When Scotland has a Parliament – and Wales and Northern Ireland their own assemblies – the lack of an English Parliament represents a serious democratic deficit, writes Colin Copus (De Montfort University). Instead, regionalists have preferred to divide England into EU-delineated regions. The absence of a forum for specifically English concerns and national identity, together with the rejection of the supranational EU, arguably helped to bring about the Leave vote. As Brexit takes shape, the weakness of the arguments against an English Parliament are exposed.
One of the glaring features of the post-EU period has been the images of the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland meeting with the British Prime Minister to discuss how Brexit will affect their parts of the UK. But who spoke for England? The answer is no-one – and no-one has, or will, speak for England in the Brexit debate or in any other national policy debate – other than the voters. When the Labour government of the late 1990s gave a national parliament and national recognition to Scotland and Wales, it left a gaping hole. England, in a spiteful act of ignoring its nationhood, was neither given a parliament nor a government of its own, but remains governed by the British state. The only real alternative offered to England is to be broken up into nine EU-defined artificial regional bits, and therefore effectively binned as a nation. The opportunity Brexit provides for the governance of England is to rethink the regional agenda, forget any artificial constructs – and instead to ask searching questions about whether England needs regional tiers at all, and to acknowledge that in the post-Brexit world, England deserves a governing institution that represents it as nation.
A number of myths – for they are myths – need to be dispelled about why England should not have its own parliament, government and first minister. The first is the ‘nation of regions’ myth; the second, the size myth; and the third, the myth that it would damage the Union. Once these are dispelled come the bewildering options which fall short of a directly-elected English Parliament – and the strange irony that most of those who happily supported and continue to support the existence of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly remain vehemently opposed to an English Parliament.
First, let us tackle the siren voices demanding the balkanisation of England. While some call it regionalisation, balkanisation is more accurate: the outcome, or even the intention, is to see England broken into warring artificial pieces – North East this, South West that, thus avoiding a collective all-England voice. Strange how these apparently vibrant regions with their distinctive cultures and identities just so happen to reflect NUTS 1 regions within the EU. Regionalists need to destroy any concept of England and indeed Englishness for their agenda to be successful, and one can’t help thinking that a thinly disguised – and sometimes not disguised – Anglophobia and ingrained anti-Englishness emanates from the largely British middle-class regionalists who propose balkanising England. There is no English Catalonia, and the so-called English regions are not regions in the way that Spanish or Italian ones are. Moreover, all countries – including Scotland and Wales – have wealthier and less wealthy parts and regions, but they also have their own parliaments, too. A Europe of the regions means nations must be undermined and England, without its own Parliament, is easy-pickings. Brexit hopefully will put a stop to that agenda.
One of the most fanciful myths used to oppose an English parliament is that England – with a population of 53 million – is just too damn big: Italy, population 60 million, own parliament; France population 66 million, own parliament; Japan, population 127 million, own parliament; India population 1.3 billion, own parliament. England’s size is not a problem, and other systems manage to accommodate large and small units of government: the US with California’s 38 million people, and Wyoming with 583,000; or Belgium with Flanders (six million), Wallonia (three) and the Brussels region of a million citizens, for example, manage to make the governing system work with size disparities. The Brobdingnag argument is palpable nonsense and used to disguise an antipathy towards England not just governing itself, but to recognising its nationhood and being rightfully powerful within the UK. Which leads us onto the third myth: that an English Parliament would damage the Union.
Much of the opposition to an English Parliament stems from the notion that it would somehow damage the Union – an argument that when raised during the referendum campaigns for the Scottish and Welsh devolved bodies was dismissed by the government of the day. Indeed, it was only the election of an SNP government in Scotland that saw a referendum on separation – not the simple existence of the Scottish Parliament. That referendum was defeated, and while the losers are calling for a second go – much like Remainers after the EU result – a recent YouGov poll shows only 37% of Scots want separation. There is no serious demand for a separation referendum in Wales. The Scottish and Welsh political elite are however, revelling in the handicap England experiences in being unable to govern itself. Indeed, it is continuing to deny 83 % of the population the right to govern itself while a minority across the UK are allowed that privilege that will ultimately place a strain on the Union. Of course the best way of dispelling this myth is to ignore it, and if an English Parliament leads to a breakup of the Union so much the better for England – only the Brits will mourn.
The desperation among opponents of an English Parliament is seen as they offer governing alternatives which were not considered necessary for Scotland and Wales. So we have the much-feared but now almost forgotten Parliamentary tinkering of EVEL (English Votes on English Laws). EVEL is a flawed alternative because there is still no all-England voice or government. Next, the idea that members of the British Parliament could hold a dual mandate and sit separately as an English Parliament. Again, not an option offered to Scotland and Wales, so why should or would it satisfy the English? A flaw in the dual mandate idea is the obvious lack of a separate, distinct mandate to govern English affairs. It also expects the English voter in a General Election to be thinking of two mandates held by the same MP but granted for separate purposes – a recipe for confusion and disaffection. The major flaw however, is that there would not be an English First Minister and an English government with the same powers as in Scotland. When it comes to a directly-elected English parliament, with a government and first minister – there is no alternative.
So the only solution to the English question is to give the 53 million people of England what the five million in Scotland, the three million in Wales and the almost two million people in Northern Ireland have – a Parliament, First Minister and government of their own to promote, pursue and protect their interests. Indeed, if such a situation as the current asymmetric national based devolution were to occur in any other country the UN would be passing emergency motions to find out why such a blatantly undemocratic system were allowed to stand.
It is common for Remainers to argue that the Brexit referendum result was a reflection of English opinion, and to conveniently forget that the Welsh also delivered a Leave vote. But, the English vote certainly rejected governance by a supranational undemocratic organisation (considering that the real power does not rest with the EU parliament). Indeed, the absence of an English Parliament and the presence of the Scottish and Welsh bodies has added to feelings of a loss of English national identity, which were exacerbated by the power of a remote and unelected supranational body – the EU. So instead of Remainers accusing the English of being racist, xenophobic bigots, they could look seriously at the causes of English disaffection and back an English Parliament. Strangely, Remainers are often the same people who want England to stay part of a large, anonymous, undemocratic body, but oppose an English Parliament because it would involve too much government.
The great English Quaker radical John Bright in a speech in Birmingham in 1865 described England (yes, he said England, not Britain) as the mother of parliaments; it is long overdue that England was once again allowed that Parliament.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.
Colin Copus (@ProfCopusLG) is Professor of Local Politics at the Local Governance Research Unit, De Montfort University.
” The Scottish and Welsh political elite are however, revelling in the handicap England experiences in being unable to govern itself”
Rubbish! The English already have a Parliament, which is pre-eminently focussed on governing for the benefit of England, in Westminster. The impact and influence of Welsh and Scottish MP’s there is negligible, even for their own constituents (which is why Scottish independence is both desirable and inevitable). English parties in Westminster vastly outnumber and dominate the other countries in the Union. This article is risible.
Negligible?. Parliament is currently being held to ransom by the DUP and the SNP votes, using the current Brexit debacle to further their own aspirations.
This is apart from the disproportionate amount of control Scotland already has in Parliament. It is not that long ago that leaders of all the main political parties were of Scottish decent
As a long suffering Englishman I would support any vote for Scottish independence in order for England to be able to govern itself without the constant hinderance of minor parties.
How is it that Scotland still benefits from free prescriptions and university education ? Cancer treatments too expensive to be available in England are readily available Scotland. Where does this funding come from? The latest BBC News program specifically for Scotland to service 5 million people is paid for by the 67 million license payers throughout Britain .
Scottish independence ? Careful what you wish for
” EVEL is a flawed alternative because there is still no all-England voice or government.”
Surely the key argument against an English Parliament is that there would be little difference between the laws made though EVEL and those made by an English Parliament. English MPs so numerically dominate the Commons that the culture of a new English Parliament would probably be rather similar too. An English Parliament would be a significant cost and risks mere duplication. If the problem is just a lack of official spokesman for England then why not create a Ministry for England? I feel the quoted sentence glosses over such concerns.
Moreover, despite the vaunted unity of the English the author believes that if it were split up we would necessarily become “warring” states. Surely federalism within a nation works well elsewhere without causing anything that could be compared to bloodshed.
It seems that more powers for industrial strategies will be returning to Britain, with full responsibility to regenerate poorer areas. Some of the most economically dynamic areas are already being favoured, such as the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. Why not all England (indeed, all Britain)? It’s certainly arguable that the development and implementation of such plans would be best done by those embedded in the particular regions with their differing needs rather than in the Westminster Bubble. This would surely imply a regionalisation of the governance of England.
The NUTS1 regions are indeed composed by folk with the cultural sensitivity and economic nous of weevils. Places that have entirely different concerns such as Watford and Norwich, or Plymouth and Swindon, or Carlisle and Manchester, are lumped into the same regions. The M4 corridor is split in two, as is the 50 mile wide circle of big Midlands cities, as is the proposed Oxbridge axis. There is surely the possibility of a far better division of England?
As a Scot (and Anglophile) who swithers between the notion of a federal UK and separation, I’ve always thought it entirely right that England should have its own legislature. I can’t for the life of me understand why regional government with little or no legislative competence is seen as some sort of equivalent to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish autonomy. It manifestly isn’t. An (English) friend did once point out to me that the English thought that they did already have their own Parliament, called Westminster, and she may have had a point. But the case for an English Parliament seems to me unanswerable.
If, though, we are talking about the continuation of the UK as a federation, and notwithstanding the numerical imbalance between England and the other three nations, a prerequisite for any such arrangement would be that England was willing to share sovereignty with those other countries. I’m not sure that the omens for this are especially favourable. It appears that a large part of the argument of Brexiters is that the UK’s sovereignty should not be shared with our friends and neighbours, and I therefore wonder if the reluctance to share sovereignty would hobble any such federal arrangement. There is a contrast here, I think, with Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which have long been used to the idea of ceding some of their sovereignty to the UK as a whole and of course to the EU (which is not, as the article crassly claims, unelected). That probably has something to do with the fact that both were happy to continue to share sovereignty with the EU.
The article doesn’t do itself any favours by claiming that English regionalisation is a product of EU dictats. There have been various regional arrangements in England over many decades, and different regional arrangements exist for different purposes.
But as for an English Parliament? Yes, go for it.
Jams O’Donnell says that the influence of Scottish and Welsh MPs is negligible.
That is horse manure.
It wasn’t long ago that we had a Scottish Prime Minister who could control the policy agenda for England. Prior to that, we had a cabal of Scots – the so-called ‘Scottish Raj’ – with people like Darling and Reid running departments with a mostly English portfolio. And since then we’ve had the Liberal Democrats and DUP in government when England voted Tory. Granted, that is partly the result of the FPTP electoral system, which is why we should have an English parliament elected under a proportional system.
The real influence of the Scots and Welsh though is in denying England a political identity. Scotland and Wales got their political identity back in 1997, don’t deny England hers.
Years ago I made the suggestion that Westminster be moved to the middle of England, somewhere. I cannot have been the first to have got the idea. Simon Jenkins has made such noises recently. The dominance of England, overall, or, more realistically speaking, the City and their estates in the Shires, in the UK, is a given, yet the concept of an English Parliament at this juncture makes good sense, if it were done well. In the ‘mother of all democracies’ there is a serious democratic deficit. A mere replication of the status quo would set England back decades and would do nothing for the rest of the Union. Support from true Tories, true Laborites and nationalists in each of the constituent members of the Union would be an advantage, but, failing that, an awakening amongst the English and the residents in England who are technically not so, but count themselves amongst supporters of democracy, European values and citizens’- and human rights, that the confluence of political circumstances of the day demand an active political response against the status quo would make it possible to proceed on a basis renewal, of its own, rather than build on the dregs of a decayed Establishment.
There is need of political renewal in western democratic society. Just now, I have been reading a biography of George Washington by one Noemie Emery. Written decades ago, but as apposite as ever, and superbly written if I’m any judge, it shows the old feudalist tendencies renewed in the new world. The beginning of the robber baron hoods controlling everything to the advantage of the ruling clique, the cabal in charge. Their base was in Europe, the which has evolved but is still very much in charge in Western Europe, nationally and on a European level theough the EU, amongst other ways and means. There is rivalry between the robber barons from the new world, the US mostly, and the new feudalising old guard in Europe, but they are certainly agreed on the fight against democracy and corollary European civic, human and civilising values. Since the Renaissance and the Reformation, the European peoples, especially those in the North-West of the European social, cultural and political theatre, have fought a long fight to get where we are. It’s everybody’s game. There is no need to take the view that Europe has had it, must bow to re-feudalisation, and be conquered by the inheritors of Europe’s imperial-colonial erstwhile civilisers of the world(whatever the deficiencies attendant upon that era of European expansion). Wake up or be disenfranchised further until it’s too late too turn back the tide of virtual enslavement under the yoke of the new world order.
A couple of points:
1) “EU-delineated regions”
As for the government zones loved of Labour and laughingly called regions…The regions of England pre-date the EU, and have existed in one form or another since the end of WW2. Whilst it’s true that the regions themselves were only standardized as recently as 1994, the UK government was designating England into regions well before then. The EU simply adopted the system already being used by the UK government. In 1938 for example we find the Regional Commissioners for Civil Defense. This map was revised and reissued as the Treasury standard regions in 1946 and again as the economic planning regions in 1964 (further revised 1974 to match local government changes). ‘Regions 5.0’ is the 1994 map. There are also several earlier instances, dating back to the military government regions of Cromwell’s Major-Generals. ‘The South West’ even covers the same group of counties as John Desborough’s command in 1655. You can point this out to your average English nationalist who is convinced all regionalism always follows some EU conspiracy but you’d probably be wasting your time.
2) “England has no Catalonia”
What about Cornwall, the Celtic nation and constitutional Duchy with its own recognized minority language and national minority status for the Cornish people? The movement for self-determination is not as strong as that in Catalonia, not by a long shot, but simply ignoring us because we don’t fit your world view is pretty pour politics
It’s often said that there is little or no interest within what is commonly considered England for ‘regional’ devolution. This is not quite true however. 50,000 people signed a petition calling for a Cornish Assembly in 2002. At the time a Cornwall Council opinion poll put support for a Cornish assembly at around 55%. The petition was collected over a couple of months by some motivated volunteers before the age of social media. This 10% of our population met with the criteria set by Prescott for the government to investigate a ‘regions’ desire for devolution. New Labour decided to renege on this promise and ignore Cornish calls for an assembly, pigheadedly sticking to their artificial government-zone regions drawn up in Whitehall.
Various Liberal Democrat MP’s for Cornwall have defended the idea of Cornish devolution as well as campaigning for Cornish national minority status, funding of the Cornish language and democratic accountability for the Duchy of Cornwall. Perhaps the last example of this being Dan Rogersons Government of Cornwall Bill. It should also be noted that the Green party, among others, also supports Cornish devolution.
The last PLASC date for Cornish schools showed that 46% of children would choose Cornish to describe their identity rather than English, British or some mixture.
Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall: https://www.mebyonkernow.org/
The Cornish Constitutional Convention: http://www.cornishassembly.org/
The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Cornish: http://www.scribd.com/doc/59678181/Cornish-Minority-Report
In reply to Gareth Young, I would say that there is a clear difference between being of Scottish origin and being pro-Scottish in ones policies. The people he mentions (and many others of the same ilk) did absolutely nothing for the benefit of the Scottish people. Instead they (like many of their tory and LibDem colleagues) were bent mainly on enriching themselves and their cronies in various influential and affluent circles in London.
Most Westminster politicians elected to English constituencies are not interested in England. They are obsessed with the UK for various reasons. It is not in their interests to promote an English Parliament despite it being in the best interest of the English. That’s why we English need a referendum on an English Parliament.
Philip R Hosking. Wouldn’t a South West Region also include Devon? That wouldn’t give you a Cornish Assembly. Surely a better way would be for an English Parliament to devolve substantial powers to the Counties?
Hello Independent England
If it reassures you I too wish to see an independent England come about, but through the independence of England’s near-abroad i.e Cornwall, Scotland and Wales (and the reunification of Ireland).
Following that, devolution within England is just a question of good governance? Whether you have England’s capital in London or elsewhere, the hyper concentration of power in one city is just plain dumb. In an independent England devolution would still be most urgent.
Finally, under no circumstance would I want a South West, West country or Devonwall region. The only region for Cornwall is Cornwall.
Catalonia and Cornwall – The Long View: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09hrkw7
Jonathan Freedland compares the Catalan government’s recent bid for independence with a moment during the English Civil War when the military commander, Sir Richard Grenville, devised a plan to gain more autonomy for Cornwall. Jonathan and his guests visit historic locations in Launceston, the ancient capital of Cornwall, where this story took place.
With historian Mark Stoyle, Professor of Early Modern History at Southampton University; Sebastian Balfour, Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics; Loveday Jenkin, councillor for Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall; and actor Beatie Edney who played Prudie in the Poldark.
You make reference to the British and Brits as if they are not the English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish?
But otherwise I agree, England not having a government is a disaster and has allowed the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland to portray May as only representing England in the Brexit talks.