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Thursday, 8 May 2014

What if Scotland decides to stay in the UK?

Ever since the Blair/Brown mangling of the UK’s Constitution, there has been a large question mark over the status of ‘England’ within the Union. Scotland has a Parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland have Assemblies, but England has … Westminster, which, we are constantly told is the “United Kingdom Parliament”. In other words, “England” is represented by its MPs sitting in a joint parliament making decisions that apply only in England and determined to a large extent by Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs.

Let’s take a look at the actual make-up of the Westminster Chamber (I’ll leave the Lords out of it for the moment - that is another problem entirely thanks to Blair!). There are 650 MPs currently in the House of Commons, of whom 533 are ‘English’ (though in reality some are Scottish or Welsh Party Members in ‘English’ seats), 40 Welsh, 59 Scottish and 18 Northern Irish. In effect it means that there are 117 MPs voting on laws that have little or no impact on their own constituents in matters ‘devolved’ to the Scottish Parliament or the two Assemblies. Worse, it means that the voters in each of these constituencies actually has TWO MPs - one 'local' and the other in Westminster, while the 'English' constituencies have only one, in Westminster. Since a majority of the constituencies in Scotland and Wales are invariably also Labour, Nationalist or Liberal Democrat supporters, there is a clear bias against the representation most frequently the choice of ‘English’ voters. Reference to the map clearly shows this.

To further complicate the story we must also recognise that there are 53 million people in England, 3 million in Wales, 5.29 million in Scotland and 1.8 million in Northern Ireland. This means there are fewer voters per MP in Scotland and Wales than there are in England. Then there are arguments about the allocation of funds to the various components as well, with the per capita spend in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland higher than anywhere in England. And all of this is ‘managed’ by Westminster where those 117 ‘National’ MPs make very sure their voters ‘interests’ are paramount. It is a very tricky question and, to use a hackneyed expression, thorny issue. One the politicians hoped they could evade by breaking England up into ‘Regions’ so each Region had its own Assembly and could safely be sidelined.

That plan fell apart when the first ‘Region’ resoundingly rejected being made autonomous and being made to pay for yet another hot-air talking shop for meddlers. The surprise was that it was a Labour ‘heartland area. To date the only such ‘Region’ to accept the ‘honour’ is the London conurbation where the Greater London Authority has an Assembly which presides over the 33 Boroughs and cities that make up what everyone outside the UK calls ‘London’. The problem when the voters rejected the ‘Regional Assembly’ proposal was that Blair and his planners had no alternative plan, no back-up to answer what has, for many years, been known as the “West Lothian Question”. For some reason, all our ‘political’ class are terrified of allowing the ‘English’ to have their own voice, their own Parliament.

Perhaps it is time to call this bluff, and for the ‘English’ to demand the same status as the Welsh, Scots and Irish (and come to that the Suzerainties of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man). Perhaps it is time to reject entirely the divisions imposed by Westminster and Whitehall in their ‘Regions’ and demand an English Parliament based outside of London. Surely, if we are going to continue to play this so-called ‘democracy’ game, it is only right? The problem is that the Liberal Left (and possibly the Conservative Centre as well) seem to be absolutely terrified by the thought of an 'English' Parliament. One has to ask why?

As I see it there are several purely ‘political’ problems to address here. The first is that the ‘first past the post/winner takes all’ electoral system is so far past its ‘sell by’ date it is a joke. The second is to acknowledge that, without the Scottish and Welsh MPs, Labour will never form a majority government in England. The third part of the problem is that Westminster, and to a large extent, Whitehall, will have to be completely restructured with Whitehall being cut back and many of its Departments devolved completely to the four national governments. I would suggest therefore that Whitehall would be responsible only for overall ‘Treasury’ functions, Defence, Foreign Policy and matters pertaining to Immigration, Citizenship and mutual internal arrangements. Westminster itself could be slimmed down dramatically, losing perhaps half of its current denizens and all their ‘hanger’s on’.

The more I consider this, the more I like it. Moving the activities of the Civil Service closer to the people they purport to serve  - the taxpayer - will make them far more responsive to reality, rather than their imagined world. It will also break what Jonathon Swift called “the echo of the London Coffee House”. As he said, there is a tendency in Westminster and Whitehall to believe that “London” is the whole of the UK, and this has caused problems all through the ages. Shifting an ‘English’ Parliament out of London, and ejecting all those departments that are devolved as well, will certainly cure that tendency.

I believe the idea of a Parliament for England is an idea whose time has come. The only question is how to compel the denizens of Westminster to accept it.

3 comments:

  1. 'The second is to acknowledge that, without the Scottish and Welsh MPs, Labour will never form a majority government in England'.
    I don't understand that statement. Could you explain it please. It is your use of the word England that is confusing me.

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  2. This is good, but you're quite wrong when you say there'll never be a Labour majority in England: there has been for every Labour government since February 1974. They even won an English majority with fewer votes than the Tories in 2005.

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  3. DR, on a break down of 'seats' rather than 'votes' Labour would not enjoy a majority without the Welsh and Scottish MPs. IE, assuming the break up of the UK is complete, "England" would be that part of the UK which is not part of Wales or Scotland. According to the Statistics Office figures, there would be a number of 'automatic Labour' seats removed and this would make it very difficult to achieve a majority of seats - our system ignores the numbers per party, and only counts the winning seats.

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