Sunday, 3 May 2015

How to save The Union - if we want to


I was going to tell you all why you should vote Conservative. You should of course - not just because the prospect of a Labour government is terrifying but because the Conservative Party appears to be the only party that actually understands the situation of our public administration.

However, I'm going to write instead about The Union. Partly because there are now strong voices wanting to destroy that union and partly because the entire debate is couched in terms of Scottish nationalism rather than in terms of what the union means. The prospect of the Labour Party losing all its seats in Scotland this coming Thursday is real and reflects the inevitable conclusion of the process of unbalanced devolution begun by Tony Blair.

The Union is important. Not for touching historical reasons or for babble about shared heritage but because we are stronger collectively - the benefits Scotland and Wales get from working with a much larger England vastly outweigh the downsides of that relationship. And England gains too from the shared arrangement. So muttering nonsense about 'throwing money over Hadrian's Wall' as a cheap way to garner a few English votes is not the way forward.

If we think the Union important then we have to start talking about England. Not about chopping the country up into a bunch of meaningless chunks that, Yorkshire aside, have no meaning beyond administrative convenience. And not by saying that the issue of English devolution is resolved either by 'English Votes for English Laws' or through giving Leeds City Region control over further education funding. For a system of devolution to work it needs to be seen as fair by all sides and to be balanced.

Right now, without a settlement that meets these conditions, the break up of the Union is inevitable. That bloc of maybe fifty Scottish National Party MPs will make the gradual erosion of 'Westminster' influence in Scotland their mission. And if they have the balance of power they will get what they want. Indeed they will get what they want despite half their fellow Scots opposing independence.

We do not save the union by shouting ever more loudly about how important it is. We don't save the union by painting Nicola Sturgeon as the 'bogiewoman'. And we don't save the union by allowing Scottish nationalists - and pompous Guardian opinionators - to describe the same nationalism in England as a bad thing simply because it's English.

Nor should we allow people to say that England is too big for devolution. It's true that England contains most of the UK's population. But it's not true to say that allowing an English parliament to make decisions about the government of England is somehow unbalanced next to the much smaller devolved governments in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The answer, for me, is very straightforward. We've a choice between the break up of the union and the creation of a four nation federal system with a UK government responsible solely for defence, international relations, borders and trade paid for via a precept on taxes set by the four national parliaments. Everything else - health, education, welfare - would fall to the four national parliaments. And if those parliaments chose to devolve further to local governments that would be just fine.

Sadly we are not going to do this but instead will either create an endless row over Scottish MPs voting on English matters or else pretend that devolution to occult groups of English local council leaders meeting in secret is somehow equivalent to Scotland having a parliament elected by the people of Scotland. And the end will be Scotland departing to the sound of a loud raspberry from English voters who, a decade ago, would have been adamant that the union was not negotiable.



asquith (not logged on) said...

Independent England said...

Well said Simon. I joined the Campaign for an English Parliament over 15 years ago. We have pointed out the dangers of the present devolution settlement in numerous letters to the editor MPs, government ministers etc.
CEP members have even managed to get past what seems almost censorship to put the case on tv. When is the last time the issue of an English Parliament was raised on BBC Question Time? If the discussion gets anywhere near it everyone talks at once and the chair moves the discussion away.
It is the English who will end the Union. It could still be saved but the English Question must be addressed. An English Parliament English Executive and English FM is the only answer. The response to those who say England is too big too have its own parliament is that if that is true then England is too big for the Union and should leave.
Oh and Hadrian's Wall is well inside England!

Alfred the OK said...

This has been brought about in little over 16 years since the 1998 Devolution Act. Those terribly knowledgable and awfully clever boffins at Westminster Bubble HQ are to blame. The flawed decision to exclude the nation of England from the devolution process is reaping the rewards of division which can only end one way. In 1998, I'd have been appalled at the break up of the Union - but now? I say 'bring it on - the sooner the better'. I'm now firmly committed to an independent England - why would we want to belong to a club which treats us so shabbily? Lowest per head spend / Nine grand pa tuition fees / prescription charges / no national anthem / no national representation / no first minister / etc, etc, etc.....

Anonymous said...

Someone said recently (unfortunately, I can't remember who, or where I read it) that Unionism needs to start taking an interest in England before England loses interest in Unionism. That one simple, short sentence spoke volumes of wisdom.

Back around the turn of the century, when the devolution process was in its early stages, I just wouldn't have believed the 'Union' could ever end. Now, I want it to happen as soon as possible, so that I can get myself a passport that describes me as a citizen of England.