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Who Will Speak for England?

It is a singular thing that the question of English votes for English laws let alone an English Parliament has gone almost unmentioned during this election. There has been a great deal of noise made by the Tories about the threat offered to England by the SNP in coalition with Labour , but precious little if anything has been said about how the SNP threat could be neutralised entirely by establishing a federal system for the UK. This would require an English Parliament, something which could be created quickly and with little extra expense by simply allowing MPs for English seats to sit as the English Parliament. The few UK federal policies such as defence, management of the Pound and foreign affairs could be dealt with by representatives from the four home countries sitting as a federal Parliament in the House of Lords.

Such an arrangement would remove the SNP’s ability to operate the same way that Irish MPs under leaders such as Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond did before the Great War when Irish MPs sitting at Westminster supported liberal governments and in return pressured the Liberal Party to grant Home Rule for Ireland.

Stripped of their ability to interfere with English affairs the SNP would lose any meaningful power over English politicians. They could of course continue to seek independence or at least more and more powers until they were on the brink of becoming independent, but there would be a great difference in the way such ambitions were treated by English politicians. There would no longer be an incentive for English politicians to pander to the Scots, as they now do in the most craven fashion, because the great prizes in UK politics would be to become the Prime Minister of England (or whatever the position might be called) and take part in the government of England. As the government of England would be decided only by the English electorate, there would be no need to make compromises with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which would affect English interest adversely.

There would also be a general change in mentality amongst English MPs because they would have an English Parliament with an English electorate to satisfy. English politicians of necessity would have to look to English interests before the domestic interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland . Most importantly, the Barnett Formula that determines Treasury disbursements (which favours not only Scotland but Wales and Northern Ireland over England) would be unsustainable.

The extent to which England is disadvantaged by the formula is startling.  In 2013 the Treasury funding for each home country was as follows:

  1. Ireland £10,876 per head (£2,347 more than England)
  2. Scotland £10,152 per head (£1,623 more than England)
  3. Wales £9,709 per head (£1,180 more than England)
  4. England £8,529 per head

The ONS estimates of each home country’s population for mid-2014  are:

  1. England 53.9 million
  2. Scotland 5.3 million
  3. Wales 3.1 million
  4. Ireland 1.8 million

If the Treasury payments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013 were reduced to those received by England the money paid to these three home countries would have been reduced by:

  • Scotland £8.6 billion
  • Wales £3.6 billion
  • Ireland £ 4.2 billion

Grand total of reduced payments £16.4 billion.

Such a reduction would be a very sharp wake up call for those wishing to break up the United Kingdom. It would give them a taste of what independence would mean.

If there was such a reduction, the SNP would doubtless keep chanting their mantra about the oil and gas extracted in British waters being Scotland’s oil and gas. But even if all the oil and gas in the North Sea was in Scottish waters, which it is not, it would be a poor argument because while Scotland is part of a nation state called the United Kingdom, the oil and gas around British waters is not Scottish oil and gas but the United Kingdom’s oil and gas. They also need to bear in mind that oil and gas revenues have only flowed since 1980, so there is the previous 273 years since 1707 to be accounted for, much of which time Scotland was Churchmouse poor and produced little by way of tax revenue. Moreover, oil and gas extraction from Scottish waters is expensive compared with much of the oil and gas being extracted elsewhere and consequently very vulnerable if the price of oil drops below $100 a barrel. If the price remains as low as it is now, hovering around the $50-60 dollar a barrel mark, even the most naïve Scot would begin to worry about basing Scottish independence on oil and gas revenues as heavily as the SNP do now.

Apart from the Barnett Formula abolition, the Scots might well find that with an English Parliament the English did such things as taking the SNP at its word about wanting rid of the Trident nuclear submarine base in Scotland and removed the base to England with the thousands of jobs which go with it and decide to repatriate English public sector jobs administering services such as English welfare payments and taxation which have been sent to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Faced with an English Parliament looking after English interests first, the prospect of Scottish independence could fade rapidly. The problem is no party in this election which is likely to win seats is proposing an English Parliament and only two UKIP (see the Political Reform section) and the Tories – support the idea of English votes for English laws. Even there the Tories are ambiguous about exactly how far their proposal would go in stopping non-English seat MPs voting on English only laws, not least because while the Barnett formula exists – which it would continue to do while there was no English Parliament to cut the Gordian knot of a misshapen devolution settlement – – there would be few bills of any significance which did not have direct implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because their funding is linked to English funding.: England gets more money for something; the other three home countries get a proportional increase. Even the strictest possible interpretation of what was an English only measure was adopted, the problem with non-English seat MPs pressuring a party without an overall majority in the Commons to grant favours to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would remain. Moreover, under English votes for English laws, it would not be the English seat MPs only who initiated English-only legislation.

Labour and the Lib Dems are resolutely opposed to any form of devolved power for England as a nation and are attempting to fudge the question of the imbalance in the present devolution settlement which leaves England out on a limb by Balkanising England by giving power to local and regional bodies in England with the Lib Dems having the particularly fatuous idea ”devolution on demand” whereby local areas ask for devolved powers with the consequence of this being a superfluity of differences between parts of England.

Patently, England’s interests are being wilfully neglected in this election. Is there really no one in British politics who will call for an English Parliament, no one who will speak for England?

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About Robert Henderson (108 Articles)

Robert is a retired civil servant with a history and politics degree. He lives in London and runs the England Calling Blog amongst others

8 Comments on Who Will Speak for England?

  1. pamela preedy // April 24, 2015 at 7:21 pm //

    Someone mentioned a federal system for England last night on QT. It was probably Paul Nuttall because as usual anything a Ukipper says is skated over in favour of allowing the Tory and Labour reps to promote their manifesto at length. It sounds attractive to have an English Parliament and of course this is the cause espoused by the English Democrats Party. BUT, as UKIP stands for the Independence of the United Kingdom from the EU, do we really want to break up the country even further into four distinct nations, exacerbating the devolutionary damage already done by Blair’s Labour Party?
    We need Brexit as soon as possible and to work together to consolidate our position as a free and independent country in the world. Remember that the Scots did not agree to independence; the Welsh are even less likely to want it; and Northern Ireland has remained fiercely loyal to Queen and Country against enormous pressure. I believe the present surge in support for the SNP will not be long-lasting and every effort should be made to strengthen the unity of the UK rather than highlight the divisions certain power-hungry Scots are eager to exploit.

    • Hear, hear!

    • You are right Brexit would remove a great deal of the nationalist’s appeal. Our Union would become stronger because of necessity. It has worked well for the last 300 years; the corrosive influence of the EU is aiding and abetting the break up of the UK.

  2. Of course, there is the awful Miliband spouting on that support for ‘English MPs only voting on English matters’ would create division in the UK and create Nationalism!! He treats us as if we all have the brains of a snail! Which party created the dog’s breakfast of ‘partial’ devolution of the UK in the first place which spurred on Scottish Nationalism! You could not make it up could you!!!

  3. Rob Silvertree // April 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm //

    One of the reasons I shall continue to support UKIP, come what may, is that I am an Englishman…I do not see myself as British. That nationality has been stretched and abused to meaninglessness…

  4. An excellent analysis and welcome historical and numbers-based perspective on the situation.

    I didn’t see any mention of how/if establishing an English Parliament would affect Brexit …

    Already, the Welsh hairdresser from Swansea and the wee dissembler are making noises about separate EU referenda being forced on their respective populations.

    And, with an English Parliament, would the Scots still have to ask for UK government permission to hold that kind of separate referendum? (e.g. as with the independence referendum.)

    • The question of a referendum on independence for any part if the UK could and in my opinion should remain with the federal UK parliament under a federal system.

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