On the 18th of September, 2014, history was made – for the first time since the formation of the United Kingdom of England and Wales, Scotland and (then) Ireland nearly 300 years previous, a referendum was held that decided the future of British politics – the Scottish National Party had secured a referendum that would answer the question, once and for all, of Scottish independence. Voters flocked to the polling stations, totalling nearly 85% turnout – a record for any British political vote – to determine the path their country would take.
Somewhat underwhelmingly, they returned a “No” vote; 55% of the Scots decided that they somewhat enjoy the domination from their Tory masters – at least for now. The SNP had had the wind taken out of their sails, and the United Kingdom emerged unscathed from a potentially catastrophic outcome. Or, so it so fleetingly seemed; on the following day, David Cameron announced the creation of the Smith Commission to host talks regarding further devolution to Scotland.
Regardless of the question of what this means for Scotland, it raised a question across the United Kingdom; what about an “English Parliament”? Theoretically, Scotland will, with DevoMax – as full devolution is termed – have the ability to determine most of its policies free of Westminster, with the exception perhaps on national issues such as EU membership and foreign policy strategies.
For those English with a nationalist persuasion, this was somewhat wrong; how can no Englishman – or Welsh or Irishman for that matter – have a say in Scottish laws, yet Scotsmen are more than welcome to vote on laws that will affect England? Surely it is blind hypocrisy to allow such a one-way relationship?
The answer to balance this inequality is a proposed English Parliament that deals with regional English-only laws, while Westminster would remain the national legislative body of the United Kingdom to determine, for the most part, foreign policy.
This is not a new proposal; I remember being as young as 14 (to my ancient 19 at the time of writing) and researching non-mainstream political parties and coming across a whole wealth of semi-BNP nationalist parties. The one that stuck out to me was the English Democrats – at the time, their raison d’etre was a policy that the young-me considered only rational; an English Parliament for English Laws. They discussed how Wales and Scotland had both had legislative assemblies created to deal with regional issues, but England had not. I had also read from more liberal thinkers the question of how this affected the West-Lothian Question, with some asking “If a Scottish assembly exists to deal with Scottish laws, but no English institution exists to deal with English laws, and the English are left to look to Westminster, does this mean English ipso facto means British, and vice-versa? Is it impossible to be English but not British, but possible to be Scottish and not British?” These are questions perhaps too philosophical to go into here, but it’s a point worth raising nonetheless.
At a time also when political societies are being questioned, with the rise of Eurosceptic parties across Europe, the breakthrough of Ukip (though perhaps prematurely labelled so) into the European Parliament, and the simple existence of a promised In-Out Referendum on Europe from the Conservative Party, it makes one wonder if the United Kingdom as a union will eventually come to be questioned from somewhere south of the Tweed River.
However, an English Parliament is, to myself at least, something of a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s take a moment to survey the statistics of UK politics, according to the 2011 census:
United Kingdom Population – 63,182,000
- England – 53,010,000
- Scotland – 5,295,000
- Wales – 3,064,000
- Northern Ireland – 1,811,000
Westminster Constituencies – 650
- England – 533
- Scotland – 59
- Wales – 40
- Northern Ireland – 18
Now, these statistics will surely raise some eyebrows – not least because the English are, on average, represented less than the Scottish (1 per 99,455 people in England to Scotland’s 1 per 89,745), though these statistics are slightly too simple. Rather, what I believe needs to be focussed on is the scale of the Westminster Parliament; only 117 seats of 650 come from outside of England, some 18%.
What does this mean? Well, theoretically, it means the English Parliament already exists in Westminster, hence the (arguable) need for devolution. If the Scottish Parliament did not exist, and Scottish MPs were to raise an issue regarding their region, 59 voices amid a din of 597 would hardly be heard. However, at Hollyrood, they can discuss their regional concerns away from the overbearing English.
Think about it this way; one of the most contested mechanisms that currently sustains the United Kingdom is the Barnett Formula, devised in 1978 by Joel Barnett.
What this formula boils down to is that, per head, England gets £8.53, Scotland gets £10.15, Wales gets £9.71 and Northern Ireland gets £10.88. To many, this needs changing, though despite this none of the main parties seem willing to discuss it. However, should it be discussed in Parliament to be replaced with a formula that makes the funding something more equal, ie favour England slightly more, we can probably assume that most English MPs would vote in favour. Even only 325 MPs need to.
If we took the 55th (2010-2015) Parliament as an example, at the dissolution of the Parliament there were 302 Conservative MPs and 56 Liberal Democrat MPs. If all of these voted together, or a three-line whip were used to control the party vote, as the governing parties tend to, the bill would pass.
Finally, there would be a drastic change to the United Kingdom’s constitution if an English Parliament were to be introduced alongside Westminster; whether or not the name would be applied to the situation, the United Kingdom would technically be operating under a federalist constitution. With regional Parliaments to discuss local issues and a national Parliament to take care of national issues, the United Kingdom would look a lot more like the United States politically. While this sounds nice in theory, practically it results in a lot more inequality than equality. National cohesion would be lost in the attempts to represent local opinion.
In conclusion, there is no need for an English Parliament, as it already exists in Westminster; the English MPs far outnumber the non-English MPs, and would vote in favour of a law that would tilt the scales of equality in England’s favour were there ever such a proposition, both in theory and in practice. Furthermore, regionalisation of legislatures would only lead to federalisation and disparity of equality of law, as there would be a lack of national cohesion.