The Independent View: Time to be honest about English matters

The scandal provoked by MPs’ dodgy expenses claims earlier this year led to unprecedented professions of interest in constitutional reform on the part of the three main parties. For the Liberal Democrats, unlike the other two parties, this was set in the context of a long record of advocating constitutional change; hence the party’s contributions to the debate carried more credibility than most.

However, amid the flurry of proposals for parliamentary reform, very little of the debate addressed the English Question: the issue of how England should be governed as a nation, taking into consideration the impact on England and the Union as a whole of devolution in the three other constituent parts of the Kingdom. And yet, it is hard to see how any comprehensive package of UK-constitutional reform that left in place the democratic and fiscal asymmetries of New Labour’s devolution settlement could possibly be regarded as rational, let alone acceptable.

I personally favour the establishment of an English parliament to deal with the work of government and areas of legislation that are now almost exclusively England-focused, including the ‘big three’ of education, health, and justice and policing. I am of course aware that this is not Liberal Democrat policy; although some form of English parliament could conceivably emerge as a referendum option from the constitutional-convention process outlined in the Lib Dem policy document ‘For the People, By the People’.

In any case, it should really be up to the people of England to “determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”, to quote the words of the Scottish Claim of Right that inspired the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1990s, which ‘For the People, By the People’ takes as its model for a UK-wide convention. The Scottish Convention led eventually to the people of Scotland being consulted in the referendum on devolution in 1998.

On the same principle of popular national sovereignty, the people of England alone should decide on their forms of governance and not be beholden to a UK-wide plebiscite on a UK-wide settlement of which the English settlement would be merely one element among many. That would be tantamount to reproducing the present asymmetry whereby England is governed ‘for the UK, by the UK parliament’; whereas Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland possess a measure of self-government, as distinct national communities, inspired by the principle of popular sovereignty. Either England is a sovereign democratic nation or it is not; but if it is not left to the people of England to provide the answer to that question, then by definition a negative answer is being pre-imposed.

But this article is not intended to rehearse the arguments for or against an English parliament. What I am more concerned about here is the way in which ‘English matters’ are generally presented by the leading parties and the mainstream media. Invariably, policy proposals and legislation that affect mainly or exclusively England continue to be described and discussed as if they related to the whole of the UK and are ‘British’ – which would have been the case prior to devolution. This is an endemic and systemic, if not in fact systematic, failing on the part of the political and media establishment, in the sense that it appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to strangle the development of an English-national political consciousness at birth by suppressing all mention of England even when the issues being discussed relate to England.

The Liberal Democrats are far from exempt from this tendency. For example, in the policy document Make It Happen and in Nick Clegg’s speech to conference last year, the fact that pivotal policy proposals in education and health care related to England only was explained literally in the footnotes or, in the case of the conference speech, as a note at the end of the transcription on the Lib Dems’ website that insultingly read: “Due to devolution, parts of this item refer to the whole UK and parts refer to only some sections of the UK”; i.e. not even the explanatory note could bring itself to mention England explicitly, even though that was what was meant. In total, I counted 39 references to ‘Britain’ and ‘British’ in Nick Clegg’s speech, and not a single allusion to ‘England’ or ‘English’: not one. And yet, not just ‘parts of this item’ but large expanses of the speech dealt with areas such as education and health where the British government’s competence is limited to England.

My point is, wouldn’t it be more effective and more honest to make it clear within the speech or policy document which bits related to the whole UK and which bits to England alone? But as I say, to some extent, this suppression of references to England appears to be deliberately designed to prevent people from thinking about England as a national polity: if you don’t want people to think of their ‘country’ as England, and to start demanding national-political structures and institutions similar to those they can see flourishing in Scotland and Wales, one of the ways to do this is to suppress awareness of the fact that so much of ‘national’ (UK) government is in fact already restricted to England. If you don’t want English policies to be dealt with by an English polity, deny that there is any such thing as ‘English policies’.

All of this is extremely damaging to the political and indeed social life of England and Britain as a whole. In terms of politics alone, this maintenance of the English public in the illusion that many of the key political debates they hear about in the news relate to everyone in Britain (whereas in fact they affect only England) is one of the most egregious forms of dishonesty that our self-serving political class have tried, and largely succeeded, to get away with. It skews and distorts people’s understanding of major policy arguments.

Take the recent row about the parties’ respective financial and moral commitments to the NHS sparked off by Tory MEP Dan Hannan’s dismissive remarks towards the NHS in a US talk show in the midst of the controversy over there regarding Barack Obama’s health-care reforms. Not one of the many articles on the controversy I came across on TV, radio or online – and I mean not a single one – referred to the fact that the NHS that the present Labour government and a prospective Tory government were or would be in charge of was not the British NHS but the English NHS. The entire debate, all the contributions from political figureheads and the commentary from the media referred only to ‘the’ (i.e. the British) NHS; whereas in fact, as a result of devolution, there is no single ‘British NHS’ any more but rather four NHS’s run by each of the bodies responsible for the government of the UK’s constituent countries. But the ‘E’ word – England – was conspicuously absent from any of the parties’ protestations about their commitment to the NHS, even though it was England that was being talked about.

Apart from the fact that it is truly bizarre – surreal almost – that no one (but no one) involved in the public debate about a ‘national’ institution should acknowledge the name of the nation in question, the elision of references to England from the discussion also helped to prevent any sensible engagement with the real issues. The Labour Party were seeking to reassume the mantle as the ‘party of the NHS’; and by invoking the idea of the NHS as a ‘great British’, national – indeed, nationalised – institution, fully funded by taxation and belonging to the public sector, they were trying to evade scrutiny of the way that, in England, they have actually moved the NHS further along the road to privatisation and the introduction of market principles than the previous Tory government ever succeeded in doing. In England only, that is, because in the rest of the UK, the devolved administrations have indeed remained more faithful to the founding public-sector principles of the NHS.

In other words, by suppressing any honest reference to the English NHS, Labour was trying to deny its real record in government in England while at the same time dishonestly projecting its own privatising and marketising agenda for the English NHS on to the ‘English’ free-market Tories. In so doing, Labour was also playing to its Scottish and Welsh galleries, saying: ‘See, the NHS is safe in our hands, as we’ve proven through our actions in the devolved administrations; but those (English) Tories are just going to cut services and provide adequate health care only for those who can pay for private treatment’.

But in bidding for the Scottish and Welsh vote in this way, Labour is encouraging people in those countries to vote based on issues that Westminster has no direct influence over any more, as the MPs elected in Scotland and Wales can no longer exercise any influence on the NHS’s that serve their constituents. And at the same time, Labour is trying to hoodwink its core traditional working-class vote in England by invoking the memory of the British NHS of the past in place of the very different English NHS of the present it has created in government.

This example illustrates why it is so important that the parties – or, if not all the parties, then at least the Liberal Democrats – should be honest and up front about which of their policies at the next general election are genuinely relevant for the UK as a whole, and which relate to England (or, in some instances, England and Wales) only.

Failure to do so means that the incumbent government and the party of government in waiting can get away with making out that there are no alternatives to their England-specific policies, such as: unpopular, money-saving polyclinics in the NHS; the test culture and rigid national curriculum in schools, and university tuition fees; the new ‘vetting and barring’ regulations for people coming into regular contact with children (which apply to England and Wales only) – or a whole host of policies where, in fact, the very same parties (particularly, Labour) advocate quite different policies elsewhere in the UK.

And failure to draw attention to the fact that major elements of the parties’ policy agendas are quite irrelevant to Scotland and Wales (because those issues are dealt with by the devolved administrations in those countries) means that Labour and the Tories (and the Lib Dems?) will be canvassing for votes in Scotland and Wales on a false prospectus: giving the less politically informed parts of the populus there to understand that a Labour or Tory government can be better trusted with their education or health-care system, whereas in fact neither of them will be.

But the parties, clearly, are unwilling, indeed afraid, to speak the name of the country for which they will be proposing solutions and remedies at the next general election. Why? Because they are afraid of breaking up the UK-wide power base they currently aspire to take command of by seeking, instead, to derive their authority from the people of England: from their needs, their priorities and their hopes for their country. But power and authority do stem from the people; the power and authority of Westminster governments derive, in particular, from the assent of the English people.

The only way that assent can be genuine is if the parties now start to be honest about which of their policies are actually for the people of England, so that the votes of the English people can be based on a truer and fairer reflection of what English voters actually want for their country. Anything else is simply a denial of ‘English votes on English matters’ in the true sense: the right of the English people to be democratically consulted on the matters that affect them.

If, for a change, the parties finally do explain to the English people which areas of UK-government action and policy relate only to England, the people may indeed start to ask themselves why there is not a separate English parliament to deal with such concerns. Why, indeed? But that is no reason for the parties to deny them that choice by doing their utmost to even suppress the thought.

Sooner or later, the people of England will wake up to the realisation that the parties have deceived them for so long. Better for the parties to come clean before that time and accompany the English people on their road to recovery and a new democratic future. Who knows where that road will take us? But it’s up to the parties to determine whether they want to be party to the ‘us’ – the English – in question.

* David Rickard is the author of the Britology Watch and National Conversation for England blogs. He is not a Liberal Democrat member. A different version of this article first appeared at English Parliament online. ‘The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers.

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  • Bruce Wilson 17th Sep '09 - 9:56pm

    Well argued. (This comment is not too short!)

  • But, of course, widely discussed outside the English Democrats – as I understand it, they just coalesced and formed around the proposal. It had certainly been debated by the Lib Dems prior to the formation of such a party.

    In a sense, the conflation of England with Britain, mainly by English people, and the English media is out of date. It was a mechanism (?colonial?) used to suppress Scottish and Welsh aspirations to nationhood – very effective because of the huge disparity in size. You could argue it is used now as an expression of nostalgia for the “old settlement”. Clearly the “new” is incomplete, and some way of encompassing English matters has to be developed.

  • There is a lot of common sense in this article. Liberal Democrats should be fair and radical and democratic. We should do right by England, not by installing an English parliament, but by giving England the opportunity to vote for a progressive party that will give them that option if it’s what England wants. If we invoke the people then we also have to recognise that ‘the people’ are the people of England (now that power has been devolved to Scotland and Wales) for much of our manifesto.

  • Tim 13, the conflation of England/Britain was not a mechanism to suppress Scots and Welsh nationhood, it was to suppress English nationhood.

    It is a mechanism still used today by the Government, BBC and supermarkets although its effectiveness has waned in face of a newly emerged civic English national identity.

    You can see examples here and here

  • I adore the way you avoid mentioning the 1980s here – the Scottish Claim Of Right was signed in 1989 – but you don’t mention that, simply that it “inspired the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1990s.”

    Now, had the Claim Of Right been signed in 1979, I’m sure you would have fallen over yourself to mention that!

    Don’t Mention The ’80s, eh?!!!

  • Stephen Gash 18th Sep '09 - 12:50pm

    @Tim13 That’s one way of looking at it, but many English people feel that their English identity was subsumed into the spurious British identity to pacify Scots, Welsh and especially the N. Irish.

    Britishness in literature and culture can really be traced back to the Easter Rising. The establishment feared a total destabilisation of the Union at the same time we were in a world war. Prior to that literature always referred to the differences in England, Ireland and Scotland, although Wales was psychologically incorporated into England, admittedly.

    One undeniable thing is, before devolution we were all in the same boat and UK policies applied to all, good or bad. After devolution, the English have been treated as third class and deliberately disadvantaged in every way, while still expecting to pay. What is certainly true is that England will never achieve higher levels per capita of public spending than any other nation comprising the devolved UK. It simply would not be permitted.

    Hence the move to abolish England and replace it with EU-regions. It is very tiresome and vexing to hear EU pundits comparing a reviled region of England with Scotland or Wales, or even London with Scotland or Wales.

    I care more about England than I do the UK, especially when much of the political debate centres on Scotland’s independence. We English are supposed to accept being rendered stateless in order for the Union to continue, then see the Scots bagpipe off into the sunset saying “it’s oor oil”.

    At the very least England should have its own parliament. Then a vastly reduced UK Parliament can wend its way around as the present Cabinet does (as a political stunt) to manage foreign affairs, defence and….not much else.

  • @Stephen, you demonstrate precisely the reason Scotland and Wales wanted devolution in the first place when you comment that “before devolution we were all in the same boat and UK policies applied to all, good or bad.” Frankly, you are completely wrong.

    Before devolution, education was still devolved to the Scottish Office, and of course Scotland has always had its own education system. In addition, the legal system here operates on a different set of principles from England and Wales, and the health service has always been separate. The Government – regardless of party – always had to either introduce two sets of legislation, or have “England and Wales” only sections of bills. And, of course, it meant that English MPs were voting on matters such as Scottish education about which they knew nothing and cared even less. (And I know that’s what happens now on English legislation, and as a Scot I don’t like it any more than you do, but I’d bet that Scottish MPs know more about the English education system than their counterparts in the South.)

    I’m not convinced that there is really even an English identity. Ask someone in Cornwall if he would like to have an English parliament or a Cornish assembly, and I’d bet you’d get an ambivalent response on both but he’d be more in favour of the assembly. Ask someone in the North East, though, and he’d probably support the parliament. And of course, if – and hopefully it won’t happen – Scotland does become independent, England won’t be “rendered stateless,” it will still be part of the United Kingdom with Wales and Northern Ireland (or don’t they count?)

    “The English have been treated as third class and deliberately disadvantaged in every way.” How, pray tell? The formula providing money to Scotland from the UK budget hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Even Thatcher didn’t look at revising this. The reasons are simple. We have a land mass of about (and I’m guessing here) 1/3 of the UK, but we have less than 10% of the population. Put simply, that makes basic services more difficult to deliver. We have to encourage GPs and teachers to move to rural communities, run transportation systems which will never be able to make a profit but are needed to sustain communities and provide lifeline links.

    We also have higher rates of deprivation than in England & Wales per head of population also. It’s no surprise to me that Iain Duncan Smith’s Damascene conversion on social policy happened after a visit to Easterhouse in Glasgow. Pay a visit during the by-election – you may be very surprised.

    “What is certainly true is that England will never achieve higher levels per capita of public spending than any other nation comprising the devolved UK. It simply would not be permitted.” By whom? Only through the Barnett formula. It’s academic in any case, as England has never voted for parties who support higher levels of public spending – in Scotland you effectively have only one minority right of centre party – the Conservatives – with all the other parties – SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems – all firmly on the left of centre. And again, in Scotland there’s strong argument that we should be able to spend only the taxes raised in Scotland – which would result in less money being available to the Scottish Government – but this is something which is firmly resisted by the English-based elements in both Labour and the Conservatives.

    England does need its own system of devolution. What campaigners for it like the English Democrats need to do is stop trying to define England for what it isn’t. England isn’t Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland. It is it’s own country, with its own education, legal and health systems. It has its own problems which don’t affect us in Scotland. It does need to learn to address these itself. How it does that, frankly, is a matter for England alone to decide.

  • KL you say “I’m not convinced that there is really even an English identity. Ask someone in Cornwall if he would like to have an English parliament or a Cornish assembly, and I’d bet you’d get an ambivalent response on both but he’d be more in favour of the assembly.”

    Would he? The area that was most likely to want a regional assembly was the north east. After they’d pumped in millions of pounds into a Yes campaign, 78% voted No! There went that theory.

    If you’re right and there is no such thing as English identity (clue, there is) there shouldn’t be a problem asking the English if they’d like a Parliament a la Hollyrood, would there? Think about it! It would kill the issue stone dead and a PM with a seat outside England could argue once more that they had a mandate.

    As you say in your final sentance, it is a matter for England to decide and England alone. Labour won’t allow it, the Tories are the only Party with Unionist in their name… so where stand the Libs?

  • “I’m not convinced that there is really even an English identity.”

    I am and I wasn’t even born in England, it is my adopted country. The only place you don’t really feel a really strong sense of England is in London, unless, of course, you’re at Twickenham, Wembley or Lords.

  • OK, so if there is an English identity, how do you define it? Even without a Scottish parliament, it was quite easy to define a Scottish identity, be it “shortbread tin,” misty-eyed nationalism, “ninety minute” nationalism (as Jim Sillars once put it) or a simple gut feeling about being Scottish above all else. Maybe part of England’s problem is that, being the largest part, it defined itself for so long as the United Kingdom that it has forgotten that it’s merely part of the United Kingdom. GS, you could be right, but having been a Scot in the England section of Twickenham I’m not sure that that is the kind of Englishness that you’d want to promote! Like I said before, define England by what it is, not by what it isn’t.

    Terry, the problem with the regional assemblies was that they simply didn’t go far enough in that they were no more than glorified county councils, so the “no” vote in the NE was most likely the combination of those who were completely against the idea, and those who felt it wasn’t enough. The Lib Dem proposals for a federal UK structure would actually give the regional assemblies some clout – you can read more <a href="

  • You don’t define it KL, you feel it.

    You can’t define any national identity, and why should you want to other than to exclude people from it? Group identities are fluid because they are drawn from personal and individual feelings of self-identification. It is enough to say that there is a nation that is England and its inhabitants feel English. This works for Scotland, Wales….Any country, and is the basis for self-government the world over.

  • David Allen 18th Sep '09 - 5:22pm

    Yes, there is an English identity. Yes, there is a head of steam building up because the Scots and the Welsh have done well out of devolution, and the English have not. Yes, something needs to be done about it, before the resentment is exploited by the far Right.

    That something should certainly NOT be an English parliament, unless you believe that the break-up of the UK into four separate bits would be a good thing. As Stephen Gash puts it, if we had an English parliament, Westminster would become “a vastly reduced UK Parliament …………to manage foreign affairs, defence and not much else”. In other words, it would become an irrelevance and would probably wither away and die.

    All our ambitious politicians would first become M Eng Ps, MSPs or Welsh AMs, rather than Westminster MPs. Then, they would demand that Westminster should just do whatever had already been agreed between the English, Scottish and Welsh authorities. Then, they would close Westminster down or turn it into a kind of two-chamber House of Lords. Then the nations would sooner or later fall out with each other, find no authority powerful enough to resolve their disputes and bring them back together, and march off to mutual independence.

    For those who think that national fragmentation would be a good thing, and have enough subconscious racism in their make-up to dismiss the thought that what happened to Yugoslavia might conceivably happen to us, just consider the prospects for the newly independent “Ulster” that this process would create. What price peace?

    It is imperative we kill the idea of an English parliament, before it kills us.

    The answer might be KL’s federal UK structure, it might be revisions to the Barnett formula, it might be a lot of things. It might for example mean going back to what was said at the time of devolution and making sure that when next the Scots vote themselves better provisions than the English, there is actually a visible cost for them to pay in terms of higher taxes. That would assuage English wrath – and that is what we must do.

  • “That something should certainly NOT be an English parliament”

    If the people of England want an English parliament, then that certain something most certainly should be an English parliament.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Sep '09 - 6:02pm

    David, I don’t think it’s racist to dismiss the thought that what happened in Yugoslavia could happen here! Other states have separated without wars or ethnic cleansing – the former Czechoslovakia being a pretty obvious example. And what we have here that the various nations of Yugoslavia lacked is not some racial predisposition to settle things amicably but a very well-established system of democracy and a tradition (Ireland aside) of peaceful politics.

    I think the problem is that any system of regional assemblies is going to feel about as relevant to most people as a County Council – indeed, less so – simply because no one describes themselves as “a northeasterner” or an “east midlander”. In terms of finding a form of state organisation that corresponds with people’s perception of their own identity, you could perhaps just about get away with a simple division into North and South England; but I think (and I speak as another Scottish resident in England, as most of you don’t know) that the very clear identity that most people in this part of the UK feel is “English”.

    Anyway, it’s not just a matter of soggy feelings. As KL pointed out above, there was extensive legal and administrative devolution to Scotland throughout the twentieth century – indeed, most of it was never subsumed into the London government in the first place. The only question was whether control of those devolved systems should belong with representatives elected only by the people affected or by the UK as a whole. Likewise, England has a clearly defined legally distinct identity, and the question is, should the inhabitants of England be able to control the laws and administration of that distinct territory without interference from representatives of separate territories with their own laws and governments? It’s a less pressing issue for England than it was for Scotland, just because England’s size means that it is not possible for Scotland and Wales to impose its will as unilaterally as England could in reverse – but it can tip the balance when the parties in England are finely balanced, and that seems wrong to me in principle.

    Would an English parliament reduce the UK government to irrelevance? I doubt it; though life would be interesting and difficult if England and the UK had PMs from different parties. In the end it might not be sustainable, but I no longer believe that matters very much. I used to be very concerned about the UK breaking up – largely because I felt it would leave me as a foreigner in the country that is my home. But provided it was done sensibly, with the least possible rancour, I doubt now that it would be so bad. In fact, I struggle to see what is so essential about the UK layer of government in Scotland now – except to give Alex Salmond somewhere to pass the blame when it suits. Democracy trumps all arguments for me. England’s laws should be decided by England.

    Of course, there’s another answer: abolish the Scottish parliament and the Scottish Office, and with them Scots law and education system. One parliament for the UK, with one system of law for all its people. No? Then I can’t see better, fairer, more rational answer than a parliament for England, with whatever consequences that brings.

  • David Allen 18th Sep '09 - 6:30pm

    “Ireland aside”. Well, that disposes of that little worry then! “Provided it was done sensibly … I doubt now that it would be so bad.”

    Well, quite probably. It might very well go swimmingly. Most likely it would just be a matter of general mild regret, as I suspect is the case with Czechoslovakia, where it has of course caused a fair amount of disruption to the lives of individuals. The odds, “Ireland aside”, would be fairly strongly against genocide.

    So on balance, is it worth the gamble? Where’s the big upside?

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Sep '09 - 7:15pm

    Where’s the big upside?

    Better democracy, less remote government, clearer accountability. Actually, where’s the big downside? 😀

    (And the United Kingdom hasn’t exactly made a roaring success of Northern Ireland, has it?)

  • An English Parliament is not in the best interests of Schooooooooortland, Wales, N ireland and especially the EU.

  • KL, you could equate the Victorian invention of biscuit tin Scottishness with fish and chips, warm beer and cricket on the village green. You be better of simply saying it simple gut feeling about being English above all else.

    Having said that, I believe England is by far the most homogenous nation in the UK, Politically, economically, historically and culturally.

    Compare industrial, modern south Wales to touristy north Wales. Edinburgh has more in common with London and Manchester than it does the Western Isles and the Highlands that are Celtic in language and culture.

    England is Europe’s oldest nation state whereas Wales has not existed as such, pre 1998. Scotland was always torn between the Catholic Highlands and the Protestant lowlands (Glasgow was the first British city to close its gates on Bonnie Prince Charlie). Apart from the civil war (which was more between Parliament and Crown) England has not seen such turmoil within itself.

    At least we all speak the same language!.

  • I once read that the Liberal UK Government supported the Confederates in the American civil war by sending ships and arms.

    It seemed so incongruous that a Liberal administration should support the slave based economy against their liberators. This was because the principle of “national self determination” was such key-stone to liberal thinking at the time, the South’s demands for nationhood blotted out their less palatable objectives.

    Can someone explain to me why English national self determination is even up for discussion by the Lib Dems? Surely to oppose it is neither liberal nor democratic?

  • ” the North, and particularly Northumberland and Yorkshire, were set against the South (and the Crown) in all of them.”

    Stop fabricating.

    In The English civil war the centre of resitance to the Crown came from London. Hull and Plymouth, both miles away from London and yet not in the north were rocksolid for parliament throughout and both endured long Royalist sieges.

  • Stephen Gash 21st Sep '09 - 2:02am

    @KL you demonstrate precisely the reason Scotland and Wales wanted devolution in the first place when you comment that “before devolution we were all in the same boat and UK policies applied to all, good or bad.” Frankly, you are completely wrong.

    Not at all. The legal and education system were separate ro a point, but UK laws applied to Scotland as they did England. The NHS was the NHS.

    I’ve challenged Scots to name me one law that disadvantaged Scots compared to the English many a time, without success (before you say “poll tax”, phone Malcom Rifkind as to why it was started in Scotland first). Now we have a raft of prejudicial disadvantages amouting to an apartheid system against the English.

    You say It’s academic in any case, as England has never voted for parties who support higher levels of public spending – in Scotland you effectively have only one minority right of centre party –
    It may have escaped your attention, but Labour is in power in Westminster.

    Your arguments for England apply just as easily to Scotland. Firstly, England has always been a culturally diverse country based upon its ancient counties. However, we stand together as the English.
    This applies to the Scots too, to a lesser degree. The western Islanders are not the same as Glaswegians who are not the same as Edinburgh folk. Public spending is not the same across Scotland, no more than is the wealth generation.

    Not all of Scotland is rural. The poorest area of the UK is Cumbria where I live and has similar difficulties to Scotland’s rural parts. The North West Region is making matters worse for Cumbria not better. Services are being moved out of Cumbria, so that emergency services are administered in Manchester and other places, for example.

    No English person identifies with the spurious regions foisted upon them, whereas everyone identifies with their home county or city. This is exactly why England is being bust up into regions to dissociate the English from their heritage and culture. If devolution had been done properly then Scotland would have been bust up into regions too. However, the plan has always been to fragment and destroy England, leaving Scotland as the largest geo-political part of the UK. We all know how being first and biggest is necessary to feed Scottish mental masterbation.

    You miss the point entirely about the English being rendered stateless, so I’ll repeat it. If England is bust up into regions, it will be no more. There will be 9 or 10 EU-regions with awe inspiring names like “The North West” fighting one another for a slice of the UK budgetary cake. Then if Scotland (and Wales) go for independence, the English won’t have a country, and will be rendered stateless – the UK will have gone too.

    Fragmenting England will not guarantee that the UK will remain intact. I care more about England than the UK, especially when the future of the “Union” depends on what a surly partner called Scotland wants.

    To use your argument back at you, you demonstrate precisely the reason why England should have its own parliament and better still, independence. Scottish arrogance would be breathtaking if it were not so predictable on this matter. The Scottish premise is that everybody else must wait around while Scots decide on independence or not. What’s so damned special about Scots?

    The reason Duncan Smith had his “Damascene” moment is because he is a Scot viewing depravation in Scotland. He has his consituency in England and like every other blasted MP in England does not give one jot for his consituents, especially those who are English.

    The whole of the British establishment is insitutionally Anglophobic and an English Parliament focusing on England is the very least we should have.

  • John Q, I’m not saying that England has been without internal strife, but your assertion that Stephen and Matilda, Richard and Bolingbroke, the Wars of the Roses, and the “Glorious” Revolution are a struggle between the north and south is flawed.

    Stephen and Matilda was male vs female (the Barons didn’t want a woman to rule them): the wars of the Roses was between Yorks and lancs (both northern) and the Glorious Revolution was between Protestantism and Catholicism (each having strongholds in the north and the south).

    The north and the south divide come from industrial/commercialisation. You can see similar divides in Scotland and Wales, but the notion of England as a single nation are ancient; the Northumbrian monk Bede was writing about the history of the English people more than 1200 years ago.

    That was then and this is now. Labour decided to devolve power to nations…the nations of Wales and Scotland. This means that the nation of England should be offered the same choice if all citizens of the UK are to be treated equally because anything else would be an unacceptable fudge. If England should devolve power to the local level, then that is a matter for England to decide and England alone. But we need a Parliament first, in order to make such further decisions.

  • Andrew Turvey 22nd Sep '09 - 6:44pm

    If you think that the UK = England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, four equally sized and essentially similar constituent nations then you are missing the point.

    If you look at population, economy, public spending, tax revenues, number of MPs or any other measure you care to choose you realise that England is nearly the same as Britain – however much Scots or Welsh or Northern Irish might not like to accept.

    Having a separate England-level of government would create nothing but conflict with Westminster and unending and pointless power disputes. The benefits in terms of bringing power closer to the people would be negligible.

  • Having a separate England-level of government would create nothing but conflict with Westminster and unending and pointless power disputes.

    Essentially the old Conservative argument against the Scottish Parliament. You can’t grant a national parliament to one nation and then deny it to another. When will we learn? It’s simple, if the English want an English parliament, then that’s what they should have. Preventing England from taking that decision on any grounds (apart from the prevention of bloodshed) is an anti-democratic nonsense.

  • “You can’t grant a national parliament to one nation and then deny it to another.”

    An English Parliament would have far, far more power than the Scottish Parliament has, because of the sheer size of its jurisdiction. On many issues, whatever it decided, the Scots would be essentially unable to do anything else but follow. That would be hugely disproportionate.

    A North England “Parliament” or Assembly could have a measure of power to match that of the Scottish Parliament. That would be proportionate.

  • An English Parliament would have far, far more power than the Scottish Parliament
    has, because of the sheer size of its jurisdiction

    No, it would have the same power over a larger area. If an English Parliament had leglislative competence for the same devolved matters that the Scottish Parliament is responsible for, then the legislation that the UK Parliament passed for the United Kingdom as a whole would be no different to that which it now passes for the UK as a whole.

    On many issues, whatever it decided, the Scots would be essentially unable to do anything else but follow.

    I’m afraid that you don’t know what you’re talking about, David, because it is the reverse that is true The present system hamstrings the Scots and prevents a proper flowering of devolution because the Barnett Formula ties Scotland to ‘English’ spending plans. The present system also means that the UK Parties down in Westminster exert considerable influence over their Scottish counterparts (the Lib Dems at least have an English Party and believe in the autonomy of the Scottish Lib Dems, but the Tories less so, and Scottish Labour is run by Gordon Brown). Once parties produce English and Scottish manifestos alongside a UK manifesto, all costed separately, we will see proper devolution, proper divergence of policy along national lines.

    A North England “Parliament” or Assembly could have a measure of power to match that of the Scottish Parliament. That would be proportionate.

    A North English Parliament could have the same power as the Scottish Parliament, but who’s asking for one?

    Proportionate to what? Are you seriously suggesting that the English need to govern themselves in units of government proportionate to Scotland, and if so why? What does the size of Scotland have to do with how the English should organise their national governance?

    The Liberal Democrats produced a policy document two years ago entitled “For the People, By the People”. If you invoke the people then you should not be scared to ask them how they wish to be governed. No one has yet asked the English. Ask them whether they want an English Parliament or a Northern English Parliament and see what answer you get back. Simples.

  • David, you saw fit to requote the following from one of my earlier comments:

    “You can’t grant a national parliament to one nation and then deny it to another.”

    And then you went off on an entreaty against an English Parliament on the basis that it would be too powerful and a northern parliament would be more ‘proportionate’ (though you didn’t not say to what).

    I take it from this that you do indeed want to deny the English the option of an English Parliament. This is the problem with so many people in politics today, they’re more concerned about governing in their own interests or pushing their own agenda than doing what the people actually want them to do.

  • GS, good points well made.

    Andrew, if you think the devolved entities are “equally sized and essentially similar constituent nations then you are missing the point”. Scotland is twice the size of Wales and four times the size of N. Ireland. The reason these unequal sized entities were chosen as the base unit for devolution was because the people there identified themselves as distinct nations. The Nation was sacrosanct, even when it made no sense to treat them as an homogenous unit.

    The devolutionary precedent is set and we continue with it, or unravel devolution to date. If it is a mistake, or if England is too big, then it should consider further devolution to the counties. This should be a matter for England alone to decide as is the sovereign right of any people. Unequal treatment is not an option.

  • Stephen Gash 30th Sep '09 - 11:40am

    David Allen wrote: “For those who think that national fragmentation would be a good thing, and have enough subconscious racism in their make-up to dismiss the thought that what happened to Yugoslavia might conceivably happen to us, just consider the prospects for the newly independent “Ulster” that this process would create. What price peace?

    It is imperative we kill the idea of an English parliament, before it kills us. “
    Many of us English consider there is enough “racism” being directed against the English in the present devolved UK to warrant England being independent.

    The UK is already killing the English. The deadliest enemies of the English are the British. There are no English politicians in the Palace of Westminster. There are Anglo-British Anglophobes who have betrayed their English constituents most disgracefully.

    40% of Tory candidates say they are “relaxed” about Scotland going independent. Presumably this means 40% of Tory MPs are also as relaxed about it.

    So where the hell have these Tory MPs been over the last 12 years which has seen their constituents onerously disadvantaged compared to the Scots, Welsh and N. Irish?

    Gordon Brown (unelected First Minister of England) has just revealed a pile of policies that only affect England. He lauded about early cancer diagnosis in England. What’s the point? There are 15 cancer medicines presently denied to English cancer patients that are freely available to Brown’s countryfolk in Scotland. Brown has brought in free prescriptions for English cancer patients. What’s the use of free prescriptions when no medicines can be prescribed?

    You say an English Parliament will kill us. Well a British Parliament within the present devolution framework is certainly killing the English.

    The Scots are OK though.

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