Wednesday, 8 July 2015


Having got involved in a lively debate on Twitter about the future for the UK constitution and England's place therein, I should set out my stall so that I can't be accused of simply carping.

The UK can only stay together if all the constituent parts have equality and - crucially - consider themselves to have equality.  For this reason above all others, I would like to see a federal system with England and London having parliaments with equal powers to all the other parts.  This of course means that Wales and Northern Ireland would see their powers increased to an equivalent level.

EVEL plans
The 'English Votes for English Laws' proposal - or 'EVEL' to give it the news editor's fantasy acronym - is attractive at first sight, given that it avoids the need to set up a new parliament and  it stops us getting more politicians.  So far, so Sir Humphrey harrumphing in his club. 

However, this cannot work for a number of reasons, most obviously because there are precious few laws which are  completely English.  The arcane funding system for the UK is based on how much money is spent in England, so everyone has a stake. 

EVEL also assumes that the people of England are content to let a bunch of Westminster MPs decide for them what is best for them, rather that having a different power centre to represent them.  As someone who completely rejects the arrogance of both Tories and Labour and dislikes the effective dictatorship of Parliament, this isn't good enough.

The other point is that it simply isn't fair for England to have such a system, which is a compromise in every way.  If other parts of the UK have their own parliament, why on earth can't we?  No amount of sophistry can address this simple question of fairness.  Why does someone in Hamilton have a Scottish Representative to speak for them while here in darkest Oxfordshire I am supposed to trust my MP - one D. Cameron esq. - or my County Council, with its fading budget, its limited powers and its old boys' network?

Cut England down to size
The main challenge to an English parliament is that 'England is too big', 'England will dominate the UK', to which the easiest response begins with 'b' and ends in 'ollocks'.  Any fule who takes even a few seconds to reflect on this would know that a proper federal system could very easily mitigate any domination that might occur. 

For example, the second chamber could be so ordered as to allow equal numbers from each of the constituent parts of the UK.  A proper federal system would also assume that far greater powers would be held at national (England, Wales, etc.) level, thus considerably diminishing the potential for the UK government to ride roughshod over local wishes.  

Another point is that a proper settlement for the UK would require a constitution which could very clearly set out the limits of powers, avoiding the possibility of domination by either the UK government or one of the nations. 

It is also worth reminding ourselves that England is not homogeneous.  The north of England gains greatly from the Scottish economy, as does Scotland vice versa.  Similarly, Powys and Herefordshire are only divided by a politician's line.  The people there share roads, hospitals, shops, whatever they want because the lunacy of borders has not yet returned to these islands.  It would not be in England's interests to dominate. 

England is part of the UK - just as Scotland is, whatever the SNP might have us believe.  The shared interests are obvious to all but the biggest fool wrapped in a flag.  A fair system would enhance that, rather than challenging it, as is happening currently and as would be made worse by the supposed snub of EVEL.

Regions, schmegions
As for regions in England, no.  Why should England be cantonized when Scotland isn't?  Aren't the Orkneys distinct - and even potentially returnable to the Norwegian King, who only sold them to Scotland 500 years ago?  Wouldn't be more logical for North and South Wales to be split?  This way lies discord, division and break up. 

We could spend years arguing about this region or that in England.  All that would achieve would be more dissent, a more messy system and problems stored up for a later date.  England has existed for 1200 years.  It works, not always perfectly but as an entity it should be retained.

The only change to England under a new system that I would suggest would be to make London a separate entity within the UK.  London is so distinct and its economy so large that it would dominate England.  More positively, it would be good to give London a strong voice in the UK and the world.  Whatever your view of London, it is a powerhouse, the only world city and a turbo motor for the global economy.  Hate it if you want but we all need it and benefit hugely from it.

Cut Westminster down to size
The flipside to federalism would of course be for the UK Parliament to have far fewer MPs and more limited powers.  As in Germany, these powers need to be clearly defined and limited.  A UK parliament would be responsible for a few areas, like defence.  It would therefore only need a Parliament of, say 200 MPs.  They could move out of the crumbling palace in Westminster to somewhere more central.  A friend of mine always favoured York as being pretty much in the middle of the country.  Maybe, but that would be a consideration for another day.

For those decrying the move from historic Westminster, why not just return the English parliament there – it was, after all, the English Parliament for much of its history.  It could be based in a new, modern, practical building.  Anyone horrified by such a suggestion should remember that the current Palace of Westminster is itself fairly new, having been built in the 1840s after a fire destroyed the old building.  Keep Westminster Hall, Keep Elizabeth Tower and build something fit for purpose around it - a 21st century legislature, not a museum.

Equality rules UK
The UK can only remain together if all the parts consider themselves to be equal and to have legitimate representation.  It would be easy to say something stirring about the English not having a voice but there is no need.  The facts are presenting themselves already.  As internal hostility and dissent increase across the UK, these are genuinely dangerous times. 

The most successful country in the world ever could be about to destroy itself thanks to that vicious old bastard which rears its ugly head far too often and draws sensible people into ignorant hatred - stupid nationalism.  If the Devil was to have a new look for the 21st century, it might perhaps be a fool with a flag - any flag - his face screwed up in hatred as he shouts at something or someone unseen.

The inevitable footballing analogy
The only place for nationalism is on the football field, where it can be expressed angrily for 90 minutes before everyone goes home to be human again.  The two minute hate for today, if you like.  I do this. I go to football. I scream at the other team. I shout at my team.  Then I applaud both teams off the pitch, go to the pub and all is well.

It would be wonderful if some really radical thinking was to be done in the UK, the country which created modern, representative democracy and spread it across the globe, the country of the English Republic, the country which did some reprehensible things but which rallied a global force and in turn sacrificed itself to stop dictatorship, the country which has reinvented itself remarkably in the past 20 years, the country which expressed such love for itself so majestically in London in 2012.


The UK - and England - needs bold thinkers now.  I hope they show up soon, before it is too late.

The bottom line
The location, numbers of representatives, electoral system and the exact nature of a new system are all to be decided. What must be agreed is the need for equality for all the constituent parts of the UK.

And I meant this to be brief…