English Devolution

In simple terms the idea of English Devolution is a nonsense on a whole number of levels and whilst I can understand the politics behind Cameron’s desire to see “English MPs voting on English matters” as a hedge to the siren calls of numpties like Farage, it really isn’t an aim worth pursuing.

That doesn’t mean that I agree with Gordon Brown either, his views are based largely on Labour’s Scottish MP base rather than a practical assessment of the realities of any kind of constitutional change. Also Labour needs to imagine the scenario of losing their current number of Scottish seats, this could happen. In fact there is a simple and very British way to resolve the issue based upon existing protocols well established at Westminster for many years.

STOP LEGISLATING !

It is not just the current crop of MPs or the politicians on any particular party, they are all guilty of the nonsensical desire to pass new laws and Acts of Parliament. We haven’t yet got to the stage common in the USA where politicians put their names to Bills but I’m sure they would if they could ! One could imagine a Harmon/Cooper Bill on the treatment of women and mad old Bats, fear not it won’t happen, we don’t have an independent Legislature like the States. In the UK our Executive and Legislature are intertwined in the House of Commons and yes, the separation of powers really should be looked at but the Commons prefers to tinker with the Lords rather than tackle any real constitutional reform !

It has long been the case, an ‘understanding’ or gentleman’s agreement in old money but in ‘today speak’ no doubt a ‘protocol’ whereby the House of Lords will never block a Bill if the measure had been included in the political manifesto of the party in government during the last General Election. This very sensible measure came about because of Labour Governments and a House of Lords dominated by Tories.

There is absolutely no reason why a similar agreement could not be reached with regard to MPs sitting at Westminster would did not sit for an English seat when legislation arose that effected England only. I am given to understand that quite apart from the difficulty of deciding just how many Acts are purely English only, the reality is that very few divisions or votes would be different if non-English MPs were excluded from the vote. Some interesting references here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29342347
http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/
https://www.mysociety.org/2014/09/10/parliament-without-scottish-mps-how-would-it-have-looked-different-since-1997/

There are two main considerations here with regard to “English votes for English MPs”:

The impact on the UK Government and its ability to deliver on its manifesto pledges, regardless of its political complexion when MPs from non English constituencies vote.

How much devolution does England want in reality ?

English Votes

There are very few votes that impact England only, when they arise and as declared by The Speaker, MPs who represented non English constituencies would be honour bound not to enter the division lobbies on either side

However, if the particular vote would impact upon the governing party’s manifesto pledges or be the subject of a confidence vote, then those MPs who support the Government’s motion and regardless of whether their seat was English or not, should be entitled to vote.
Due to the relatively few occasions in which these conditions would arise, a protocol or convention is all that is required and get every MP to sign a copy of it at the start of each Parliament. Job done !

English Devolution

I would suggest that just as the good people of the North East decided some years ago during the Blair Government, English devolution whether as regional assemblies or parliaments, it is a bad idea. All it would do is add another layer of government and cost for no appreciable benefit to the citizens of that region.

Whilst people might feel a geographical loyalty to a city such as London, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester or even Birmingham, there is no collective memory of the old regional kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Nothumbria and so on. In a large part this is because England has always been the melting pot that has absorbed generations of incomers and it is in this sense that the English identity is so different from the Celts.

The Welsh, Irish and Scots each have just one ‘identity’ whereas the English have many which are expressed in an amazing variety of customs and traditions right across the land and as a consequence, tribal affiliations still basically rooted in Celtic culture, died out in England by the times of the Saxons. This has a resonance today in the way the English see themselves politically which regardless of political persuasion is in a collective body politic.

A Scotsman can become the Prime Minister of the UK because England where the UK Government is decided simply because that is where the vast bulk of the electorate lives, has no tribal cultural hang ups. However, an Englishman could never become First Minister of any of the Celtic countries because all three of them have a narrower cultural base and their politics tend to be far more insular.

It’s All About the Money

Whether Scottish Independence, the Welsh Assembly or Stormont, their relationship with central government is solely about the money, how much of the UK pie they can have a slice of and the constant moan about the English is the coded “Everything is London Centric”. The real reply to the moans about London is very simple, “It’s where it is happening, it’s not a plot, it’s not a trick, it’s where it is all at !”

In other words, if London is what it is, there is no reason why any other UK city could not be the same except perhaps, London is where most of the adventurous Celts gravitate to anyway.

But there is also another point here which hinges directly on ideas of English devolution. If we look at the average turnout for Local Elections, like elections for MEPs, they tend to be very low because for the English, there really is only one game in town and that is Westminster elections. There is also another good reason for the English to focus only on Westminster, because the Media does too and although that can produce daft “MP sends nude selfies” stories, it also puts constant pressure on the politicians of all parties which is a good thing in helping to keep the buggers honest. If you had 5 or 6 Regional English Parliaments, that wouldn’t happen there just wouldn’t be the same focus.

Devolved Bodies

As an Englishman of Celtic origins on my Mother’s side, I say, “Let’s be generous”. Although every Celt with a chip on their shoulder will smart with phoney hurt pride, the reality is that when the Commons votes on anything, it is voting on “English matters” because well over 80% of the UK population lives in the area called England. No, I’m not saying “Let’s give our country cousins a vote”, that would be rude however I would say that without the melting pot of England, Celtic culture would not have survived and thrived as well because England left the space for it to do so.

But what I also think is that I do not see devolved Parliaments and Assemblies as all that positive, they do not speak of a cultural self confidence, rather the opposite and especially when accompanied by “English Bashing” disguised as “Westminster being too dominant”. Although I have both Scottish and Welsh connections, my direct Celtic roots lie in Southern Ireland (The Republic) and I find it interesting that perhaps because they are independent of the UK, people in the South seem to have a better understanding and appreciation of the English than the other Celts in the British Isles.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that we need neither legislation on “English Votes” nor do we need English Regional Parliaments although we might see how we may strengthen and deepen English Local Governance.

If there is one other thing that came out of the Scottish Referendum it must be that there surely needs to be a more public and transparent way of allocating the National Cake. Bugger the Barnett Formula, we need to have a system that publicly demonstrates how money flows from the centre outwards, on what basis and criteria and no agreements with the Scottish Parliament now to fulfil promises made, should preclude future changes to the way we fund things right across the UK.

Although it would be difficult to prise it from politicians fingers, as probably 90% of tax revenues are already committed and cannot be changed easily, it would make most sense to have that acknowledged and the information made easily accessible to the British public, it might lead to more informed debates and better policy decisions. Let’s put an end to Rabbits out of Hats.

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