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English Question

Stronger United

Stronger United is a think-tank highlighting the benefits and making the positive case for a New United Kingdom, a partnership of equals.

The Case for a New United Kingdom

The sweeping victory of the Scottish Nationalists in the Holyrood elections has put a question mark over the future of the United Kingdom.

In the past speculation of Scottish independence has been met with robust opposition both north and south of the border. However this time a resurgent nationalism and a growing number of people in England who appear to be quite happy for Scotland to go its own way, is seriously threatening the 300 year old Union.

Those in England often reduce the argument to one of cost, but this ignores the fact that Scotland is the one of the wealthiest parts of the United Kingdom outside the South East of England. Furthermore, if we take the cost argument to its logical conclusion, why stop at Hadrian's Wall, why not the Watford Gap?

For many of us who believe in the UK, however, it is about more than economics. There is a deperate need for a New Unionism, a positive narrative to deploy against the separtists on both sides of the debate. The United Kingdom is an historic political union that has brought together the expertise of both countries and at some of the darkest periods in world history.

On the English side of the debate there is a misguided complacency. If the United Kingdom ceases to exist, it does not follow that England would simply take Britain’s seat on the UN Security Council. If the UK ceases to exist, Westminster need not waste its time deciding whether or not England should renew its nuclear deterrent: without Scotland there is nowhere to put it. Without Scotland, the British military will be a much diminished force, since around one-third of the British Army’s fighting force is Scottish. England without Scotland will count for a lot less in the European Union and NATO. It will also be without North Sea oil and gas. England would be the loser too, in prestige, importance and power.

Scotland without England risks being a diminished state on the margins of Europe, a country of five million trying in vain to be heard in an European Union of over 500 million – losing its seat at the top international tables – from the G8 to the UN. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland shapes the world. Further, as the banking crisis and the bail out of RBS show there is much in the argument that the nations of the UK are stronger united, stronger to face the challenges of a changed world – together.

We are much stronger together, and if you believe in a United Kingdom please support 'Stronger United' by emailing 'Yes to Britain', and we will add your name to our supporter's database.

Much food for thought there, I think you'll agree. So I urge you all to engage in this initiative. Get involved and make the case for a 'New United Kingdom', a 'partnership of equals' in which each nation enjoys the same degree of autonomy (political and financial) from the United Kingdom.

I notice that from their media page they've linked to David Mitchell's article in the Guardian. What a shame that they haven't also linked to my response on Our Kingdom that challenges them to imagine a New United Kingdom.

Peter Hain: Inferior and Second Class

"Devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom, not weakened it, as opponents once claimed." - Peter Hain, Better Governance for Wales, June 2005

Asymmetric devolution, by which three nations gained national parliaments to shout for them while a fourth did not, was never going to strengthen the United Kingdom.

So, according to Peter Hain, what are the prospects for our strengthened Union now that the Tories are intent on restoring a semblance of symmetry?

“The implications of this cannot be overestimated. I think it would hobble the Union, and possibly destroy it.

“This is a blatant fix by the English Tories. They know the only hope they have of winning consistently is to separate Wales and Scotland from England.

“The whole principle that underpins the Parliamentary system in the UK is that all MPs have equal status. If Welsh and Scottish MPs were not allowed to vote on matters that superficially seem only to relate to England, that principle would no longer apply and MPs representing seats in Wales and Scotland would have an inferior, second class status.

“If that happened, there would be no question of any MP from Wales or Scotland ever becoming Prime Minister again. There would be no more Lloyd Georges or Jim Callaghans. This wouldn’t just affect Labour politicians – if the brightest and best Conservative MP happened to represent a seat in Wales, they would never be acceptable as a leader of their party."

You're already inferior and second class, Peter, it's just that your voting privileges haven't yet been altered to reflect that fact.

Dear David Mundell

Dear Mr Mundell,

As an Englishman I do not usually write to foreign politicians, but given your recent outburst I felt that it would be remiss of me not to.

"I have always expressed the view that there is no desire for an English Parliament—and the same two people have always written to me afterwards to say that I am wrong" - David Mundell, House of Commons debates, 22 June 2011

You're wrong, as the polls demonstrate. And might I add that you, as a Scottish politician, might do better to concentrate on keeping your own nation in the Union rather than spreading lies to prevent my nation from achieving the same level of national democracy and representation as yours. An unfair union of nations is a union not worth having: so enjoy that £4.5bn extra you receive while it lasts because you'll lose your seat - and possibly the Union - when the Barnett Formula is scrapped.

English FA backs British team

The headline says it all: "English FA backs British team".

How pathetic, how humiliating, how very typical. How the entire footballing World must be laughing. Little wonder that they're called "The Football Association" rather than the "The English Football Association".

I stand with the football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on this issue, and with any self-respecting England fan, in saying...

Team Britain? Fuck No

Please support No Team GB.

Well said Frank

Just when you thought all politicians were mendacious unprincipled shits, Frank Field speaks:

This is the first time I have wanted to join in a debate on Scottish matters in the House. That is my fault, though, and I assure my hon. Friends that I will not let it happen again—I now wish to pursue Scottish matters whenever they arise. I have been struck today, listening to a Scottish debate for the first time, by how many of us—myself included, perhaps—failed to think through what devolution meant, and now we have almost hit an invisible brick wall past which we cannot get our arguments.

It seemed to me from observing the recent Scottish elections—obviously my sympathies lay with the party I have the honour to represent in Parliament—even from the language used by English politicians contributing to the Scottish debate that we had not thought through what the limited measure of devolution would mean. We got a pretty good hiding for our trouble on that score. I plead with the Labour Front-Bench team—this is meant as an encouragement, because I know that, as part of our policy review, they are thinking through what should necessarily follow from a defeat on the scale of the one we suffered at the last general election—not to go into the next general election without seriously thinking about the consequences of devolution, not just for Scotland but for the other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly England, where my seat is situated.

I have also been struck by the fact that although people try to mystify us by using various formulas and by saying, “What was given with one hand is taken by another”, I cannot answer, in the light of this debate and the work I have done, the charge put to me by a constituent of mine during the half-term break, when I visited the Scottish Parliament, which is a magnificent building—the extraordinary scale of the domestic architecture was incredibly grand. A constituent of mine greeted me as I went in and asked, “Why is it, Frank, that if I lived in Scotland, I would have free medicines, free long-term care and my children would go to university without paying the fees they pay in England?” Despite all the talk about grants and how we might review them, there is no reply yet to our English constituents on those points. If the explanation is not an unfair distribution of Exchequer grants, I want to know what we have in England that Scotland does not have that might pay for those extraordinary benefits.

He doesn't stop there, read the rest here.

Conservative u-turns are all the rage

The Guardian has questioned David Davis over his stance on an English Parliament.

Q: On the blog that I posted inviting readers to suggest questions, some people asked about an English parliament. Someone who may be a constituent of yours [tyke1] said that you made a speech in favour of one in 1997, but that you haven't spoken about it since.

A: He's quite right. I did make a speech in 1997, and dear old William Hague has probably never forgiven me for it because it took over the Tory conference that year, virtually.

What I was saying at the time is that we were going through all this process of creating Scottish and Welsh autonomy, the Irish have their level of autonomy, and the people forgotten in all this are the English.

There is a real serious issue when you have got ministers – the home secretary, for example – in charge of policing in England whose actions do not have any impact in his own constituency. For example, retaining DNA. When John Reid was home secretary, this was done to English people, but not to Scots people. So I think there's a quirk there.

Q: Do you still think there's a case for an English parliament?

A: I'm moderately comfortable. This is a very difficult constitutional area because of the problems of federalism in a state when you've got a huge state and a number of smaller states. What happened immediately after that speech, and largely as a result of that speech, was a Tory policy on English votes, English votes for English business.

Q: Which has now disappeared into the long grass ... [The government is setting up a commission on the West Lothian question later this year]

A: I would certainly try that first. I'm not a radical when it comes to constitutional reform, with one exception. Generally I'm an incrementalist because it's so easy to get it wrong and get unintended consequences.

It's quite some way from his principled and unequivocable stance in 2001.

The people of England deserve no less than the same choice as the peoples of Wales and Scotland last September: a referendum on whether they want a parliament of their own. In their own words, Labour should trust the people - in this case the people of England. An English parliament, on the same basis as the Scottish one, will be the minimum that the English people are likely to be satisfied with.

Which is why people don't like or trust politicians.

Stiff Upper Lip


Question: what defines "Englishness"? A nice cuppa tea? Royal Ascot? Henley Regatta? Fish 'n' chips?

A thousand examples spring to mind, but a listener came up with the ultimate story that separates this island race from Johnny Foreigner.

Some years ago, the great English cricket captain Ted Dexter was interviewed on a gantry at Lord's during a break in play, caused by a thunderstorm cracking overhead.

Ted was holding a black umbrella which was touching the steel roof above. Peter West, of blessed memory, asked: "What do you make of the game, Ted?"

Ted was strangely stiff and made no reply. Then, after a moment, he said: "I must apologise, Peter, but I've just been struck by lightning."

Tell me they're still making them like that.

I think that Shearer, Owen or Rooney, in such circumstances, would throw themselves to the ground screaming and keep writhing in agony until they were absolutely sure that everyone had seen them.

Unionist Politics from the Last Ditch

Oh dear. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has tabeled an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would mean that there must be a referendum on Scottish independence before the Scotland Bill can come into force, thereby forcing the Scottish people to choose between the inadequate and flawed Calman proposals or independence.

Britishness: A cultural imperialism in practice, by Peter Bottomley

Peter Bottomley MP on Englishness Britishness.

Dorothy Sayers, in her book "Unpopular Opinions", distinguishes between the English—by which she meant the British—and, say, the French by saying that whereas they believe in equality, we believe in fairness.

I'm not so sure about that, Peter. Dorothy Sayers seemed well able to distinguish between the English and other nations.

A direct result of the mongrel nature of the English, and a thing very noticeable about them, is that they have never in their lives been what the Germans still are, that is, a Volk. From the first beginnings of their Englishry they have been, not a race, but a nation. The comparative absence of folk-music and folk-customs from England is remarkable, compared with their energetic survival in, say, the Highlands of Scotland; and the English have never had a folk-costume at all. The thing that ties them together is not a consciousness of common blood so much as a common law, a common culture and a very long memory of national consciousness. The law, generally speaking, is Saxon; the culture, generally speaking, is continental.

Dorothy Sayers, Unpopular Opinions.

It is well, then, to know what we mean and to learn how to say it in English. And by English I mean English, not any other tongue. In a day when the British Broadcasting Corporation imports its language committee from Ireland and Scotland, and when Fleet Street swarms with Scots, Irish and Americans, it is well to remember that all these persons are foreigners; that the Scots and the Irish were so from the beginning and that the Americans have become so; that they speak our language as foreigners; and that while it is childlike and charming in us to enjoy their sing-song speech and their quaint foreign barbarisms, to imitate these things is childishness and folly. It is true that a language thrives by piracy: it will do us no harm to adopt a striking word of slang or a vivid turn of expression. We must not, however, give our pure gold for cowrie-shells or abandon our beautiful and useful grammatical tools because these barbarians do not know how to handle them.

Dorothy Sayers, Unpopular Opinions

Michael Forsyth on the Barnett Formula

It's a rare day that I agree entirely with Michael Forsyth, but I can't see much wrong with this statement:

My Lords, I believe that we are heading for a real constitutional crisis. The Scotland Bill, which is still in the other place and heading for this Chamber, introduces powers for a separate rate of Scottish income tax. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on securing this debate, and the Select Committee on which I sat.

As the noble Lord pointed out, the effect of the Barnett formula has been to give Scotland much more than it would have received on a needs basis. The needs basis is firmly established because it is the basis on which the Scottish Parliament distributes money to health authorities and local authorities. There is no magic about this. Professor David Bell of Stirling University has done some work on the size of that amount. Scotland gets around £4.5 billion extra. You cannot change that overnight. It would need to be phased in over a period of years, as the Select Committee indicated.

We need to get on with this. It is the height of stupidity to give a Parliament the power to set income tax rates, but at the same time not deal with the basis on which the baseline funding is achieved. Baseline funding would alter according to policy decisions taken in Westminster rather than in Scotland. That would create opportunities for conflict. Trying to raise £4.5 billion as a Scottish income tax would involve doubling the basic rate of income tax after you allowed for a loss of yield. It is a huge sum of money.

It is therefore imperative that we have a stable, well established basis on which the Scottish Parliament is funded. It should not be open to criticism, and must be seen to be fair to the rest of the United Kingdom for this policy to work. Otherwise, if the Government down here change their policy on health, education or law and order, that will in turn result in a change to the revenue gain to the Scottish Parliament. We now have-contrary to what we were assured would not happen when we had devolution-a nationalist Administration determined to break up the United Kingdom, which will use this as an issue. The noble Lord is right; we cannot have the Treasury deciding how the formula is created; we need to have an independent commission along the lines of the Australian system, which phases its results over a period of time.

I find it extraordinary that the present Government, whom I support, and the previous Government have both taken the same line in saying that it is too difficult to tackle this issue. It should never be too difficult to do what is necessary to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom and to end the resentment which has been created on both sides of the border because of these anomalies. This marriage that was created, the union between Scotland and England, is the most successful the world has ever seen. It is being put under strain because of a failure to address the policy consequences of constitutional change. Parliaments are about raising resources and voting means of supply. It is essential that this is addressed in the Scotland Bill before it has completed its passage through Parliament.

Except, of course, that there should be no phasing in of changes. Any new formula designed to eliminate unfairness should be introduced immediately, irrespective of the consequences for any part of the UK that has been for years over-funded. After all, we "must be seen to be fair to the rest of the United Kingdom".

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