian rainforest according to research by the Woodland Trust. Almost half the all woods in the UK that are more than 400 years old have been lost in the past 89 years and more than 600 ancient woods are being threatened (NB please note the tense of the verb, they are now being threatened, namely under this NL government, now, at this very moment) by new roads, electricity pylons, housing and airport expansion. This report comes as the government (NB this Brown government) prepares to sign a compulsory purchase order to buy several acres of Two Mile wood outside Weymonth to build a bypass. This remnant of ancient forest is one of Britain’s finest bluebell woods and is full of old beech, oak and hornbeam trees’ (Guardian Oct. 22nd. 2008). The newspaper report provides more information about the barbarity of the NL, indeed Whitehall mindset when it comes to environmental and ecological issues.
The same applies to the financial interests of the Scottish MPs at Westminster. Even though devolution transferred some 75% of their constituency responsibilities to MSPs, they kept their full salaries and allowances. If the devolution legislation had threatened to reduce their salaries in line with the reduction in their responsibilities, it would never have had their support and would not have been passed. Protection of MPs’ living standards is among the first rule of parliamentary politics.
For Brown the degree of Scottish devolution he got through the 1997-98 Union Parliament while remaining in the Union is what he believes is best for Scotland. It could hardly have been any better. He took full advantage of the state of the Union Parliament at that moment. The Tories were in a state of total disarray and devastation; the Liberals were up for anything; and the Labour ranks were heaving not just with all too many MPs who were malleable and supine but who were also very green and inexperienced in politics, even their own. Hard thinking was not what they were expecting, nor were they were used to. The Devolution legislation which Brown took through parliament made Scotland 75% independent of the Union in all internal matters, some of them the very highest matters of state; while at the same time it maintained Scotland’s position in the Union to the full. Its Union MPs kept their full salaries (of course) despite transferring over half of their constituency responsibilities to MSPs. They also kept all the right to be engaged fully in all legislation which concerned England, Wales and Scotland, and to hold any ministerial office of the British state. Scotland kept the Barnett Formula and received in addition immense subsidies to install and maintain the Scottish Parliament and its Executive. Scotland does not pay its way. Its tax revenue falls short of its expenditure by between £7 billion and £11 billion per annum, depending on whether or not oil revenues from fields in the Scottish section of the North Sea are counted as Scottish or as British. The English taxpayer makes up the shortfall either way. With the 1998 legislation Brown pulled off the most brilliant coup in the 300 years history of the Union. He himself would now leave it at that and not push demands matters any further. In the light of the pledge he made in 1989 to the Scottish people we can safely assume that the vociferous declarations of support for the Union and for ‘Britishness’ he has been making since becoming Prime Minister are because he believes the Scottish people are better off in it. After all, they now have almost total internal independence, every office in the Union is available to them and they have a much say in what happens to England and in England as any English MP, while all of England’s tax revenue is very generously at their service.
The JRCT was there, understandably, because it was making a grant to the IPPR for the Inquiry the IPPR is doing. I found that interesting. Round about 2002 the CEP put an application in to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for a grant. As we knew that the JRRT had given a very sizable grant to the Campaign for English Regions which was promoting one form of devolution for England, we expected, reasonably enough we thought, it would at least consider ours. However, our application never got past a conversation between JRRT officers the very weekend it was received. As far as we can ascertain, it was not even placed before the Trust. It would seem from how our application was treated that the form of devolution for England we are promoting, which is exactly the form granted to Scotland, namely political and constitutional recognition as a distinct nation with its own national parliament to govern over all internal affairs, was not acceptable to the JRRT while devolution which would abolish England as a national unity and balkanise it into self-governing regional assemblies was. The division of England into regions each with its own assembly, and opposition to England having its own parliament, is Liberal Democrat party policy; and at the time of our application being received there was at least one prominent LibDem member on the JRRT. When I found out at the seminar that its sister trust, the JRCT, was supporting the IPPR Inquiry, it caused me to wonder if this was yet another instance that when it comes to English matters the UK Establishment knows its own by instinct, knows without having to think about it what belongs to it and what doesn’t, what’s in and what’s out. If the outcome of this IPPR Inquiry is yet another call for the regionalisation of England or indeed anything which does not recognise England as a distinct nation, I will not be surprised.
One has to smile a bit at this oft-repeated theme that the 1998 devolution package was ‘asymmetrical’ as if that somehow justifies the mess it left the UK in. Certainly it was very definitely asymmetrical as applied to Scotland and Wales. What Wales got was pitiful in comparison with what Brown and his colleagues obtained for Scotland. But it was hardly asymmetrical as far as England is concerned because England got no devolution at all. Not one scrap. Separately, in quite separate legislation, a mayor here and there as in London but that was nothing more than a bit of local government re-organisation, not devolution.
Speech by Mike Knowles to The CEP's "Future of England" Conference, 26 April 2008
We are here to consider the future of England.
Why should we have a concern for England’s future?
After all, England has been around for a long long time. The Venerable Bede wrote a History of the English Nation (gens anglicana) in 731, 1300 years ago. Even then there was recognition of a distinct English identity. And England became a unified nation state in the 10th century, if not before, the first nation state in Europe. ‘There’ll always be an England’, the song says. What is there to be concerned about?
There are a number of things. Very serious things. For example, there is the future of England’s environment which is being battered and kicked about like a tin can in an alley. There is the issue of local and national cohesion, weakened and dangerously misdirected by governments over decades. For us, unlike our governments, England is one people, that is our campaign belief, no matter the differences of ethnicity, religion and cultures. An English parliament will be for everyone for whom England is home and future. And then there is the issue of the European Union, a huge growing issue in respect of national identity and self-government, not just for England but for every nation state in Europe. Just to mention three major issues about England out of many.
But our concern today is another one. It is, in the pithy phrase of Philip Johnston of the Telegraph, about England’s identity and governance. It is about our right to have our English identity given the same political and constitutional recognition as has been given to that of Scotland and Wales and about England getting the same degree of self-governance as Scotland has and potentially Wales has. It is about England’s future in the United Kingdom and its relationship to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is not a narrow concern. I would maintain that it is the platform from which all our other concerns can be effectively addressed and resolved.
As up to 1998 England’s future like that of Scotland and Wales was just as part of the UK. But the 1998 devolution legislation changed all that.; and the constitution of the United Kingdom fundamentally. It had two basic principles::
(1) devolution is granted as to nations. The language of the legislation spoke of Scotland and Wales as nations, not as anything other than nations.
(2) devolution is self-rule by means of a national parliament or assembly separately elected.
Devolution 1998 established Scotland and Wales, constitutionally and politically, as distinct and separate nations within the United Kingdom, with their own parliaments; and formally terminated the political fact established in 1707 of one British nation with one parliament.
A parliament, where freely chosen as in Scotland’s case, is the most potent and effective statement of a common national identity; and the Scottish Parliament has governance of all Scotland’s internal affairs. It has made Scotland 75% independent of the UK. And it has this feature, one that cannot be given too much significance- it is a parliament with 129 members who are there as Scots. Not as British but there as Scots. To represent not British interests but those, and only those, of Scotland. And the same principle obtains in Wales too with its 40 Assembly members. I cannot emphasise it enough, they are elected to govern in the specific interests of Scotland and Wales, not Britain. And England? Nothing. No recognition. no self governance, no parliament or assembly, no voice, no MPs elected to concern themselves solely with English interests. Instead, to make matters even worse, the insultingly undemocratic direct opposite -the WL situation. Scotland’s future, like that of Wales, is now in the hands of their own people. England’s future is not in the hands of the English people at all. And 550 MPs from England voted for all of this.
But that was them. Besides them there is us. A second thing happened in 1998. Unheralded, and unnoticed -but it will prove no less important than either the 1707 Act of Union or the 1998 devolution legislation. On June 14th 1998, ten years ago, six people met in a house in Thetford Forest in Norfolk. They founded the Campaign for an English Parliament. Guy Green, Tony and Pearl Linsell, Roy Meadowcroft, Harry Bottom and Terry Brown. In the Policy Document which remains the foundation statement of the campaign ever since, they made this statement: ‘The people of England have an identity separate from a British identity, and they need a parliament and a constitutional arrangement which recognises that identity and serves their special interests'. The statement is about governance and identity. It is a demand that the two foundation principles of devolution implemented in Scotland and Wales, be applied equally to England.
That is our vision for England’s future which for the Scots and the Welsh is already a reality. A nation once again. Like what they have. Just like what the Union government, the political set, gave them. On it depends so much that also has to be done for England: environmentally, governmentally, and culturally and socially in respect of community and national cohesion. It does not challenge the existence of the Union. All it does is call for the changes in the Union already brought about by the 1998 legislation to be extended to England.
But there are other visions too of England’s future. It is with just one that I will deal. It is that of Gordon Brown. It is the one that matters because he is the Prime Minister. His is a vision of Britain and of England consisting, as he says repeatedly, of ‘nations and regions’. By nations he means Scotland and Wales, by regions he means the divisions of England into regions. No political or constitutional recognition of England as a nation, or of its identity; as was explicitly given to his own Scotland in the 1998 legislation. No English Parliament; its territory to be the only part of the United Kingdom ruled in every aspect by the British parliament. It is a policy that would terminate England qua England altogether. And in the two years of office that might be all that is left to him, he will use every lever and every instrument of power in the British state to bring it about.
He will proceed by dictat. He will not place his plan for the future of England before the people of England by means of a referendum. The government burnt their fingers with the 2004 referendum in England’s North East counties and cities. For him the regionalisation of England is the device by which, with deliberate deception, he can fudge and, he hopes, dissolve the West Lothian Question. But more than that. Much more, For Brown the termination of England as a nation, and its dissolution into regions, will resolve the English Question. There can be no English Question if there is no England. He is already proceeding by dictat. He has already appointed 9 MPs as ‘regional ministers’, which was not in Labour’s manifesto. And there is open speculation that in his next reshuffle he will appoint a Minister for the English Regions. The battle lines for the future of England, for England to be or not to be, are being drawn between the Member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath and us. Because we here in this hall are England.
What is it that is driving Gordon Brown to use all the power of the British State to deny to England what he has so successfully achieved for Scotland? In Edinburgh on March 30th 1989 together with 133 fellow members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention he signed, the Scottish Claim of Right, ‘We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests will be paramount’ He signed that pledge. So did the present Speaker of the House, Michael Martin.
Look at those words –Brown’s pledge to make the interests of Scotland ‘paramount in every action and deliberation’. We have seen what his deliberations are for England, what action he has taken already. Is it for Scotland then that he wants England to become a collection of regions? Does Brown see it as in the interests specifically of Scotland that England should in effect be denied devolution and a parliament and through regionalisation be terminated as a nation? He will of course deny it. He will argue that it is in the interests of preserving the Union, that for England with 80% of the population and producer of some 85% of its wealth to have its own parliament will fatally unbalance the Union. From the ardent Scots he declared himself in 1989 he’s now become the most ardent of Britishers. Why?
Brown signed the pledge to support the sovereign right of his own Scottish people to ‘determine the form of Government best suited to their needs’ and he got it in the form of a referendum. Doesn’t the people of England have that right too? On his terms only an outright hypocrite would say no. That therefore is what he is. But he is something even worse. The Member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath thinks he can tell the English people what form of government is best suited to their needs’ The arrogance of the man is incredible.
The present arrangement of the Union suits Brown. In that he differs crucially from his fellow countryman Alex Salmond. Salmond believes Scotland has the economic critical mass to go it alone. And believes Scotland has the sovereign right to go it alone if it wants to. Brown believes that Scotland being in the Union best serves Scotland’s interests and does not have the sovereign right to choose otherwise. I believe that on the evidence we can say this: that for Brown England is the milch cow. England environmentally, England’s identity, does not matter to Brown. England could be windswept with plastic bags and its countryside hidden under concrete –no matter. What matters to Brown about England is just the wealth and the power it produces from which Scotland benefits.
It is he who is in power. That is why I am focussing on his plan for England. First and foremost we must address what threatens England now. Look at the forces lined up against us: the might of the United Kingdom government, all three political parties; a media either opposed or indifferent; the BBC which organises itself precisely the way Brown thinks of Britain, as nations and regions, a BBC which has a BBC Scotland, a BBC Wales, a BBC Northern Ireland and an Asian Network but adamantly refuses to have a BBC England; and heaven knows how many Establishment think-tanks like the Fabian Society, Democracy Unlocked, the IPPR and the Constitution Unit. To list but four. How can we possibly win against such a Goliath of forces like that?
We can and we will. Because our cause is both very just and very fair’ We ask only for the principles of the 1998 legislation to be extended to England. We present the only just and fair answer to the West Lothian Question and the English Question’ and just as crucial, the only solution that will hold the Union together . And that is no silly idle boast. Strangely, unexpectedly, confirmation for that assertion comes from the very same Goliath of forces that oppose us. In the year 2000 in the Fabian Society publication ‘the English Question’ Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit., a think-tank set up to promote the division of England into regions, asked what the 1998 devolution legislation might lead to in five to ten years’ time. ‘One option’, he says, ‘can be quickly dismissed: an English Parliament’. Seven years later, November 14th 2007, the Professor appeared as a witness before the Justice Select Committee and informed it that: ‘the closest to a complete answer to the West Lothian Question is a separate English Parliament’. It took him and his fellow university academics 7 full years to reach the conclusion the founders of this Campaign arrived at in a matter of hours in Thetford Forest.
And we are now surrounded by support. The latest four professional opinion polls, conducted in 2006 and 2007, averaged 60% in favour of an English Parliament. And how was it achieved? First, by the sheer instinct of the people of England for basic justice and for recognition of their own distinct identity. National identity is a birth right. It is what we are and we will govern ourselves by what we are, with all the complexities, variety and vitality of modern England, which together are producing a new, a changing and vibrant culture.
And secondly, it has been achieved by our unremitting campaigning and our arguments. Our weapons, our instruments in our struggle are not the arrows of the Cheshire bowmen as at Agincourt or the little boats of the men of Kent crossing to Dunkirk. No, our weapons and our instruments now are our arguments One brief summary of them, the Booklet ‘Devolution for England’, has been placed on every chair for you to take away, read, understand and tell people about, write to news papers about, organise branch meetings wherever you live and discuss. And you can take more if you want to for distribution. Knowledge is power. The influence and power of this Campaign has been incredible. Now, you must organise for England and for an English parliament wherever you live. You here in this hall, you are England.
We want England’s destiny to be in the hands of the people of England. Surely no more than a very basic human right.
Will England see it? It will. Of course not all of us possibly. But our attitude must be that embodied in the message which the London Correspondence Society gave to its delegates setting out across England in 1795. 1795 was a dark year. A year of harsh political repression in England. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, were in dire poverty and subject to terrible conditions as the Industrial Revolution changed and ravaged their lives. The delegates went out to get people to unite to struggle for the very basics of a decent living. And the message they carried with them should be ours. ‘Remember. You are wrestling with Injustice, not for yourselves only, for you may not see the full Day of Liberty, but for the Child hanging at the Breast’
To raise this question now, before England has even got its own parliament, might seem premature. Not so. Those of us supporting devolution for England are constantly asked where, if England got it, its parliament would be located. There are other reasons too. One is the need to modernize our democracy and not just settle for the past without the radical rethink which is long overdue. Another is the issue of fairness. And we need to make sure that once we get our own parliament, we do not allow it to get lost or mangled inside the machinery of the UK Parliament or become an appendage to it.
Devolution in the English Context
The location of its parliament goes to the very heart of what devolution for England will actually be. England isn’t Scotland, it isn’t Wales. For centuries Scotland and Wales had been denied any form of self-government, so going for the location of their parliament/assembly in their capital cities was part of their re-assertion of restored national-identity. It seemed perfectly sound to them at the time. Maybe both of them should have given it more thought. There were, and maybe there still are, some pretty bitter grumblings both in Glasgow and in North Wales at the way Edinburgh and Cardiff took it all and shared out nothing.
England is very different. Starkly different questions have to be posed and debated no matter how much they disturb set ways of thinking. English devolution when it happens will find itself confronting very different realities. One is the fact that the Union government is located in London. If the English Parliament is located there too, the governance and control over England that London already exercises, and profits from immensely, will be increased. And might it be no more than an extension of the Union Parliament, a gesture on the part of the Union power elite, something it can keep tight control of? In such a circumstance as that will the distinct identity and the specific interests of the English people, which their parliament should represent, continue to be disadvantageously confused with the British state.
Our system of government is one of excessively London-based centralised power. For England to have its own parliament outside of London could mean democratic progress There isn’t just a disproportionate concentration of political power in London and the South East but also, going with it, an immense concentration of wealth, economic and financial power, cultural activity and employment opportunities. Will an English Parliament well away from London, with the same powers for England as the Scottish Parliament has for Scotland, bring about the greatest geographical transfer of power, employment and cultural activity in all of England’s long history. In fact for these very reasons don’t we have to give serious thought as to whether its powers should be just in one place, let alone well outside of London?
However, first we must give consideration to that crucial phrase: ‘with the same powers for England as the Scottish Parliament has for Scotland’; and we must also be absolutely clear whom or what it was the Union Government gave those powers to. As to the second matter, the 1998 devolution legislation itself, line after line, makes the answer perfectly clear. Devolution 1998 was given to Scotland and Wales as distinct nations; in the phrase of Prime Minister Blair in his preface to the Scottish White Paper, to a ‘proud historic nation’.
The essence of the 1998 legislation was the provision, in varying degrees, of self-rule to two peoples of this island on the basis of their distinct national identity. The Welsh Act states it thus: ‘The Welsh Assembly will be the focus for all the concerns for the Welsh nation’. The Scottish Act talks of Scotland, the Scottish people and the Scottish nation in line after line. The 1707 Act of Union had terminated both England and Scotland politically and constitutionally as distinct and separate states and substituted the idea of a British nation. Wales had been absorbed into the English Crown long before then. The 1998 legislation re-established Scotland and Wales politically and constitutionally as distinct nations within the Union. An English Parliament will do the same for England.
There were two things that 1998 legislation did not do. It gave no devolution to England of course and it gave far fewer powers to the Welsh Assembly than to the Scottish Parliament. The drive for devolution was from the Scottish MPs who dominated the 1997 Labour government. They looked after their own country’s interests first and foremost as they had declared they would do in the1989 Scottish Claim of Right, signed by 132 Scottish MPs/MEPs and others, Gordon Brown among them, pledging that in ‘everything they said and did they would make the interests of the Scottish people paramount’.
However, a fundamental democratic principle of the Union of the three nations that the UK is must be that each of the three should stand in the same relationship to the Union and to each other. Scotland has genuine and effective home rule in the most important areas of internal government: education, health, local government, agriculture, fishing, culture, media, forestry, sport etc, independent of Westminster. Which Wales hasn’t got to the degree Scotland has; and England has none at all.
So what are we talking about here is an English Parliament which by its existence is the declaration that the people of England are politically and constitutionally a distinct nation within the Union and which, like in Scotland, in internal matters would exercise self-rule. We’re not talking about the Whitehall-controlled regional assemblies such as were on offer to England’s North East in 2004 and decisively rejected by 78% to 22%. We are talking about a real deal, precisely what Scotland has.
So where should England’s Parliament be located?
The presumption till recently has always been London. That’s the reflex response, the default position. But in the context of today is it the right one? How does it stand up against what is the one consideration, the only one, that should be borne in mind, namely what is best for the English people as a whole? What best serves the welfare of the people of England of today? The patriotic English man and woman can be expected to want the best for England as a nation. There is no binding necessity simply to go along with tradition and past usage. The ‘first-past-the-post’ election system for example has been in place for a very long time, yet it is now to be subjected to a referendum. The House of Lords, as ancient as the Commons, is in the process of change. London as the location for the English Parliament can rightly be subjected to critical and objective scrutiny.
London already has so much. It is the location of the Union Parliament, and the Union is hardly likely to break up. The Scots and the Welsh will never want it because a break-up is not in their economic and fiscal interests. And if they don't want it, it will not happen. A Union most likely in the form of a federation is what will happen. So London will continue to be the UK capital with all the immense kudos and advantages that that brings to it and to its inhabitants.
It helps to compare what London has with the rest of England. It has the Union Parliament, it has the Monarchy, the City, the Law Courts, Wembley, Twickenham, Lords, the Oval. It will soon have the most up-to-date, the best and the most expansive Olympic facilities going. The new London velodrome will replace the Manchester velodrome as the HQ of cycling. The new London swimming centre will likewise be the swimming HQ. The City is a world’s financial centre. London is the theatre, dance, music, art, advertising and media centre of the UK. It is a world cultural centre, equal to any other. London sucks in talent and skills from the rest of England with the irresistible force of a black hole. But to be English is not just to be London. It is true English patriotism to want to share England’s political, economic, employment and cultural wealth as evenly throughout the country as is both possible and sensible and to strive to make the sharing a reality.
One autumn evening about two years ago we walked along the south bank of the Thames from Vauxhall Bridge to City Hall. Both sides of the river swanked with the aroma and the glitter and the aura of wealth and power. Tate Britain, Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge, the great rolling heaving sweep of the Thames, the renovate South Bank wharfs with their opulent shops and restaurants, Tower Bridge, the Law Courts on the Embankment, Somerset House so lavishly renovated; and behind all of that Belgravia, the Royal Parks, Mayfair, Covent Garden and the City. Nowhere in England is there such a concentration of wealth, with its City tentacles reaching even today to the ends of the earth.
Power is the honeypot. In England the UK Parliament in London has complete power. All other power as exercised by local authorities is at the disposal and under the command of Westminster. It is the possession of political power that gives London this pre-eminence, this immense concentration of wealth and culture. First the monarchy, then parliament. Power is where the money travels to, and that engine of money-making, the City, sits tight next to the seat of government. The Law Courts are there, theatre is there, the film world and the music world are there, fashion is there, and the media –BBC, ITV and Sky- are there; and all this irresistibly draws in talent from all over England.
There is something inherently and deeply wrong when in any community one section of it predominates inordinately in wealth, employment and creativity, not by reason of innate ability but by reason of the location of power. This imbalance is as unfair to England as The West Lothian Question and other outcomes of the 1998 devolution legislation are. There are 47000 people in England with an average pre-tax income of £780,000; there is another 420,000 people who have pre-tax incomes of £100,000 to £350,000; and nearly all of them live in and around London. Simons Jenkins (Guardian 22/10/10) provides a further example: the London art institutions and museums such as the BM, the Tate, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the National Gallery etc will take a 15% cut in government funding over 5 years while the rest of the country will be hit with a 29% cut. ‘The London Tate is free, the St Ives Tate has to charge £5.75 entry….Cameron may win plaudits for his generosity to London’s gilded elite but he is penalising the provinces three times over by cutting direct grants, by cutting grants to councils and by banning councils from levying extra taxes to compensate. This is triple centralism and most unfair.’
The spoils of three hundred years of Empire, of world-wide exploration and acquisition, are on show in London because it has been the capital of that Empire: in the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the great art galleries, the Victoria and Albert and any amount of smaller yet very significant other venues. What is on show is mind-boggling. And it isn’t just a matter of what is on display or in their capacious vaults; there are also the exhibitions of collections from abroad which never fail to dazzle the eyes and stun the mind. The Science Museum now has a magnificent new Darwin Centre and the Natural History Museum displays arrays of objects almost beyond counting and now offers a new Earth Hall of fascinating interest. The school children and students of London have on their doorstep an educational treasure trove of incalculable abundance and efficacy, such as exists nowhere else in England; and easily accessible to London’s children, students and adults. On October 29th the last day of half term, the queue of youngsters going into the NHM took an hour and a half, but what an Aladdin’s Cave!. There is nothing like it elsewhere. The Royal Parks are launching public drinking fountains all paid for by Tiffany the jewelers planned to be as beautiful as pieces of sculpture: in St James’s, Regents’s, Hyde, Green, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich, Richmond and Buffy parks all paid for by Tiffany the jewellers. Not in Ancoats in Manchester or Smethwick in B’ham or St Pauls’s in Bristol or Fazakerley in L’Pool or Paradise in Newcastle.
I am not suggesting that what London has should be dispersed to museums from Berwick to Penzance, from Carlisle to Dover –though that might not be a bad idea for the vast amounts kept unseen and unvisited in the vaults and storerooms of London’s museums and galleries. I am just pointing out the obvious, that the location of power brings with it immense cultural and educational advantages. We should not create upheaval by the forced distribution of what is already in place; but we can consider not only not making it worse but also by locating the new English Parliament well outside of London able by its power and importance to attract new cultural developments and new acquisitions and discoveries. It is difficult to see how the patriotic person wanting the best for England can find cause to disagree.
So I ask you to envisage another reality for England. Envisage some of that heaving swelling cauldron of advantages and opportunities shared with other parts of England. An English Parliament well away from London with the same powers for England as the Scottish Parliament has for Scotland will bring about the greatest geographical transfer of employment in all of England’s long history, a transfer and a sharing long overdue. One has only to think of the employment that both follows power and promotes it: media, accommodation, advertising, printing, design, fashion, publishing, the civil service, the think-tanks of politics, international delegations, the list goes on and on. Artistic endeavour and output will gather there too, theatre and music, dance and opera, not as outposts of London institutions but in their own right. Wherever the English Parliament is, all its functions in one place or spread between two or three cities, its location will be a centre and a magnet for employment, media and culture; above all for employment which is what matters most.
The time has now come for England to be that new reality. England is not an appendage to London. England is a nation, from the Scilly Isles to Berwick, from Dover to Carlisle, from the Wash to the Wirral. England is a commonwealth within which London is a part, a mighty part indeed, but still no more than a part. No part of England, not even London, is an island entire of itself, it is but part of the main.
There is something else to consider about London. Is it now suitable as the location of England’s Parliament? It is the site of the UK Parliament. Westminster is Unionist through and through. After 300 years of being the Union government and, till 1947 and the independence of India, the government of the Empire, is it fit for such a purpose any longer? Till 1707 the parliament located in London was England’s. Its concern was England. Since then its concern has been the Union and the Empire. Of the Union Parliament’s 650 MPs as many as 550 represent English constituencies. Anyone would expect that being such an overwhelming majority in the Commons that 550 would at the very least demand, and obtain, for their English constituents the same treatment, the same benefits, which the citizens of Scotland and Wales receive. Nothing could be further from the truth. UK Government expenditure on each single Scottish, NI and Welsh person is £1600 greater per annum than in England, enabled by the extra levy, not realized but real, of some £281 per annum on the English taxpayer. Prescriptions and hospital parking in Scotland and Wales are free, not in England. Scottish students pay no university fees while English students face the prospect of their fees going up to £9,000pa, incurring debts possibly as much as £30,000 plus. In Scotland the elderly enjoy free personal health care. In England admission into a nursing home requires the sale of the house.
England’s MPs could easily do something about all this grotesque injustice, but they do nothing. Why? Is it because they see themselves as British MPs, concerned first and foremost toserve the Union, and not first and foremost as England’s MPs? How they differ sharply from the MPs of Scotland. Consider the plight of English refinery workers at Lindsey in Killingholme in Lincolnshire in 2009. The Union Parliament did nothing when the jobs were given to Italian workers. Yet in a similar situation in Scotland a 40 day period would apply, in which time local workers have first right to apply for jobs. Scotland has its political champion in the shape of its own parliament. England has no voice of its own.
Environment matters. An English Parliament located within that Unionist culture will struggle to be independent -minded in respect of English matters. Its whole surrounding environment will be hostile to what it will be set up to do. There will be such a degree of sharing of resources like the civil service that the two will be indistinguishable. To be itself an English Parliament will need its own space, its own separate physical existence. Just the fact that they are 450 and 200 miles away from Westminster enables the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to be different and stand on their own two feet. No one sees them as a tool or organ of the Union. Think of the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office. Whoever took them seriously? Their use became little more than finding a cabinet post for some compliant Welsh or Scottish MP.
I return to one of the reasons I have set out why the future English Parliament should be located outside of London. I’ve written: ‘An English Parliament well away from London, with the same powers for England as the Scottish Parliament has for Scotland, will bring about the greatest geographical transfer of power, employment and cultural activity in all of England’s long history. In fact for these very reasons don’t we have to give serious thought as to whether its powers might not be just in one place, let alone well outside of London?’
Will the transfer and distribution of employment and power just to one location in England be enough? Or is there something better, something more imaginative, something that is even more democratic that can be done? Can power be so distributed that its exercise binds all of England more closely, unites the English people more intimately without the outcomes being cumbersome and inefficient? Can the powers and functions of an English Parliament be distributed round England so that more places and more people might benefit? The EU Parliament packs up every six months, to flit between Brussels and Strassbourg but that is, its MEPs say, a drudge and a burden and a huge additional expense, makes no input of any democratic value and is done only to please the French. Is there any other model?
There are certain considerations to bear in mind. Whatever is done must genuinely extend democracy, involve more people and more places in the government of England. Secondly, whatever is set up must not mean more government. No one wants more politicians. No one wants to spend more money on either. We must not follow the Scottish and Welsh model where the parliamentary payroll was added to by 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and 60 Members of the Welsh Assembly, all of them with their salaries, expenses and paid assistants and a deluge of more civil servants; yet without any reduction in the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs in Westminster. The members of the Scottish Parliament took over the great majority of the responsibilities of Scottish Westminster MPs, yet the salaries of the latter were retained in full. The situation of course was that the bloc of Scottish MPs in Westminster would never have let devolution for Scotland go through if it has meant taking a penny from their salaries and expense accounts. Devolution does not increase the size of a population; and therefore the iron law of all devolution must be that it must not bring about an increase in the number of politicians and the cost of government. The cost of government must not be set by the pockets of the people who govern us. The public which foots the bill will not put up with it.
Now, with all that firmly in mind, we might ask what is available to us through modern technology, which will rapidly get even better, incredibly so. Technologically 1998, the year of the devolution legislation, is almost a bygone age. Communications now have acquired a speed and an availability unimaginable only a decade ago. Which brings us to the consideration of the constituent parts of an English Parliament. They will be the legislature, a second or revising chamber, and an Executive. I am assuming, correctly I hope, that there will be a second chamber. The Scottish Parliament does not have one, nor does the Welsh Assembly. A second chamber, a revising chamber, is a democratic governmental development of the English tradition. The Commons consists of whipped party members, which is necessary to get business done. But the present Lords is made up of members who can be independent of the Whips and who also represent different interests. They act as a long stop, they put the brakes on ideology and short term electoral gain. A revising chamber, able to question and put forward amendments, able even to defy the legislature and the Executive, is a democratic necessity and part of the English tradition of government.
Is it possible that the English Parliament can be spread across England, with more locations than one enjoying the immense transfer of power, employment and cultural activity that will ensue? For example –and this is by way of example only- in Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol? Each 200 miles from each other. The legislature (the Commons) in one, the second chamber (the Lords) in another, the Executive in the third? The sharing will not be like the expensive and wasteful Brussels/Strassbourg silliness where the whole parliament has to uproot and move from one to the other every six months just to placate the French. Instead, each constituent part will be permanently in one place, communicating with the other two by means of every device of our amazing modern technology.
What I am proposing is a very different sort of England from what we have all come to think of as an inevitability. It is an English Parliament that by both its location and its organisation will be a commonwealth and sharing. It will achieve more involvement of people and places. It will help unite and integrate the English nation even more than ever, all of them, inclusive of each and every political persuasion, ethnicity, religion and culture. It will be a dynamic challenge between places, a catalyst for change and experiment. It can happen. It will be vigorously resisted. But it can happen.
Michael Knowles is a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament, though this paper is written in a personal capacity. He was secretary to the Hackney Trades Council throughout the 1970s and assistant secretary to the London Federation of Trades Councils. He was the founder and chairman of the 'Save the Marshes Campaign' which in 1979-82 successfully saved the Walthamstow Marshes (88 acres of fen) along the River Lea from destruction through gravel extraction. They are now an SSS1. He stood for Labour in the 1987 General Election in the Congleton, Cheshire, constituency where he has lived since 1983. He is an active campaigner for an English Parliament.
The constitutional future of England lies firmly and irrevocably both explicitly and implicitly in the formulations of the 1998 devolution legislation. By that I mean that the clauses of that legislation affirmed that devolution was being given to Scotland and Wales as distinct nations; not as 'regions' nor as 'devolved adminstrations' or 'devolved territories' but expressly as nations, and distinct nations at that. The most fundamental presumption of the 1998 legislation, its very basis, was that it was dealing with nations (and that is why the GLA with its mayor was local government re-organisation, not devolution). The presumption was from start to finish that both Scotland and Wales were each one people, each with it own distinct land, history and culture. That pretty well is what a nation is. What the legislation did was to hand over that to that land, history and culture a degree of self-government which would confer a distinct constitutional and political distinct existence. Nationhood was the explicit basis of the 1998 legislation. It found its very simple and direct formulation in the use of the word 'Scotland' and 'Wales' throughout. There is not a single soul in this island who does not understand what those two words mean.
The legislation formally and decisively made a crucial amendment to the 1707 Act of Union. Once Scotland and Wales were given that formal political and constitutional recognition as distinct nations, each with its own national institution of some degree of self rule, British identity as the sole political and constitutional identity of the people of this island ceased. As did British rule and government as the sole political and constitutional rule. Identity and self-rule are catalysts the outcomes of which are indeterminiable. At present the Blair government finds itself as a talking-point mainly because of the Iraq War. Possibly we cannot exaggerate the long term effects of that venture. However, I would say that in the long term or historically the most important measure of that government will be seen to have been the 1998 devolution legislation. That one Act of Parliament will in due course be seen to have been the most important legacy of the Blair years. What it did was to re-establish England, Scotland and Wales as distinct national entities. A catalyst of incalculable effect and significance; and one that happened when Britain had ceased to matter. The Empire had gone, the EU had arrived.
I say that the 1998 Devolution legislation has re-established England as a distinct national entity as well as Scotland and Wales. Not of course in the same way, not with the same formal recognition. But by implication. It is the implicit effect of the legislation. Politically and constitutionally England is the part of Britain that isn't Scotland and Wales, the part of Britain that received no devolution, received no political recognition and constitutional recognition. So England exists as a distinct entity within the Union by default. It's the bit that was left out of the devolution process. But it exists now separately governmentally by reason of the 1998 devolution legislation.
It is of immense significance that this legislation had a colossal hole in it. One has to wonder about what was going through the mind of our legislators in 1998. Did they think that the people of England would not notice; or if they did notice, they wouldn't mind? Or if there were any problems they could be got over by ignoring them? Did they think it just did not matter? Did they think at all? A Welsh woman one yard inside the Welsh border gets free prescriptions while her neighbour inside the English border shopping in the same shops doesn't. A Scottish student one side of the bridge at Coldstream gets free university education and the English student a stone's throw the other side finds himself landed with anything from £15000 to £30000 debts for the same degree; and that even if both of them were attending the same university, doing the same degree, in the same halls of residence, both at the same time. Scottish MPs can vote on matters for England, and, as we have seen, force legislation upon the English, without reciprocation. And then there is the absurdity of the situation where Scottish MPs, even a Scottish Prime Minister, have no say whatsoever in the most fundamental of governmental matters like education and health in their own constituencies. It is so cackhanded, it is hard to believe it was passed into law. But it was and it's where we are. One wonders, were the Scottish MPs that were running the New Labour Government in 1997 so intent on getting whatever they could for Scotland that they were blind to consequences? Were the English MPs that constituted some 80% of all the MPs in the 1997 parliament so guilt-ridden about ruling Scotland and Wales for centuries that they felt they had to submit regardless to whatever the Browns, Irvines, Cooks, Dewars and co wanted for Scotland? Or were they simply devoid of any powers of analysis? Or both?
As we all know, there is the old law of unforeseen consequences. As the dust of devolution has settled, something has been seen to emerge. England has emerged. It might well be by default and it most definitely wasn't intended, but the fact is, England is back. This has happened in all sorts of ways, and is still happening, and will keep happening, above all in the minds of the people of England itself. For example, there is now an English NHS, one can see in NHS offices in England a map just of England. The Westminster Health Minister and the Education Minister are for England only. There is no UK minister for either. These are not straws in the wind but hard facts on the ground. English people now see -as was never an issue before 1998- that the Scots and the Welsh get £1600 more per person per annum spent on them from taxation, 90% of which comes from England. English people now know -and resent but feel powerless about- the comparative inequity of prescription charges, hospital parking charges, university fees, optician and dental charges, council tax, water rates, care for the elderly, availability of the most uptodate drugs. They now hear about the Barnett Formula as never before. And again as never before they have become acutely aware of the disproportionate numbers of Scots in government and the media. They see that Scotland and Wales now have their own parliaments from which the English voice is excluded. All these things are major drivers of English self-awareness.
It is all down to the devolution legislation of 1998. That more than anything has achieved this for England. It was definitely the last thing on the minds of Brown and co when he drove the legislation pell mell through Parliament, the very last thing he more than anyone else wanted, but it is a fact. What that legislation did was inform the English people that on this island there's the Scots and there's the Welsh and they're getting their own parliament and assembly because they are distinct from the English. The oneness of the British nation, even if only political and constitutional, went clean out of the window. That was and that is the unavoidable consequence of the 1998 legislation. Once England re-emerged, even though only by default, as a distinct nation, which it did thanks to the legislation, the scene was set for the demand for self-rule. No nation worth its salt will take anything less. the Campaign for an English Parliament was set up that very same year. By default England's identity has been restored to it. By default it has been made aware of itself. The way forward is an inevitability. It is not a coincidence, it was not by sheer chance, that after 1998 we have all witnessed the incredible display of English flags whether for football competitions or cricket or rugby or athletics. People from other countries tell me they have never seen anything like it where they come from. England is back.
However, England is only just beginning to be back politically and constitutionally. So far only in slight ways as I have mentioned. The forces lined up against giving it any institution which will be a statement of its distinct nationhood like Scotland and Wales have, are immense. The hostility to it, the determination to stop it by the UK ruling elites, the political parties, all sorts of departments in academia, political think tanks and the media, above all BBC, has been very adequately described already in this series of contributions. I have a very choice record of correspondence on the matter with the Director (in about 2002) of the BBC department of 'Nations and Regions', the nations of course being Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the regions being a balkanised England. I had written to the BBC to ask for a BBC England just as there is a BBC Scotland, a BBC Wales and a BBC NI. "No" was the reply I received. "Why not?" I asked. "Because England is too big". "Well", I said, "if England is too big, how come you have a BBC which covers all four, and a BBC World Service? The 'World' is somewhat bigger than England." I received no reply.
For the past twelve years I have been very actively involved in the Campaign for an English Parliament. In that time we have made great strides forward. A book could be written on our experiences, indeed one should be. From being on the fringe the Campaign and its basic idea is part of the debate. There is even the expectation, not just among our members but much more widespread, again as one contributor to this series of essays has stated and as opinion polls indicate, that if a referendum were held an English Parliament would be supported. Regionalism, favoured by both the Labour party and the Lib Dems, has been decisively rejected. However, given the degree of Establishment opposition to any form of devolution for England, even to the expression of Englishness and to English patriotism, again very well described in this series, it would be a very rash person who would expect anything other than a very long march indeed.
The question posed by this series is: Constitutional Futures. Where Now? What I have done so far is set out the constitutional position England is in. By default its distinct nationhood, at least territorially, is recognised. The opposition of the UK Establishment to giving its nationhood any political and constitutional recognition is widespread and intense; and it is that Establishment that controls almost all the levers of influence and power. However, what the UK Establishment does not control by reason of the 1998 legislation it itself was responsible for is the institutions of self-rule in Scotland and Wales; neither has any control over Scottish and Welsh nationalism; and therein resides what could well be the biggest and most potent driver of all when it comes to trying to predict what the constitutional future of England will be. The UK Establishment is so concerned to keep the lid on Scottish and Welsh nationalism in order to preserve the existing shape of the Union that is is prepared to increase the powers of self-rule devolved to both countries.
The UK Establishment has committed itself to granting more powers to both Scotland and Wales. That again has been described adequately in this series of essays, so no need of repetition. The outcome however of this Establishment policy and attitude will be for England politically and constitutionally what financially the Barnett Formula is for Scotland and Wales. The more powers the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly get, that much less is the power to govern them that the UK Parliament has. That in turn means that with any UK ministry, the less it is concerned with Scotland and Wales, the more it is concerned just with England. The more in this way that Scotland and Wales pull away, the more English concerns become England's own concerns. The more distinct politically, constitutionally and culturally Scotland and Wales become department of state by department of state, the more distinct politically, constitutionally and culturally England becomes. Succintly, the more Scotland and Wales become distinct, the more England becomes distinct, becomes itself. The UK Establishment has already legislated three distinct nations back into existence, two with deliberation, one by default. The more powers it cedes to Scotland and Wales, the more separate, different and distinct they become. And by default that applies to England too. I would like to suggest that this process will be the main driver in what will constitute England's future political existence. More than any form of EVEL, though that too, if it happens, will be highly significant. Also, the more all this happens, the more it will highlight and inflame the West Lothian Question.
I do not know what we in the CEP will achieve by our campaigning just as we did not know when we started in June 1998 when the devolution legislation was enacted. We have moved mountains so far. We will not reduce our efforts in the slightest. Our efforts and our influence will increase. However, to the Question 'Where Now?' one answer can be given. Just as England came back as a distinct nation with the 1998 legislation, it will gain more and more political, constitutional and and cultural expression and strength of its self-identity with every gain Scotland and Wales achieve from the UK Establishment; and both those countries are about to get more powers. What has to be considered too will be the long term significance and effects of the concession of more powers to Scotland and Wales. The more they get and the more the exercise them, the less they will be reliant upon the Union. The Union will recede in its significance as it concedes power by power. And the further and further Scotland and Wales will slip away from significance in the lives and the government of England. The opposition to an English Parliament is deep and intense within the UK Establishment. However, so is the preservation of the Union. To the mind of the Establshment the two are inseparable. To achieve the latter it will concede more and more to Scotland and Wales. We might well find that this strategy of preservation is the best ally an English Parliament can have.
Mike Knowles is a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament.
This post is part of the Constitutional Futures series.
In response to Canon Kenyon Wright's article 'Expressing and exercising Scottish sovereignty' published on Our Kingdom.
Mike Knowles: There are a fair number of questions to be asked about Kenyon Wright's version of Scottish history. For a start it all seems just too good to be true. I like the ideas very much indeed and I would like them to be universally applied but it is my bet any 'patriot' can find them in his own country's history if he or she wants to badly enough. Yes, it is never difficult to create a myth on the basis of the occasional declaration. However, what matters much more is what actually happened. As far as I know, it is only the English who have ever actually brought their king before a court of law and on the basis of evidence deposed him. It wasn't a mere declaration. It was much more. It was an action, and in virtue of being an action it was a defining moment. It was a 'statement' second to none of the sovereignty of people over the Crown. That they then beheaded him seems barbaric by our standards but not by those of the time. And what was the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights but declarations that the powers of the Crown and its successor governments are limited by principles which oblige rulers as well as the ruled. What else is the UN Declaration of Human Rights? And has it not been adopted by the UK Parliament? I do indeed admire CKW's support and consistent campaigning for government-subject-to-people; however, the more I reflect on it and see how he employs it to bestow on Scotland some special distinction in the matter, the more I suspect his understandable love for his country might just be clouding his insight somewhat.
And what concerns me equally is the way in which, at the opening of his speech, he provides, not the whole version, but a truncated version of the Scottish Claim of Right which was signed by 132 Scottish MPs and MEPs and others on March 30th 1989. Gordon Brown was one of them. What CKW omitted to provide was the next line of the Claim where the signatories state: 'and we do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their (the Scottish people's) interests shall be paramount'. Gordon Brown and co were UK MPs at the time they made that pledge, as they are still. The pledge was therefore in that respect unconstitutional as they were elected by UK citizens to represent the interests of the constituents of a UK constituency. Think about it. The unconstitutionality, by which I mean political unfairness, of the pledge becomes very obvious if it had been taken by the 550 English MPs out of the 650 UK MPs to make the specific interests of the people of England paramount. Such a pledge would have caused an uproar. And rightly so. It is quite possible that CKW omitted this part of the declaration because he now recognises how narrow, partial and discriminatory it actually is. It would indeed be legitimate for the Members of the Scottish Parliament to make such a pledge but is is unacceptable for UK MPs to make it.
I have met CKW a number of times. I shared a platform with him in November last year when the Campaign for an English Parliament held a national conference in the Conway Hall in Holborn in London; and indeed I chaired a meeting in the Commons at which he was the principal speaker. I admire him immensely. I only wish we in England had men and women of his stature among the clergy and politicians who are prepared to stand up for England as he does for Scotland. However, he must not let his take on history run away with him. Passion for democracy and love for one's country are not confined to one of the three historic nations of this island.
Ian Campbell: I believe Canon Wright is correct constitutionally and historically on the limited nature both of Scottish kingship and of the old Scottish Parliament. He is not being unduly patriotic. These things were done differently in Scotland from time immemorial. And if you saw last week's episode in Neil Oliver's resumed History of Scotland you will know that the Scots overthrew King Charles I before the English did. The fact that the Scottish Parliament was not supreme in Scotland caused some difficulties in 1707 as the Scots hated the idea of a 'supreme' Parliament in the English tradition (which itself derived from the all-powerful position of the King of England after the Norman Conquest).
Instead of railling against this, we would do better I believe to recognise that it makes Scotland the 'Achilles heel' in the Union. British parliamentarians only pay lip service to the sovereignty of the people. In England, the crown-in-parliament' is supreme. With another Constitutional Convention brewing up north of the border, with a referendum in the offing proposing three or four alternative forms of government for the people to consider, with the Claim of Right being dusted off and renewed, this is surely going to create immense difficulty for the UK Parliament's 'supremacy' in the UK and in England. If Westminster is forced to admit the sovereignty of the Scottish people, how can it deny the English people the same right?
If you re-read your books on the Civil War, including its events in Scotland from 1638, you might see that there are some interesting comparisons with what may be starting to happen today - but without the violence. The English response so far is lethargic but events in Scotland over the next two years, following the MPs' expenses scandal, the refusal of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the 'revelations' arising from Chilcot enquiry, the colossal government debt, mass immigration, etc., may yet provoke the English into a 'soft' revolution.
The line to take surely is not to bitch about Canon Wright but to say, pardon the adapted quote, that 'we will have some of whatever he's having'.
Gareth Young: What is important here is not the historical accuracy of the national myth but the strength of feeling behind that myth.
The Scots have a sense of victimhood at the hands of English aggression and oppression.
For the English the myth is the Norman Yoke so eloquently
Norman saw on English oak.
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon to English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish;
Blithe world in England never will be more,
Till England's rid of all the four.
The wisdom of English Democrat, Steve Uncles (I had a good chuckle at this press releases and follow up comment).
English Democrats London Mayoral Candidate - Matt O'Connor, today announced in a press conference close to his "Shock Scot" Campaign Poster at London Bridge Railway station, that he would be launching a new "Hard Hitting" English Parliament Campaign Group in May 2008, directly after the London Mayoral Elections.
He explained that the English Parliament issue is a "Killer Issue" and the established "Campaign for an English Parliament" is virtually invisible to most members of the public,and that's after 10 years of existance, he continued it's difficult to understand what the leadership of the Campaign for an English Parliament have been doing, it's time for a fresh radicle approach to gain justice for England, and maximum publicity for the issue.
He promised to firmly establish the "English Parliament" issue at the very top of the political agenda, once outside the restrictions of an the Mayoral Election Campaign, in a similar way to his Fathers-4-Justice campaign.
"I'll make sure the established politicians can no longer ignore the will of the English people"
The Campaign for an English Parliament recently rejected an offer by Matt O'Connor to speak at their "Future of England Conference" on April 26 in London, as they were afraid it may attract "too much attention".
Actually it was the wrong sort of attention they were worried about.
The snub by the CEP in not allowing Matt O'Connor to speak at the "Future of England" conference was not a good move by the CEP, and could have been a key note speech for Matt O'Connor in the London Campaign.
The occassional snipes by some of the CEP bloggers with regards the English Democrats is also something the English Democrats have never responded to, the CEP go over board to quite rightly let other organisations know that the CEP is an inclusive Campaign Group, however some of the bloggers for the very same CEP want to try to imply that the English Democrats is linked to the "Far Right", at any opportunity they have, this is not something that should occur, and is of course totally incorrect.
It is worth remembering that a proportion of those in the CEP are paid up members of the Conservative Party, Labour Party and indeed one bizarre individual chose UKIP instead of joining the English Democrats to stand in a Council Election - difficult to understand ! - these "Party" members have their own agenda.
The current Vice-Chairman of the CEP was the English Democrats Chairman of Oxfordshire for a while, he was approached by and became a Conservative and I believe is trying to get a career as a politician in the Conservative & Unionist at all cost party !
It won't do any harm to have Two Campaigning Groups for an English Parliament.
There was the organisation (and still is) "Families Need Fathers" but this group although government funded never achieved the same publicity as Fathers-4-Justice.
I'd suggest that Matt Man is a better "front man" then Michael Knowles, for an English Parliament Campaign Group however I am sure they will end up working together.
Wry smile from Mike Knowles. Yes, I know it's easy to be wise after the event, but even so it's bloody funny given recent events: Steve Uncles arrested.
On the 15th November the CEP held an open conference welcoming all viewpoints on England's future status and examining themes arising from devolution in the UK.
Chair: Michael Knowles (CEP chairman)
Morning session speakers:
10:45 Christine Constable (English Democrats Party)
11:10 Nigel Farrage (UKIP MEP)
11:35 Neil Herron (Metric Martyrs)
12:00 Scilla Cullen (CEP)
12:25 Simon Hughes (Lib Dem MP)
Each speaker was allotted 5 minutes to answer questions from the audience.
Afternoon session speakers:
The afternoon session took the form of a panel led discussion with questions from the audience. The panel consisted of Don Beadle (CEP), Mark Elwen (Communication Workers Union), Pam Barden (Save our Sovereignty), Phil Evans (CEP) and Sir Richard Body (ex-Conservative MP).
Each panellist was allotted 5-6 minutes and then the debate was opened to the floor for questions from the audience.
|London welcomed us with a beautiful November day as hundreds from around England converged in the capital for the Future of England conference - the first of its kind.The theme was "parliament or partition?" with a variety of speakers from different political backgrounds. Simon Hughes, LibDem MP, told us that he supports an English Parliament in principle and recommended days set aside in the UK parliament for English business.His proposals did not include an English Executive to frame legislation for the government of England; the atmosphere in the hall was electric.|
Nigel Farage, UKIP MEP, said we must resist the EU constitution because its imposition would make an English Parliament redundant.
Scilla Cullen, CEP, gave a thorough history of devolution and its effects on England, and said the people of England have no forum in which to present their interests.
Christine Constable, English Democrats Party, explained her party's aim to educate people in what is happening to England.
Mike Knowles (CEP) reported that the European Court of Human Rights has been petitioned on the denial of self-determination to the people of England.
Neil Herron, director of North East Against a Regional Assembly, gave a lively account of his dealings with petty officials, and the experience has taught him that the people have the power to change things – if they have the determination to exercise it.
|Pam Barden (Save Our Sovereignty) explained how the European Union has removed English rights and is threatening the monarchy.
Don Beadle (CEP) explained the history of the Conservatives' "English Votes for English laws" proposal and why it is not a solution. Conservative Kenneth Baker – now Lord Baker - proposed that an English Parliament be formed from the Westminster MPs. Don said he hopes that, under its new leader, with David Davis responsible for Constitutional matters in the Shadow Cabinet, the Conservative Party will face up to the only effective solution. And that is to complete the devolution process and give an English Parliament and Executive the same powers as those accorded to Scotland.
Mark Elwen (Communication Workers Union) said he is very much a believer in the principle of democratic accountability and for that reason believes that an English Parliament is necessary.
Sir Richard Body (retired Conservative MP) explained that law and taxation are invalid unless agreed by answerable elected representatives.
Phil Evans (CEP) said Scotland started devolution so it was up to them to address the issues arising.
Contributors from the floor said they felt English identity is being deliberately suppressed, and that our rights and liberties are threatened by the increasing power of the EU.