The State of the Union

  Michael Fabricant yesterday put forward the latest in a small but growing number of calls for an English Parliament. Whilst his suggested location of Lichfield (his own constituency) may have been slightly tongue-in-cheek, the remainder of his proposals actually make a good deal of sense.

The time of the UK as a unitary state has long passed. Since the devolution binge of the late 90s, when Tony Blair’s administration established national assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there has remained something of an elephant in the room. That elephant’s name is England. Blair’s plan for English sub-national assemblies was stymied when the North-East region rejected theirs, and ever since no real action has been taken to reconcile the position of England within the Union. 

Opposition to an English Parliament of any kind is founded on the principle that the UK is and should remain a united, homogenous nation-state, but this ideal is patently false. We must accept that there is a significant cultural difference between the UK’s four constituent countries (as well as within them, particularly in different regions of England) and take this into consideration when planning for the future. Assuming that Scotland does not elect to leave the Union, a relatively safe bet, we have a perfect opportunity in these turbulent times to reshape the constitutional arrangement of the state. 

  The current situation is one of imbalance, with Scotland having more significant powers than Wales, whilst Wales has more than Northern Ireland, and in all of it England has no control over its own affairs at all. This gives rise to significant problems. The West Lothian Question, the issue that Scottish MPs sit in the Westminster Parliament and make decisions which affect only England, whilst Scottish MSPs have sole control over similar decisions made in Scotland, has been a sticking point for more than fifteen years. It led, amongst other things, to the introduction of tuition fees for English Universities only passing Parliament due to the votes of Scottish Labour MPs, whilst Scottish students receive their higher education for free. This is a serious problem, and in the face of high levels of Scottish nationalism is likely to remain so. The same issues could theoretically occur between England and Wales, or England and Northern Ireland, although these countries – having less MPs – will have a reduced impact.

We have, in short, an odd, quasi-federal system which favours certain areas of the UK over others, often – but not always – to the detriment of England in particular. It would be better, therefore, to create a separate English Parliament with responsibility for specifically English affairs. The Westminster Parliament could then have the number of MPs reduced, saving on political bureaucracy, and would oversee the national assemblies, whilst at the same time retaining responsibility for Foreign Affairs, security and other UK-wide areas. Powers between the four national assemblies should also be equalised, giving each country the same opportunities to administrate their own affairs. This will settle the West Lothian Question, along with other problems that the status quo causes, and prevent resentment of English people towards their Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts. Let us not forget that, if the Scottish Independence referendum were to be held in England, polls show that the Yes campaign would almost certainly win.

As for location, there is indeed a real issue with an over-focus on London, and I agree with Fabricant that a prospective English Parliament and government offices should not be located in the capital. Whilst this may seem a little odd, it is vital that greater support is given to the regions of the UK and that London does not race too far ahead. It will also be important to differentiate between the English and UK Parliaments, and having both located in the same city will muddy the waters and prevent a clear distinction being drawn in the minds of most people. Specific location matters less – historically, Winchester makes sense, as the capital of England before the Norman invasion, but economically somewhere in the midlands would perhaps be better, and would also be more central. 

Wherever the new Parliament is located, though, it will stand as a concrete example of a UK which is not complacent; not afraid to make changes if the status quo is unfair or otherwise damaging. And that is the UK we need to build if we are to succeed in the future.


2 thoughts on “The State of the Union

  1. I think perhaps Manchester or Birmingham would make more sense 😉

    On the issue of regional assemblies, I agree this is probably a better option, but the fact that the last one to be proposed was rejected means this is unlikely to attract much support from the political establishment. An English Parliament would at least be a step in the right direction. Combined with strengthening County Councils, something else I am in favour of, I think it would be a fairly sustainable system. Although I doubt the Cornish will be satisfied until they get their own


  2. “Somewhere in the Midlands”. So… Lichfield? 😛

    I agree completely with this Chris, the UK should be a completely federalised country. But I'd also favour the proper introduction of regional assemblies. After all, most English regions are more populous than Wales or Northern Ireland, and having an assembly has worked wonders for London. So what if the North East didn't want one a decade ago, the other regions weren't even asked!

    In some fields, such assemblies would perhaps be more beneficial than an English parliament (which would still be governing over 90% of the UK population, not much less than Westminster), particularly in strengthening regional economies and developing better infrastructure.

    And may I say it is a pleasure to be your first ever commenter. First of many, with any luck.


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