Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tidying devolution? Scots Tory calls for English parliament.

I’m currently reading an interesting, if insubstantial, little book called ‘A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy’, by Patrick Hannan. It is an amiable read, written with a light touch: arguably too light for the subject which it purports to examine. I intend to write about the book more comprehensively when I get time. However, I was interested to note that its speculations about an English parliament forming the last component of a long term devolution settlement are echoed in a piece on Conservative Home, written by a Scottish activist.

I am broadly of the view that an English parliament would dwarf its Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to an extent that would unbalance, perhaps fatally, the United Kingdom’s equilibrium. Asymmetries in the current devolved constitutional system form its inherent weakness, but creating an even bigger asymmetry would not be my chosen means to recalibrate the Union. And yet I am aware that there is no appetite in England for devolution to smaller, sub-national assemblies.

Andrew Morrison, writing in his Con Home article, is certainly right to suppose that there are difficulties to be addressed and his contention that it will be a Conservative government which must address them is perhaps the most interesting aspect of his piece. That means tackling interlocking problems surrounding the Barnett formula and the West Lothian Question. As regards Scottish devolution Morrison foresees the Calman Commission’s proposals forming a self-imposed boundary for Conservative instigated constitutional reform. Stepping outside the confines of those recommendations might stoke resentment aggravated by the SNP myth that any UK government needs a separate mandate from Scotland, in order to legislate on its behalf.

Replacing Barnett with a more up to date formula, by which to allocate tax payers’ money on the basis of need, should indeed be a Conservative priority. A less arbitrary system is required in order to give the appearance of fairness and responsiveness to requirements throughout the United Kingdom. Which is not to say that any of the block grants should necessarily be cut dramatically, but rather that a more flexible assessment of need should be the basis by which money is allocated.


Timothy Belmont said...

From what I have seen, devolution in Scotland has fostered separatism and nationalism. The growth of the SNP has been remarkable.

Would more devolution for any part of the UK be compatible with Unionist principles?


Stephen Gash said...

Cameron said "An imperfect Union is better than a perfect divorce". Perfect nonsense.

In the same speech he explained how the Tories created the Scottish Office and brought the Scottish Minister into the Cabinet.

Add to this the massive overrepresentation Scotland had in the number of MPs, then it is obvious all that was possibly done to redress the imbalance in populations between England and Scotland, was done.

This was not enough, so Scotland now has its parliament. It's a bit rich to now tell the English they cannot have a parliament because it would threaten the Union, especially, as this article points out, the SNP has risen dramatically since devolution.

I care more about England than the Union. All I see is my country, England, being broken up into regions, even though they are consistently the most unpopular option for England's governance, in the polls. The latest being a Populus poll showing 15% of people in England wanted regions, compared to 41% wanting an English Parliament. I consider the last figure to be low, but even if it is correct, regions always poll 9-16% which is far lower than those for an English Parliament.

If England is bust up and Scotland and Wales go independent, where does that leave the English? Powerless and stateless. No thanks.

If the UK breaks up because of an English Parliament then it is not the English who are to blame.

Gaw said...

I think Chekov's moderate tweaking will do the job. Outside of a few fanatical hobbyists, I don't see popular support for an English Parliament (please, no more of the buggers!) And why should consistency be important if people don't think it is?

Taking a broad view, the British constitution works in practice and has done for many years. It doesn't necessarily work in theory, nor need it.

Aye We Can ! said...

I think an English Parliament is inevitable as he Scottish Pariament Welsh and NI Assemblies get more power as they surely will over time. Indeed the only thing that will stop this is full independence and/or Irish unity. creating an English Parliament by default - but outwithy the Union!.

The problem as I see it, is that most English people, though they complain about Scots privalleges etc, still see, or want to see, Westminster as the English Parliament - indeed many always have, even pre-devolution. And as the devolved parliaments mature and get more powerful, this expectation - that Westminster should be the English Parliament - will grow. But more now than ever , for the Union to work from the point of view of the other nations this is that very last thing that needs to happen.

So in my view something has to give, and an English Parliament - even if initially no more than English MPs meeting and legislating seperately in the palace of Westminster - is the only real solution short of dissolution of the UK.

I know this will open up other issues, indeed might not even save the Union. But either make a UK quasi-federal state of four ( or more) legislatures work, or accept the Union will soon have run its course. Cause there is no going back for Scotland for certain, and I suspect Wales and NI also.

I aint no Unionist. But I think Unionists have an obligation to define what, beyond sentiment, their union is now about. And ask themsleves this bihg question: Why does its continued existance seem to rely upon denying its biggest member nation even the most modest degree of self determination?

wildgoose said...

Why does [the Union's] continued existance seem to rely upon denying its biggest member nation even the most modest degree of self determination?

Exactly. In other words insisting that my nation (England) has to be sacrificed for the sake of a Union with other nations, each of which contain a substantial population wholly opposed to this Union in the first place.

Can you think of anything more likely to foster a sense of grievance and a desire to end the Union from the people of England?

Way to go Unionists! You're doing the Nationalists work for them! Tell me, how does that feel?