Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Campaign for an English Parliament

  I am the head of the media unit of the campaign and a member of its national council. I submit this statement on the understanding, as we have been given by the Committee Clerk, that you and your colleagues will accept submissions as up to 7 January 2008. I read from your Call for Evidence that you "have decided to undertake an inquiry into the impact of devolution at the UK level and its consequences for the United Kingdom's constitution". That is what I will address.

  I wish to express the hope that on receipt of this submission you will summon a member of the Campaign to give oral evidence. We have been working on these issues assiduously since our foundation in June 1998 when the Devolution legislation was passed and enacted. We have published detailed analyses of that legislation. We have carefully followed it through throughout the decade. You and your fellow committee members have each been sent both of our two latest publications. No organisation other than the UCL Constitution Unit has published on it so copiously and analytically as this campaign. Its director, Professor Hazell, attended on your Committee at your request in November. I appreciate that the establishment of an English Parliament is not an outcome of your Inquiry that you anticipate recommending. However, as Professor Hazell informed you "the closest to a complete answer to the West Lothian Question is a separate English Parliament". It is our arguments put in constant dialogue with the Constitution Unit that have brought him to that conclusion. I think, therefore, it would be beneficial to the Inquiry if you summoned oral evidence from us. Our evidence as in this written submission is of its nature incomplete without the cross-examination it merits.

  The foremost and the most serious impact of devolution is identical with the consequences of devolution for the United Kingdom constitution. The very nature, indeed explicit purpose, of the devolution legislation 1997-98 was to change the UK constitution as decided by the Act of Union 1707. The "impact" is the legislation. That first and foremost is what has to be understood. The "consequences" of the legislation were its explicit intent.

  The 1707 Act of Union abolished both the English and Scottish parliaments. Wales had never had one. For those two parliaments the Act substituted one British Parliament. By its own decision, however, as per the devolution legislation of 1997-98, the same British Parliament revoked its own power, not absolutely but de facto, to legislate for Scotland, and to a lesser extent for Wales, in major areas of governance.

  Furthermore, the 1997-98 legislation re-established the Scottish Parliament, as its members explicitly, expressly—and rapturously—stated at its first meeting. It created a Welsh Assembly. Never before in its long history had Wales had one governing body for its territory. The legislative establishment of the Scottish Parliament gave a distinct and separate constitutional and political existence to Scotland within in the Union which along with England it had ceased to have as from 1707. The legislative establishment of the Welsh Assembly gave a distinct and separate constitutional and political existence to Wales within the Union which it had never previously had throughout its history. What is more, as is explicit in the legislation itself, both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly were designated the parliament and the assembly as of distinct nations within the Union. That is also stated expressly in the prefaces to the devolution white papers by Blair, Dewer and Davies.There is no evidence in what I have seen as yet from the minutes of your Committee that this fundamental aspect of the legislation has been noticed and understood. The Devolution legislation in other words essentially changed the terms of the Act of Union 1707. In a word, its impact is itself. Unless the British Parliament members understand what was enacted in 1997-98, no inquiry it holds will be meaningful. As it reads, your wording in the Call for Evidence does not indicate that that understanding has been reached.

  England's Parliament however, in cold contrast. was not re-established. England was not given the distinct and separate constitutional and political existence within the Union accorded to Scotland and Wales. England alone of the three nations of this island has no political and constitutional existence. Its distinct nationhood has had no political and constitutional recognition. Therefore the Act of Union of 1707, with one very significant exception, de facto applies in its fullness in terms of who rules it only to England. I say "de facto" because the 1997-98 legislation conceded only "permissive autonomy" (Trench 2005), it did not set up a federation. Theoretically the UK Parliament can abolish the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and NI Assemblies. De facto, it will not. The significant exception mentioned in how the Act of Union applies to England is the legislative decision of the 1997-98 (NB. not "consequence" but "decision") legislation that the 1707 power of England's MPs to legislate for Scotland and Wales was widely restricted whereas the 1707 power of Scotland's and Wales's MPs to legislate for England was not.

  This is now known as the West Lothian Question. If it were called what it actually is, namely English MPs' legislative powers over Scotland and Wales widely restricted, those of Scottish and Welsh MPs over England fully maintained (a mouthful but a fact), the inequality would be more popularly appreciated.

  The WL issue contradicts the most fundamental principle of representative democracy on which the English Parliament (in its 500 year old history prior to 1707) and then the British Parliament since 1707 was based and by which it operated. The 1997-98 legislation formally abolished representative democracy as the inviolable and untouchable first principle of government. The UK parliament showed itself willing to abolish the very basis on which first the English Parliament and then itself were constituted. Representative democracy however, still applies in the Scottish Parliament and in the Welsh Assembly even though it did not originate in either. Not however in England and in the UK Parliament. By virtue of what is understood by the WL issue Scottish MPs can be both ministers and legislators, even Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary, in English matters without being answerable in elections for their actions in those matters to any electorate, either in Scotland or in England.

  This is democratically a disgraceful and shameful situation. I stress, however, that it is not a "consequence" of the 1997-98 legislation but is the legislation. Tragically there would appear to have been a total absence of understanding and intelligent reflection on the part of MPs of all parties during the passage of that legislation with the exception of the member whose constituency was made memorable by the disgrace and shame the matter constitutes. What is noticeable is that still the vast majority of MPs and all three parties exhibit no obviously genuine concern about it at all except where it affects their constituents. The principle at stake does not appear to be one that causes them much concern. The WL issue is another of the ways in which the ancient principles and liberties on which we believed governance in this country was founded are being abolished.

  What compounds the injustice to England is that the UK Parliament excluded the people of England from any say in what devolution would consist in as well as in whether it would happen. The Scots living in Scotland and the Welsh living in Wales had their referenda. Of course, with both the referenda were organised to do their best to get the vote the Government wanted. Scots living outside of Scotland and Welsh living outside of Wales were excluded for the reason that the Government knew the votes of either could have, in the case of Scotland, dented the majority and in the case of Wales denied a majority. The experience of living in England might have proved unsupportive. Most likely, given the extremely narrow outcome, it would have stopped Welsh devolution in its tracks. And the Welsh referendum was purposely arranged to follow upon the Scottish by a whole week. The Scottish outcome was assured, not least because only a majority vote of any amount was needed. But the Government knew that the feeling in Wales was very lukewarm. It looked to an assured Scottish outcome to provide a momentum. The deeper purpose for the week's delay however was something else. The Scottish proponents of Scottish devolution: Gordon Brown who was the main engine driving it, Alistair Darling, Donald Dewar, Des Browne, Robin Cook, Helen Liddell and so on knew all too well that a Yes vote in Wales was essential for their venture. Scotland would have looked very isolated, if it alone had got devolution. A No vote in Wales would have placed Scotland out on a very lonely limb indeed within the Union if it alone was going to get not just the huge degree of Home Rule it had voted itself with its referendum but all the immense benefits which it is now bestowing on itself and which are denied to the people of England. Scotland needed the Welsh to vote for devolution to justify the very new status it had now obtained by itself and for itself within the Union. All in all, the above mentioned Scottish leaders of New Labour played an absolute blinder. They had their English parliamentary colleagues paralysed, supine and docile by a sense of guilt for being the dominant force since 1707, which they exploited to the full in the light of the Thatcher years. One has to hand it to Brown and his men in a way. They got Home Rule for Scotland in some 70% plus of governance while continuing to be eager recipients not just of English subsidies but also of the Barnett Formula and still able to be ministers in every department for England and vote on every single English issue. They even had it agreed that Scottish Westminster MPs, 70% of whose constituency duties had been taken of their hands and handed to MSPs, continued to get a full MP's salary. Of course, without that measure Scottish devolution would never have got through. Salaries matters. There can be no denying it, Brown and co pulled off the smartest coup in the whole 300 years of the Union. Little wonder he is now the ardent evangelist of Britain and Britishness. Britain as it stands serves Scotland very well indeed. In 1989 Brown with Darling and many other Scottish MPs and MEPs in 1989 signed the Scottish claim of right pledging themselves to "put the interests of Scotland first and foremost in everything they did". It is a pledge they have faithfully and effectively carried out ever since. It was a totally unconstitutional pledge for any British MP to take.

  The 1997-98 legislation excluded the people of England from any say in these fundamental political and constitutional changes of the Union to which their country belonged. It excluded them from any say in allowing the Scots and the Welsh to have Home Rule, in different degrees, from which at the same time their English MPs were allowed any input. It excluded them from any say in the new situation where MPs from Scotland, and to a lesser degree from Wales, can be ministers for their internal English affairs and can vote on those internal affairs without reciprocation. It would not be wise for any member of the Justice Committee to argue that the people of England vested their MPs with this say on their behalf because such an argument would have denied the relevant referenda to the peoples of Scotland and Wales.

  The "impact of devolution at the UK level" (Call for Evidence) was therefore, first and foremost, and by deliberate design, to alter the relationship of "the constituent parts of the UK" (ditto) both to the UK Parliament itself and to each other. That is not some "consequence for the United Kingdom's constitution" (ditto) of devolution but its intent and achievement. Home Rule was accorded to Scotland to a very large measure and in major matters. Likewise to Wales and NI but less so. None at all to England. England is the only part of the UK still ruled in its entirety and in every detail by the UK government. Furthermore, by virtue of their national institutions, Scotland, Wales and NI now have a distinct and separate political and constitutional existence. Their distinct nationhoods have been given political and constitutional recognition. England however, alone of the three nations of this island, does not constitutionally exist. The Union therefore is essentially, per se, unbalanced. As a consequence the centre cannot and will not hold. The legislative, and thereby institutional, discrimination of the 1997-98 devolution settlement against England and the English nation is the canker within the Union which will dissolve it. There can be no other outcome—unless the appropriate action is taken in time. Discrimination against a nation, institutionalised in the 1997-98 legislation, is wrong. The legislation of 1997-98 was an instance of unmitigated selfishness on the part of its proponents, the main ones whom I have mentioned above, in that it put the advantage of their country Scotland first and foremost at the expense of the British Union. They sowed the wind, the Union now reaps the whirlwind.

  There are a number of very important consequences of the 1997-98 Devolution Settlement which have had a very considerable impact upon the UK. Some of them both further and flow from the institutional discrimination of the Settlement legislation itself. Such as issues over prescriptions, university fees, personal care for the elderly, the community charge, the different administrations of the NHS, nurses' and police pay. You know them. They are the visible and outwards signs of the institutional discrimination which the legislation itself is. They are the issues which are de facto causing the bulk of the resentment among the English people about the Union. Other consequences are equally normal. Once the distinct and separate nationhoods of the Scots and the Welsh were given institutional and political recognition, in an act of departure from the Act of Union, it is only to be expected that the political parties representing the Scottish and Welsh nations found themselves with a platform on which to insist on power and for that power to be extended. The belief expressed by the 1997 government leaders that devolution would put an end to the desire for more power, especially independence, was shown to be what it actually was, a dismal failure to understand. Similarly it is only to be expected that the other UK parties in Scotland and Wales, feeling the cold air of nationalism blowing in their faces, move towards alignment with it. The first rule of political parties is to exist and survive. The other rule, indistinguishable from the first, is for their politicians to take whatever steps as are necessary to keep their positions, their careers and their salaries. As we know from evolution, adaptation is the only way to ensure survival.

  I have directed your attention to the essential nature of the devolution legislation, namely it revoked the Act of Union, it revoked the concept of one British nation with one legislative body and one government, it revoked the principle of representative democracy, it unbalanced the Union by placing England, Scotland and Wales each in a different relationship to the Union and to each other, and it institutionalised discrimination against the people of England, indeed in part against Wales too but essentially far less so of course. The essence of the legislation was predicated on advantage to Scotland. It did right, it behaved progressively, in giving home rule to Scotland and Wales and in giving formal constitutional recognition to the distinct nationhood of the Welsh and the Scottish. It did a grave wrong in institutionally and legislatively treating Wales as subsidiary to Scotland; a much greater wrong of course in its treatment of England.

  England is not just some employment park of huge proportions or trading estate or car park or shopping mall providing the platform for politicians to be of international notice and the Treasury on which to draw. England is itself. It is not Britain. It is not Scotland, it is not Wales. It is the oldest unified state and nation in Europe. It has its own deeply loved people, landscape, countryside and coastline with their own profound cultural, spiritual, economic, scientific, industrial and political history and contribution. Certain politicians and certain institutions prefer to deny it its separate identity and lose it somehow in the notion of "Britain" while proclaiming the distinctiveness of Scotland and Wales at every turn. That was the very nature of the 1997-98 legislation; it is now the motivation behind the present drive of government to insist on Britishness. It is gravely wrong, it is gravely discriminatory, it will not succeed, it will in fact destroy the Union. We will not put up with a "Britishness" and a "Union" which discriminates against us and works to suppress our identity. It is not fair. Each of the three historic nations of this island must stand in the same relationship to the Union and to each other if the Union is to survive.

  What I have described we know as the West Lothian Question and the English Question. The latter is the fact that unlike Scotland and Wales the 1997-98 legislation gave no home rule to England, no English Executive, no separate parliament formed by English MPs (EMPs) elected in a separate election. On 13 or 14 November 2007 you took oral evidence from Professor Robert Hazell, director of the Constitution Unit. I have not been able to find the minute of that evidence, it exists of course but as of yesterday and today 7 January I cannot find it on the internet. However, Professor Hazell has been reported as stating to you: "the closest to a complete answer to the West Lothian Question is a separate English Parliament".

  I am fortunate to have the acquaintance of Professor Hazell. Together he and my colleagues in the campaign have debated the issue of an English Parliament and the way forward for devolution for England ever since he set up, with generous grants from UK institutions, The Constitution Unit located in Tavistock Square as part of UCL, in the politics department of which he holds a chair. In the year 2000 he gave the State of the Union Speech to the first general meeting of the Unit, its council and its advisory board, peopled by the great and the good of politics and academia. That lecture should be read by all your committee members, as indeed should the 2005 book edited by his colleague Professor Trench and his own 2006 collection of statements titled The English Question. To a degree the lecture is a fair presentation of both the WLQ and the EQ but it suffers the drawback of being representative of the founding principle of the Constitution Unit that it would not support any solution to either the WLQ and EQ based on England as a distinct political unit and nation with its own separate political institution, above all an English Parliament. We met up with Hazell and his academic colleagues on many interesting occasions such as Jefferies, Curtice, McLean, Trench, Russell and Lodge.

  However, for all its acceptance of the political and constitutional case for an English Parliament, the Constitution Unit does not support it. It still is where it started (cf its 2000 State of the Union lecture), namely hankering after the division of England into regions, still hoping against hope that somehow, sometime, maybe "in 20 years", the four to one rejection of them by the people of England's North East cities and counties in 2004 will be revoked. A lot could be said about this attitude but just two statements might serve best. Will Hutton, economist and head of the Industrial Unit, writing in the Observer well described what the policy of the regionalisation of England actually implied: "A veritable witches' brew of internecine rivalries". My own statement is that England like Scotland and Wales, is one nation, indeed the oldest unified nation in Europe. It should not be balkanised. Its nationhood should be respected. That does not seem a lot to ask for. When devolution is accorded to it, as in due course it will, it should be as to a nation, precisely as devolution was accorded to Scotland and Wales. The Scottish MPs who were the backbone of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which demanded a Scottish Parliament, such as the present British Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, did not propose the balkanisation of Scotland into regions even though culturally and linguistically there could well be a case. The Islands and Highlands is linguistically and culturally very distinct, the Orkneys and Shetlands have their own Nordic (historically non-Scottish) history and culture, the Lowlands linguistically and genetically are Anglian, the Central Belt is different from all the rest. One can find reasons for anything. That is the way we are. It is interesting however how the break-up of England into regions has become so attractive in recent years, i.e. since 1997-98, to specific sections of the UK political establishment.

  Professor Hazell, in the same breath as when he acknowledged that a separate English Parliament was the only complete answer to the West Lothian Question, gave as his reason for not supporting it that it lacked public support. It was somewhat unacademic of him to make that assertion. Three opinion polls conducted by the best of organisations contradict it flatly. The July Mori Ipsos Poll registered 41% for an English parliament, the January 2007 BBC poll registered a 61% support for it in England with 51% in Scotland and 48% in Wales, and the ICM poll conducted for the Observer November 2006 registered 68% in support. I have myself in the recent past brought those polling figures to Professor Hazell's attention.

  You will find our arguments fully presented in two CEP booklets, both of which have been sent to all members of your Committee: Devolution for England. A Critique of the Conservative Party Policy of English Votes on English Matters and the English Question. Chapter 3 of the latter I am including as an appendix. From the former I quote a summary of our arguments:

  The Union has changed and changed for good. Devolution within the Union on the basis of distinct nations is a fact of life. The tide of history cannot be reversed. The clock cannot be turned back. Devolution cannot be abolished. The two principles on which it is founded constitute a very sound and sensible way in which to run a state which is a union of nations, which both factually and legalistically is precisely what the United Kingdom is. Those two principles, the genuine distribution of real power from the centre to constituent parts and that distribution being based on nationhood, now require application to the English nation.

  The advantages for the Union will be immense. If English matters were the business of a separate English Parliament as in Scotland and Wales, the British Parliament would then have more time to concentrate on the important national and international matters that are genuinely British matters because they concern the whole of the UK, namely the issues that are reserved to it. Every Union MP would have total equality with each other and would have an undivided interest in the subjects under consideration. Ministers would have greater time to devote to issues affecting the destiny of the United Kingdom and preserving its interests internationally. It would be quite strange of any political party to think that the Parliament of a Union of 60 million people dealing with such huge issues as defence, foreign affairs, international trade, taxation, internal defence against terrorism and immigration can be part time. The new Union Parliament would require a smaller but much more focussed and dedicated membership with the devolved affairs of the constituent nations being dealt separately by the legislative institutions of those nations. Courage, common sense and vision are now required. No political party should fossilise itself through an attachment to a bygone age. All must be open to change within a changed Union.

  The resolution of all these issues lies with a two tier United Kingdom legislative system. The Union Parliament will be one tier. The other will be the parliaments of each of the three historic nations of the island of Britain and an assembly for the province of those six of the eight counties of the Irish province of Ulster which are part of the UK. The relationship of the three national parliaments and the six counties assembly to the Union Parliament can take two forms. It can be the same as presently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, namely a relationship of "permissive autonomy" (Alan Trench. The Dynamics of Devolution. The State of the Nations 2000 page 138). In this relationship, which is our tradition, the UK Parliament is legally empowered not just to strike out any act of legislation of a devolved body but also to abolish the devolved body itself. Our tradition is that Parliament is supreme. The 1998 devolution legislation has not changed that in any way. It might be said to be a uniquely British system of democratic government. The alternative is the federal relationship which would involve a written constitution for the United Kingdom that would legally enshrine the powers of the nations and the province that form the United Kingdom. Either constitutes genuine devolution.

  There can be no question that devolution to England on the same principles as devolution to Scotland and Wales, namely its own parliament, will require vision and commitment. However, the devolution legislation of 1998 contained the germ of a very new and very democratic vision of what Britain can be. Historically Britain has been a very centralised state. Power has been excessively centralised for many centuries in London, so much so that since the Act of Union none of the three historic nations of this island effectively had any degree of self-government at all. For 300 years not one of them even had any political and constitutional existence whatsoever. It has been a very unnatural state of affairs. It has been a version of a Union which brooked no challenges to centralised power, when decentralisation could have been a vibrant catalyst for political and cultural innovation. It might have seemed all right in an age of Empire expansion and recurring wars. It is now out of date. There is now a political and cultural vibrancy in this island that demands change. There is a throbbing awareness of distinct national identities rooted in our history which is irresistibly insisting on their own political expression. It is a new form of Unionism we are encountering. It should not be opposed or suppressed. It is no threat. It should be embraced.

  Its enactment should be achieved with commonsense. No one wants more government. No one wants more politicians. No one wants to spend any more money on either. Unfortunately the devolution programme of 1998 took a form which carefully avoided anything that disturbed, even threatened to disturb, the existing salaries and ministerial prospects of UK MPs in any way whatsoever. Otherwise it is likely it wouldn't have got through so smoothly, if at all. The parliamentary payroll paid for by the taxpayer was added to by 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and 60 Members of the Welsh Assembly in the form of salaries, expenses and paid assistants. Yet, even though the MSPs took over the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for both Scotland and Wales, both Offices were retained as were their place in the Cabinet, and with them their salaries. Likewise the range of Government portfolios available to MPs was retained in full. The devolution proposals made by the Scottish Constitutional Convention and implemented in 1998 were designed to preserve the career prospects of its country's MPs at Westminster and Scotland's ability to legislate in English matters. They were designed both to transfer as much power over Scotland back to Scotland as was feasible with remaining within the Union and to maintain its power and influence within the Union to the maximum. The Members of the Scottish Parliament took over the majority percentage of the constituency duties of the Scottish Members of the UK Parliament, yet the salaries of the latter were likewise retained in full. As the responsibilities of the Members of the Welsh Assembly are not as extensive, the issue for Welsh MPs is not as serious, but it is there.

  There is no way this can be repeated when England gets its own parliament. Probably Scotland and Wales got away with it because they make up only 13.5% of the UK population, but with England being 84% it simply will not be tolerated. Neither is it at all necessary. Devolution does not increase the size of the population. The collective number of MPs, Union and English Parliament, must not be increased unless there is a clear and defensible benefit in it for the paying electorate. The cost of government must not be determined by the pockets of the people who govern us. There therefore should be no need to increase the amount of parliamentary representation, the number of politicians or cost of government. That should be the iron law of all devolution, or at the very least the aspiration and the ideal. The public which foots the bill will not put up with anything else.

  There is one standard objection made by those who oppose devolution to England. It is that of the size of England's population. The Constitution Unit expresses it as follows:

    An English Parliament would appear to be a neat solution to the fundamental asymmetry in the devolution arrangements. It would create a federation of the four historic nations of the UK. The fundamental difficulty is the sheer size of England in comparison with the rest of the UK England with four fifths of the population will be hugely dominant. On most domestic matters the English Parliament will be more important than the Westminster parliament. No federation has operated successfully where one of the units is dominant". (The English Question 2006 chapter 11 R Hazell p224).

  The objection is two-fold, that within a devolved UK England with its own parliament would be dominant, and on domestic matters, an English Parliament would be more important than the Union Parliament.

  The reply to both objections is straightforward. Ever since the start of the Union 300 years ago England for the very reason the objectors provide has always been "hugely dominant". That demographically, economically and geographically is what England is within the Union, yet the Union has been very successful. One can only wonder why it should become a problem now. As for an English Parliament being more important than Westminster on most domestic matters, well that is precisely what devolution intends. That is what devolution is about. It is called the principle of subsidiarity. It is precisely the situation in the devolved Scotland. Mr Blair and Mr Dewer spelt all that out very clearly in their preambles to the devolution white papers. Curiously, the Constitution Unit does not appear to have grasped what is after all the very point of devolution, namely self-government where domestic matters are concerned.

  There are two other errors in this Constitution Unit statement which are relevant to the issue before us. It refers to "four historic nations". However, there are only three in the UK: England, Scotland and Wales. The six counties of Northern Ireland which are within the UK do not constitute a nation. They are not even a province. The Irish province of Ulster consists of eight counties, two of which are in the Republic. And the 45% of the six counties who are Catholic consider themselves to be part of the Irish nation. Secondly, English devolution need not necessitate a federal system. As has already been pointed out, an English Parliament would just as easily exist within the devolution system of "permissive autonomy" as do the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly at present. Permissive autonomy in fact is our tradition (cf A Trench. Op cit.) An English Parliament established on the same principles of the Scottish Parliament will constitutionally and legally have powers and responsibilities as decided by the Union Parliament, restricted to matters internal to England precisely as those of the Scottish Parliament are restricted to matters internal to Scotland. The supremacy of the Union Parliament over its constituent parts remains, established in law and unchallengeable in law; and its remit will be precisely as it itself has already been decided for Scotland, namely those matters which affect the welfare and security of the population of the Union as a whole.

  England is what England is. It is the size it was at the Act of Union. England has always been dominant in the Union. It cannot be anything else. The Union of 1707 was then what it is now, a union of nations, one of which was then and is now four fifths of the Union population; and therefore England has always been "hugely dominant"; and that fact has not stopped the Union being a success for the past 300 years. England is over 60% of the landmass and 84% of the population whichever way anyone twists, turns, interprets and spins the Union. England's dominance in terms of population has never before been put up as a constitutional problem. It is difficult not to conclude that it is now being made an issue of in order to oppose devolution being granted to England.

  The Scottish people are in the Union by choice. In their judgement union with their more populous partner has been well worth it. The English people run a very open society. They have made their politics, their media, their financial institutions, their public services and every single one of their commercial institutions available to all-comers on the basis of talent. England has always opened all its doors to people seeking work and opportunities from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and in recent years from plenty of other countries too. England's wealth, institutions and achievements have always been open to all citizens of the Union. England's size is historically and constitutionally of the very nature of the Union Parliament at Westminster. That is what the Union is.

  However, there is another aspect to this objection it which needs to be considered. There is the possible implication that England with its own parliament will be able to exercise more power either over or than the other constituent nations of the Union. However, the reality will be that the very opposite will be the outcome. It will indeed be the establishment of an English Parliament, its powers constitutionally restricted to domestic English matters, which will reduce even further any possibility of English dominance within the Union. England will not be able to interfere in the internal affairs of Scotland and Wales. Their internal affairs will be constitutionally reserved solely to the jurisdiction of their own parliaments without fear of interference not just by England but also by the Union Parliament itself. The outcome will be a very balanced, stable and harmonious Union.

  The time has finally come for the distinct voice of the people of England to be heard. The voice of the people of Scotland resounded in its Scottish Constitutional Convention and it was listened to. Its voice now rings out clearly and independently through the instrument of its own Parliament. The voice of Wales is now heard loud and clear in the instrument of its Assembly. It has made the declaration that its Assembly is the Forum for all the concerns of the Welsh nation. Yet England has no such voice, it knows no such existence, its distinct historic identity has been submerged within that of Britishness; and large sections of the British political and academic Establishment are united in their antagonism to England being recognised for what it historically is, the oldest unified nation in Europe, intellectually and culturally among its most vibrant and successful, and being given the political recognition they have been willing, indeed eager, to give to Scotland and Wales.

  An English Parliament definitively resolves both the West Lothian Question and the English Question while at the same time it will not only maintain the Union but in fact will renew it, strengthen it and make it relevant in our post 1998 devolution era. It will secure an harmonious and equal relationship of the Union's nations and province to each other and to its Parliament. It will satisfy the requirement that all members of the British Parliament maintain full equality with each other. It provides in other words a sensible and workable form for the policy of English-votes-on-English-matters to take. England will have the same degree of self government as Scotland. We are on the very cusp of a new Union, different from the old as our times now require; but equally strong and vibrant.

  However, such an achievement requires general consent. The present government and a large section of the cultural and academic UK Establishment are strongly opposed to any form of devolution for England as a nation despite granting devolution to both Scotland and Wales on the basis of their distinct nationhood. There is a deep-rooted mindset of hostility to England in many quarters.

  England is just at the beginning of the process of working out the devolution it wants to have. There is the question of: the location of an English Parliament, its Executive and its Civil Service, possibly even its Judiciary; the size both of an English Parliament and of the Union Parliament; what form elections should take such as PR as in the case of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly; what form local government in England will take, be it the counties, or regional assemblies or unitary local councils; how much power can be devolved to them in the interests of a revival of local democracy and local identities, cultures and traditions. With open-mindedness and commitment, learning from what has been experienced and achieved by our fellow citizens in Scotland and Wales, cooperating fully with all UK ministries, the democratic prospects and possibilities are exciting and immense.

  The great English mystic, artist, poet and writer William Blake etched a line into one of his engravings: "Liberty shall stand upon the cliffs of Albion". That must be our goal.

Michael Knowles

Campaign for an English Parliament

January 2008

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