First published on Our Kingdom.
From an English perspective David Cameron's most recent speech on the Union is marginally better than his previous big speech on the Union - also delivered to a Scottish audience - in which he blamed the rise of Scottish separatsim on English ignorance and promised to fight 'sour Little Englanders' all the way. David Cameron probably decided to leave the English out of Thursday's speech after reading that the Institute of Public Policy Research found that only one in four of the English support the status quo; that 59% of the English do not trust the UK government to work in the best long-term interests of England, with 79 per cent saying that Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on English laws, and; that 80% of English people support Devo-Max for Scotland. It was a calculated mistake; England, and the rest of the United Kingdom, complicate matters.
David Cameron (or rather Westminster) may have the legal right to prevent a legally binding referendum on Devo-Max but he does not have the moral right. Cameron, however, has gambled big by stating that the case for Devo-Max, the preferred choice of both the Scots and the English, cannot be an considered until after the Scots have rejected independence. This is snake oil salesman territory. Cameron will not consider Devo-Max as it is understood by the Scottish public because, as one questioner put it, "devo max is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state [status quo] of the United Kingdom as independence." Or to use Lord Forsyth's turn of phrase: "Devo max would mean creating an English Parliament and a federal government". Fiscal federalism of the kind that 'Devo-Max' entails would arguably have more profound consequences for the Westminster bubble than the loss of Scotland.
Even if federalism were a desirable outcome from a Conservative perspective, Devo-Max would still not be an option because it requires the consent of four nations - not just the Scottish people - and there is no Unionist blueprint for such an eventuality, nor any roadmap that could be rolled out in time for Autumn 2014. So Cameron is left selling a product that he and his Scottish audience do not understand. Will the quasi-federal Union that Cameron wants the Scottish nation to buy into be one in which Scottish MPs are prevented from voting on 70% of Westminster legislation, logically, therefore, excluding Scottish MPs from ministerial positions with an English portfolio? Will it be a Union in which reform of the Barnett Formula will trim Scotland's budget by £4.5 billion? Will it be a Union in which Scotland has proper tax and spend powers or control over oil revenue? Or will it be a Union in which Scotland has greater non-fiscal powers but in which Scottish Government policy is shackled - via Barnett - to those of the UK Government's in England, while the unwanted status quo remains a reality for a constitutionally discontent and increasingly nationalistic England?
Unionists need to answer these questions prior to the referendum on Scottish Independence.
We need to know exactly what manner of Union Cameron is asking the Scots to vote for? In refusing to countenance Devo-Max, and by ignoring the English, Cameron belies his claim that "The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership".
In what way is it a free partnership if the Scottish are not permitted a vote on Devo-Max and the English are never even consulted?
This is the speech delivered by the Prime Minister in Edinburgh on 16 February 2012.
Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for coming. It is great to be back in Edinburgh. Whenever I come to Edinburgh I always remember an early visit that I made here as a young man. A friend of mine got some tickets for Murrayfield and on that occasion Scotland beat England. And I remember walking back into Edinburgh, stopping at a chip shop I think it was, and as I walked through the door a Scottish fan said: ‘What will you be having, humble pie?’ And it is in that spirit that I come today.
The air in Scotland hangs heavy with history. Edinburgh’s cityscape is studded with monuments to memories. Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Knox: they all compete for our attention. In Dundee, Captain Scott’s Discovery lies at anchor. In Aberdeen, King’s and Marischal Colleges remind us of a time when the Granite City had as many universities for its citizens as England had for all of hers. And while the hauntingly empty acres of the Highlands stand in mute memorial to the injustices visited on the victims of the clearances, Glasgow’s magnificent architecture and art galleries remind us of the mercantile greatness of the Empire’s second city.
For politicians north and south of the border, however, there is a danger of living in the past when thinking of Scotland. That is partly because its history is populated so thickly with great men and women who we might want to conscript for our contemporary battles. Those of us on the centre right will pray in aid of Adam Smith and David Hume: economic liberals and philosophical conservatives whose enlightenment thought laid the basis for later political action. On the left, the examples of James Maxton and Keir Hardie can still inspire class strugglers to one more heave.
This has been a pioneering country all its life: as a home of learning in medieval times; a nursery of literacy and learning at the time of the Reformation; a champion of liberty in the Enlightenment; the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution; a recruiting ground for freedom’s fighters in two World Wars; the birthplace of John Reith, who gave us public service broadcasting; and as a powerful contributor to the last 25 years of economic growth. Scotland has so much of which to be proud and one of the reasons that we are tempted to look backwards is precisely because Scotland – as a nation and as part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years – has achieved so much.
But proud as that past and present are, I am convinced that both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, our best days lie ahead of us. And that even though it may be a great historical construct, the United Kingdom is actually even more of an inspiring model for the future. Think of the key challenges of our times. There are the risks and opportunities of globalisation, with populations moving, cultures clashing, new routes to prosperity, and there is the impact of increasing economic competition from the new economic powerhouses of the world. I believe the United Kingdom has the answer to both of those challenges. In an increasingly uncertain world, where risks proliferate and atomisation threatens our ability to look out for one another, nothing encapsulates the principle of pooling risk, sharing resources, and standing together with your neighbour better than the United Kingdom. Whether it is ensuring the same disability benefits for those in need from Motherwell to Maidstone, or ensuring that the resources of 60 million tax-payers stand behind our banking system. Whether in Edinburgh or London, the United Kingdom is a warm and stable home that billions elsewhere envy. And in an increasingly competitive world, where the future belongs to those who can collaborate, innovate, and co-operate together best, the support a nation of 60 million can give, for example, to knowledge exchange between bio-engineers in Edinburgh and Oxford, or venture capital for the best start ups: this could be the envy of the world.
So I come here today with one simple message: I hope and wish that Scotland will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is not because I want to dragoon Scotland into an arrangement that is in my interest or, frankly, in my Party’s interests. I know that the Conservative Party is not currently – how can I put this – Scotland’s most influential political movement. I am often reminded that I have been more successful in helping to get pandas into the zoo than conservative MPs elected in Scotland.
So more than a little humility is called for when any contemporary Tory speaks in Scotland. In fact, some say it might be wiser not to speak at all. As well as avoiding any criticism from the press – or politicians from other Parties for ‘interfering’ – it might be thought wise of me to just let Scotland, in every sense, go its own way. And some people – not all of them Conservatives – have suggested that an independent Scotland might make it easier for my Party to get a majority in Westminster. But that does not interest me.
I am not here to make a case on behalf of my Party, its interests or its approach to office. I am here to stand up and speak out for what I believe in. I believe in the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist head, heart and soul. I believe that England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, we are stronger together than we ever would be apart.
It is time to speak out – whatever the consequences – because something very special is in danger: the ties that bind us in the place that we call home. The danger comes from the determination of the Scottish National Party to remove Scotland from our shared home.
Now it is absolutely right that since the SNP won the Scottish elections, they should be able to determine the business of the Scottish Parliament and the agenda of the Scottish Government. They want to put the question of independence to the Scottish people and their ultimate ambition is clear: they want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. And it is right too that the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make. But that choice should not be made – with its consequences for all of us – without explaining why I believe in the United Kingdom, and why it matters to so many of us.
Let me be clear, though, I am not going to stand here and suggest that Scotland could not make a go of being on its own, if that is what people decide. There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller. Scotland could make its way in the world alongside countries like those.
Of course, every country in the world is facing new challenges and an independent Scotland would itself need to confront some big issues. There are those who argue about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. And there is – for some smaller nations – the risk that independence can actually lead to greater dependence.
Certainly today Scotland has a currency – the pound – that takes into account the needs of the Scottish economy as well as the rest of the United Kingdom when setting interest rates. And it can borrow on rates that are amongst the lowest in Europe. An independent Scotland would have to negotiate in future for things it now gets as of right. But these challenges and the need to overcome them: they are not my point today.
My argument is simple. Of course Scotland could govern itself. So could England. My point is that we do it so much better together. I can – and I will – enumerate a number of practical reasons for our United Kingdom. But the reason I make the case is partly emotional. Because this is a question of the heart as well as the head. The United Kingdom is not just some sort of deal, to be reduced to the lowest common denominator. It is a precious thing; it is about our history, our values, our shared identity and our joint place in the world. I am not just proud of the Union because it is useful. I am proud because it shapes and strengthens us all.
Just think of what we have achieved together. Scotland has contributed to the greatest political, cultural, and social success story of the last three hundred years: the creation and flourishing of a United Kingdom built on freedom and inclusivity. Individual nations can – of course – adhere around ancient myths, blood-soaked memories, and opposition to others. But we have built – in the United Kingdom – something that also coheres around the values embodied in standing up for freedom and democracy around the globe: in free healthcare for all; in a generous welfare system for the poorest; and championing the most vulnerable on the world stage. A United Kingdom which is not monoglot, monochrome, and minimalist but multi-national, multi cultural, and modern in every way. Our United Kingdom, founded on the strengths, yes, of our constitutional monarchy, our parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law. But it is also the birthplace of the NHS, the BBC and Christian Aid. We have shared achievements that more than match those of any country anywhere in the world.
From Waterloo to the Second World War, our servicemen and women have fought and won together. The liberation of Europe was a battle fought to the skirl of the pipes, as Lord Lovat’s Highlanders were among the first ashore on D-Day in the battle to defeat Hitler. Your heroes are our heroes. Men like Robert Dunsire, who – twice in one day – crawled out of the trench facing a hail of bullets to rescue injured men at the Battle of Loos in the First World War. And Lance Corporal Liam Tasker: the dog handler who helped save so many lives in Afghanistan before tragically himself being shot.
The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership – a joint effort – often driven by Scottish ideas and Scottish leadership. From the industrial and commercial leadership of James Watt and Robert Owen centuries ago, to Sir Bill Gammell and Ian Wood today.
And in Westminster, think of the cause of progress and how it has depended on the voices of politicians from Scotland: whether it has been the liberalism of Henry Campbell-Bannerman or Joe Grimond; the progressive conservatism of Iain Macleod and George Younger; or the generous and humane radicalism of Donald Dewar and John Smith. Together we have turned a group of off shore European islands into one of the most successful countries in the world.
But it is not just about what we have achieved together; it is about who we are together. The ties of blood are actually growing thicker. Far from growing apart, we are growing together. There are now more Scots living in England, and English people living in Scotland, than ever before. And almost half of Scots now have English relatives. I am something of a classic case. My father’s father was a Cameron. My mother’s mother was a Llewellyn. I was born and have always lived in England: I am proud to be English. But like so many others too, I am proud to be British as well. Proud of the United Kingdom and proud of Scotland’s place within it.
But then there are the practical reasons for the Union to stay together. The United Kingdom helps to make Scotland – and all of us – stronger, safer, richer and fairer.
We are stronger, because through our shared Union, we count for more together in the world than we would ever count apart. We have a permanent place on the UN Security Council. We have real clout in NATO and in Europe. We have unique influence with key allies the world over. The Scottish pilots helped us to free Libya from tyranny, and prevented a failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border.
We are safer, not just because of the expertise and bravery of our armed forces, to which Scotland has always made such an immense contribution, but also because of our policing expertise and our security services respected the world over. When that bomb went off at Glasgow Airport, the full resources of the UK state went into running down every lead, and our tentacles reach from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as into the CIA computers at Langley.
Now, we are richer because Scotland’s 5 million people are part of an economy of 60 million. An economy with no boundaries, borders, or customs, but instead a common system, of common rules and a common currency, which has helped to make us the 7th largest economy in the world. And far from growing apart, again, our economies are actually growing together. A fifth of all Scottish workers are employed by firms registered in Scotland but owned by companies based elsewhere in the United Kingdom. And Scotland sells twice as much to the rest of the UK as to the rest of the world put together.
And together we are not only stronger, safer, richer, I also believe we are fairer. Not just because we all benefit from being part of a properly-funded welfare system, with the resources to fund our pensions and our long-term health-care needs, but because there is real solidarity in our United Kingdom. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a shock or a set-back, the rest of the country stands behind it. Whether it is floods in the West Country, severe weather in the north, or that economic dislocation that has hit different parts of our country in different times and in different ways, we are always there for each other. And together we have the power to do so much in the world to promote fairness.
One issue that is close to my heart is aid. And this is an issue where Scottish people have a huge influence. Together as a United Kingdom, we have the second biggest aid budget in the world. Through the UK, Scotland has a global reach to make our world fairer. And with that, we are saving thousands of lives and helping people in some of the poorest parts of the world to forge a new future, from the famine in the Horn of Africa to the support for people in North Africa and the Middle East as they seek new freedoms that we and others take for granted.
So, I believe there are emotional and practical reasons why Scotland is better off in the Union, and why we are all better off together than apart. But I do not think that is enough. I also understand why people in Scotland want to express their identity as Scots strongly, and to have greater control over their lives.
I believe in real devolution and I want to make devolution work better. I want a Scotland where more people own their own homes; where more people keep more of their money to spend as they choose; where more people have secure jobs and a secure future for their children. A Scotland where businesses can innovate and create the wealth and the opportunities that are so vital to local communities; and where we bring down the barriers to entrepreneurship that have for too long held Scotland back. I believe in devolution, not because I see it as a mechanism for obtaining power – hardly the case for my Party in Scotland – but because I believe in giving people choice and a real say over their own affairs. I passionately believe that local is best, and the decentralisation of power is one of the core aims of the Coalition government that I lead.
One of my first acts as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was to come here to Scotland to meet Alex Salmond and to show that I want the governments in Westminster and Holyrood – whoever they are and whichever Party they come from – to work together to get the best for Scotland, to listen to Scotland, to act on Scotland’s voice and govern in Scotland’s interests. On that first visit I said the only political input into senior Scottish civil service appointments, should come from the First Minister, and I delegated all my previous responsibility to the Cabinet Secretary. This was a small but I hope symbolic gesture of the kind of change I want to bring about.
Since then, ministers in Holyrood and Westminster have met regularly and soon a much bigger change will become law. The Scotland Bill has not, I believe, got the attention yet that it deserves, but it is an incredible opportunity for Scots. It is not London telling Edinburgh which powers it can have, but opening up Scotland’s choice to expand the powers that it needs. By implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission, devolving new powers to the Scottish Parliament – including for the first time the ability to raise tax revenue and borrow for capital and current expenditure – the Scottish government is getting real choice over how and when to invest in long-term projects that will benefit future generations.
And let me say something else about devolution. This does not have to be the end of the road. When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And yes, that does mean considering what further powers could be devolved. But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence or the United Kingdom. When Scotland has settled this question once and for all – and ended the uncertainty that I believe could damage and hold back Scotland’s prospects and potential – then is the time for that issue.
So, I believe the strengths that have served us all through the centuries are precisely the ones that we need today. Our United Kingdom is a modern Union: it is one that evolves; one that protects us; one that allows our different nations to grow stronger; because we share the same secure foundations: institutions that celebrate diversity and turn it into a strength. Scotland’s greatest poet said we should ‘see ourselves as others see us’, and that is worth doing, because our Union is not some antique imposition: it is living; it is free; it is adaptable; it is admired around the world as a source of prosperity, power, and security. Just think for a moment: could you explain to someone in America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about Great Britain that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations? I do not believe that the people of Scotland – any more than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom – want to turn inward and away from each other at this time.
I believe – indeed it is my reason for being in politics – that it is when you pull together, when you set aside difference, when you roll up your sleeves in a common endeavour, you achieve things that are truly worthwhile – even noble – which you could never accomplish on your own. For me, the principle that we work best when we work together, without coercion or conscription, bullying or bossiness, but in a spirit of shared service: that sums up what is best about our countries. That is what the United Kingdom stands for: common endeavour; being part of something bigger; a greater Britain which believes in the virtues of sharing, of standing together; and of making a difference for our fellow citizens; those things guide our every action. And if anything is worth fighting for, that surely is, which is why I am ready to fight for the life of this country. Thank you.
Do you regret that perhaps your Party and other political Parties have so allowed Alex Salmond to dominate this particular issue? And what are you going to do now to play catch-up, given that he and his party are so far better equipped to actually fight this referendum than you are?
Well, I think that actually, if you look at the range of Scottish politics, you see a whole number of Scottish Parties and politicians that, I believe, will come together and campaign for the United Kingdom. My voice is just one of those voices. You will see Labour politicians, Liberal Democrat politicians, and indeed people from all walks of life – and many people who do not like politics at all, who might even despise all politics and politicians – who will come forward and defend the United Kingdom. Do we need to do more? Yes. Do we need those of us who care about the United Kingdom to work together? Yes. Do we need to galvanise opinion across the country? Yes. But is that opinion there ready to be galvanised? Absolutely. I am quite convinced that the arguments – both of head and heart – for the United Kingdom are so strong that actually, when we make that appeal, we can win this campaign.
Now, I think one of the things that the government has done is actually to say that the question needs to be put. I think we have helped accelerate the debate and I think that is right, because I do not think it is fair on people in Scotland to have this question hanging over them: for it never to be asked or answered. So, the initiative that I have taken is to promote this and say: look, it is the last thing in the world I want for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but when you have majority SNP government in Scotland, it is right that the question is put, that the debate is held, and the question is answered. And that will be something I will say to Alex Salmond today. We cannot go on waiting for this: it is February 2012. Are we really going to wait until the end of 2014 or 2015 to hold this referendum? Do the Scottish people really want to have this sort of never-ending debate – more and more speeches like this one and others – before actually asking and answering the question? I think there is a strong case for saying a simple question – decisive, fair, straightforward, asked and answered in reasonable time – so people can get on with their lives.
You referred there in your speech, Prime Minister, to being open to devolving more powers to Scotland. Can you envisage the day when the Scottish Welfare Bill would be financed by the Scottish Parliament?
The point I am trying to make is this: that there is an ongoing debate about devolution, and there has been over the last 10 or 20 years. I am happy for that debate to continue, but I think we need to settle the independence question first. I do not think you can muddle the two questions. Now, what exactly should be devolved – what further powers would make sense, what fiscal settlement – that is, I think, for individual parties, individual people to discuss, to debate, and to decide. All I would say is I think that the Coalition Government and the Conservative Prime Minister have shown very good faith on this issue, in that actually, I think some people doubted, when I came to office, whether we really would deliver what was decided in the Calman process. Well, we have delivered it, as it were, on time and on budget, as they say. I think we have shown good faith that if people in Scotland come together and want to see devolution take place, then we are prepared to be part of that and deliver it. But I think it is a debate to be held after this independence issue is settled and done.
Beyond defence and foreign policy, which obviously you want to see shared, can you point to anything – you have raised the issue of more devolution – can you point to anything, any power that you think should be devolved? You talk about good faith but there will be plenty of people who look back at the long record of Conservatism and think you were not exactly leading the charge towards devolution. Can I just ask you one other thing? You talked about your voice a moment ago. Do you think your voice – being English, being as you have said before, from a privileged background – actually pulls in votes or potentially, actually, makes some people bristle when you talk about this issue and sound like you are telling Scotland where it should go?
Right. First of all, on the history of the Conservative Party and devolution, I have only been Prime Minister for two years. The government I led has actually undertaken one of the largest acts of devolution in the history of our great nation, so I am very happy to be judged on my record. There was a process – Calman – involving all of the parties that believed in the United Kingdom. There was quite a bold and radical outcome. There were lots of questions that I remember being asked on every visit I made to Scotland about, ‘Would you really deliver this?’ We have delivered it. So, I think people can see that my commitment and love for the United Kingdom is also about understanding that there are people in the United Kingdom who want to change the arrangements to make it work better. As a practical, rational, sensible Unionist, I am always happy to listen to those issues, and to work with others to bring them about.
On the issue of powers, I think we have to try and get the balance right. One of the things I was talking about in my speech is this issue of solidarity. I think this is important; I think that when we consider further devolution I hope we do not lose that solidarity, because I think when you look around Europe, for instance at the moment, you can see a lack of solidarity. Now when there are floods in Cornwall, or if there is a factory closure in East Kent, or if there is an economic problem on the West Coast of Scotland, or whatever it might be: we do not sit around asking, ‘Shall we help?’ and ‘Is this our responsibility? Do we want to be part of this package?’ as we do when it comes to some of the European issues. We just think, ‘This is our country, this is our United Kingdom; we have solidarity and we help each other’.
We are all talking and debating endlessly about the single currency and the Euro and what needs to change in the euro to make it work. We have got a working single currency, where we do not have to ask those questions in our United Kingdom, whether one region is competitive enough to make it work inside the single currency; because we have the fiscal union – the single currency – we have all the elements that make our United Kingdom work.
So of course I am happy – as I have said – to look at issues of devolution. I am sure there will be a debate after an independence referendum, if the answer to independence was no, but I hope we would not lose the solidarity that we have in our United Kingdom.
As for the fact that I am English, that I had a privileged upbringing and that I might annoy people by making a speech in Scotland; all I can say is this is what I believe – this is what I think – I care about our United Kingdom. People often say to me, ‘Do you know what, it would be much easier to be Prime Minister of England?’ My answer to that is, ‘I am not interested, I don’t care; that is not the job I want’. I want to have a United Kingdom where we all bring to the whole so much more than we would be separate.
My voice in this debate is going to be one of many. I hope that we hear from Alastair Darling, from John Reed, from Gordon Brown; I hope we hear from all politicians in all Parties and from people who have no political connection at all but who care about what the United Kingdom means to them. So all I am trying to do today is set out my own views and how I approach this subject; I hope in a way that helps to galvanise this debate as we come towards answering this vital question.
Prime Minister, just to come back to the questions that have been asked here, do you think it is quite fair to leave the question of what further powers might be granted in the event of a ‘no’ vote for two and a half years, which is effectively what it will be? At the moment there is a lot of discussion about a second question on the ballot paper which revolves around something that not many people understand called ‘devo-max’. The more that goes on, ‘devo max’ is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state of the United Kingdom as independence. So can you actually hold off being clearer about what you stand for as that debate gathers pace?
First of all I hope it is not two and a half years. I think the key thing here is that we have got an SNP government elected in Scotland and they believe in independence—separation—they believe in having a referendum on separation; the legal situation is that is difficult for the Scottish Parliament to deliver under the law. So in Westminster the UK government is saying we will give you that power but, for heaven’s sake, for the sake of the Scottish people and for all our sanity, let’s get on and hold this question, hold this debate – do we really have to wait two and a half years?
I feel a lot of the arguments are quite well known already and I am sure we can all add to them over the period, but let’s get on and have the debate, put the question, and then I think it is rational to have a debate about further devolution. I do not think you should muddle up the two questions, because one is a fundamental ‘in or out’ question, where the second one is a question that does involve the whole of the United Kingdom and does involve inevitably, as you say, a debate where we look at all the different issues and try and work out what the Parties who support the United Kingdom would like to do. So I think you have to settle one before moving onto the other.
Just for clarity, Prime Minister, are you saying that you will go into the next election promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament and, if so, what will these powers be? And, on another subject, you are ultimately responsible for HMRC and HMRC are currently chasing Rangers Football Club for millions of pounds, do you want that bill paid promptly or would you urge HMRC to negotiate with Rangers so that this beleaguered club can perhaps carry on?
First of all, on the powers, I don’t think I have really got anything to add. I think we have to settle the question of separation altogether first, then I think we can go on and discuss as we did with the Scotland Act whether the balance we have now is right or whether we could improve matters in any other way. And I think it is right for the different Party leaders and Party leaders in Scotland to make their views known throughout this process about what they think of that issue. But I want to be very clear, the choice is separation on the one hand or our United Kingdom and further options for devolution on the other. I think it would be completely wrong to have mixed questions on the ballot paper and I will make that view very clear to the First Minister when I see him. I think it would be very confusing for people.
On the issue of Rangers Football Club, this means a huge amount to many people in Scotland, I completely understand that, no one wants to see—and I certainly don’t want to see—Rangers Football Club disappear. There are discussions underway between HMRC and the administrator; I hope they can be successfully completed and I hope that there will be a strong and successful future for Rangers. I am sure that is the right thing to happen and we need to do everything we can to make sure that does happen.
For financial services, which is an important industry up here, uncertainty is our greatest enemy. There are some very key issues which we need clarity on before we are going to know whether independence is good or bad. You have touched on some of them: prudential regulation of the banks; lender of last resort. Whilst not asking you for answers on those questions today, do you believe that it is likely we will get an answer or answers that we can use prior to the referendum or will we have to go into the referendum without knowing the answers to those very key questions for both running the economy and indeed running our industry?
That is a very important question. I think the role I want to play is to make a very positive case, which is what I believe, for the United Kingdom. I think there are then a series of separate questions that need to be set out in this forthcoming campaign: what happens in terms of defence forces, what happens in terms of businesses, how banks and financial services are regulated, how Scotland’s currency arrangements would work either inside the euro or in a pound sterling area but without a central bank that would take account of that area when setting interest rates.
I think there is a whole series of questions that have to be answered and the sense I have is that people in Scotland really want to get hold of the factual information that would lead them to make the best possible decision. I am sure that all of those questions can be asked and answered and frankly I don’t think it takes two and a half years to answer them, I think it can be done in a shorter period. And for the certainty of firms wanting invest in Scotland I hope we can try and truncate that period somewhat so that it is not too much of an uncertain period. But I think it is very important that all those questions are asked and answered in a rational and sensible way.
If you offered more powers to Scotland after a referendum, assuming that they stayed within the United Kingdom, would you use that as an opportunity to revisit the rest of the Union and the powers that England and the other parts of the United Kingdom have and their relationship to each other?
The way that powers and indeed finance are settled within a United Kingdom is inevitably a matter for all of the United Kingdom to be part of that debate, whereas the question of separation, or togetherness, is actually a question for the Scottish people. That is one of the reasons why I think you have to answer the separation question before you go onto powers, money and everything else. So I think it has to be done in that order; I don’t believe that every part of the United Kingdom has to operate devolution in exactly the same way.
We have a situation in Wales where we have just had a referendum – again proof that the government is listening to people and their demands for greater devolution and greater local control – but we have a situation in Wales which is different to the situation in Scotland and indeed when you talk to the Party leaders in Wales they don’t want to exactly mirror the arrangements in Scotland. But, as I say, while that is the case it is a legitimate interest of the different parts of the United Kingdom, the outcome of the devolution debate, whereas the issue of separation altogether is a matter for the Scottish people and a matter that shall be put to them in a referendum, hopefully not too long off.
Anyway, thank you very much for coming, thank you for your questions. I am sure this is going to be a debate where there will be further additions and contributions, but I hope that you have heard from me today what is a positive case for the United Kingdom; to me, this is all about saying yes to the United Kingdom rather than having a negative agenda. I hope we can keep the debate at that level because when we think of all the things we have done together the debate should be at that level of achievement of our great United Kingdom rather than thinking bad or negative thoughts. Thank you very much indeed.
The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon has called upon the Scottish Parliament to recommit to the principles of the Scottish Claim of Right:
Presiding officer, the motion for this afternoon’s debate is deliberately simple. It states that “This Parliament acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and declares and pledges that in all its actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.”
This paraphrases the Scottish Constitutional Convention Claim of Right, 1989, to which all Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem MPs - with the exception of Tam Dalyell - put their names:
We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.
It's very difficult to see how today's Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs could refuse to endorse Sturgeon's 2012 Claim of Right, and having done so, it's very difficult to see how they could then fail to cooperate over the inclusion of a Devo-Max option on the referendum ballot paper (seeing as the majority of Scots seem to believe Devo-Max to be "the form of Government best suited to their needs".
Wales United: Partnership for Progress by Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan (September 2007)
Devolution in Wales has been an unquestionable success. Whatever the fears that voters had in Wales at the time of the referendum ten years ago, our economy has been transformed, with employment at record levels. Education standards have risen while crime levels have fallen, Wales is a more self-confident and outward looking nation, and power rests more firmly in the hands of the people.
We have proved our critics wrong. Devolution opponents in the 1997 referendum cried that devolution would lead to the break-up of Britain, but instead the settlement has modernised the constitution to make it fit for the 21st century. The over-centralised nature of government in the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced by a system that reflects the diverse nature of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, with models of devolution that represent the specific needs and aspirations of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people.
Ten years on since the referendum in Wales, we can rightly celebrate both the successes of devolution and the economic, social, cultural and political ties that bind together the countries of the UK – which are stronger than ever before. But we also need to champion, defend and reassert the principle on which Labour’s vision for devolution rests: that, while respecting the different nations and identities within the United Kingdom, we must preserve the advantages enjoyed from being united. Labour supports devolution within the Union, cherishing and strengthening both the diversity found within the nations and regions of the UK and our shared values and interests.
This message is now more pertinent than ever. The Tories’ renewed commitment to ‘English votes for English laws’ threatens the unity and equality of the House of Commons – and therefore of the United Kingdom itself – while Plaid Cymru’s new role in the Welsh Assembly Government has not at all dented their separatist aspirations.
Labour is unashamedly a party both of devolution and of partnership. The path we offer is one which builds on the early success of devolution and aims to go on creating a new Welsh self-confidence and modern identity by deepening the devolution settlements. We have delivered devolution and devolution has delivered for Wales. The Tories’ plans would serve as direct encouragement for those who want to see the United Kingdom broken up into its separate parts. That is why they must be rejected emphatically.
We are crystal clear that devolution within the Union is the only serious answer to effective and successful self-governance for Wales. We now need actively to communicate the reciprocal, two-way nature of Wales’ role in the Union – how we benefit and how we contribute. That Welsh identity is flourishing as never before in a United Kingdom based on shared values of equal opportunities, toleration and social justice. That the historic bonds between the countries of the UK are deepening to an extent that makes separation irrelevant to the daily lives of thousands of Welsh residents.
This argument has been made powerfully for Scotland by Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander and we believe that the same principles apply to Wales.
The devolution settlements are among our Labour Government’s proudest achievements, and go to the heart of what Labour should always aim to achieve: putting power back into the hands of those it serves. By devolving power we shape democratic institutions around the values of the electorate, and by giving people a greater say over the decisions that affect their lives we strengthen representative democracy.
And for Welsh Labour the devolution settlement carries forward a tradition begun by those that created our party.
Keir Hardie, a founder of our party a hundred years ago, our first Welsh Labour MP, our first leader, and a passionate supporter of devolution – or “home rule all round” to use the language of the era – was a Scot who first represented the East London seat of West Ham South before becoming MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in Wales at the time the Labour Party was founded. He embodied the Welsh labour movement’s British dimension from its earliest days, and the values Keir Hardie and his fellow Labour pioneers held dear remain so for Welsh Labour today.
Half a century after Keir Hardie’s death, it was Labour that first created the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 and established the Welsh Office as a separate Department of State. It was Labour that was elected in 1997 on a manifesto commitment to give the people of Wales an opportunity to vote for a new democratic Assembly. It was Labour that led the Yes campaign to victory in the 1997 referendum. It was Labour that legislated for a Welsh Assembly to be established in 1999. And it was Labour that steered the 2006 Government of Wales Act onto the statute book, giving the Assembly enhanced legislative powers and settling the constitutional argument in Wales for a generation or more by putting into place a process for attaining primary powers.
And so, as Britain’s leading pro-devolution and pro-Union Party, it can only be Labour who makes the case that, alongside a national minimum wage, record levels of employment and record economic growth and prosperity, the devolution settlements must be considered our finest achievements.
Partnership for Prosperity
As citizens of the United Kingdom we enjoy great prosperity thanks to the historic economic partnerships between the UK’s constituent nations; partnerships which helped to turn us into a world power. The economic integration of the United Kingdom has been and will continue to be central to the economic growth of both the individual nations and the UK as a whole.
The contribution of Wales to the industrial revolution, for example, was enormous. Two hundred and more years ago, it was Merthyr Tydfil where the most productive ironworks in the world were found, and the where the world’s first railway steam locomotive was developed. A century ago, Cardiff was the world’s largest coal-exporting port, handling the production from the massive South Wales coalfields, and the city where the world price of coal was set.
Today, Wales’ economy is making great strides and recent economic growth and development has been dramatic. With 72.3 per cent of the population employed, there are approximately 146,000 more jobs in Wales now in 2007 than there were in 1999 - a faster growth-rate than the UK average and above any one of the nine regions of England. Coming from a period during the 1980s when the aftermath of the pit and steel closures left the Welsh economy reeling and many believed that neither Wales nor Britain would ever see anything approaching full employment again, the last decade has seen a remarkably well-sustained turnaround.
There remains a long way to go to put right the social damage inflicted by the mass unemployment era of the 1980s – numbers of incapacity benefit claimant households are disproportionately high in Wales, for example – but progress has been admirable. Labour’s unsurpassed record of macroeconomic stability, with the longest run of continuous noninflationary economic growth since records began, record inward investment, low interest rates and low inflation, has resulted in Gross Domestic Product increasing to £41 billion in 2005 – compared to £28 billion in the last year of Tory government – while the proportion of Welsh families in ‘workless households’ has fallen to a record low.
Including the block grant from UK Treasury Welsh public spending amounts to almost £1,000 per head (or 14 per cent) higher than in England, which reflects our historically-high levels of ill-health and economic deprivation, in part a function of our industrial legacy. With our Labour Government, the budget of the National Assembly has doubled over the past eight years, from £7 billion to £14 billion. And as a result of the decisions made by the Welsh Labour-led Assembly Government, we now have 500 extra doctors, 8,000 extra nurses, 1,700 extra teachers and 5,700 new teaching assistants in Wales, as well as record investment in school buildings and new hospitals to raise the standards of public service delivery across Wales.
The close economic relationship between Wales and Britain is due to our Governments’ shared social and economic objectives: to reactivate the labour market, reduce social and economic deprivation, combat social exclusion, strengthen social cohesion and to reduce poverty, in particular child poverty. Partnership between the UK Government and the Assembly Government is essential to delivering the policy answers to meet these objectives. Wales benefits from playing a part in UK Government programmes to combat unemployment, child poverty and pensioner poverty - the New Deal, child tax credits and the statutory national minimum wage have had a huge impact on Wales and have raised the standard of living for thousands of low-paid Welsh workers and residents.
The New Deal has helped over 46,000 unemployed young people in Wales back to work, as well as thousands of older long-term unemployed people and lone parents. The programme was financed by a British-wide levy on the windfall profits of the privatised British utilities, and is continuing to develop through a combination of British-wide incentives and opportunities linked to Wales-specific and local initiatives. This reciprocal relationship is at the heart of our Union’s strength.
A further illustration of the advantages for Wales of inter-linking Labour governments in both Westminster and Cardiff can be seen in the UK Miners’ Compensation Scheme for emphysema and Vibration White Finger, which has paid out well over £600 million in compensation to ex-miners or their dependants in Wales. Another would be the pension credit; Wales has a higher than average number of pensioner households and the pension credit benefits over 160,000.
Wales plays its full part in UK-wide, British policies, because co-ordinated action between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government is the only way of meeting some of our more ambitious targets. We have set, for example, the goal to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020. Already, 50,000 children in Wales have been helped out of poverty, and it is only through schemes led by administrations both in Wales and at Westminster – whether free school breakfasts, or increases in child benefit – that we will be able to build on this.
In many instances Wales is better placed to meet its social and economic demands and objectives acting within the collective Union. To take a recent example, the extra one-penny increase in National Insurance introduced by Gordon Brown in 2003 to provide further funds for the NHS has been delivering hundreds of millions of pounds of extra public investment for Wales each year. Through National Insurance we each contribute to a system of social protection against sickness, incapacity and bereavement for any insured family or citizen in every part of the UK. This is only made possible by sharing risks across a UK population of 60 million and is a far more effective way of combating poverty and securing social justice than sharing risks among just three million people in Wales. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was a Welshman, Jim Griffiths, who laid the foundations for our modern system with the National Insurance Act of 1948. Drawing on his experiences of the deprivation suffered by South Wales miners and their families in the 1930s, he noted that “a unified and comprehensive scheme covering the whole nation” would be most effective at tackling the poverty he had witnessed. The same remains true today.
Such a unified approach was apparent in the effective negotiations by the UK Labour Government in Europe that brought Objective One funding for the two-thirds of Wales that lies in West Wales and the Valleys. This has been and continues to be of huge significance in helping the large swathes of Wales for so long behind in economic prosperity to catch up with the more prosperous areas of East Wales, the UK and the European average. Funding in the 2000-2007 period was £1.3 billion, with total project value well over £3 billion, boosting investment and job creation.
This hugely beneficial deal for West Wales and the Valleys was first made at the EU Summit meeting in early 2000 and then repeated in December 2005. Had the UK failed to find an agreement here the West Wales and the Valleys region would have missed out drastically. There may be no more crucial an illustration of how an effective partnership between the Labour Government in Westminster and the Labour administration in Wales can and will deliver for Wales and the less well-off two-thirds of Wales in particular.
Economic development in Wales will further progress by Labour continuing to implement a dispersal policy for civil service jobs out of London and the South East of England to Wales, with the assistance of the Assembly Government in co-ordinating the process.
Following the precedents set by the Labour Government in the 1964-1970 era, when Jim Callaghan determined to relocate the Royal Mint to Llantrisant, and Barbara Castle set up the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea, the relocation of the headquarters of the Office of National Statistics from Central London to Newport, the Shared Service Centres of the Department for Transport in Swansea and of the Prison Service to Newport have brought thousands more jobs to Wales. The Lyons Review will lead to further public sector jobs being relocated in Wales as a direct consequence of Government policy to spread such employment from the South East of England across the United Kingdom.
The Government’s recent announcement of its largest ever investment in Wales, the £16 billion Defence Training Academy at St Athan, is perhaps the best example of this. This is a 25-year contract with the Metrix consortium and when completed late in the next decade will bring 5,000 jobs to South Wales, with great benefits to the local and regional economy. The Westminster Government and the Assembly Government are working jointly to make this project succeed; the Ministry of Defence is the customer who is in the process of awarding the contract to the Metrix consortium and the Assembly Government is the landowner and the key partner in the scheme.
Projects based on UK partnership of this nature and scale are central to Wales’ economic development and highlight how Wales’ economy is playing an increasingly important role in that of the UK as a whole. Airbus’s plant at Broughton in Flintshire, for example, is at one and the same time Wales’ and the UK’s largest factory. The plant draws its huge workforce from a staggeringly wide catchment area from Colwyn Bay to Manchester - of the 6,000 employees in Broughton, 62% live in Wales and 38% in England. It is the jewel in the crown of the Flintshire economy, the Welsh economy, is highly important to the UK as a technological base, and is critical to the European economy, reinforcing the economic reality that the Welsh economy is part of a wider British and international economy.
Wales’ economy is increasingly global by nature - in 2006-07 Wales attracted projects from overseas that will create nearly 3,400 jobs, although it remains firmly inter-linked with the UK – over 3,100 jobs will be created in the same period by investment projects from within the UK. Wales’ largest trading partner has long been England, and we should all be clear that Wales’ economic future lies within the UK. Wales now hosts world-class high technology business operations like GE Healthcare, General Dynamics, Logica CMG and EADS, developing intellectual property in Wales to make Wales fully engaged in the knowledge economy. The foundation of this success is the stable macro-economic climate resulting from decisions made by the UK Government since 1997. Independence to the Bank of England and maintaining fiscal discipline have given rise to 10 years of continued economic growth, providing the right climate for sustained investment in technology and machinery as well as in skills and people.
If Wales is to have a truly international role, competing with the likes of China and India in a globalised economy, we must do so together, through partnership between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, as we have been doing successfully up to now. As demonstrated, Wales derives significant advantages from being part of a Member State which plays a full and positive role in the European Union and international economic community. Wales was in at the beginning of globalisation and as this process deepens and intensifies Wales should have full confidence in its ability to compete in the globalised 21st century economy.
A recent survey found that Swansea University has attracted more public and private sector funding for collaborative research with industry than any other university in the UK, forging links with companies such as IBM and Motorola. It is as a member of a collective union of nations that Wales is progressing fast and is best placed to gain the world class investment so vital for future prosperity and success, and so necessary to address the challenges of the 21st century. Through this partnership Wales is progressively developing expertise in research and development, and in high-tech manufacturing such as biotechnology and aerospace, contributing increasingly to the overall success of the UK economy.
The Welsh higher education sector will have a vital role to play in developing our knowledge economy in this new global environment. Recent figures show that in 2005-06 nearly 29,000 students came from other parts of the UK to study in Wales, and that nearly 21,000 Welsh students sought university education in other parts of the UK in the same period. Such crossborder exchange of information, skills and experience irrevocably deepens cultural, economic and social ties throughout the UK. Current and future generations will live in greater prosperity thanks to Wales’ role in the UK, and will have their formative years shaped by the opportunities provided by the Union, rendering separatists’ arguments increasingly eccentric and disconnected from the realities of people’s daily lives and experiences.
Welshness and Britishness – A Sharing of Values
Partnership within the United Kingdom is far more than an economic arrangement; it rests on the shared values of social justice and equality.
The sharing of these values throughout the UK means that today personal and family ties are stronger than ever before. In the decade to 2003, for example, 85 per cent of people migrating into Wales were from the rest of the UK, and over the same period 87 per cent of those migrating out of Wales went to another part of the UK. Around 600,000 people born in England are now living in Wales – more than one in five of the entire Welsh population – and there are almost the same number of people born in Wales living in England.
Wales’ history of migration, coupled with our strong trade union tradition, demonstrate the roots of the common identity and solidarity which run through the United Kingdom. Welsh trade unionists joined their fellow union members in England and Scotland to fight for rights at the workplace, realising workers needed decent pay and conditions whichever side of Offa’s Dyke they resided. Through cross border solidarity and, over the past ten years, partnership with our UK Labour Government, Welsh workers have secured major improvements in employment rights; entitlements which apply right across Britain and are therefore more entrenched as a result.
Key to modern Welsh political identity is that the indissolubility of these links within the labour movement, in business and in the labour market, lies comfortably alongside a deepening recognition of the value of a Welsh political institution, the Assembly, elected by and democratically accountable to the people of Wales.
Today, a common British identity is very much a reality, and is expressed by institutions such as the NHS, and the BBC. These show us what we have achieved together, how deeply Britishness is ingrained in our shared values, and how Wales has helped define a modern British identity.
The NHS embodies the essential values of solidarity, care and community, expressing a progressive sense of Britishness probably better than any other institution. The NHS came out of Wales, defined by Welsh experience of ill health for the many under private care. Its architect, a Welshman Nye Bevan, as a UK Cabinet Minister drew on his experiences growing up in Tredegar to establish arguably Britain’s most progressive institution; one which remains a model for the world.
The BBC embodies the values of inclusion and fairness, with Welsh produced success stories like the BBC’s Doctor Who and Torchwood showing not just what Wales is contributing to Britain but how Britishness contributes to Welsh success and helps elevate that success globally. This would not have happened without a deliberate decision of the BBC to outsource these programme productions to Wales, with Welsh multimedia talent benefiting UK television, and the BBC’s UK and global reach benefiting Welsh talent. Again this highlights the reciprocal benefits to both Wales and the UK that result from the shared values that lie at the heart of Britishness and Welshness.
The BBC also provides output for S4C, the Welsh-language public broadcaster. Both the Welsh language and the Welsh economy have benefited from the work of S4C, which is supported through an annual grant from the UK Government. S4C broadcasts a majority of Welsh language programmes, but also Channel 4 content which is shown across the UK.
The Wales of today is a Wales which, far from shrinking into isolation, is stronger because it is partly British, European and internationalist too. For example, whilst people in Wales are passionate about our rugby and football teams, they have found no contradiction in travelling the world to support the British and Irish Lions to cheer all their players, not just Welsh internationals like Scott Gibbs, Martyn Williams and Gareth Thomas. They have stood in the heat of the Australian summer or the damp of an English summer, with Welsh flags and cheered the “England” cricket team, not just Simon Jones. They urged on every member of the European Ryder Cup golf team, captained by Welshman Ian Woosnam, to their magnificent victory over the United States in 2006. And a recent survey has shown that support for the 2012 London Olympics is higher in Wales than in any other part of Britain.
The cultural boundaries between England and Wales have long been porous. People watch the same television programmes, read the same books, watch the same films, read the same national newspapers, all the time remaining loyal to the cultures of their home nations and towns. There is in many ways a strengthening common culture in which British and Welsh identities are shared and cross over on a daily basis.
The vast majority of people in Wales feel part of their local community, and they feel Welsh, British and increasingly European too. Loyalty to one should not mean denial of the other.
Comparing Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the UK ‘south of the border’ and Wales’ relationship with the rest of the UK is instructive, partially because the equivalent phrase of ‘east of the border’ is virtually unknown in Wales. That is not to say that there is no such thing as clear Welsh identity – there obviously is. It is just different. Modern Wales combines a deep respect for its ancient language, literature, eisteddfodic traditions and heritage, with strong pride in its early industrialisation and absorption of globalised trade and cultures.
What makes the Welsh national identity special is its diversity. For example, the degree of integration of the eastern half of Wales with adjoining regions of England is very high indeed, especially North East Wales with North West England, where the Airbus plant is a notable example of practical day-to-day integration of the labour market. Conversely it is arguable that, linguistically and culturally at the very least, the western half of Wales is more distinct from the homogeneity of Britishness than most other parts of the UK. The Welsh identity spans both of those widely differing degrees of integration, and this divide leads to distinct political identities between the east-facing and the west-facing halves of Wales, as was very evident during the devolution referendum 10 years ago.
But when Wales enjoys success – for example beating another nation at rugby or football – we all share in the sense of exhilaration. There is nothing wrong in celebrating national achievement, a common national culture and a sense of national pride and identity. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in identifying with your common culture of nationhood. We should all be proud to be Welsh - and proud to be Welsh patriots. Our Welshness is self confident and secure.
Patriotism is a noble value. But true patriots are also internationalists because they respect others’ patriotism too. And whereas patriotism cannot be confused with jingoism and national chauvinism, separatism can. Whilst we welcome and encourage the increasing sense of Welsh identity in the post-devolution climate, our new sense of Welsh citizenship is not based upon a sense of inferiority or superiority but upon the inclusive, egalitarian principles that define twenty-first century multiracial, multi-cultural Britain.
These principles that define Britishness have always been a hallmark of Welsh society. Wales has one of the UK’s oldest multi-ethnic communities in Cardiff, where Somali, Yemeni, Chinese and Indian seamen were drawn from the mid 19th century onwards to work in the thriving docks or as merchant seamen.
So let us celebrate our cultural differences and the fact that modern Wales is made up of so many different cultural strands that together richly enhance the life of the community. But let us never fall into the trap of claiming superiority over others, based on where you live or where you are born, what language you speak, what if any faith you hold, what your skin colour or sexuality is, or whether you have a disability. Socialists have a progressive vision based on our common humanity as citizens of the world which defines us; separatists a regressive and reactionary vision of nationality.
The essence of a progressive Union is a democratic, devolved framework in which we can express our diversity, take decisions for ourselves, and at the same time work together for the common good, recognising we are stronger together within the UK than isolated and alone.
A Political Union
Labour delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales in settlements designed to reflect the individual and specific circumstances of each country, implemented in 1999 after successful 1997 referenda. As a result of the devolved administrations’ increased political freedom to innovate we have since seen political cultures and identities flourish and in turn renew political integration across the UK, which had been severely jeopardised by the centralised English dominance of Tory government in the 1980s and 1990s. The truth is that our political union is stronger than ever before, and today no-one – not even erstwhile Tory opponents of devolution – credibly suggests that we should go back on these historic settlements.
The devolved administrations’ freedom over policy has seen the emergence of distinct cross-border policy differences coupled with more active UK-wide exchanges of ideas. Policy ideas that arise in constituent UK nations are now often borrowed and developed elsewhere - if Bill Clinton’s America had ‘fifty living laboratories’ the UK, perhaps, now has four. This process enables different administrations to learn from each others’ experiences to the ultimate benefit of individual UK countries, at the same time as strengthening the sense of political partnership across the UK. The Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government pioneered, for example, the creation of a Children’s Commissioner and free bus travel for the over 60s which were soon copied in England, whilst Wales has learnt from experience in England of how to reduce waiting-times for hospital treatment. This flow of political innovation across the UK has also led to new channels of political interaction and dialogue opening up, like the regular Finance Ministers Quadrilateral Meetings, and we must continue to strengthen the links between MPs, AMs, MSPs and MEPs.
Wales’ diverse, modern culture impels us to look outward and play our part on the international stage. Wales has a strong internationalist tradition, influenced by the outlook of the labour and trade union movement. In the 1930s, poor mining communities across Wales raised huge sums of money to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, and volunteers from the Welsh Labour movement fought with distinction against Franco’s fascism. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Welsh activists were prominent in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The best way to further our desire to see justice and human rights upheld across the globe is as a partner to the UK on the international stage. It is as the UK Labour Government that we have more than doubled Britain’s overseas aid and led the international drive for debt relief and trade justice.
Today the UK sits on the UN Security Council, the top tables of the European Union, Nato, the World Bank and the Commonwealth. Wales alone would be without such influence. This point was aptly illustrated recently when the Foreign Office Minister and MP for Pontypridd, Kim Howells, chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Middle East peace process. He was supported by Sir Emyr Jones Parry, then the UK’s Ambassador to the UN. Both men were brought up in the same South Wales valley, both are fiercely Welsh yet equally internationalist.
Devolution within the Union has allowed Welsh Assembly Members to utilise the levers in place to exercise their political will and design Welsh specific policy, alongside Welsh MPs shaping policy around Welsh interests in Westminster. It is critical that hand-in-hand with increasing the legislative scope and freedom of the National Assembly of Wales we weaken in no way at all the key linkages between Wales and the UK Government at Westminster.
Wales’ representation in Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Wales ensures that Welsh interests are fully taken into account in Government. 40 Welsh MPs give Wales a strong voice in Parliament. Responsibility for Home Affairs and the Justice system resides with Parliament and is not devolved in Wales unlike the Scottish model. There is no case at all for reducing the total number of Welsh MPs.
Strong representation for Wales at Westminster is vital to safeguarding and promoting the interests of the people of Wales, in particular in relation to the legislative programme and the Welsh budget. Calls to reduce Welsh representation in Parliament would jeopardise Welsh influence over key decisions over finance, defence, energy, foreign policy, pensions and welfare so vital to Welsh citizens.
Welsh political influence and representation has come under assault from another and constitutionally even more dangerous direction, with David Cameron the latest Tory leader to advocate dividing up MPs’ voting rights according to the territorial impact of legislation. Essentially Cameron wants to place a limit on Welsh and Scottish MPs’ voting rights with his badly judged and opportunistic proposal to introduce so-called “English votes for English laws”. His blatant opportunism is underlined by his refusal to place Northern Ireland MPs under the same strictures, possibly because the majority of them are unionists and have historically sided with the Tories. It is up to us to take this argument head-on. ‘English votes’ is a deceptively seductive idea for many, and in a recent poll for Newsnight 61 per cent of English voters questioned said they were in favour of establishing an English Parliament’. In a campaign initiated and led by Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, our Government plans to expose the myths surrounding this proposal and underline its potentially disastrous impact on our Union.
The Tories’ idea is neither new nor innovative, and whenever explored in depth has without exception been declared complex to the point of being completely impractical. It was first introduced in the Government of Ireland Bill in 1893, and it was Gladstone who remarked that devising an ‘in and out’ solution for MPs “passes the wit of man”. The 1973 Royal Commission on the Constitution declared the idea “unworkable”, but, despite this, a commitment to ‘English votes’ formed part of William Hague’s 2001 manifesto, which remained official party policy under Michael Howard, and is now being pursued by David Cameron.
This may be more to do with Tory marginalisation in Scotland and Wales than any high-minded sense of English parliamentary nicety, but it has very serious implications for the future constitutional stability of the Union.
Because we stand as both a party and a government for the Union, Labour must remain unreservedly committed to a United Kingdom Parliament: the UK is a single state and its Parliament must remain sovereign on all matters, representative of the nation as a whole.
It can only be so if each MP is equal, whether from Wales, Scotland or England. If at any point Welsh or Scottish MPs became second class within Parliament, Wales and Scotland would become second class nations within the Union; a virtual incitement to separatism.
There is a clear assumption by Conservatives that legislation can be simply carved up into purely English, Welsh or Scottish categories. In an interview for the Western Mail in July 2007 David Cameron said: “I don’t think it is complicated... it’s relatively straightforward to look at a piece of legislation and ask if it only affects English constituencies, or which bits of it only affect English constituencies.”
This highlights once again David Cameron’s reliance on unplanned statements of intent and the disregard for detail that questions his fitness for government. Proper examination of the practicalities of allocating voting rights on specific areas within a Bill to the MPs whose constituencies are affected reveals hugely problematic and complex technical issues and significant unanswered questions.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006, for example, shows how flawed Cameron’s judgement is, and his casual disregard for the disruptive damage to the parliamentary process.
The Act contains 116 Sections that are England-only, 57 that apply to England and Wales, 6 that are Wales-only, and 10 that are UK-wide. How, then, would the Public Bill Committee process work, when specific clauses of a Bill are considered in detail? On average 18 members sit on a Bill Committee, their numbers broadly reflecting the party composition of the House. How would the Cameron proposal reflect the territorial impact of this Bill? Would there be separate Committees for the separate Sections of the Bill – in this case four separate Committees to look at different Sections?
In the case of England-only clauses, would the Committee reflect the party balance amongst England MPs only? And would Report stage – where the House considers fresh amendments – be confined to only those MPs whose constituencies were affected by the Section under discussion at any one time?
To carve up the Committee process in this way would be hideously complicated to the point of generating parliamentary gridlock. Although there may be practical ways to overcome this, such as changing drafting practice to more strictly define territorial coverage, this would likely result in more bills, more time and resources, more votes in an already packed parliamentary schedule and less time for proper legislative scrutiny on the floor of the House.
Dividing legislation in this way is virtually impossible to do in the case of the Welsh devolution settlement. The Government of Wales Act 2006 retained powers to pass primary legislation for Wales in both devolved and reserved areas at Westminster, and in general England and Wales have a common statute book which means that often legislation designed to apply exclusively to Wales commonly also extends to England. The result of this intricate cross-over is that you often have elements within a single Section of a bill which relate to one country but not another. In this case, who would be eligible to debate the subsections? Do you create separate Committees to debate subsections of a bill, of which there can be hundreds?
Shaping the process of parliamentary debate and scrutiny according to the territorial extent of legislation results in what has been described as “legislative hokey-cokey”. We prefer John Major’s assessment of it as causing “constitutional chaos”.
But this just scratches the surface of the troublesome issues posed. For example, there are numerous cases where Welsh MPs representing constituencies close to the border will have constituents using public services in England. NHS foundation trusts based in England, for example, already provide health care to Welsh citizens living in border areas. Would the Welsh MPs whose constituents were users of this service be able to participate in deciding over this policy area? Could Welsh MPs whose constituents are affected continue to table Early Day Motions or ask Questions; the Cameron logic suggests not, in which case those constituents would be disenfranchised. What about the position in reverse where Welsh provided public services are used by English residents?
The duty that would be placed on the Speaker to identify whether or not a Bill can be considered national, or who would appropriately vote on it and who not, would inevitably weaken the independence of the role and risk the politicisation of the Office.
Furthermore, if the principle underpinning ‘English votes’ is that only the MPs representative of constituencies directly affected by proposed legislation should be entitled to vote, would we suggest that in future only London MPs should participate in votes such as that on the Greater London Authority Act 1999? Surely MPs from the rest of the UK have a right to determine what powers are ceded to London? And at what point does all this stop?
Presumably in a completely balkanised Parliament. Advocates of ‘English votes’ have not thought through the detail or consequences of their dogma.
They have also overlooked the system of funding for the devolved administrations, which again highlights fundamental flaws in their arguments.
Due to the Barnett formula, which allocates devolved administrations a proportion of planned UK Government spending according to population size, any legislation that impacts on the expenditure of UK Government Departments in England proportionately impacts also on expenditure available to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish administrations. In essence this means that virtually all legislation passed in Parliament must be considered UK wide. Even if a policy applies, for example, only to schools or hospitals based in England – seemingly making it a piece of ‘England-only’ legislation – there will be a cross-border impacts on funding and taxation.
Good examples are the bills on foundation hospitals in 2002-03 and higher education in 2003-04, both of which have been used by the Tories as examples of English and Welsh-only legislation that Scottish MPs should be excluded from voting upon. Both, however, had funding implications for Scotland, making them UK-wide, and it was right, therefore, that they were treated as such, with all MPs in the national Parliament in Westminster given the opportunity to vote.
‘English votes for English laws’ would fundamentally reform how our parliamentary democracy functions and would have potentially fatal implications for the Union of the United Kingdom. English MPs would be elevated in status and power compared with their Scots or Welsh counterparts. To introduce a system that gave Members varying functions and limitations would be to fundamentally undermine the principle of equality that should run through Parliament.
The result would be Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures, an English Parliament, and essentially an overarching federal parliament in charge of national issues such as defence and the economy. What would happen when a government had a parliamentary majority including Scotland and Wales but not in England? A UK Government which could not carry English legislation could not effectively govern since without a majority in the House Prime Ministers may well be forced into unstable, minority coalitions dependent on where their majority was held. This would profoundly alter the whole basis of our constitution, potentially sidelining Welsh and Scots from being able to influence the composition of the Government whilst at the same time leaving what would be tantamount to an ‘English Government’ without a majority across the whole House.
Representing about 85 per cent of the population the resultant ‘English Parliament’ would not just be numerically dominant as English MPs have obviously always been, but all-powerful. Our Parliament would no longer be truly ‘national’, but fractured and forced to follow where the newly created English Parliament led. Instead of a partnership between nations of the Union, there would be a two-tier parliamentary system which would irreparably damage the unity of the United Kingdom. Playing to the populist gallery of English nationalism opens up a constitutional Pandora’s Box.
What future would people from the Celtic nations see in the United Kingdom if they were barred from full citizenship? Denying the people of Wales full representation in Parliament would hardly be helpful or healthy for the future of the United Kingdom and would prove a constitutional disaster.
Revealingly, when the Ulster Unionist parties supported the Conservatives in 1964-1967 in opposing the nationalisation of the steel industry, although the measure would not affect Northern Ireland, there were no protests. The then Shadow Attorney General, Peter Thorneycroft, said of an ‘in and out’ solution: “every Member of the House of Commons is equal with every other Member of the House of Commons, and that all of us will speak on all subjects”. Conservative outrage at the current constitutional set-up can perhaps best be understood as a partisan response to their limited appeal to the electors of Scotland and Wales.
Our Union is strongest when based on devolution and decentralisation, with policies to bring decision-making close to people in England too, and not just Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Gordon Brown has launched a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reform to reinvigorate our representative democracy. This includes, critically, creating Ministers and Committees of MPs for the English regions, and initiating a national debate on developing a British statement of values in modernising our constitution.
Labour’s commitment to regional government across England must be part of our answer to the ‘West Lothian Question’. Most English regions are larger than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and indeed deserve more powers than the government offered in the North East referendum in 2004.
It was apparent then that the strongest negative was the cost of more politicians in a regional structure that had insufficient powers – nothing like London’s, still less Wales’ and certainly not Scotland’s. Without a structure of universal unitary local government, like in Wales, it was also hard to dispute the charge of adding an ‘extra layer of bureaucracy’. Labour needs to remain committed to English regional government with more resources and powers, though it would be sensible for this to evolve organically and not necessarily either uniformly or on the same boundaries.
Decision-making on issues such as skills, transport, planning and housing can be decentralised to regions and local authorities, which need to adopt flexible, innovative and incremental approaches to strengthening democratic accountability.
The devolution discussion currently revolves around power between the nations of the United Kingdom. By giving executive roles to Regional Ministers, increasing the responsibilities of Regional Development Agencies and by setting up fully functional Regional Select Committees to oversee their work, we can bring together local and national government to form a sub-national tier of devolved governance which will give English voters a stronger voice in Parliament. This is the alternative to the Tory proposal to balkanising Parliament, and the next natural reform in Labour’s programme of devolving power.
Devolution has delivered for Wales and United Kingdom. Our constitutional reforms have given newly formed national governments the freedom to tailor political solutions around the needs of their electorates while enhancing the bonds at the heart of UK partnership.
Economically Wales is flourishing, with the Assembly administration working closely with the UK Government to make the economic decisions to realise their social objectives and attracting record investment, ever-developing Wales’ role as a true partner in the international economic community. Socially, the values of solidarity and equality which underpin the pride felt in both our patriotism and our partnership are as strong as ever. And politically, the Assembly’s freedom over policy development contributes to a more diverse and innovative but equally intertwined United Kingdom.
There can be no compromise with those who propose to turn this process backwards or threaten the deepening of these ties. Our task now is to face up to the challenge of the 21st century, not to revisit the old arguments of past centuries. The challenges of climate change, of international terrorism, of poverty across Britain and abroad, require a full Welsh contribution working across different tiers of government. That will involve ever closer co-operation.
We need to concentrate on delivering the people’s priorities; increasing employment, improving our health and education services, and tackling crime.
Whatever other political parties may offer as solutions, we are clear that Wales gets the best of both worlds from devolution. Wales – as a partner in Britain – is economically fit, culturally vibrant and politically confident, increasingly global and must now be looking outwards towards the future.
The past ten years has been a period of unprecedented success, not least the huge constitutional changes in the United Kingdom, of which devolution for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are among the main advances.
The United Kingdom constitution is based on shared values of tolerance and democracy, community and solidarity, of equality and diversity. Within the framework of devolution and decentralisation, we can self-govern yet work together for a common purpose – a Wales United to ensure advancement for all based on those shared values.
Let me state at the outset that this evening I want to put my view that constitutional change - and I mean that in the broadest sense - is at the heart of the debate about the future for our country. Not incidental but integral to our future as a community.
All over Europe, in response to environmental as well as economic and social challenges, there is a growing recognition of the need for a change in the relationship between individuals, community and the state.
And I believe that in Britain constitutional change is essential for two quite fundamental reasons. It is vital because it is our responsibility to ensure the individual is protected against what can be called the vested interests of the state. And it is vital too because constitutional change is also a necessary means of advancing the potential of the individual in our community. In other words we have twin responsibilities to individual citizens as democrats: we must never fail to attack the evil wherever the individual is at risk from the encroachment of the state, and we must never lose sight of the good whenever the individual is empowered by the community.
I want to argue that what in truth we require is an entirely new settlement between the individual, community and government. Indeed, in my view a modern view of socialism must retrieve the broad idea of community from the narrow notion of the state and ensure that the community becomes a means by which individuals can realise their potential, not at the expense of individual liberty but in advancing it.
In other words I will be making the case this evening for constitutional change from Labour values, for I have always believed it is the historic role of the Labour Party to stand up for individual citizens against all vested interests that frustrate their potential. After thirteen years of a Conservative erosion of liberties we now need guaranteed rights: the right to know, the right to be consulted, the right to participate, the right of communities to run their own affairs.
I will argue not just for acts of Parliament enshrining in statute the long held demand for a Bill of Rights, but also that we must now take seriously the case for a European Bill of Rights so that we can protect the citizen from the potential abuse of power by any major public institution that touches our lives.
I will argue not just for immediate implementation of a Freedom of Information Act to ensure the flow of information from government to citizen and the right to know - and I believe we could do so in months - but argue also that there should be precise duties guaranteeing the right of individuals to information where it is in the public interest to do so, in the dark and secret corners of the private sector.
I will argue not just for reform of the judiciary but for reform of the security services and for a reformed second chamber in place of the anachronism which is the House of Lords.
And I will argue the case not just for home rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom and for the importance of the fresh look now taking place into electoral reform, but also for the principle of devolution applied all round throughout the country.
This lecture comes shortly before an election. Originally it was planned to come shortly after an election when calmer seas prevailed. My purpose is not to catch the next day's morning headlines but to reflect on questions that are rather more enduring. I will not list a set of constitutional changes, but will propose what I believe a constitutional agenda must include, not as detailed policy but as parameters for a debate that will continue long after the election.
My main purpose is to set a course for constitutional change. To make it more than just a shopping list of attractive ideas. To place it within a framework of belief about Britain as a community that can reach and touch all our people. To make constitutional change central, to make it popular and thus to make it attainable.
Let me start from Scotland to demonstrate what I mean. Scotland has just seen a unique all-party Constitutional Convention in which I have had the privilege to play a part: a Convention that has included not just one but a number of political parties and also enjoyed broad representation from the churches, local authorities, voluntary organisations, trades unions, and others throughout Scottish society from what might be called civil society.
The Convention rightly demands a Scottish parliament with entrenched powers. An aspiration first developed in its modern form a century ago, a widely held demand for change which has occasioned 20 Home Rule bills throughout this century already. An insistent demand for change which has brought administrative devolution as an inadequate substitute for legislative devolution. And now a popular demand that is so pressing and urgent that I believe that in the coming years we shall see the creation of a parliament which will not just be an inspiration to those seeking fundamental democratic change for the constitution in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom as well.
For against old fashioned and unacceptable ideas of Crown sovereignty, the Convention asserts the sovereignty of the people, with legitimacy and authority flowing upwards and not downwards. It demands, and I believe will secure, the entrenchment of rights including a right to know. It demands more equal representation for women, rightly beginning to tackle the unacceptable under- representation of women at all levels of our political system. It demands a reformed electoral system, reflecting the widespread concern about the current system.
In Scotland the status quo is now so discredited that it is no longer an option. And it is because the Scottish parliament is the precursor for one in Wales and regional devolution throughout Britain that the West Lothian question - essentially that different M.P.s will have differing roles at Westminster - is not a genuine problem in proceeding with change.
Now I understand that the Prime Minister's view of the best solution is that instead of 7,000 civil servants running Scotland immune from Scottish democratic control, we should have 7,000 civil servants running Scotland immune from Scottish democratic control but wearing name tags.
But the Convention is in fact a response to two deep and widely felt concerns neither of which I feel he understands. First, that individual rights have been ignored because of the remoteness and the insensitivity of centralised government and, second, that the exercise of power has been separated from the democratic control.
But it is more than that. The demand for change is not just because London is far away but because Scotland is nearer ... indeed home, because the Scottish nation sees itself as a community whose interests cannot be properly advanced by the British state alone without the participation of the Scottish community through its own democratic parliament.
Indeed Scotland is a community that, in recognition of its interdependence, has a sense of what must be done by government to ensure individuals can achieve their potential. So there is a demand not just for accountable government but for government used effectively on behalf of the community.
And in transforming the government of Scotland I would argue that instead of retreating towards the old nineteenth century idea and trappings of an exclusive nation state with army, navy and defence forces and a separate currency - a nation state defined in relation to other nations and mainly in antithesis to its largest neighbour - what Scotland is demanding is a modern national identity, with autonomy on vital social and many economic matters within Britain and Europe. Recognising we are interdependent communities we want to link up across nations, not turn our backs on each other. Achieving, in short, the dream of Home Rule without the retreat into separation.
But the tumultuous events in Scotland are not the only calls for a new settlement in the United Kingdom. From Clive Ponting to GCHQ, from judicial error to excessive secrecy, we have become more centralised, less sensitive to individual rights and less free than we were.
And I have to say that the Citizen's Charters are no compensation for the failure of government and no substitute for the essential reform of government. The problem is much deeper than this. It is about the relationship between individual, community and the state, and I want to put the problem in a historical context.
There have been two attempts at a new settlement of the relationship between individuals, the community and the state in recent years. The boldest was the post-1945 settlement.
In 1945 individual freedom was to be guaranteed by social security rather than charity, with the state as provider ensuring for each citizen welfare, health care, education, social security and work. At the time, and for the time, it was the most ambitious programme of social and economic reform, one utterly necessary for many of the improvements we now take for granted today, not least our National Health Service.
Individual well-being was to be advanced by the active state delivering entitlements for the individual. But inevitably, as time passed and aspirations grew, individuals saw themselves less as passive recipients of benefits delivered by government and more as active participants seeking to shape their destiny. And the settlement did not in the end stand the test of time because it often seemed to many that the state and the community were one and the same thing.
Nationalised industries acted without the direct involvement of workforce or community. Scotland, Wales and the regions were granted benevolent administration without democratic rights to run their own affairs.
So, despite all the great achievements in health care, social security and education, there was not just an underdeveloped sense of community, but often an assumption that state and community interests were synonymous. Instead of government being an extension of community, it often looked to many like a substitute for it.
The response came in 1979 when Mrs Thatcher encouraged popular resentment against taxation, collectivism, bureaucracy and the local and national state, and attempted a new settlement between individual, community and government. The problem was identified by the new right Thatcherites as too much government and too little individual freedom. Individual well-being was to be guaranteed by less government even at the expense of social security.
But the new right did not recognise the individual as part of an interdependent community, quite the opposite. The individual was to make his or her own way in the marketplace unaided by government and set apart from any idea of society or community. There was - in Mrs Thatcher's own words - no such thing as society.
The result was that responsibilities conventionally accepted by the community that most of us had assumed would be discharged by government were abandoned or at least substantially eroded and reduced. Not just in social affairs (the responsibilities for public services of reasonable quality and the duty of the community to those in poverty) but also in the responsibility previously accepted by governments of all parties to stabilise the economy. Hence the extremes of boom and bust in the stop-go economics of the 1980's and 1990's. Hence the inability to improve research and innovation and training and education. Hence the now widening training and education gap.
The 1979 settlement abandoned responsibilities for individual well-being that government had discharged on behalf of the community, because it was now assumed that these could be left to the individual in the marketplace. The debate was wrongly identified as one between government and no government, when the real issue was better government. The result is that thirteen wasted years for the British constitution have directly contributed to thirteen wasted years for the British economy and for Britain as a community.
Let me say therefore where the heart of the difference in this debate lies. The new right believe individuals fulfil themselves best with no need for society and less need for government. I believe that in a modern interdependent society individual well-being is best advanced by a strong community backed up by active and accountable government.
And even those who now try to rescue the Conservative Party from the mistakes of crude free-market individualism have a similar problem. Unable to come to terms with a modern view of the constitution or society, their social market economy - dependent on the idea at best of compassion rather than rights - merely heralds a return to nineteenth-century paternalism.
But neither nineteenth-century paternalism nor eighteenth-century free market liberalism can answer questions of the relationship between individual community and government that now require a modern twentieth-century democratic settlement. A settlement that recognises first that the state may become a vested interest and that the individual needs the proper and guaranteed protection of a modern constitution so that government is accountable. And second, a settlement that recognises that individual potential is best developed in a community and that the community need not be a threat to individual liberty but can assist the fulfilment of it.
It is important for everyone, but particularly important for democratic socialists, that we recognise the need for individuals to be protected against any possible vested interests within the state.
Let me explain why democratic socialists more than anyone should be concerned in this way. Conservatives seek few if any additional responsibilities for government, and many suggest much less. They see well-being advanced primarily by the individual acting unaided on his or her own; while when I talk of individuals flourishing as part of a community where common needs are met through sharing responsibility, I assume an active role for government. But where I invoke the need for government I have a special responsibility to ensure its accountability. Indeed, those who argue for us to take seriously the responsibilities of government must always be more vigilant in arguing that in the exercise of these responsibilities there must be the maximum openness and accountability.
Holding the state accountable to the citizen is important for another reason. Socialists have long recognised that all societies tend to produce accumulated reservoirs of power. They entrench themselves, threatening to become vested interests - either in the private or public sector - hostile to any kind of reform or change. We have always identified such vested interests as our fundamental target.
Nineteenth-century socialism developed as a protest against the power of the main vested interests that then denied opportunity - the power of private capital. Twentieth-century socialists often were slow to realise that vested interests can operate throughout society. Indeed when socialism began as an attack on the vested interests of private wealth it used the state as the instrument of that attack. Yet the state was capable of becoming a vested interest in itself, capable of denying individuals opportunity and frustrating their potential to fulfil themselves.
I see the historic role of the Labour Party as nothing less than to stand up for the individual against any and every concentration of power that denies opportunity to individuals in British society whether cartels or cliques, whether in the public or private sector. And that is why socialists must demand that individuals have entrenched rights to protect them from the modern state.
But in our concern about the encroachment of the state on the individual we must never forget that community is still necessary as a means for individuals fulfilling themselves. Indeed I believe that the greatest failure of the last decade - and a loss that diminishes us all - has been the denial of the importance of community. Libertarians have been so afraid of the power that society can exercise over the individual they have sought to detach the individual from the very society of which he or she is part. Yet community is vital for the safety, health and development of individuals. Individuals on their own cannot make the streets safe at night. When disease strikes there is no such thing as a one- man health service. And almost all of us here today owe much that we have to the opportunities that have come from the collective provision of education. And take the environment today. Not only is it the case that individuals, no matter how rich, cannot buy themselves out of countryside pollution or urban decay - it is also true that private affluence loses its savour amidst public squalor, a recognition that we are dependent each upon one another.
So no-one can be in any doubt that there is a public interest in the community not just protecting the individual against pollution but positively acting to demand and ensure the highest standards: a common interest, not only in any one nation but also across the world.
So individuals need community and individuals depend on each other in a community. It is as wrong to see ourselves merely as Robinson Crusoes with no concerns beyond the immediate family, no bonds beyond the front door, no responsibilities beyond the garden gate, as it is to see ourselves as merely the repositories of society's values, somehow subsumed in the social order.
Etzioni has written that individuals stick to each other if they get too close but freeze if they get too far apart. It is time to see the crude dichotomy between community and individuals, that has frustrated political discussion in recent years, as both unrealistic and damaging. People do not live in isolation. People do not live in markets. People live in communities.
I think of Britain as a community of citizens with common needs, mutual interests, shared objectives, related goals and most of all linked destinies. A Britain not of strangers who only compete but a Britain of neighbours who recognise each other and recognise we depend upon each other. A Britain that is a society of individuals whose interactions are determined not by the invisible hand of the free market beloved of right wing economists, but a society where individuals depend freely and willingly upon what Dr James Stockinger has described as the hands of others. It is, he says, the hands of others who grow the food we eat, sew the clothes we wear, and build the homes we inhabit. It is the hands of others who tend us when we are sick, and who raise us up when we fall. And it is the hands of others who lift us first into the cradle and lower us finally into the grave.
We must rescue and restore the idea of community and do more than that, assert how individuals benefit from strong communities, not as a threat to their individual liberties but as an assistance to their fulfilment.
Community is not merely the aggregate of individuals joined together temporarily out of convenience - the community, in Bentham's words, as a fictitious body. Nor is it merely the source of authority seeking, in the name of duty, to impose standards of behaviour on warring individuals, because anarchy is seen as a greater danger than authoritarianism.
We must break away from the extreme views of the individual struggling for advantage against a community holding him back and that of the community struggling to hold the anti-social individual down. So I neither support Locke when he says rights are vested in individuals who do nothing more than delegate these rights to a community and I reject Hobbes when he argues for individuals subordinating all their rights for security. Community arises because we depend on each other.
It is said that the pressure for citizenship in Britain comes from the compassion of the fortunate towards the least fortunate. But modern citizenship is built on the recognition of interdependence. It is distinct from individualism including such paternalism. It recognises the citizen as part of a wider and interdependent community.
Indeed I believe that democratic socialism was founded on this belief in the value of community and society; that its main inspiration is the ethic of community rather than a theory of economy; and that the idea that individuals realise their potential to the full as part of the society in which they live leads us to embrace the idea that the community should stand up on behalf of individuals against the vested interests that hold them back. It is, let us be clear, community assisting the individual not the individual subsumed in community or subordinated to it.
But it is partly because the community has succeeded in the past in creating new opportunities that people have become more assertive, with a broader view of what they can achieve, less inclined to be passive recipients of welfare, more inclined to demand the right to realise their diversity of talents, interests and desires to the full. It is significant that all constitutions that have stood the test of time have had an implicit if not explicit view of society and human nature that recognises such aspirations.
The French constitution says that: 'The community shall be based on the equality and the solidarity of the peoples composing it'. The Italian constitution 'recognises and guarantees the inviolable rights of man both as an individual and as a member of the social groups in which his personality finds expression...' The American constitution starts with the words 'We the people...'
But anyone studying our unwritten British constitution will find implicit in it the idea of leaders and led, the Hobbesian view that the role of government is to empower leaders, unbounded by any limitations, to deal with the threat to security posed by those who must be led.
It is time to escape from that bleak Hobbesian view. A view which, if I may say so, now seems after 300 years and the experience of many other nations to be: nasty, poor, British and short. It is now time to think about the liberation of potential and the empowerment of the citizen.
We can see it reflected every day in the permanent influence of the women's movement demanding genuine liberation in place of what has invariably been second class citizenship. When women say - for example - that they should not be faced with the unfair choice between the jobs they need and the children they love they are expressing the legitimate desire to have the right to fulfil their potential.
When we think of the rights of children, we think of them growing, through parental support, child care, nursery education, a stimulating environment, the love of friends and neighbours: developing their potential to the full. But the argument for the fulfilment of potential does not apply only to children. Adults too should enjoy the right that we should become the best that we have it in us to become, and not just the best that other people have decided we may be allowed to be.
So the growing demand of individuals is that they should be in a position to realise their potential, to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in them to become. And the aspirations of the individual within the community and the means whereby the community responds become a central question to be addressed when we look at how we are to be governed.
Rightly any programme for a modern society and modern economy and the policies that arise from it must encompass a debate about how markets can work in the public interest, how individuals at work - employees and managers - can cooperate effectively to use capital in the public interest, how we can ensure the highest quality public services that are both accountable and open, and how poverty can be tackled not just in the interests of advancing social and economic opportunities and rights of individuals themselves but in securing social cohesion.
But a modern constitution is essential to protect individuals against the state and to empower them within an interdependent community. In this way the agenda for constitutional change becomes essential to the task of establishing a modern view of society and in my view a modern view of democratic socialism. That agenda will be familiar to supporters of Charter 88 but I want briefly and in conclusion to address certain aspects of it.
First, from the belief that socialism must take on the vested interests of government as well as those of capital and wealth, springs the clear need for the rights of the individual to be protected in law in the constitution and to be exercisable against executive power.
The method of achieving this can be debated. It could of course be done through an entrenched Bill of Rights possibly through incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Alternatively individual rights could be defined through specific items of legislation which are then made subject to a special legislative procedure which in effect entrenches them. On this basis then, this debate can continue but a Bill of Rights in one form or another there will be.
And this must be accompanied by the affirmative action essential not just to outlaw sexual, racial and other discrimination - for example by genuinely achieving equal access to the law - but also to positively promote greater equality ensuring that in a modern society, as I have indicated, civil rights are matched by economic and social opportunities in the workplace and elsewhere.
And as the power of European institutions threatens to grow, especially that of the Commission, so does the need for accountability and protection for individual rights. For that reason the European Commission too must be subject to the European Convention of Human Rights. In the longer term I have no doubt we will have to consider a new European Bill of Rights, protecting the rights of European citizens from any abuse of power by European institutions.
We must make freedom of information a priority and in my view there is now an opportunity as well as the demand to act rapidly. It is clear that to make our community more efficient and to protect individual liberty we should have a free flow of information between government and governed. That is why, as Roy Hattersley has outlined, we need a Freedom of Information Act that ensures not only a presumption in favour of disclosure, but also that public interest defence must be available where there is a question-mark over the illegitimate disclosure of information by civil servants.
But because of what I say about vested interests as a whole I want to extend this concept in two ways. First, freedom of information should apply not just to the apparatus of the state but to those dark and secret corners of private power. There should be specific obligations on companies to inform employees, shareholders and the public where it is in the public interest to do so or where it is clearly legitimate for individuals to require such information.
Secondly, freedom of information should be seen not just as a brake upon the natural tendency towards secrecy of powerful institutions. It should be an attempt to actively provide information to the community that needs it.
For example, how can we debate seriously the environment, the economy, unemployment, or the state of our public services if we are denied the vital information - the true, not politically doctored facts and figures - which must necessarily form the basis for such a debate? I believe, for example, that what we call official statistics should come from a central statistical office; not subject to government interference as it is at the moment but independent of government.
In this way the constitutional debate is about content as well as about form, about how to make rights effective in practice as well as in theory.
Thus, there is a duty in the modern constitution to ensure the best possible consultation throughout our society. Public consultation is a mark of a mature democracy, not only when government seeks to make major legislative changes - for example over local taxation - but also at a smaller scale where new developments are planned. We must also ensure the fullest democratic participation in decisions.
Crucial, obviously, to any debate about the rules governing our society is the method of deciding its government. The debate about electoral reform is now proceeding apace and I welcome it. In Scotland we have already adopted the principles for change in a Scottish parliament reflecting a growing recognition that the present system is outdated. Indeed I believe there is now a majority in the Labour Party for an open and comprehensive debate on electoral reform.
It should proceed on the basis of fairness not electoral advantage. It should be because of its intrinsic worth - not as an alternative to winning elections under the present system. Then, in the detail of different systems of voting, the crucial questions arise. Systems are widely varied and have had quite different consequences when they have been tried. The debate, in other words, must concentrate on mechanisms as well as ideals. In particular, I and many others would want to ensure whatever system is adopted maintains the close link between the constituency as a community and its representative.
We must also widen our notion of what we mean by participation. Throughout the community encouragement should be given to individuals to participate in the major decisions that affect their lives.
There must also be proper accountability for all those who exercise power in the public's name. I favour certain public appointments made subject to the scrutiny of a House of Commons committee, so reducing the prime ministerial power of patronage. But I also favour placing the security services under public scrutiny through Parliament, a reform that is long overdue.
We must ensure that those who exercise power, whether in the executive or judiciary as well as the legislature, are able to reflect the public interest. Measures have been spelt out for increasing the representation of women but it will also be equally important that those who administer the law themselves be more representative. What is fascinating now is that real and profound concern about our legal system can no longer be dismissed as confined to fringe or minority groups. Recent cases have seriously undermined public confidence in our legal system. There must be a thorough reform of judicial appointment.
I believe that there must be a wholesale devolution of power. I have made the case for a Scottish parliament now and for the reform of government in Wales and the regions pointing towards a written constitution. In replacing the indefensible House of Lords on a democratic basis, consideration should be given to introducing a regional element to the second chamber. But the devolution of power that I favour is far more widespread. I believe that more generally communities should be in a position to take more control over their own decisions.
That is why we must begin a radical discussion of how the community can work to organise its affairs, breaking out of the one-dimensional view of government that has dominated too much of our thinking. Where there is a public interest there need not be a centralised public-sector bureaucracy always directly involved in provision. Sometimes the best role for government is merely to enable or encourage, or to act as a catalyst or coordinator. At other times government can be partner or simply financier, helping communities to organise themselves.
Indeed the constitution fit for the 21st century should be one of the servant state, the state serving the community and the individual, placed beneath a sovereign people and not above it.
And finally, part of a new settlement between individual community and government is to reinvigorate the notion of public service. For thirteen years we have heard much about the evils of the public sector, as it has been denigrated. It is time to talk about the value of our public services as a reflection of the shared concerns of a British society that educates the young, cares for its sick and disabled, shares responsibilities for the elderly and frail. Teachers and all those who work in the education service, doctors, nurses, orderlies, assistants and all those who work in the health service, the police service and of course the civil service itself.
With young people it is time to harness idealism and energy in the meeting of needs by public service. In the 1960's, from America, there was launched the Peace Corps, an international commitment to harness the idealism of young people to break out of the impotence many felt in the face of the threat to world peace. Now in the 1990's, from Britain, it may be that we should be considering a new corps, a world environment corps, to harness the idealism of young people to break out of the impotence many feel in the face of the threat to the world environment.
We need a British initiated but world-wide organisation through which young people can be trained to meet the environmental challenges of our time: whether helping environmental improvement in Britain, or tackling reclamation or pollution in other parts of the world. This is one of many proposals that we could discuss that will over time reinvigorate the idea, central to the notion of community, that public service is a noble aspiration.
In conclusion, the current movement for constitutional reform is of historic importance. It signals the demand for a decisive shift in the balance of power in Britain, a long overdue transfer of sovereignty from those who govern to those who are governed, from an ancient and indefensible Crown sovereignty to a modern popular sovereignty, not just tidying up our constitution but transforming it.
What I have tried to do is to set the movement for constitutional change within the framework of democratic socialism and I make no apology for doing that.
I have put forward the idea of a new settlement, based on two requirements: the first, that the individual is protected against the state, and the second, that the individual is empowered to develop his or her potential as part of our community. I believe that the Labour Party is the natural party of reform in government and that when I argue that the historic role is to stand up for the individual citizen against vested interests I also mean that the community should open doors for the individual, break down barriers that frustrate choice and chances, empower people with new opportunities, using the power of all to advance the good of each.
I have said that central to this is the notion that Britain needs a new view of community, and that this requires in turn a modern constitution to give it effect. I believe that we can break out of the discredited alternatives of old style state power and new style individualism. Instead I believe that the challenge of the 1990's is to create, as we move towards a new century, a new settlement between individual and community. One that recognises both our rights and aspirations as individuals and our needs and shared values as a community. Not so much the end of history, as one academic put it, but the opening of a new chapter.
The United Kingdom is a partnership enriched by distinct national identities and traditions. Scotland has its own systems of education, law and local government. Wales has its language and cultural traditions. We will meet the demand for decentralisation of power to Scotland and Wales, once established in referendums.
Subsidiarity is as sound a principle in Britain as it is in Europe. Our proposal is for devolution not federation. A sovereign Westminster Parliament will devolve power to Scotland and Wales. The Union will be strengthened and the threat of separatism removed.
As soon as possible after the election, we will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals, which will be set out in white papers. These referendums will take place not later than the autumn of 1997. A simple majority of those voting in each referendum will be the majority required. Popular endorsement will strengthen the legitimacy of our proposals and speed their passage through Parliament.
For Scotland we propose the creation of a parliament with law-making powers, firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, including defined and limited financial powers to vary revenue and elected by an additional member system. In the Scottish referendum we will seek separate endorsement of the proposal to create a parliament, and of the proposal to give it defined and limited financial powers to vary revenue. The Scottish parliament will extend democratic control over the responsibilities currently exercised administratively by the Scottish Office. The responsibilities of the UK Parliament will remain unchanged over UK policy, for example economic, defence and foreign policy.
The Welsh assembly will provide democratic control of the existing Welsh Office functions. It will have secondary legislative powers and will be specifically empowered to reform and democratise the quango state. It will be elected by an additional member system.
Following majorities in the referendums, we will introduce in the first year of the Parliament legislation on the substantive devolution proposals outlined in our white papers.
Labour Party Manifesto, 1997
Back in April I complained about the lunacy of UKIP's devolution policy, a policy that would scrap Scottish and Welsh self-government and replace it with grand committees for Scotland and Wales, and restore symmetry by also creating an English grand committee.
UKIP's dreadful showing in the Scottish elections (UKIP doubled the share of the vote that they achieved in 2007 by standing 29 candidates in 2011 instead of the 10 they stood in 2007) caused me to reactivate an email discussion that I was conducting with a member of Nigel Farage's staff.
Nigel Farage's office, 24th March 2011
Dear Mr Young
Thank you for your "plea" - but I think you'll find that UKIP does propose an English Parliament (together with parliaments for Wales, Scotland and Ulster) composed of the Members of Parliament for constituencies in each of those parts of the United Kingdom.
Please see UKIP-Manifesto (2010)
15 Culture & Restoring Britishness
· End support for multiculturalism and promote one shared British culture for all
· Be fair to England by introducing an ‘English Parliament’, ending the discriminatory Barnett Formula and making St George’s Day a national holiday in England
· Ban the burka and veiled niqab in public buildings and certain private buildings
· Require UK schools to teach Britain’s contribution to the world and celebrate cultures, languages and traditions from around the British Isles
· Scrap political correctness in public affairs
Me, 24th March 2011
Take a look at the quote that you have sent me. As you can see 'English parliament' is enclosed in inverted commas. This is because it is not an English parliament that UKIP propose but is in fact an English grand committee sitting within the UK Parliament.
Inverted commas placed around text are used to indicate another sense or meaning of a phrase rather than the one initially suggested, or often to convey humour or sarcasm.
So are you being funny or sarcastic, or are you just trying to fob me off as if I was some sort of ignoramous who doesn't know the difference between a parliament and a grand committee?
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
Dear Gareth - technically, you are right; but why should this arrangement not serve the purpose?
PS - I reject your aspersions
Me, 25th March 2011
"technically, you are right; but why should this arrangement not serve the purpose?"
That was a valid question back in the 1990s, read the speeches of Malcolm Rifkind or Michael Forsyth, or the minutes of Thatcher's government, they all ask that very question.
The valid question now is "why are UKIP still asking that question?"
Do you seriously believe that you can scrap the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly? James Gray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary of State, was hounded out of his job for suggesting such a thing.
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
G -I just wondered what your response would be. We think it would serve the purpose, obviously.
As for doing things the incumbent parties would never do - that's what UKIP is in business for.
Me, 25th March 2011
It may in theoretical terms 'serve the purpose' - though that's debatable - but it's unachievable and it makes UKIP deeply unpopular in Scotland
I lived in Scotland until recently so I know that UKIP are on to a loser with this policy. It's less of a far-fetched policy in Wales but it's a loser there too. Even the English - disadvantaged by devolution - have not shown any desire to have the Scottish and Welsh governments scrapped, quite the reverse in fact.
Call me a realist but I'm more interested in vote-winning policies that are popular with the public and therefore achievable.
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
Dear Gareth - the EU was quite popular with the public before we got going, but EU-regional government (for that's what the present assemblies are) never really has been. UKIP believes that its "Grand Committees" will serve their turn electorally and, once established, their political purpose also; but that won't be until we are in government and rid of the EU - and if we can do that, what can't we do?
Nigel appreciates your concern, which I'm sure is well intentioned. No-one likes all of UKIP's policies. I'm not happy with several of them; but we must pull together or pull apart. Anyway, UKIP is going with "grand committees"
Me, 25th March 2011
I can see that we're going to have to disagree over this.
As a parting favour, would you point me in the direction of the polling data or the research papers that support UKIP's belief that the Scots and Welsh would like to abolish their nationally mandated parliaments and governments and replace them with grand committees?
Nigel Farage's office, 25th March 2011
I shall have to ask the Policy-Unit. Hopefully, they will respond to you direct.
Me, 7th May 2011
I never did receive any information from the Policy-Unit.
Following on from our discussion, do you have any news on how UKIP performed in the Scottish elections?
Nigel Farage's office, 7th May 2011
I daresay there is no polling-data. We certainly have no money to commission any. I would call this an intuitive judgement.
We did better than ever in the Scottish elections - 7th out of 18, beating BNP and NF combined -but there's still a long way to go, obviously
Me, 7th May 2011
Intuitive judgement? Good one, that's funny!
As you may have heard the Scots have elected a majority SNP government, which makes UKIP's policy seem even more crazy than it was previously.
You're right about one thing, there is no polling data to support UKIP's position. In fact all the available data undermines UKIP's position because it shows that the Scots want to keep Scottish self-government and increase its powers.
So UKIP's insane policy on devolution is based on a feeling in Nigel Farage's waters rather than the result of any research or evidence. Little wonder that their results are appalling. Case closed.
The following is a partial transcript of Radio Four's Beyond Westminster programme, broadcast 16th Apr 2011.
Richard Wyn Jones: The elephant on the doorstep is the fact that the UK Government for many areas of domestic policy is now the English government and the Westminster parliament - especially after the referendum vote in Wales a few weeks ago that has led to the emergence of a legislative parliament in Wales - is also an English parliament to all intents and purposes, in many policy fields. And if and when we get a repeat of the election results in 1964 and 1974, which is Labour forming a government overall but without a majority of seats in England, there's going to be a huge problem here.
Sheena McDonald: Are you still sanguine about the Union, Robert?
Robert Hazell: We're talking now about the English Question, and that's a heading for English reactions to devolution. Broadly speaking there are two possible solutions. One is the one propounded by the last Labour government, to divide England 8 or 9 regions and give them all regional assemblies, and I think that policy is dead following the defeat of the North East referendum, but not necessarily forever. Remember, the vote in the north east was four to one against, Richard will remind us that the vote in Wales in 1979 was four to one against devolution for Wales, and within eighteen years that policy was reversed. So I don't think it's inconceivable that in 10-20 years time people might revive talk of regional government in England. But for now the policy solution that might be propounded by the Coalition Government is to set up a commission on the West Lothian Question, which was in the coalition agreement - that's something they haven't yet done but they are discussing how to do that. My guess is it might be quite limited in its terms of reference. I think if I were asked to advise them, I would say: set it up as a parliamentary commission and keep its terms of reference quite narrow; this is essentially a Conservative policy that you're trying to resolve, so have it chaired by a senior backbench Tory, and; get them to advise on the feasibility of testing the EVoEL on just a few bills at Westminster, do some experiments, see how it goes.
Sheena McDonald: The hoary old West Lothian Question...it hasn't ever been answered, is a commission the best idea, Alan?
Alan Trench: A Commission is the least bad approach, it is inherently an unanswerable question...
So Robert Hazell's 'two possible solutions' to the West Lothian Question are regional assemblies and a commission on the West Lothian Question, which he suggests should have 'limited terms of reference' [should not discuss an English parliament] and should be parliamentary commissions [should exclude the public]. My opinion of Robert Hazell is unchanged, he is a prize twat, and a pompuous condescending one at that.
Alan Trench - the expert who 'dissuaded' the Power2010 deliberative panel from adopting the proposal for an English parliament - seriously expects us to believe that he thinks the WLQ is unanswerable? Well, if you dissuade people from the obvious and natural answer then I suppose that it is unanswerable.
Trench went on to say that the Barnett Formula was "overgenerous to Scotland" and "undergenerous to Wales". The problem with reforming the Barnett Formula on a UK-wide basis, said Trench, was that "it would mean a very substantial cut in public spending in Scotland...something in the order of £4.5bn a year or possibly more". An alternative solution, mused Trench, was to reform the Barnett Formula not on a UK-wide basis but to reform it for just the "main loser, which is Wales". In other words, continue to overfund Scotland but overfund Wales too.
Recently UKIP officials have been on the telly making dicks of themselves. Here's Nigel Farage explaining how UKIP will abolish the Welsh Assembly Government (a few weeks after the Welsh nation voted to extend the powers of that Government), and here's Lord Monckton explaining how UKIP will abolish the Scottish Government.
Now of course UKIP don't quite put it in those terms, they don't say that they will abolish the Scottish and Welsh Governments, merely that they will abolish MSPs and AMs. They also disingenuously suggest that they will retain the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. This is what they tell Scottish voters in their 2011 Scottish manifesto:
We will -
- Retain the Scottish Parliament
- Replace MSPs with Scottish Westminster MPs
Curiously the Welsh manifesto has noticably different wording:
We will -
- Renew the Welsh Assembly, but in a far less costly form
- Remove the Assembly Members, who are overpaid and underemployed
- Replace them with Welsh Westminster MPs meeting a week a month in Wales
If you replace MSPs with MPs you no longer have a Scottish Parliament, instead you have a Scottish Grand Committee of 59 Westminster MPs who sit in what used to be the Scottish Parliament building for one week a month. And a Scottish Grand Committee is, as you may remember, what Scotland had before it voted for its own Scottish Parliament. And the Scottish people voted for a Scottish parliament because (and here I quote the UKIP manifesto):
We want our.... Scottish nation.... to run [its] own affairs without interference from distant, unelected bureaucrats with no understanding of our nation or of the Scottish people’s needs and hopes.
I cannot for the life of me understand UKIP's devolution policy. I suppose it might appeal on a very superficial "anti-politics mood" level to certain people, and given that the three main parties are now all pro-devolution to Scotland and Wales it may be that UKIP see reactionary unitary-statism as the only niche available to them. It's a shame because they could differentiate themselves from the big three parties by advocating an English parliament. I suggested this a few weeks back when I wrote to Lord Monckton, head of UKIP's Policy Unit, to offer my opinion that an English parliament elected under a form of proportional representation would be a better policy for UKIP than their current dog's dinner. His reply follows.
Dear Mr. Young, - Thank you very much for your comments on the possibility of an English Parliament. The difficulty that we have with this is the staggering cost of layer upon layer of government. We have MEPs, MPs, national-assembly MPs and local councillors. We are the most over-governed nation on Earth. I am not convinced that the voters in any of the four pillars of the kingdom would be in the least concerned if their national-assembly MPs were swept away and their elected MPs met in the various assemblies one week a month to decide on those matters devolved from Westminster to the four regions. It is the fact, not the modality, of devolution that people are keen on.
At the moment, therefore, UKIP's clear policy is that regional assemblies (with the possible exception of Northern Ireland) should be formed from Westminster MPs meeting one week a month. This would save a fortune and would actually strengthen the devolution of powers to the four nations, because MPs serving in both assemblies would be more inclined to cede powers from Westminster to themselves than to altogether separately-elected bodies. - Monckton of Brenchley
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
Dear Lord Mockton,
I fear that you are out of touch with public opinion in Wales, and extremely out of touch with public opinion in Scotland. Make no mistake, your current policy makes UKIP practically unelectable in Scotland.
An English parliament does not necessarily mean more politicians. The House of Lords might soon be elected by proportional representation, which fact has led some Lords to suggest that the upper house might become viewed by the public as the more democratic and more representative of the two chambers. Paddy Tipping went further and said:
"Let us consider what would happen if there were two classes of Members of Parliament, and certain MPs could not vote and, in particular, speak on certain issues. If there were a rival Chamber up the Corridor, where Members from across the United Kingdom, however they were elected or selected, were able to speak, there would be a case for people to say, "We are the legitimate Chamber of the United Kingdom, and you Commoners down there are a de facto Parliament for England." That is the threat. I do not say that that situation will arise, but we need to explore the issue."
Impose English votes on English Laws, or turn the Commons into an English Grand Committee, and you're heading for a situation whereby the upper house, proportionally elected, becomes viewed as the more British of the two chambers - non English MPs will be marginalised in the Commons, and will consequently be marginalised in the Government. Divide the Commons along national lines at your peril
It makes far more sense to make the Lords a British parliament (with far fewer numbers than it has at the moment), members of which will form the British government, and have powers of scrutiny over the devolved national parliaments, and to allow the Commons to be an English parliament by removing non-English MPs and cutting it in size.
To which Monckton replied:
Since I live in Scotland and have travelled and spoken widely north of the Border, I ken fine that though the voters want a Scottish Parliament they don't necessarily want the cost and duplication of having separately-elected MSPs. The political class wants that, because it's more jobs for the boys, but the people who pay for it don't. There was vast dismay at the cost of the Numptorium Building, and it was widely (and correctly) assumed that MSPs simply didn't have the experience or maturity between them to execute a project on that scale properly. What the people of Scotland want is a Scottish Parliament with people of experience and ability in it, and they don't care whether the people in it are MPs or MSPs as long as the powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
I can't speak for Wales, but the recent vote on more powers for the Assembly indicates that it's the powers that people are keen about, and the constitution of the Assembly is a secondary consideration - but one which greatly concerns UKIP because we're looking for ways of bringing the monumental cost of government in the UK under some sort of control before national bankruptcy overtakes us.
Nigel Farage's view on this is quite clear: the people want assemblies in all four nations of the UK, and ought to have them, but the assemblies should be manned by MPs from the nations concerned.
The question of whether a House of Lords elected by proportional representation has more democratic legitimacy than a House of Commons elected by first-past-the-post or AV is entirely separate from the question whether, one week a month, the House of Commons would be the home of the English Parliament.
Everyone has his favourite policies, and no doubt having an English Parliament separately elected from the Westminster Parliament is one of yours. However, the leadership strongly disagrees, chiefly on ground of cost and useless duplication. For the reasons in my previous note, which you do not acknowledge or address, devolution would be more likely to happen, and would be more likely to be effective, if MPs were in effect devolving powers from themselves at Westminster to themselves in their regional assemblies. There it is, I'm afraid: at some point the policy has to be decided upon, and this one has been decided upon, for good reasons. - M of B
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
Thank you for your response. It would appear that we will have to disagree.
I lived in Scotland myself until recently and I never met a Scot who shares your views, though I suspect we mix in different circles. The question of whether grand committees are a better form of devolution was a valid question back in the 1990s, read the speeches of Malcolm Rifkind or Michael Forsyth, or the minutes of Thatcher's government - they all ask that very question, repeatedly.
The valid question now is "why are UKIP still asking that question?"
You'll never get to scrap the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, just ask James Gray http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4563591.stm
Regrettably UKIP will pay an electoral price for continuing to ask the question, which will set you back in your efforts to win a referendum on the EU. I for one will not be sitting by the radio excitedly awaiting news of the abolishment of the Scottish Parliament and Government because that news will never come, but don't let my hard-nosed realism dampen your enthusiasm for flogging a dead horse.
I hope that the Scottish and Welsh voters make UKIP realise that their devolution policy is unpopular, and that UKIP go back to the drawing board to devise a policy on an English parliament. However, judging by Monckton's admission that UKIP don't expect to win any seats, I suspect that UKIP already know that their policy on devolution is unpopular in Scotland and Wales but don't give a shit because they know they're essentially an English party and they're too lazy and intellectually vapid to consider the alternative.
Extraordinary stuff from a couple of Welsh Labour MPs (David Hanson and Mark Tami) reported in the Flinshire Chronicle:
BOTH Flintshire MPs have spoken of their concerns at Government plans to only allow English MPs to vote on matters affecting England.
Mr Hanson said: “There is an argument MPs over the border cannot vote on issues affecting Welsh issues, matters voted on by Assembly Members, so they wonder why we can have a say on English laws.
“Many of the people in my constituency go to the Countess of Chester Hospital or to Clatterbridge for their care, which means I could not vote despite being the elected representative.
“You would also have to consider train services from Crewe to Wales, the Vauxhall factory and other transport links. If it isn’t broke they shouldn’t fix it.”
Mr Tami added: “It is crucial Welsh MPs continue to vote on issues that are of significance to our constituents.
“Cross-border services are vital to Flintshire, so we should continue to be able to vote on health issues that impact on the English NHS.
“Likewise, many people living here work in English councils, companies and schools, so it is important we continue to have the ability to represent their concerns in Parliament.”
I might have some sympathy if these two were from a party that opposed devolution to Wales. But they're not, they are members of a Labour Party that argued strongly that decisions affecting the Welsh NHS should be taken in Wales by politicians elected in Wales. So it seems rather hypocritical to now argue that politicians elected in Wales should have a vote on the English NHS.