Arthur Aughey has described the brand of English nationalism emerging since the devolution settlements of the late 90s as still “a mood, not yet a movement”. A part of that “mood” is the Campaign for an English Parliament, their strategy outlined here is:
“to assemble the most powerful coalition of expert and public opinion possible with a view to securing an English referendum on the question of establishing a Parliament for the residents of England.”
A prominent member of that campaign, David Wildgoose, recently delivered the following speech at the Liberal-Democrats conference, outlining the stark choices, as he sees it, presently facing the United Kingdom.
It’s obviously directed primarily at a Lib-Dem audience but I believe there is enough food for thought also for the Unionist reader to justify publishing it here in its entirety:
“I was the Liberal Democrat candidate at the 1994 Rotherham by-election where I was privileged to finally meet Richard Wainwright, who had been Liberal MP for Colne Valley. Back in 1977 during the first devolution debates Richard said “For a government to propose that some British people shall have two Parliaments to shout for them, while others are left with only one, is the last word in political debauchery”.
During the same debates, the Tory George Gardiner made the following point: “What kind of argument would we confront from the Scots and the Welsh if it were proposed, instead of a Scottish or Welsh Assembly, to set up only an English Assembly, but still to bring the full number of English members to this House or even to increase their number proportionately, to continue to vote on Scottish and Welsh matters, which, in the case of England, had already been devolved to an English Assembly? We know very well that there would be uproar in Scotland and Wales.”
Of course, things have moved on from then. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all now have Devolution. As Richard Wainwright put it, they all have 2 Parliaments to shout for them and their interests. The exception, of course, is England. <> [An additional interjection caused by Andrew George MP having just described Devolution as having occurred to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland leaving only the “disgruntled remainder” and that we needed some means of dealing with the “remainder”.]
We have gone past the point of John Major’s campaign in 1997 that we had just “48 hours to save the Union”. That anti-Devolution battle was lost. The Union survives. It is however still under threat, not least by the growing resentment within England at the second-class citizenship that has been foisted upon us without our leave. Because the people of England have been prejudicially disadvantaged post-devolution, in a way that the Scots and Welsh never were pre-devolution.
“At the very least, the English deserve the opportunity to decide. They should be offered a referendum, just as the Scots and Welsh were, on their constitutional future. Failure to provide that option would be a shocking display of disdain for nearly 50 million United Kingdom citizens”. Not my words, those of the Conservative David Davis.
The current situation is not stable and won’t last. Reversing Devolution is no longer an option, if it ever was. If the Union is to survive then a positive case for this must be made that addresses the conflicting desires of the people that make up the United Kingdom.
The Campaign for an English Parliament believes that this can be addressed by the creation of an English Parliament to stand alongside those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A federal Union will enable us to separate what divides us from what unites us. To get the best of both worlds. Independence on health, education, social policies, to plough our own furrow in a manner we find appropriate. But united as one voice when speaking on the world stage politically, economically and militarily, alongside the social solidarity to help each other out when dealing with such pressing matters as unemployment or the environment.
There is of course one other option for the nations of the United Kingdom, the one that will otherwise inevitably be chosen by default.
Many of you, like me, will have been watching the BBC’s recent series of programmes on Scotland. “Dinner with Portillo – Why Should We Care About Scottish Independence?” was broadcast on BBC4 on the 15th September and had a number of well known people openly discussing the breakup of the Union. The majority were actually in favour of such a prospect. Portillo and Clogharty’s opinion could best be described as “Close the door quietly when you leave”, an attitude which, if anything, infuriated the Scottish Nationalists even more than that of wanting them to stay and which Hardeep Singh Kholi described as “typical English arrogance”.
Hardeep had something else to say as well.
“Why should the English stomach Scots MPs having a say on their political future when the Scots wouldn’t for a moment accept the reciprocal arrangement, it would be unconscionable in Scotland?”
Henry McLeish, the former Labour First Minister of Scotland, and the man who saw the Scotland Act through Westminster, was also at that dinner. He has said that the English need a voice and that the current assymmetric devolution cannot be sustained.
The Welsh Conservative Assembly Member David Melding has just published a book “Will Britain Survive Beyond 2020?”. He says “The best way to preserve Britain as a multi-national state is to accept that the UK…requires a new settlement. This settlement will need to be federal in character so that the sovereignties of the Home Nations and the UK State can be recognised in their respective jurisdictions”.
George Monbiot, speaking at the recent Plaid Cymru conference has also called for an English Parliament.
And so on.
Yes, there is plenty of thinking going on in all the major parties.
Apart from one that is.
A party that claims to be set up on a federal basis and which publishes manifestos for Scotland and Wales but not England. A party that has a Scottish Conference, a Welsh Conference, but not an English Conference. The party which has benefited greatly from the Proportional Representation elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and has the most to gain from an English Parliament that is likewise elected by PR – but which inexplicitly does not support such an outcome. The Party that in the past liked to claim that it was the “big thinker” on constitutional issues but which now sits on the sidelines and pretends that nothing has changed and thus nothing needs to be done.
Tom Nairn in his book “After Britain” said “Blair’s Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and have their say.” Looking at the news reports of the “English Defence League” I would say that those are prescient words.
Here are some more, from Neal Ascherson:
“Yes, there is an emerging Englishness which is still thought to be slightly incorrect. Something is bursting to come out. But sadly, the English intelligentsia, or the liberal English middle class, which ought to be leading political developments, ought to be taking over this emerging feeling; saying yes, let’s make a democratic, tolerant, forward-looking nation; is just sitting back and saying ‘English nationalism, awful, horrible, leave it to the yobs’.”
England is being reborn. Some of us are campaigning for that democratic, tolerant, forward-looking nation. For example, I have here some leaflets from the “Workers of England Union”, a Union recently set up to campaign on behalf of the ordinary working people of England. The back cover says “Join a union that cares for England and its workers”. The front cover says “Putting the workers of England first”. Yes, England is being reborn, with or without you.
And so my ongoing question to you is, Are you going to join us in that project, or remain with the reactionaries?”