Dear Alex Salmond,
You have played an absolute blinder today. Well done. Anyone who knew anything about Scottish politics warned David Cameron not to interfere in the referendum but he just couldn't help himself. And now he looks to everyone in Scotland like an arrogant fool who thought he could dictate the terms and timing of the referendum on Scottish independence to the Scottish Government. Does he not realise that the Scottish people are sovereign; and that they elected a government to deliver them a referendum; and that the government they chose was yours not his? The Scottish Government may not have the legal authority to hold a binding referendum but it has the moral authority.
Ignore the critics who say that you are frit, those same people deny England a referendum on an English parliament because they know they will lose. You are quite right to wait until 2014 so that Scotland can have a full debate on the pros and cons of independence; so that the Scottish people can see that the Calman proposals in the Scotland Bill are inadequate; so that the Scottish people can see what effect the West Lothian Commission will have on the ability of their MPs to represent them at Westminster; and so that the Scottish people can experience life under austerity Britain, caused by the economic incompetence of Westminster politicians (albeit Scottish ones).
Autumn 2014 is a good date for the independence referendum because in 2014 Scotland plays host to the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, and celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and in all likelihood the Scots will be complaining about the British media's biased coverage of England's World Cup campaign. .
You are also right to prevent Westminster from insisting that the referendum should be a straight YES/NO question on Scottish independence. We all know that the Scottish people would prefer Independence Lite (or Independence in Britain as I prefer to call it) and so, as a party of the people, you should do what you can to ensure that Independence Lite is an option.
Gerry Hassan suggests that Scottish Government should use the following wording for the independence referendum:
Do you authorise the Scottish Government to begin negotiations with the UK Government on Scottish independence?
These are words, according to Hassan, that are easily understood by everyone, with no doubts about what it means that is open to claim or counter-claim. I think he is right, no reasonable person could object. But having secured a mandate from the people to enter into negotiations with Westminster over Scottish independence, it is then possible for the two governments to come up with a bipartisan middle-way that can be put to the Scottish people in a legally binding referendum.
Independence (as was pointed out by DougtheDug on this blog) can be declared by Scotland on a unilateral basis, and there's not a great deal that Westminster can do about it. Whereas the problem with Independence Lite is that it has to come about bilaterally: it has to be offered by Westminster and accepted by Scotland. By using Hassan's suggested question you are more likely to engineer a situation in which both Independence and Independence Lite are on the ballot paper.
I would like you to know that there are a great number of people in England that are cheering you on. It's not only the Scots who feel trapped under the weight of the Imperial Parliament, an increasing number of English people do too. England is not a democracy and it lacks the basic trappings of nationhood: Parliament, Government, anthem, national holiday, etc. The government that we're lumbered with - the UK Government - is incapable of speaking for England; it can speak of England but not for England, the English question is ignored and we're left without a vision of an English future - England unimagined. Regrettably there is no English version of Alex Salmond, there is no politician for whom the interests of England are paramount. It doesn't matter how often we express a desire for an English dimension to governance, we are ignored, and it is the multi-national nature of the UK and the Unionists' desire to retain absolute sovereignty at Westminster that is the main reason preventing them from recognising English popular sovereignty. As an Englishman it makes me ashamed to say that you are the greatest hope for England, but at present you are. And not just England, you have the opportunity to shape the democratic future of the entire UK for the better.
Not that I want to put any greater pressure on you.
Good luck and God speed.
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.
Back in April I complained about the lunacy of UKIP's devolution policy, a policy that would scrap Scottish and Welsh self-government and replace it with grand committees for Scotland and Wales, and restore symmetry by also creating an English grand committee.
UKIP's dreadful showing in the Scottish elections (UKIP doubled the share of the vote that they achieved in 2007 by standing 29 candidates in 2011 instead of the 10 they stood in 2007) caused me to reactivate an email discussion that I was conducting with a member of Nigel Farage's staff.
Nigel Farage's office, 24th March 2011
Dear Mr Young
Thank you for your "plea" - but I think you'll find that UKIP does propose an English Parliament (together with parliaments for Wales, Scotland and Ulster) composed of the Members of Parliament for constituencies in each of those parts of the United Kingdom.
Please see UKIP-Manifesto (2010)
15 Culture & Restoring Britishness
· End support for multiculturalism and promote one shared British culture for all
· Be fair to England by introducing an ‘English Parliament’, ending the discriminatory Barnett Formula and making St George’s Day a national holiday in England
· Ban the burka and veiled niqab in public buildings and certain private buildings
· Require UK schools to teach Britain’s contribution to the world and celebrate cultures, languages and traditions from around the British Isles
· Scrap political correctness in public affairs
Me, 24th March 2011
Take a look at the quote that you have sent me. As you can see 'English parliament' is enclosed in inverted commas. This is because it is not an English parliament that UKIP propose but is in fact an English grand committee sitting within the UK Parliament.
Inverted commas placed around text are used to indicate another sense or meaning of a phrase rather than the one initially suggested, or often to convey humour or sarcasm.
So are you being funny or sarcastic, or are you just trying to fob me off as if I was some sort of ignoramous who doesn't know the difference between a parliament and a grand committee?
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
Dear Gareth - technically, you are right; but why should this arrangement not serve the purpose?
PS - I reject your aspersions
Me, 25th March 2011
"technically, you are right; but why should this arrangement not serve the purpose?"
That was a valid question back in the 1990s, read the speeches of Malcolm Rifkind or Michael Forsyth, or the minutes of Thatcher's government, they all ask that very question.
The valid question now is "why are UKIP still asking that question?"
Do you seriously believe that you can scrap the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly? James Gray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary of State, was hounded out of his job for suggesting such a thing.
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
G -I just wondered what your response would be. We think it would serve the purpose, obviously.
As for doing things the incumbent parties would never do - that's what UKIP is in business for.
Me, 25th March 2011
It may in theoretical terms 'serve the purpose' - though that's debatable - but it's unachievable and it makes UKIP deeply unpopular in Scotland
I lived in Scotland until recently so I know that UKIP are on to a loser with this policy. It's less of a far-fetched policy in Wales but it's a loser there too. Even the English - disadvantaged by devolution - have not shown any desire to have the Scottish and Welsh governments scrapped, quite the reverse in fact.
Call me a realist but I'm more interested in vote-winning policies that are popular with the public and therefore achievable.
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
Dear Gareth - the EU was quite popular with the public before we got going, but EU-regional government (for that's what the present assemblies are) never really has been. UKIP believes that its "Grand Committees" will serve their turn electorally and, once established, their political purpose also; but that won't be until we are in government and rid of the EU - and if we can do that, what can't we do?
Nigel appreciates your concern, which I'm sure is well intentioned. No-one likes all of UKIP's policies. I'm not happy with several of them; but we must pull together or pull apart. Anyway, UKIP is going with "grand committees"
Me, 25th March 2011
I can see that we're going to have to disagree over this.
As a parting favour, would you point me in the direction of the polling data or the research papers that support UKIP's belief that the Scots and Welsh would like to abolish their nationally mandated parliaments and governments and replace them with grand committees?
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
I shall have to ask the Policy-Unit. Hopefully, they will respond to you direct.
Me, 7th May 2011
I never did receive any information from the Policy-Unit.
Following on from our discussion, do you have any news on how UKIP performed in the Scottish elections?
Nigel Farage's office, 7th May 2011
I daresay there is no polling-data. We certainly have no money to commission any. I would call this an intuitive judgement.
We did better than ever in the Scottish elections - 7th out of 18, beating BNP and NF combined -but there's still a long way to go, obviously
Me, 7th May 2011
Intuitive judgement? Good one, that's funny!
As you may have heard the Scots have elected a majority SNP government, which makes UKIP's policy seem even more crazy than it was previously.
You're right about one thing, there is no polling data to support UKIP's position. In fact all the available data undermines UKIP's position because it shows that the Scots want to keep Scottish self-government and increase its powers.
So UKIP's insane policy on devolution is based on a feeling in Nigel Farage's waters rather than the result of any research or evidence. Little wonder that their results are appalling. Case closed.
Recently UKIP officials have been on the telly making dicks of themselves. Here's Nigel Farage explaining how UKIP will abolish the Welsh Assembly Government (a few weeks after the Welsh nation voted to extend the powers of that Government), and here's Lord Monckton explaining how UKIP will abolish the Scottish Government.
Now of course UKIP don't quite put it in those terms, they don't say that they will abolish the Scottish and Welsh Governments, merely that they will abolish MSPs and AMs. They also disingenuously suggest that they will retain the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. This is what they tell Scottish voters in their 2011 Scottish manifesto:
We will -
- Retain the Scottish Parliament
- Replace MSPs with Scottish Westminster MPs
Curiously the Welsh manifesto has noticably different wording:
We will -
- Renew the Welsh Assembly, but in a far less costly form
- Remove the Assembly Members, who are overpaid and underemployed
- Replace them with Welsh Westminster MPs meeting a week a month in Wales
If you replace MSPs with MPs you no longer have a Scottish Parliament, instead you have a Scottish Grand Committee of 59 Westminster MPs who sit in what used to be the Scottish Parliament building for one week a month. And a Scottish Grand Committee is, as you may remember, what Scotland had before it voted for its own Scottish Parliament. And the Scottish people voted for a Scottish parliament because (and here I quote the UKIP manifesto):
We want our.... Scottish nation.... to run [its] own affairs without interference from distant, unelected bureaucrats with no understanding of our nation or of the Scottish people’s needs and hopes.
I cannot for the life of me understand UKIP's devolution policy. I suppose it might appeal on a very superficial "anti-politics mood" level to certain people, and given that the three main parties are now all pro-devolution to Scotland and Wales it may be that UKIP see reactionary unitary-statism as the only niche available to them. It's a shame because they could differentiate themselves from the big three parties by advocating an English parliament. I suggested this a few weeks back when I wrote to Lord Monckton, head of UKIP's Policy Unit, to offer my opinion that an English parliament elected under a form of proportional representation would be a better policy for UKIP than their current dog's dinner. His reply follows.
Dear Mr. Young, - Thank you very much for your comments on the possibility of an English Parliament. The difficulty that we have with this is the staggering cost of layer upon layer of government. We have MEPs, MPs, national-assembly MPs and local councillors. We are the most over-governed nation on Earth. I am not convinced that the voters in any of the four pillars of the kingdom would be in the least concerned if their national-assembly MPs were swept away and their elected MPs met in the various assemblies one week a month to decide on those matters devolved from Westminster to the four regions. It is the fact, not the modality, of devolution that people are keen on.
At the moment, therefore, UKIP's clear policy is that regional assemblies (with the possible exception of Northern Ireland) should be formed from Westminster MPs meeting one week a month. This would save a fortune and would actually strengthen the devolution of powers to the four nations, because MPs serving in both assemblies would be more inclined to cede powers from Westminster to themselves than to altogether separately-elected bodies. - Monckton of Brenchley
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
Dear Lord Mockton,
I fear that you are out of touch with public opinion in Wales, and extremely out of touch with public opinion in Scotland. Make no mistake, your current policy makes UKIP practically unelectable in Scotland.
An English parliament does not necessarily mean more politicians. The House of Lords might soon be elected by proportional representation, which fact has led some Lords to suggest that the upper house might become viewed by the public as the more democratic and more representative of the two chambers. Paddy Tipping went further and said:
"Let us consider what would happen if there were two classes of Members of Parliament, and certain MPs could not vote and, in particular, speak on certain issues. If there were a rival Chamber up the Corridor, where Members from across the United Kingdom, however they were elected or selected, were able to speak, there would be a case for people to say, "We are the legitimate Chamber of the United Kingdom, and you Commoners down there are a de facto Parliament for England." That is the threat. I do not say that that situation will arise, but we need to explore the issue."
Impose English votes on English Laws, or turn the Commons into an English Grand Committee, and you're heading for a situation whereby the upper house, proportionally elected, becomes viewed as the more British of the two chambers - non English MPs will be marginalised in the Commons, and will consequently be marginalised in the Government. Divide the Commons along national lines at your peril
It makes far more sense to make the Lords a British parliament (with far fewer numbers than it has at the moment), members of which will form the British government, and have powers of scrutiny over the devolved national parliaments, and to allow the Commons to be an English parliament by removing non-English MPs and cutting it in size.
To which Monckton replied:
Since I live in Scotland and have travelled and spoken widely north of the Border, I ken fine that though the voters want a Scottish Parliament they don't necessarily want the cost and duplication of having separately-elected MSPs. The political class wants that, because it's more jobs for the boys, but the people who pay for it don't. There was vast dismay at the cost of the Numptorium Building, and it was widely (and correctly) assumed that MSPs simply didn't have the experience or maturity between them to execute a project on that scale properly. What the people of Scotland want is a Scottish Parliament with people of experience and ability in it, and they don't care whether the people in it are MPs or MSPs as long as the powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
I can't speak for Wales, but the recent vote on more powers for the Assembly indicates that it's the powers that people are keen about, and the constitution of the Assembly is a secondary consideration - but one which greatly concerns UKIP because we're looking for ways of bringing the monumental cost of government in the UK under some sort of control before national bankruptcy overtakes us.
Nigel Farage's view on this is quite clear: the people want assemblies in all four nations of the UK, and ought to have them, but the assemblies should be manned by MPs from the nations concerned.
The question of whether a House of Lords elected by proportional representation has more democratic legitimacy than a House of Commons elected by first-past-the-post or AV is entirely separate from the question whether, one week a month, the House of Commons would be the home of the English Parliament.
Everyone has his favourite policies, and no doubt having an English Parliament separately elected from the Westminster Parliament is one of yours. However, the leadership strongly disagrees, chiefly on ground of cost and useless duplication. For the reasons in my previous note, which you do not acknowledge or address, devolution would be more likely to happen, and would be more likely to be effective, if MPs were in effect devolving powers from themselves at Westminster to themselves in their regional assemblies. There it is, I'm afraid: at some point the policy has to be decided upon, and this one has been decided upon, for good reasons. - M of B
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
Thank you for your response. It would appear that we will have to disagree.
I lived in Scotland myself until recently and I never met a Scot who shares your views, though I suspect we mix in different circles. The question of whether grand committees are a better form of devolution was a valid question back in the 1990s, read the speeches of Malcolm Rifkind or Michael Forsyth, or the minutes of Thatcher's government - they all ask that very question, repeatedly.
The valid question now is "why are UKIP still asking that question?"
You'll never get to scrap the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, just ask James Gray http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4563591.stm
Regrettably UKIP will pay an electoral price for continuing to ask the question, which will set you back in your efforts to win a referendum on the EU. I for one will not be sitting by the radio excitedly awaiting news of the abolishment of the Scottish Parliament and Government because that news will never come, but don't let my hard-nosed realism dampen your enthusiasm for flogging a dead horse.
I hope that the Scottish and Welsh voters make UKIP realise that their devolution policy is unpopular, and that UKIP go back to the drawing board to devise a policy on an English parliament. However, judging by Monckton's admission that UKIP don't expect to win any seats, I suspect that UKIP already know that their policy on devolution is unpopular in Scotland and Wales but don't give a shit because they know they're essentially an English party and they're too lazy and intellectually vapid to consider the alternative.
Dear Mr Arnold,
Thank you for your response. Your statement that "There is no link between the Barnett Formula and the West Lothian question" is wrong.
The following paragraph, lifted from a letter I received from your colleague Kam Samplay (Constitutional Settlement Division, Ministry of Justice), should explain all.
The Government is of the view that even matters which may appear confined to England may have an impact on the United Kingdom as a whole. For instance, the funding settlement with the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, means that what is decided on public funding in England affects Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These are national issues for the United Kingdom and should be debated at the national Parliament by all MPs representing the United Kingdom, not by subsets depending on the location of their constituency.
Maybe you and Kam could have a chat and get your story straight.
The response to my letter to Mark Harper.
Thank you for your email of 3 November 2010 addressed to the Minister for Constitutional Reform in response to his letter of 11 October to Norman Baker MP about the Government’s plans to establish a commission to consider the West Lothian question. As one of the officials in charge of this area of policy I have been asked to respond and I apologise for the delay in replying.
There is no link between the Barnett Formula and the West Lothian question. The Barnett Formula is the method by which the Treasury allocates funds to the Devolved Administrations and full details of the formula are set out in the Treasury publication Funding the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly: Statement of Funding Policy. The Statement of Funding Policy is available on the Treasury website: http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sr2010_fundingpolicy.pdf
The Formula is not reliant upon the legislative process of the Westminster Parliament; many spending allocations are made well in advance of the necessary legislative powers being taken by Parliament. A good example is that in the last Spending Review, the government allocated funds for the high speed rail link to the north even though many of the legislative aspects were yet to be considered by Parliament.
The Government has stated that any review of the Barnett Formula must await the stabilisation of the UK’s finances. In addition it is worth noting that any such review will be done with the full consultation of the Devolved Administrations.
As you are aware the Government announced that it will establish a Commission to consider the West Lothian question. We are giving careful consideration to the timing, composition, scope and remit of the Commission. Its work will need to take account of our proposals to reform the House of Lords to create a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, the changes being made to the way the House of Commons does business and amendments to the devolution regimes, for example in the Scotland Bill presently before the House. An announcement will be made in the New Year.
I should like to thank you for your interest and I hope this reply reassures you of the Government's commitment on this matter.
Constitutional Reform Group
The Lords have passed the Government's plans for a raise in tuition fees.
Anthony Barnett complains that this secondary legislation has been "whisked through parliament with one three hour debate and a quick vote in the Lords". Anthony makes a good point on a wider issue, legislation does suffer from inadequate scrutiny in the House of Commons (a problem that an English parliament would alleviate), but in this case the legislation was rushed through as a matter of political expediency, and because it was secondary legislation. The primary legislation that enabled student tuition fees was passed by Tony Blair's government, imposed undemocratically upon English students using the votes of Labour's Scottish MPs. The present government's legislation is the thick end of Labour's wedge. No ideological line has been crossed. There is no point of principle. It is simply a matter of how much they should pay, not whether they should pay.
Unfortunately the NUS, in their wisdom, decided not to take a particularly partisan stance or make an issue of MPs voting rights. In doing so they betrayed the students of England.
There follows a series of emails from Jan-Feb 2004 between myself and two members of the NUS National Executive. To this day I believe that the reason they did not listen to me is because the NUS was led at the time by a Scot, Mandy Telford, and there was no NUS England (despite the fact that there was a separate NUS Scotland). If they had listened to me and raged against those hypocritical Scottish Labour MPs in the same manner that they now rage against the "Tory bastards" and the "Lib Dem liars", things would now be very different indeed.
If you spot a politician or media source engaging in a spot of territorial ambiguity, please report it to the CEP. Here's a letter (a polite one for me) that I rattled off to Caroline Flint earlier.
Which country are you referring to when you say "Many people up and down the country will feel let down by this deeply unfair settlement"?
In this age of devolved politics I think it is important for politicians to specify which country they are talking about because voters may not always be aware of the territorial extent of the legislation or policy under discussion.
Many people up and down 'the country' feel let down by the inability of British politicians to refer to their country by its name.
Dear Mr Harper,
Over a month ago I wrote to you requesting details on the Commission into the West Lothian Question.
I am yet to receive a reply from you but I understand from the Number 10 website that work has begun.
When can we, the public, expect you to furnish us with details concerning this commission?
Previously Mark Harper assured me that Commission on the West Lothian Question was not an attempt to kick the issue into the long-grass, but I cannot help but think that this is something on which they are really going to drag their feet.
Dear Mr Hurd,
In the recent joint press release on the Big Society Agenda (issued by yourself and Francis Maude) you stated the following:
As initial funding, a Conservative government will use the majority of the future annual revenue from the estimated £160m FutureBuilders Loan Book to provide grants to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and charities in the poorest areas of Britain.
As I understood it Futurebuilders was set up to provide investment to third sector organisations in England, yet you intend to use it to provide grants to organisations operating in the poorest areas of Britain. Are the funds in the Futurebuilders Loan Book available to projects across the UK, or are they only available to English projects?
Also, could you tell me whether the 'national' in your proposed "annual national Big Society Day" relates to the nation of England or the nation of Britain; and could you also tell me whether the National Citizen Service will operate across the UK or in England alone?
More generally, would it be possible for you to use unambiguous words like 'England' or 'UK' when discussing the Big Society so that members of the public such as myself can understand the territorial extent and scope of your pronouncements? Your use of the term 'the country' is confusing because it could mean 'England', 'England and Wales', 'Britain', or the entire 'United Kingdom'; and your use of the word 'Britain' is almost as ambiguous because it could mean 'England, Scotland and Wales' or it could be shorthand for 'United Kingdom'.
Sort it out please!
The writings of people like Simon Lee lead me to believe that Nick Hurd is discussing England, but frankly I'm too weary of this sort of ambiguity to even be bothered to work it out. Is it really too much to ask that it should be immediately obvious and clear about which part of the United Kingdom ministerial missives and Government policy relates to?
David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, with its commitment to a new culture of voluntarism and philanthropy, public service reform, and community empowerment, applies to England alone. Control over the resources, policies and services affected by the Big Society had already been devolved by New Labour to the Scots’ parliament and the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.
In a similar vein, the Coalition’s flagship reforms of public services, namely the cancellation of more than 700 ‘Building Schools for the Future’ projects and the creation of ‘free’ schools, coupled with the devolution of health budgets to GPs, and the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, also apply to England alone.
Simon Lee, Parliamentary Brief, 01 September 2010