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An Anti-Devolution Revolution

The nine English regions, artificial creations of the European Union, were abolished for administrative purposes in 2011 and with them, thankfully, the idea of devolved regional governments in England died too. However, the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London remain. Although they do not represent artificial regions, they are nevertheless an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer and undermine the very existence of the United Kingdom.

The West Lothian question, a constitutional anomaly caused by devolution, is most often raised in relation to Scottish MPs in Westminster, but it also applies to Welsh and Northern Irish MPs who can vote on English matters too. Rather than seek the abolition of devolved governments, which would resolve the West Lothian question at a stroke, many advocate the establishment of an English Parliament as a solution. This is no solution to the question and would risk unravelling the United Kingdom, not to mention the additional cost of a new parliament building and yet another cohort of professional politicians and their associates.

An English Parliament would be a dangerous constitutional development. England dwarfs the other home nations of Britain and is the primary contributor to the exchequer so the result will be the relegation of the Westminster Parliament to a status of secondary importance. Calls for England’s secession from the union are likely to be heard after an English Parliament is established when it becomes obvious that England is viable as an independent country but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fiscally dependent on the English taxpayer.

Further fragmentation and the disintegration of the United Kingdom would almost certainly be the end result of establishing an English Parliament. The inequities of devolution are eroding the union and this will only cease when the devolved bodies are themselves abolished making Britain a unitary state once again. Therefore the only viable solution to the West Lothian question, with an outcome whereby the union lies intact, is to reverse devolution and restore the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.

How did we get into this constitutional mess in the first place though? Devolution itself was a non-solution to a non-problem. The so-called ‘Celtic Fringe’ was not ignored or neglected by central government at all. These regions received more state spending than England under the Barnett Formula of 1978. This mechanism is still in place as of 2016 with England receiving £8,816 per capita compared to £9,996 in Wales, £10,536 in Scotland and £10,983 in Northern Ireland for the fiscal year 2015/16.

The Labour Party in the 1990s endorsed the European Union’s project to organise the continent into uniform Euro-regions rendering national boundaries obsolete. In retrospect Labour’s endorsement has backfired spectacularly. A regional assembly for North East England was overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate in 2004 so plans for a rollout across the rest of the country were abandoned. The Scottish Parliament is dominated by the Scottish National Party and in 2015 the parliamentary Labour Party was practically wiped out in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is Labour controlled, but only on a knife-edge. Meanwhile, the attempt to restore the Greater London Council (GLC), abolished in 1986, with the Greater London Assembly and a Mayor of London was yet another clumsy New Labour power grab. The episode turned out to be more of a restoration than Labour bargained for when Ken Livingstone, former leader of the GLC, ran as an independent candidate for the mayorship in 2000 and won. Is London governed any better though than it was in 1999? Perhaps it is to people enthusiastic about vanity projects like the Garden Bridge, cycle superhighways, 24/7 bus lanes and other trendy obsessions. In London devolution is something of a political joke but in Scotland in particular it fanned the flames of separatism and an ugly Anglophobic sentiment.

Celtic nationalism was cynically promoted to divide the United Kingdom and further the Euro-regionalist agenda. Devolved governments are desired by Scottish and Welsh nationalists as the first step on the road towards full blown secession.  These nationalists were tantalised with the promise of Brussels largesse, in place of English subsidies, to furnish their dreams of independent nationhood. It seems to have been lost on them that Scotland or Wales would never be independent if they were also members of the European Union. In fact they would have far less political influence over Brussels than they currently do over Westminster.

Nationalist fervour is less pronounced in Wales than in Scotland, probably because of the latter’s North Sea oil reserves. Interestingly the margin by which the Welsh voted for devolution in 1997 (50.30%) was smaller than those who voted to leave in 2016 (52.53%) and on a much lower turnout (50.22% versus 71.70%). Despite this fact, Plaid Cymru, led by Leanne Wood, insists that the majority vote to leave is not a large enough mandate to act upon. In any case a majority of the British electorate voted to leave the European Union and assuming the result is honoured it will dampen the desire amongst the Scots and Welsh to secede from the union. While Celtic nationalism is receding post-Brexit there is no longer any need to appease it with devolution.

Northern Ireland is a special case but devolution should be rescinded there too. Since the Northern Ireland Assembly first met in 1998 it has operated intermittently and was suspended on four occasions, the longest period of suspension lasting nearly five years. The Unionist and Republican politicians are far too polarised to form any stable governments in the province. It seems difficult to escape from the conclusion that while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom the only practical and workable method of administration is direct governance from Westminster, which occurred between 1972 and 1998/99.

The sheer cost of devolution and the wasted spending is obscene (the London Assembly costs over £8 million per year) especially when considering these bodies are serving no discernible purpose. After all, England minus Greater London appears to manage perfectly well without an extra tier of government. The existing devolved bodies seem to serve little purpose other than to boost the egos and self-importance of irredentists like Martin McGuiness or secessionists like Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

The devolved bodies – the Greater London Authority, the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive and the Scottish and Welsh Governments – are all unnecessary layers of government better abolished. Their appropriate responsibilities should be transferred to local authorities, while services covering wider areas to joint boards of local representatives or combined authorities as they are in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire and so on. However, attempts to turn combined authorities into regional governments with all the paraphernalia of elected assemblies and mayors should not be countenanced. The election for the Mayor of Greater Manchester is scheduled to take place in May 2017. This is a step in the wrong direction and must be reversed. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, for example, should continue to operate if it delivers services more effectively and efficiently than a lone local authority but only as a lean, low profile organisation subordinate to the underlying metropolitan boroughs.

An end to devolution would affirm Britain as a unitary state. Of course there will always be administrative variations amongst the home nations. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different legal systems to England and Wales, while there are also England specific and Wales specific legislation. Nevertheless, the principle of a unitary system must hold. The Westminster Parliament is supreme and only if it is the sole legislative body will the union endure.

Devolution is a defunct Blairite fad that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. UKIP must state the simple case against devolution; that it is unnecessary, wasteful of taxpayer’s money and used by its supporters to unravel the United Kingdom. Perhaps a more robust version of ‘EVEL’ (English Votes for English Laws) could be touted while the devolved bodies still exist but proposals for an English Parliament should not even be entertained.

There are those who might say that devolution is irreversible, but the same used to be said of European integration. Nothing is inevitable in politics. Mistakes can always be fixed. However, the process of repair can only begin after it is admitted that a mistake was indeed made. An admission that devolution was a dreadful mistake, an aberration, must be stated and the case made to the electorate. If not then it becomes increasingly probable that the United Kingdom will no longer stay united.

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15 Comments on An Anti-Devolution Revolution

  1. Best that Paul and UKIP doesn’t take the ‘short-cut’ of inciting English nationalism by harping on an English Parliament …… agree with the sentiment of the article …..

    Having said that, whilst it’s true that constitutionally speaking, devolution is not a permanent settlement – since even as a ‘constitutional statute’, the Scotland Act (1998) is undoubtedly inferior to the Articles and Acts of Union (1707) and therefore an ordinary legislation subject to parliamentary sovereignty and by inclusion and extension, either express or implied repeal, there is still the political consideration or reality to take into account. In short, constitutionally possible but politically unfeasible or undesirable.

    • An English Parliament would alter the constitutional ‘balance’ and unitary character of the UK ….. from at best a ‘semi-unitary’ polity to a ‘semi-federal’ polity that could in turn ‘destroy’ the uncodified nature of the UK Constitution – with perhaps profound ramifications on the common law character of English law ……

      With a written Constitution, political or popular sovereignty would become a constitutional and legal fiction — since ultimate and final self-determination would rest on the interpretation of that Constitution by the political and judicial (as the new technocratic) class and the UK would lose its unique and indeed pre-eminent and ‘pivotal’ status as the historical fount and font of parliamentary democracy.

  2. I very strongly agree that the legislative devolutionary constitutional ‘settlement’ of the Blair years has completely failed to deliver better government for the regions of the UK.It should be scrapped completely and replaced by administrative devolution.This would do two things.It would keep power localized in Scotland as power would be stripped from the abolished Holyrood and given to local councils(power would NOT be re-centralized to the House of Commons). Second, it would guarantee the Union as there is no national parliament to be abused by extremist nationalist elements who ignore their devolved remit and interfere in reserved constitutional matters and push for independence.It’s a win-win situation for everybody.

  3. I agree but would go further. Local councils now have their finger in every imaginable pie, to the cost of the taxpayer. I briefly studied the law relating to local government many years ago; the one thing I remember is the principle of “ultra vires” which they had to respect i.e. sticking to the necessary prescribed activities appropriate to a local council and minding their own business in everything else.

    Now they have involved themselves in everything imaginable to the cost of the taxpayer and benefit of their members. I don’t know if corruption is still rife (it probably is since immigrants have been permitted to become council members) but it certainly was then where the Chairman of the Planning Committee was a local housing developer.

    Another mess which needs sorting out to the benefit of the taxpayer.

  4. Robert
    As you say, nothing is inevitable in politics, but … we do have to deal in probabilities and realities, and we do have to recognise that the minority nations in the Union do have good reason to dislike permanent majority rule from Westminster, do have a right to express their nationhood with a measure of self-government, and are most unlikely to suppport any party which denies this. So long as the really important areas of government – defence, foreign and most economic policy – are run at UK level, a measure of independence on the remainder is acceptable, practicable and morally right.
    We had a very sensible policy once: Westminster MPs from the minority nations go home for one week a month to form their own parliaments (leaving English MPs to discuss English matters in Westminster); for the other three weeks they’re on UK business. Neat, cheap, but still do-able, and, I suggest, potentially popular.
    Anything which changes the inherited illogical current system, which surely can’t go on any longer, must of necessity be pretty radical, but what we shouldn’t be pretending we can do is bottle-up natural and legitimate nationalist feelings. Being British has always involved home nation patriotism too. We should encourage that, not try and deny it. Good government will make us British first – that is the first requirement in defeating the SNP.

  5. Well, when you put it like that, Robert …
    I wasn’t averse to an English Parliament on the grounds that it would get rid of cheeky Scots Nats and Plaids shouting the odds in England. But I never did believe in devolution and hated what Blair allowed and encouraged. In addition, I might never have had to listen to that blustering windbag Carwyn Jones or that screechy hoyden Sturgeon if there had been no devolution – it’s bad enough having to hear Corbyn whining on and Farron squeaking up every now and then.
    If Welsh, Scottish and Ulster devolution were undermined and allowed to wither on the vine (withdrawal of money is the answer), there would be no need for an English Parliament. We could return to being the UK or Britain, a unified state that we spent hundreds of years achieving before the political disasters of the EU and Blair’s Labour government. Then every MP from whatever corner of Britain could sit together and be welcome in the House of Commons, instead of our feeling resentment toward MPs who already have their own Parliament or Assembly elsewhere, so what are they doing sitting in the House of Commons as well?

    • Stephen Bailey // March 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm // Reply

      History and the observed reality of legislative devolution have proved you wrong.Blair’s legislative devolution ‘settlement’ has simply been hijacked by extremist nationalist elements who have ignored their devolved remit and interfered in reserved constitutional matters.They have ignored their day job of running their region of the UK and used legislative devolution as a vehicle to push for independence,something the architects of devolution expressly stated would not happen when they sold this pup to the UK public in the late 90’s(It would ‘kill off nationalism for ever’ we were told-hollow laugh) The only realistic solution to this is to abolish legislative devolution completely and replace it with the administrative kind.This keeps power in Scotland and guarantees the Union.

  6. From the unbiased perspective of one who is ambivalent in principle and practice over devolution, independence, self governance etc I have always maintained that it is something that should be and have been decided upon as a nation and my objection to the Scottish and Welsh assemblies is that the referenda for it was (i) exclusive of a vote for self-governance for other regions and (ii) given that prior to that we were literally one nation democracy dictated that the vote on that issue should have been open to all in the UK. In other words, the proposal should have been that all regions have self-governance, be they defined as England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales or whether they be defined as further smaller regions with the whole country voting on it.

    This should be resolved by a nationwide referendum, the result of which either England gets it’s own Assembly on a par with Scotland and Wales or the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies are abolished.

    The problem with the London is that too much power is invested in one man, something Ken Livingstone, who for all is faults is a good political commentator occasionally stated. What has happened in practice is that London has been the victim of sixteen years of it’s egoistic mayors’ vanity projects, something which, to his credit, Sadiq Khan does not seem prone to, unchecked by it’s Assembly is relatively toothless.

  7. I agree with every word of what you have written, Robert. Devolution was always part of the European project, tailored to give the illusion of Nationalism to the people, and to get Nationalist parties to support the European Union which of course they do. It is a mystery to me why Nationalists feel free when tied to the EU, it must be because of the monetary bribes handed out so freely.
    Certainly the Welsh Assembly costs huge amounts of money and is hopeless, we might as well be governed by Westminster – how I would love to see the back of the ghastly Carwen Jones and all the other windbags. In this part of Wales I doubt if many people could name their AM’s, the caliber of our representatives leaves a great deal to be desired.
    Unfortunately the modern trend of pandering to any and every minority means that there isn’t a cat’s chance of seeing the back of the costly useless institution that is the Senedd – it also costs a great deal in money and resources to translate communications of every sort into Welsh and English, yet the howls of protest from a minority means we have to keep chucking more money down the drain every day doing this when the money could be far better spent elsewhere.

    It must be possible to address the West Lothian question another way, given that prising the Nationalist fingers off the levers of illusory power will be impossible. Would a re-drawing of constituent boundaries so that every UK constituency has an equal number of constituents help – Labour might support that now it has nothing to lose in Scotland. And could we link Barnet formula money to an agreement that SNP MP’s would not vote on matters devolved to Scotland? Reversing devolution is never going to work and is in my opinion not a policy that will fly, but let’s hope it at least stops where it is – perhaps someone could make sure our new Leader understands what a disaster an English parliament would be.

  8. The United Kingdom is an almost dead concept & has been for decades now, & its attendant idea of dissolving the ethnic identity of its 5 peoples into the concept of being “British” instead has become a highly dangerous nonsense societally with the mass importation of wholly foreign populations from the 2nd & 3rd World, whose invasion its now intellectually facilitating.
    It served its purpose v. well in the 18th-19th Centuries, but its been doing serious damage to its constituent peoples increasingly as the 20th Century progressed, & in the 21st it needs to be quietly done away with.

    The sooner England, Scotland, Wales & Ulster (not North “Ireland) re-emerge from the dangerous “British” straight-jacket they’re currently tied up & being slowly smothered in the better.

    • Ajax you have supported the idea of an English Parliament before on UKIP Daily and I am interested to know your reasons for wanting to fragment the UK. Why is the concept of being British ‘dangerous nonsense’? Certainly here in Wales there is a very small appetite ((Plaid has very little support) for being removed from what you call the “dangerous (?) British straight jacket, and as for being slowly smothered, please explain your statement.
      Granted, the Scots have historical reasons for hating the English, but I think you will find that were Sturgeon to call another referendum she would lose heavily, and Southern Scotland now wears a collar of Tory Blue once again.
      I contend that if there is any ‘dangerous nonsense’ it is urging the UK to weaken by further separation of the whole.

    • Ajax,

      I have come to the conclusion you are either a complete nutcase or an imposter, which one is it? You are certainly no friend of UKIP as you talk a load of rubbish which is counter intuitive to UKIP values IMO.

      Nothing you say remains consistent or of any sense I am afraid.

  9. An excellent article;I agree completely. The idea of an English Parliament would only serve to do the work of the EU Federalists. We can over time reduce and ameliorate the damage done by devolution; in the same way Trade Union power was curtailed by Thatcher. What is done can be undone.

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