I thought that Alex Salmond's victory speech was very good, it showed humility and avoided triumphalism, by which method he managed to make Cameron's Unionist grandstanding seem rather shallow:
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants to travel in hope and to aim high. Scotland has chosen to believe in itself and our shared capacity to build a fair society. The nation can be better, it wants to be better, and I will do all I can as First Minister to make it better. We have given ourselves the permission to be bold and we will govern fairly and wisely, with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive. - Alex Salmond's victory speech
Which stands in contrast to the bullish Bullingdon Boy.
“I know you [Mr Salmond] think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union....We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. - David Cameron's Stronger Together, Weaker Apart speech to the Scottish Conservative Party
David Cameron is now being urged to live up to his pledge to 'act on the voice of the Scottish people' by ignoring the wishes of the SNP Government that the people elected in order to stage an immediate referendum on independence, with government ministers hinting that the timing of the referendum may be taken out of the Scottish Government's hands despite Salmond's insistence that David Cameron promised not to interfere on the vote.
To complicate matters further, Prof Hazell of the Constitution Unit has reiterated his view that Scottish independence requires two referendums:
The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated. The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations. The SNP have said a second referendum would not be necessary.
Negotiations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government (acting on behalf of England) on how to end the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, and how to divide the spoils (and debts) of Union, would no doubt raise a few English eyebrows. Given that David Cameron has ruled himself out of being PM of England with the words "I don't want to be prime minister of England", we in England can only hope that there is someone in office who does want that role come the negotiations. Heaven forbid that we have some Unionist buffoon dishing out sweeties in return for Scottish concessions.
In Our Kingdom's excellent Scottish Spring series, Gerry Hassan said that a referendum on Scottish independence 'will have many unintended consequences'. One consequence will be the rise of English nationalism, and for a political strategist like Alex Salmond that prospect should be an intended consequence because it is likely to be the biggest prize. The very nature of the United Kingdom will be irrevocably changed by a Scottish referendum because the English will become intensely aware of the multi-national-ism of Britain and their own Englishness. Scales will fall from English eyes. The old anglo-centric, Anglo-British, post-imperial imperialist idea of the British state, which sees England as the centre and Scotland as a satellite rather than a partner, will be shaken to its core. And I think that a new English understanding of Britain as a multinational, consensual, union of partner nations, will emerge. This is what is needed if the nations of Britain are ever to sit comfortably and flourish in union; the monotheistic British nationalism of the political establishment in England must be replaced with a unionism based on pragmatism and mutual respect.
I agree with Brian Barder that the adoption of federalism by one of the Unionist parties would change the context of the debate.
The mere adoption by a major political party of federalism as a long-term aim for the whole of the United Kingdom would transform forever the whole context in which a Scottish independence referendum would be held. What alternative is there, other than the disintegration of our country?
But I think, and hope, that the Scottish referendum and the step-change in attitudes that follow will be the catalyst for the adoption of a federal model: the referendum itself, rather than the result, being the event that opens the way for constitutional reform.
Whatever the outcome, I'm fairly confident that we will never again see an incumbent of Number Ten saying that he doesn't want to be prime minister of England and referring to English nationalists as "sour little Englanders". Bring it on.
The following is a partial transcript of Radio Four's Beyond Westminster programme, broadcast 16th Apr 2011.
Richard Wyn Jones: The elephant on the doorstep is the fact that the UK Government for many areas of domestic policy is now the English government and the Westminster parliament - especially after the referendum vote in Wales a few weeks ago that has led to the emergence of a legislative parliament in Wales - is also an English parliament to all intents and purposes, in many policy fields. And if and when we get a repeat of the election results in 1964 and 1974, which is Labour forming a government overall but without a majority of seats in England, there's going to be a huge problem here.
Sheena McDonald: Are you still sanguine about the Union, Robert?
Robert Hazell: We're talking now about the English Question, and that's a heading for English reactions to devolution. Broadly speaking there are two possible solutions. One is the one propounded by the last Labour government, to divide England 8 or 9 regions and give them all regional assemblies, and I think that policy is dead following the defeat of the North East referendum, but not necessarily forever. Remember, the vote in the north east was four to one against, Richard will remind us that the vote in Wales in 1979 was four to one against devolution for Wales, and within eighteen years that policy was reversed. So I don't think it's inconceivable that in 10-20 years time people might revive talk of regional government in England. But for now the policy solution that might be propounded by the Coalition Government is to set up a commission on the West Lothian Question, which was in the coalition agreement - that's something they haven't yet done but they are discussing how to do that. My guess is it might be quite limited in its terms of reference. I think if I were asked to advise them, I would say: set it up as a parliamentary commission and keep its terms of reference quite narrow; this is essentially a Conservative policy that you're trying to resolve, so have it chaired by a senior backbench Tory, and; get them to advise on the feasibility of testing the EVoEL on just a few bills at Westminster, do some experiments, see how it goes.
Sheena McDonald: The hoary old West Lothian Question...it hasn't ever been answered, is a commission the best idea, Alan?
Alan Trench: A Commission is the least bad approach, it is inherently an unanswerable question...
So Robert Hazell's 'two possible solutions' to the West Lothian Question are regional assemblies and a commission on the West Lothian Question, which he suggests should have 'limited terms of reference' [should not discuss an English parliament] and should be parliamentary commissions [should exclude the public]. My opinion of Robert Hazell is unchanged, he is a prize twat, and a pompuous condescending one at that.
Alan Trench - the expert who 'dissuaded' the Power2010 deliberative panel from adopting the proposal for an English parliament - seriously expects us to believe that he thinks the WLQ is unanswerable? Well, if you dissuade people from the obvious and natural answer then I suppose that it is unanswerable.
Trench went on to say that the Barnett Formula was "overgenerous to Scotland" and "undergenerous to Wales". The problem with reforming the Barnett Formula on a UK-wide basis, said Trench, was that "it would mean a very substantial cut in public spending in Scotland...something in the order of £4.5bn a year or possibly more". An alternative solution, mused Trench, was to reform the Barnett Formula not on a UK-wide basis but to reform it for just the "main loser, which is Wales". In other words, continue to overfund Scotland but overfund Wales too.
The Institute for Public Policy Research has released "Is An English Backlash Emerging? Reactions to devolution ten years on" which brings us details of the latest British Social Attitudes data on constitutional preferences for England.
Support for an English parliament has leapt from 17% in 2007 to a historic high of 29% in 2009.
The 2008 data should have been included in the 26th British Social Attitudes Report released in January 2010, but it was decided to hold back the data until now to publish the 2008 and 2009 data together as part of the IPPR's investigation into the English Question. So what we have here is a two year leap from when I covered the 25th British Social Attitudes report last year, when I suggested strongly that there would be a rise in support for an English Parliament.
The data for the 26th BSA report will have already been collected over the course of 2008; the year in which a Scottish prime minister was crowned, then bottled a general election, and in which his reputation and economic legacy were laid to waste. In 2008 we had an SNP Government, the SNP's National Conversation and the Calman Commission, not to mention the repeated criticism of the Barnett Formula.
Obviously I still have the same doubts about the methodology of John Curtice. I think the question is worded in such a way as to force English respondents to choose between Westminster - the traditional home of English governance - and a *new* English parliament. There is also no option to measure support for English Votes on English Laws, which is usually the most popular solution (although given that EVoEL is an answer to the British Question rather than the English Question I can understand why it was left out).
So the British Social Attitudes survey is flawed because it asks the public to choose between a *new* parliament for England or the UK parliament, which historically is the English parliament, and finds that only 29% would like a *new* English parliament.
It does not attempt to measure support for an English parliament at Westminster or a "parliament within a parliament" - an English Grand Committee or "English Votes on English Laws", the latter being the model that commercial polls find most support for.
Asking people to choose between Westminster (England’s traditional parliament) or a new English parliament presupposes that an English parliament must be new and/or distinct (ie not dual purpose).
It would be more useful to paraphrase the referendum that prompted the Scots to vote for a Scottish parliament in 1997:
1. I agree that there should be a English Parliament; or
2. I do not agree that there should be a English Parliament Parliament
Despite my reservations about the neutrality of the question that John Curtice uses to determine support for an English parliament, it is highly significant and encouraging that support for a new English parliament has risen to 29%. Commercial polls tend to show greater support for an English parliament, up to 67%, but it is the British Social Attitudes data that academics and politicians use as their measure of public opinion. In the past we have been treated to the following gems:
"Opinion polls show that an English parliament commands almost no support amongst the English people"
Prof Robert Hazell , Prospect Magazine, Feb 2006
"as we know, there is no demand for an English Parliament"
Lord Howarth of Newport , Hansard, 10 February 2006
"The English seem uninterested in a separate English Parliament, and not sufficiently interested to vote for English Votes on English laws."
Prof Robert Hazell, The English Question (2005)
"...there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."
Lord Falconer, Today Programme, 10th March 2006
"there is little enthusiasm for an English Parliament, with support for such a body continuing at under 20%. So the idea of an English Parliament, we say: not today, not tomorrow, not in any kind of future we can see know."
Lord Falconer, Speech to the ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme, March 2006
"an English Parliament lacks popular support. Of course we can't be sure this will remain the case, but polls since devolution have shown very small levels of support (16 per cent) for this policy among the English."
Guy Lodge and Meg Russell, Scotsman, 18 Jan 2006
In light of this new data, the above rhetoric from people opposed to the creation of an English parliament will now be more difficult to sustain in the court of academic and political opinion. Public opinion will continue to be better reflected in the surveys of respected pollsters like ICM, Ipsos MORI and YouGov. Prof John Curtice concludes:
Support for the idea of an English Parliament may be beginning to find some roots in English national identity and perceptions of England’s material interests. If this trend continues too, then politicians may indeed no longer be able to assume that it is safe to ignore England in the devolution debate.
It is the upward trend that will worry politicians (and certain biased academics). Gordon Brown may yet be able to add rising support for an English parliament to his legacy list.
Related: Response to Prof John Curtice
Here's a tasty little quote from the journal Public Law, Summer 2001, pp. 268-280:
Let us not forget that in Scotland the Scottish Constitutional Convention had eight years to develop their proposals for the Scottish Parliament. Then those proposals were put to referendum. In England there needs to be an equally wide process of deliberation and consultation: the English deserve no less.
Professor Robert Hazell
Yes, that's Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit, the Government's chief wonk on matters constitutional, declaring that the English deserve no less than to be consulted on how we should be governed.
The English Question is a subject that tends to generate more heat than light whenever it is raised. It was first coined by Selina Chen and Tony Wright who defined it thus:
Where does England fit into the reconfiguration of Britain? What should be the English response to what is happening elsewhere in Britain? Does England need political reform of its own - and, if so, what kind? What does it mean to be English?
Selina Chen and Tony Wright, The English Question: Fabian Society, 2000
Over the years political commentators - usually Tories - have often used the phrase 'English Question' to describe the West Lothian Question. The Telegraph's Philip Johnston did just that in his article 'At last, an answer to the English Question', in which he hailed Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force recommendations as the answer to the question of England. But Ken Clarke's recommendations were designed to mitigate the West Lothian Question, they were not an attempt to address the wider question of the national identity and national governance of England. If anything the West Lothian Question would be better described as a British Question because it concerns the voting privileges of British MPs in the British Parliament.
The West Lothian question is not an "English question," a "Welsh question," a "Scottish question" or a "Northern Ireland question"--it is a union question.
Jack Straw (2007), Prospect Magazine
Anthony Barnett argued that "The English question is bound to arise when all around others are finding and renewing their identities" (This Time: Our Constitutional Revolution (1997)). But as the 'others' increasingly gave expression to their national identities there was, claimed Andrew Marr, a nervousness, which in itself was dangerous, about allowing England to do the same:
‘Englishness exists. England’s senses of itself go back more than a thousand years, albeit in different forms, and unless England is recognised and given a new sense of its own security, then all the hopes for a liberal, open, democratic and tolerant future are in danger. England cannot be ignored, tied down, balkanised or dissolved. Yet England has been pushed into a corner where it is expected to passively await its future. That, in itself, is dangerous’
Andrew Marr (2000), The Day Britain Died.
David Blunkett, in a similar vein to the Campaign for an English Parliament, argues that it is the lack of political and constitutional recognition for England that constitutes the English Question.
In the island of Britain today there are three governments representing three constitutional and political bodies. There is the Scottish Parliament, there is the Welsh Assembly, there is the United Kingdom Parliament. They represent Scotland, Wales and the United Kingdom Constitutionally and politically just those three exist. Constitutionally and politically England does not exist. That situation, and its implications, constitutes the English Question.
David Blunkett (2005), A New England: An English Identity within Britain: IPPR
In his book The English Question Prof Robert Hazell identifies the dual nature of the English Question: whether England needs a stronger political voice, to balance the louder political voice now accorded to Scotland and Wales; and whether England too would benefit from devolution, by devolving power within England.
However, Hazell doubts whether the English have any interest in answering the English Question, and suggests that the English may decide to leave the question of England hanging:
...the English Question does not have to be answered. It is not an exam question that the English are required to answer. It can remain unresolved for as long as the English want. Ultimately only the English can decide whether they want to seek an answer to the English Question.
Robert Hazell (2006), The English Question, Manchester University Press
The Institute for Public Policy Research take the view that the English Question is central to the British Question and the most salient of UK constitutional questions.
The English Question has moved from the margins of British political life to centre-stage. For too long the government’s approach has been to cross their fingers and hope the question will go away, but it will not: it is the one area of constitutional reform that is genuinely provoking widespread public debate.
But the English Question is not one overarching questions, rather it is a collection of problems. It refers to how England is governed in a post-devolution UK, the ability of Scottish MPs to vote on English matters but not vice versa and the way that devolution is financed, as well as broader social and cultural question about the identity of the English.
IPPR (2008), Answering the English Question: a new policy agenda for England
Robert Hazell in a speech to the Constitution Unit:
The fundamental difficulty is the sheer size of England by comparison with the rest of the UK . England with four fifths of the population would be hugely dominant. On most domestic matters the English parliament would be more important than the Westminster parliament. No federation has operated successfully where one of the units is so dominant. In the post-war German federal constitution of 1949, Prussia was deliberately broken up into five or six different states to prevent it being disproportionately large and dominating the new Germany . Although all federations have some units much larger than others, as a general rule no federal unit is greater than around one third of the whole, to avoid it dominating the rest. If this logic were accepted, England would need to be broken up into smaller units for a federal solution to work – something which is anathema to the Campaign for an English Parliament.
You'd have a hard time finding a more honest appraisal of the rationale behind regionalism.
The Constitution Unit has helpfully made available many of its old papers on constitutional reform. This extract from Prof Robert Hazell's "Constitutional Reform and the New Labour Government" (1997):
There are three basic respects in which Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are currently privileged compared with other parts of the UK. First, they have separate Secretaries of State, who can argue their case in Cabinet; second, and thanks in part to that special pleading they enjoy very generous levels of public expenditure, even when allowance is made for their special needs; and third, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, enjoy over-representation at Westminster. This last does not give rise to, but adds spice to, the West Lothian Question. As everyone here knows it is not really a question at all, because it never expects an answer, but it is really used to make two political points. The first is to suggest that within a unitary state legislative devolution is impossible. That, as I hope to show shortly, is nonsense. The second point is about fairness between the nations of the UK, and in this respect the West Lothian Question deserves to be taken seriously. It will not be a fair or balanced settlement between Scotland and the rest of the UK if post-devolution Scotland continues to be privileged in these three respects. They have been privileges which have been allowed to develop largely to keep the Scots quiet about devolution. If they continue post-devolution the rest of us can be forgiven for thinking that the Scots are being allowed to have their cake and eat it.
At the end of July Prof Robert Hazell wrote an article in the Guardian claiming that Scottish secession would require two referendums, it was a piece later described as "panicky" by Christopher Harvey.
Over at Our Kingdom Tom Griffin surmised the four major obstacles that Hazell believes the SNP must overcome to achieve independence.
1. Winning a vote in the Scottish Parliament authorising a referendum.
2. Winning a referendum to authorise independence negotiations.
3. Negotiating terms with the British Government and with the European Union.
4. Winning a second referendum on the agreed terms.
In a speech to the Australian Parliament earlier this year Bernard Crick highlighted the UK Government's guarantee to Ulster Unionists:
The key constitutional doctrine of the United Kingdom is still widely believed to be the sovereignty of Parliament. The trouble with that is, as some super patriots are well aware, Parliament can abrogate its own sovereignty in such a way that it is politically highly unlikely that it could ever reclaim it. That is clear in the case of the Treaty of Rome and consequent legislation, but also listen to this from the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 – the famous “guarantee” to the Ulster unionists:
It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purpose of this section and in accordance to Schedule 1 of this Act.
What a guarantee! Northern Ireland is not constitutionally an integral and perpetual part of the United Kingdom, but a conditional one. And the British-Irish Intergovernmental Agreement of November 1985 pledged both governments to the establishment of a United Ireland if the consent of a majority in the North was forthcoming. But British governments of both parties, authors of these pragmatic and essential move in resolving the Irish question, see no connection with the Scottish question. Perhaps this is because the Scots are not thought likely to proceed through violence.
If Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom is conditional, then so too must be the membership of Scotland, and in theory England and Wales. So once the principle of departure is consented to in a referendum there is precious little that can be done to overturn that decision.
the British government is entitled to insist on one final check that independence is the "settled will of the Scottish people". Scots might support the idea of independence in the first referendum but think again when confronted with the actual terms.
If the Scottish people are constitutionally sovereign, and have voted for independence, exactly what entitlement to insist do the United Kingdom Government have? By that stage, of course, the very concept of a United Kingdom Government, or indeed a United Kingdom, would have ceased to exist because out of necessity if nothing else concomitant debates would be occurring in England and Wales. As with any divorce the details would be thrashed out in court.
Comparison between the 1980 and 1995 Quebec referendum questions offer an interesting suggestion as to how Alex Salmond might like to frame the Scottish question. There are of course important differences between the United Kingdom and Canada, namely the fact that when Quebec secedes Canada continues to exist, whereas when Scotland secedes the United Kingdom is extinct. Which raises the question of whether Scotland should be negotiating with England, with whom they entered into a political union, rather than the "United Kingdom" of which they are part. Britology Watch muses upon this question here.
In his keynote address to the Constitution Unit's Inside Devolution 2008 Conference Prof Robert Hazell noted that "the Union is itself defensible because at least for now, it is supported by a majority within all parts of the Union". He then offered his advice - the five Cs - on how the UK Government could defend the Union: consent, custodianship, constitutionality, consistency, and confidence.
The most important principle underlying the Union is consent. It is a voluntary union, and the UK government should recognise (as it has in the case of Northern Ireland) that the nations comprising the UK are free to leave the union if they wish. That imposes on the UK government important obligations as the main custodian of the union. It needs to uphold the principles of constitutionality in the path to independence for Scotland. And to uphold the principle of consistency, the UK government should engage fairly and equally with all the devolved governments, and ensure fair and equal representation in the UK parliament, fair distribution of territorial finance according to need, etc.
How can England consent without a voice? And if we're talking about consistency, surely the UK Government should engage fairly and equally with all nations, not just with "all devolved governments". But it can't do that because England doesn't exist as a political entity; England has no government, and no politicians elected on an English mandate. So the only way England can consent is through Government engagement with the people over The English Question. Somehow I doubt Prof Hazell will be calling for a popular constitutional sovereignty in England anytime soon.