30 October 2007

The "English Grand Charade" As Proposed By The Tories.

Who is more responsible for the break-up of the UK? The Tories who ignored Scots and Welsh wishes and fostered resentment north and west of the English border that became an unstoppable drive for devolution OR Labour who honoured the wishes of those in Scotland, Wales (and London) for this devolved government?

Whose ever fault it was, it has...
left us with a constitutional problem - the 'West Lothian Question' as posed by Tam Dalyell, where Scottish and Welsh MPs vote on English only matters but English MPs cannot vote on devolved matters.

Nick Robinson points out the many holes in the new Tory proposals for a 'English Grand Committee' consisting of English MPs only for English laws. This emphasises the need for a new evaluation of how our unwritten constitution is inadequate to cope with the new devolved set-up.

The Tories have just effectively admitted they are an English only party by decrying the power of Labour's Scottish and Welsh strongholds. Would they make these proposals if they had decent representation in the devolved countries or if they didn't see the possibility of being a permanent dominant force in England?

The Tories are quite happy to mention the unfairness of getting more votes but less seats than Labour in England under our electoral system - but not the unfairness of an electoral system that will give them a majority of the seats in England with just 35% of the vote in England.

The English Grand Committee would effectively be a muddled version of an English Parliament but crucially without constitutional guarantees that their power couldn't be subverted by UK government fiat. It would be the worst of both worlds. It is a testing of the electoral water by the Tories and an attempt to tap into the English nationalist vote, but their idea is so flawed it will never make it as their official policy.

So what about going the whole hog and having an English Parliament? Surely this is only fair? It sounds fair enough, but as I have outlined before - an English Parliament will ignore the wide discrepancy in opinion between the regions of England. We would be in danger of fostering the same resentment between north and south England as happened between the Celtic regions and the rest of the UK. Plus we already have partial devolution in England, are we to ignore the wishes of Londoners?

An English parliament elected by proportional representation would be better but would still be in danger of fostering resentment between the regions. We have started the road to a federal system in the UK, and no federal system would allow one region to have almost 90% of the population - as would be the case with an English parliament within the UK. The UK would be finished.

The only viable and sensible solution is to have proper regional government in England with each region with similar powers, electoral system and population size as Scotland and Wales, not the talking shop devolution that was rightly rejected in the North East. We all know the UK is one of the most centralised nations in the world (a legacy of abolished local government by Thatcher). This regional government would address this problem and solve the 'West Lothian Question' in one fair swoop.

Finally bed this all down with a written constitution that protects this local democracy and we can never have the Thatcher scenario happening again when a UK government rode roughshod over the electoral wishes of the local population.


  1. I think a break up of the UK would be a Good Thing, quite how we get there is of little interest to me.

  2. At the end of the day I would agree with you. I am an internationalist, so all borders are arbitrary to me in the long term, but for those who want to see a UK nation, I just want to explain why this issue is more complex than the media are saying it is.

    It would certainly be interesting to see Scotland with the Euro and playing a closer role in the EU. I believe tensions between north and south England would increase if England were independent.

    Another point I forgot to mention is that Scotland actually pays more tax per head than it recieves in spending - so how English nationalists and David Cameron can have a go at spending levels in Scotland is beyond me.

  3. I don't believe your tax/spend figures for one second - I checked the SNP's calculations that allegedly showed a roughly break-even position and they look pretty ropey to me, but hey, perhaps I am wrong, I am happy for Scotland to call my bluff. Not my problem. If they'd be richer by themselves, great, at least we've got cunts like Gordon Brown, Darling, Rifking et al off our backs.

    The issue is not 'complex' at all, any more than the inner workings of a digital watch are complex. Either you want one or you don't.

  4. Neil!

    It's good to play around with your layouts, but I think you've made the right hand bar a bit too wide (and the blood red background is a bit creepy!) and the actual middle bit is now too narrow.

    Just saying. Others may differ.

    The slidy boxes are way cool though, thanks for the tip.

  5. The English have already said they do not want regional assemblies,what part of no do you not understand?
    creating Tensions beteen Northern England and Southern England will no doubt be on new labour's agenda
    when it looks likely an English Parliament is to be convened.
    In a post 2004 regional assembly referendum survey, many people in the North East of England said they did not want England broken up.
    you new labour fuckers are just shit stirrers

  6. Anon, As Simon Jenkins in the Guardian points out, it is only in the latter part of the 20th Century when English regions have not had powers similar to those of Scotland over education and health. If we returned to this regional power it would solve the West Lothian question. A move towards an English Parliament would inevitably lead to the break-up of the UK and English voters in some regions being ignored and getting increasingly agitated. If that is what you want, then fine, but the majority of voters want to keep the UK.

    The 'no' campaign in the North East focussed its arguments primarily on the 'no real powers', 'it is not real devolution' and it is a 'talking shop' arguments, the voters agreed and were right to reject what was on offer. This however was not a rejection of devolution per se. Offer the North East (or any other region) real power over health, education and transport and I am sure they will take it. They were not offered this and Labour must take the blame for holding onto too much power in London. Labour need to be bold and offer real devolution, like they have in Scotland and Wales (and from next year the extra powers for London). Why is devolution good for Scotland and Wales but not the regions of England?

  7. Mark, I was not using the SNP's calculations, I was using the regional breakdown of tax and public spending (I was amazed myself when I saw the figures which sadly I haven't found on the net - so no link yet) which shows the Scots pay more in tax then they receive in public expenditure.

    Where the Scots do well, is in receiving a higher percentage of public spending (relative to their wealth) than England receives.

    The North of England for example, receives far more spending per capita than Scotland, but not as much as it could if its poverty relative to Scotland was fully taken into account (this is where the Barnett Formula boosts Scottish spending). Mainly it is the South East of England subsidising the rest of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. England is NOT subsidising Scotland, which receives less spending than it pays in taxes.

  8. Neil, that is the problem, the stat's are all over the place. No dispute that North of England (probably) gets more per capita than Scotland, for example, but as to the rest, who knows? We'll never find out 'til we try.

    As to this regional crap, bollocks, devolve power to local councils, we've got a system in place already. Good point re Simon Jenkins BTW.

  9. Mark, there are a lot of powers that work well at local council level (and they certainly need a lot of power returned that was taken in the 80s) but some things like transport and refuse collection (as just two examples from many) are best organised regionally. Having one borough do one thing and another borough another, can be too small minded and leave no space for a region to think more long term and strategically.

    We are the most centralised nation in the developed world. I don't see how having an English parliament is any less just 'another level of government' (a big criticism of regional government) and when nearly 90% of the population will be dictated to from London, I don't see how an English parliament addresses the centralisation problem either. It seems to me, the worst of both worlds.

    Still searching for the regional spend stats, will post link when I find them. But believe me, they did show per capita spend in Scotland as less than their tax per capita (maybe it is all that booze and fags).

  10. As to transport, yes, this goes way beyond the boundaries of any particular borough - a London-to-Birmingham high-speed rail link will never get built if we wait fot fifty different local councils to reach an agreement.

    As to refuse collection, nope, this is all up in the air what is the right thing to do. Let's let councils experiment with different stuff, and hopefully after five or ten years, the shit ideas will get binned and the good ideas (whatever they are - don't ask me) will win out.

  11. Mark, read this report into waste disposal in London and see if you still think it sensible to have different policies between boroughs.

  12. When will Labour admit that they only stay in power by relying on Scottish and Welsh over-representation at Westminster?

    Funny how the poorest regions of the UK are left-wing, relying on the state both for jobs and benefits!

  13. Neil, I read it as far as "key European, national, regional and local policy drivers" and then I thought 'no, that's not right'.

    People know when their bins need to be emptied. The do not need all these drivers.