Fall-out from the Scotland Referendum (2)

Devolution – More Muddle and Fudge in prospect

In our appeal to Scottish voters (18th September) “Help build a Union of Five Parliaments”, we set out our view that only an English Parliament with powers equal to those now being contemplated for the Scottish Parliament can possibly meet the English people’s demand to be properly represented in the British State.  The post on this website “Scotland and the United Kingdom” of 23rd January 2012 highlights Cameron’s insouciant sloth about the unfolding catastrophe of Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom: the muddle and defeatism in government circles – with the lately retired Head of the Civil Service, Gus O’Donnell, in the van (if that’s the word for a defeatist mediocrity), the loss of the UK nuclear deterrent and our permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the disruption of what little immigration control we have, and the inevitable problems for the monarchy.

The responses of the Westminster political class

It may or may not surprise Alex Salmond, soon to cease being leader of the SNP, that the Westminster government of civil servants and politicians is as detested as much in England as in Scotland.

With the honourable exceptions of clear-thinking, but out-of-office MPs like John Redwood and Owen Patterson, the Westminster politicians and their media allies in the Telegraph, the Times and the BBC will do anything to avoid ever discussing how a parliament for England can be set up. This reluctance to deal sensibly with the obvious is a symptom of a much deeper instinct – and that is to suppress any institutional manifestation of the English people and nation.

Thus all the talk is of “English votes for English issues” at Westminster (David Cameron) and devolving power to cities (Labour’s Ed Miliband) – just more muddle and bodge, avoiding the key issue.

The report of the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons, 25th March 2013

A current example of muddle and bodge, which avoids discussion of the central reality of English disenfranchisement, is the report by Sir William McKay on how to mitigate the disenfranchisement of the English people as a result of the implementation of the Scotland Act which comes into force in 2015, as well as the further powers promised during the referendum campaign. The membership of this commission, which almost nobody outside 10 Downing Street has heard of, is yet another striking example of the anti-English bias in our affairs.  It must strike anyone in our ABCANZ[1] sister democracies as absurd that a commission now being quoted as having an “expert” view of changes in House of Commons procedures needed to reflect English interests on specifically English matters, be composed of two Scots (including the chairman), two English lawyers, a Welsh former diplomat at the UN and an Irish citizen devoted to “advancing women in politics” in the Irish Republic.  Who appointed these people?

The product of their deliberation is an unbelievable muddle and bodge – namely for Bills judged to apply only to England (who would judge?) to be examined in the committee stage only by English MPs, and to pass through the Report Stage to be approved separately by English MPs and the full slate of UK MPs, who would have the final decision. Can you imagine a more guaranteed recipe for legislative grid-lock, obstruction and confusion?

New Constitution: Starting Points

The starting point is that England, whose boundaries were settled in 927 by King Athelstan, and with a present day population of 54 million is by far the largest unrepresented nation on earth[2]. The Parliament which is constantly referred to as British is in fact the English Parliament, established in the 13th Century, to which first the Welsh members (in the 1530s) then the Scottish (in 1707) and then the Irish (in 1801) were added.

With the devolution of substantial powers to Scotland, from 1999, including some financial powers, the fundamental question to be answered is what are the powers for?

Example of Canada

The three English-speaking countries with whom it is reasonable to compare ourselves are Canada, Australia and the USA, all of which are federations, the first two being set up by Acts of the UK parliament. Canada is the most apt point of comparison in that it has a geographically large province – Québec – which, like Scotland, has a very self-conscious, distinct identity, recognised in Canadian Law.  Also, like the UK, the ten Canadian provinces cover a wide range of populations – from Prince Edward Island with 140,000 people to Ontario with 13 million, a ratio of over 90 to one.  Given that the ratios of the populations of England to those of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are 28, 17 and 10 respectively, it is clear that differences in population are no bar to having separate parliaments for distinctive parts of a union or federation – provided of course that tax and spending powers are clearly defined, as they are in the Canadian provinces[3].  A federal parliament is elected to deal with external affairs and defence, criminal law, overall finance, including transfers to the provinces, and the currency through the Bank of Canada.

Application to the United Kingdom

  • Establish the concept of a

    “Union of Five Parliaments”

    starting with the restoration England’s parliament made up of approximately 530 MPs elected in a UK-wide General Election as now.

  • England’s MPs would sit as the English parliament in the House of Commons, as they do now, but with a First Minister appointed on the usual principles, who could not by law be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
  • The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs would join the English MPs to form the UK Parliament of 650 members sitting in the present chamber of the House of Lords for, say, two days a week (with a proper despatch box installed). Some people favour an additional one or two seats for approximately 250,000 people in the overseas territories which are never going to be externally independent, but which already have parliaments or assemblies of their own for internal affairs.
  • Each of the four national Parliaments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have tax and spend responsibilities within a fixed budget agreed with the UK Parliament, which would remain responsible for the overall finances and defence of the United Kingdom.
  • Taxes could be a mixture of sales taxes at national and union levels (as in Canada and the USA) and income taxes (as in Switzerland where the cantons levy the larger part of income and property taxes).
  • Some limited borrowing by the national Parliaments would be permitted, provided interest and repayment were made under strict monitoring by the Bank of England.
  • Transfers from the UK Treasury to the national treasuries would be provided for (as in Canada) where major services, such as the NHS and education cannot all be financed by local taxation, or where special conditions apply (e.g. where there is a long-term decline in a staple industry which has to be offset by investment in new industries).
  • The taxes raised, money spent, and transfers made by each of the Five Parliaments shall all be published annually in a simplified form such as that in Whittaker’s Almanac, and sent to every household in the UK.


[1] America, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

[2] Even if you take the 44 million people of English descent or assimilation, this is still true.

[3] Actually there are on-going disputes as to how these definitions are meant to work out in practice, but at least Canada has definitions as a framework for decisions on the Federal/Provincial boundary.

Top| Home

Leave a Reply

Top| Home