Labour's Leader in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray's speech to the 2009 Labour Party Annual Conference.
The Tories have not changed.
David Cameron has come a long way. He isn’t hugging hoodies and huskies any more. He is embracing Europe’s extremists.
In Scotland we are not surprised at the company Tories keep. We have watched them nuzzling up to the nationalist government from day one.
In Scotland, we do not have to imagine a leader who will say anything,
promise everything and be whatever you want to get into office. We already have Alex Salmond.
A year ago he didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics. But now he’s a Keynsian in the crisis.
A climate change warrior by day, a gas guzzler by night; sending his car round the corner for a curry.
He really did turn up for the opening of a new shortbread tin. And he really did stand up the chief executive of Diageo with 900 jobs at stake. He had an important raffle to draw on TV that day.
While Scots are doing everything they can to get through the recession, what is Alex Salmond doing?
He’s in his Bute house Brigadoon. Picking furniture for imaginary embassies round the world. And choosing curtains for his office in the united nations. Planning tv schedules for SBC – that’s the Salmond Broadcasting Corporation.
No mandate. No majority. And no shame.
The SNP are not a government. They are a campaign. The day may well come when the people of Scotland want a referendum to settle their constitutional future once and for all. But not now, in the midst of a recession. And not on a question rigged by the SNP.
In 2007, in a tight election the SNP won votes by cynically making promises they had no intention of keeping.
Parents trusted them to cut class sizes. They haven’t.
Students trusted them to pay off their student loans. They didn’t.
First time buyers trusted them to help with their deposit. They let them down.
With twice the resources Donald Dewar ever had, the SNP have built fewer houses, fewer schools, and fewer hospitals than Labour ever did.
Labour in power had a vision of a modern, prosperous, fair Scotland. We started building the infrastructure to connect Scotland to the world. We began to heal the Tory legacy in places like Ravenscraig. We expanded apprenticeships and student places in our universities. Funded the pipeline from research to jobs, in photonics and bioscience and renewable energy. Trained more teachers than ever before and guaranteed them jobs.
In just two years the SNP have cancelled the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. They have slashed the enterprise budgets which supported innovation and regeneration. Halted the expansion of higher education, and thrown 1000 teachers on the scrapheap.
Alex Salmond is not taking my country forward he is dragging it back.
That’s what happens when Labour loses power.
My Scotland would not be a country where two year-old Brandon Muir dies at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend and the First Minister says “everyone did all they could.” My Scotland would be a country where we would not give up on the 20,000 children living as Brandon Muir lived.
My Scotland would not be a place where the father of a young man stabbed to death comes to his Parliament to be told by the First Minister that he’s going to abolish jail sentences for hundreds of knife criminals. My Scotland would be a country where if you carried a knife, you would go to jail.
Alex Salmond is not lifting my country up, he is dragging it down.
That’s what happens when Labour loses power.
The next election is a choice, between a Labour government or a Tory government. Alex salmond wants a Tory government. His senior civil servants are already planning for it.
The SNP believe that the unemployment, the social division, the fractured lives that the Tories would bring are all a price worth paying for their campaign for separation.
Alex Salmond refused to debate with Jim Murphy – because, he said, he debates with me, every Thursday.
What’s so special about Thursdays Alex? How about St Andrews day? Clear your diary. Debate my vision of Scotland against yours. Tell us which side you are on. I dare you.
In the Scottish Parliament from Opposition, we delivered 8000 apprenticeships, stopped the unfair, unworkable Local Income Tax, and forced the strongest climate change legislation in the world on the SNP.
But in Opposition there is so much more we cannot do.
That is what happens when Labour loses power.
We must fight, fight and fight again for the future we want to see.
Last year conference, I said that Labour MSPs would stand shoulder to shoulder with MP colleagues, and with our Prime Minister in the Glenrothes by election and we would elect Lindsay Roy the new Labour MP.
And together we can do the same in Glasgow North East and make Willie Bain a Labour MP. And then we will make Gordon Brown Prime Minister again.
Together we will defeat those whose sole creed is self interest, whose sole purpose is division whose sole principle is expediency. Whether they are Tories, or nationalists.
Tonight I want to discuss England and Englishness.
And how we develop and celebrate a modern English identity.
And I want to do this from a particular point of view: from a political centre-left perspective.
It’s quite a long time, thank goodness, since it was the discussion of identity was outside polite political debate on the left.
But still important to set the context in which we look at identity.
Because I do think that the centre left should have a particular view on the nature and importance of identity; and I do think there are particular reasons why the centre left should take the issue seriously.
Politics is very much about who we are – as individuals, families and a society.
For all the effort poured into dividing lines about this or that piece of detailed or technical policy, the next election will be determined by which party has the most convincing story about our society and our country.
Who has the most convincing tale about where we have come from: and the most positive and optimistic story about where we go next.
These stories work because we have a sense of who we are; what our society represents.
Put a different way, people ask politicians to pass the ‘people like us’ test. Would this person, in power, and faced with an unexpected decision do what I would want them to do.
Again, in part the answer will be determined by voter’s sense of their character, and their policy instincts. But in part by their sense of identity. Is this someone I can identify with?
So the politics of identity is central to politics itself.
Any politics which does not concern itself with who we think we are is not likely to be as successful as it could be.
At its worst, though, the politics of identity can be collapsed into crude flag wrapping. Politician cloaking themselves in a national banner. Or to identify themselves as representing the national interest. We saw a particularly uncomfortable and unsettling version of that in Brighton on Sunday,
For the left, this can never do. A deep sense of patriotism and national allegiance does not and cannot blind us to the ambiguities we find in many national stories. A sense of Britishness derived solely from attitudes which were widely held in the British past would make uncomfortable reading today. National pride was intertwined with a sense of racial superiority which no decent person would contemplate today.
This recognition tends to divide left from right. The right tends to see national identity as a historical given; something to be discovered in our history.
The left, by contrast, prefers a sense of national identity which is constantly being told and re-told for changing times. One in which each generation can make its own new contribution.
That process, for us, is not only inevitable; it is desirable and necessary.
It does not reject history, Indeed it draws heavily on it. But it is inclusive, bringing in the history of all of those who now wish to share this identity. It understand that common identity is best developed through shared experience. It strengthens and brings cohesion to our society. Allowing us to enjoy the strength which comes from sharing a common story.
Two of the most potent stories in our history are of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. They speak deeply of two traits in both the British and the English national stories – the heroic national defeat; and standing alone against the world.
They are not, in my view, undermined by the more recent recognition that 2 and half million volunteers from the Indian Sub-Continent fought and were prepared to die in the Imperial armed forces in the Second World War. Rather, they are a new addition to the story of how our current freedom was won. It makes the family history many of today’s British Asian population a personal part of the national history in a new and richer way that many had realised before.
So for the left, the process of developing and celebrating a national identity is not passive; it is not one of research and discovery. But a living process; one which can be consciously shaped. One in which there are choices to be made.
As I shall argue a little later, the English national identity is the most neglected of the national identities of these islands. Less developed, and having had less effort invested in it, not only that of the national stories – most recently of Wales and Scotland – but also in the nationally focussed or nationally derived identities many of Britain’s newer communities.
This neglect is increasingly becoming a point of contention. One which we need to address.
But before developing that point, there are a couple of other diversions I want to make on this rather discursive preamble to Englishness itself.
You may have noticed that in the last few paragraphs I have referred both to British and English stories, and to nationally focused stories – like say British Bangladeshis – enjoyed by newer minority communities.
What this emphasises, of course, is that most of us are comfortable with multiple identities. It is quite possible to be English and British, to be a British Bangladeshi, or, as with my colleague Shahid Malik, a British Pakistani whose primary identity is English.
For the centre-left, identity is not about forcing a choice between competing identities, but enabling and encouraging people to be comfortable with a number of different identities if that’s how we chose to identify ourselves.
Of equal importance for the centre-left is our insistence on recognising people’s right to enjoy the identity people chose for themselves. We do not impose a ‘cricket test’.
Is there a contradiction here? Between recognising, encouraging and allowing multiple identities and the idea of a conscious, activist programme of developing a national identity – whether English or British?
Some would argue that once you recognise multiple identities, you enter a world of identity relativism – where because all identities are allowed, none should in any way be promoted or implicitly or explicitly favoured.
I don’t agree. That identity relativism turned out to the Achilles heel of one of Britain’s great social innovations, a real achievement – multiculturalism - which we, nonetheless, now have to re-assess. The problem of multi-culturalism was not its insistence on respect for those of different cultures, or of their freedoms to express themselves as they wish: it was the neglect of the glue that binds us together; it was the failure to recognise a multi-cultural society can only work if there is equal engagement and activity in building and developing shared values and the framework of a shared identity which enables us to be multicultural within a cohesive society.
So being relaxed about multiple identities, and multiple national identities, does not mean that it is not important to invest energy in developing a shared story of Britishness; and for those within England, a shared English identity. Not required, not compulsory, but shared as widely as possible.
My final diversion is to consider the role that national identities play in progressive politics.
As Gordon Brown has frequently said ‘This is a progressive era’.
Not that our era is automatically progressive; that people will unquestionably turn to progressive politics.
But that the challenges we face today, with global economic instability, climate change, the impact on personal risk and insecurity, the need for personal opportunity – all these factors require the a progressive philosophy an progressive policies.
In particular recognition that pursing the common good, working with active government is the only was to achieve what we need.
The art of turning the need for progressive politics into popular politics depends in embedding the progressive case in a particular time and case.
In other words, the case for progressive politics means very little as an abstract argument about values. It takes roots- indeed it only comes to life – if rooted in a story about how people with a common identity understand their history and their future.
Labour’s case for progressive politics must be more than simply saying – we are progressive, we have the right answers, choose us.
Labour’s case for progressive politics must be a way of saying that we are a vehicle through which the people of this country choose to take their country in a progressive direction.
Seen like this the 1997 election victory was not about Labour winning but about the people of Britain choosing to put behind them the selfishness, the neglect of the public realm, the abandonment of the public good which had characterised the Tories: and the people of Britain choosing to prioritise public services, the common good, the idea that we and our families would all do better in a society in which we all looked out for each other.
Seen like this, the choice for the next election is not about choosing Labour against the Tories, but about whether the people of this country choose to again to defend and recreate the public realm.
Whether we the people choose to put our national effort into re-shaping our economy. To rebuild consciously and deliberately an economy for the 21st century that is better balanced than in the past.
Whether we the people want to ensure that fairness will govern hard choices.
And whether we the people want to be confident that the internationalisms which is essential in the modern world is rooted in our national interest.
Labour’s message will work to the extent to which it is seen as the expression of a progressive politics, yes. But of a progressive politics which is at the same time, national, progressive and patriotic. About us and about the sort of country we want to be.
So identity politics will be one part of that national progressive and patriotic message for the coming general election.
But if it is, who is the ‘we’ that is the focus of a national progressive and patriotic politics.
At the most obvious, it is the people of Britain, the British people.
That umbrella identity is key to Labour’s view of Britain’s future. And there are many ways in which Britain, the Britishness, British values, British history and Britain’s future are the best way of expressing a national, progressive and patriotic message.
But it is not enough.
Labour introduced the devolution settlement because we recognised that within our commitment to the union and our commitment to Britain, it was right, desirable and necessary, to give real constitutional expression to the people of Wales and Scotland. Not because we wanted to undermine the union but because we believed that the union would be strengthened if national identity and national autonomy were recognised within the union.
That has been shown to be the right judgement.
But it leaves the question of where England and Englishness sits within any progressive, national and patriotic politics.
The case for Scottish and Welsh devolution recognised the positing of smaller nations within a political system which through sheer size England dominates within the overall politics of an unresolved union. That size means that there is no constitutional imperative for similar constitutional change.
But it does leave unresolved whether and how Englishness can and should be expressed within our national politics
The 2008 British Social Attitudes report found that people in England are substantially less likely to define themselves as British and more likely to assert an English identity than 15 years ago.
The British Social Attitudes survey has also asked people how they feel about the cross of St George.
Four out of five of the English population say that they feel a strong sense of belonging to England.
A wide range of surveys have found that people in England are more likely to see themselves as English than British – with many identifying as both.
Indeed, in recent years, I think we can point to three main trends in the development of interest in – and in the meaning of – Englishness.
First, there has been the rise in interest in Englishness itself.
I think there are two drivers of this.
The first is undoubtedly the success of the devolution settlement. Having spent almost my entire live living within a mile or two of the south coast of England I have never sought to pontificate on matters Scottish – though I do welcome the signs of the powerful support in Scotland for Labour’s belief that the best settlement is strong devolution within a strong union, and a rejection of separatism.
But I do know how things seem south of the border, or east of Wales. There is, beyond doubt, some envy for those who are able to express both their British identity and their Welsh or Scottish identity. Those who feel English ask increasingly whether their dual identity has a similar legitimacy.
The second driver is the recognition that some members of ethnic minority communities also express confidence in their dual identity, British and an identity of their community, related to the country of origin of them or increasingly their parents and grandparents. Where they ask, does this leave those who want to say we are English?
But if these have been the drivers of interest in Englishness, there have also been other significant changes. Not least in the idea – politically and culturally – of what it means to be English.
This summer during the World Cup, many English people of all ethnic origins will fly the St George’s Cross with pride. It was not always the case.
As Morrissey sang in Irish Blood, English heart ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful: to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial’.
In the 1970s and 1980s many English people did not want to fly the flag for fear of being identified as a white nationalist racist. It is generally agreed that it was during the Euro 96 football tournament that this changed. That the flag was regained for everyone. This did not just happen, there was a concerted effort to regain our national flag for all our support and value our nation.
Today, few people who support our national teams in football, rugby, cricket, hockey or numerous other sports either expect or want to support an all white team. Today, Englishness is no longer a statement of ethnic identity but a shared identity of all those who feel English, whatever their identity and want to express their support for it.
In truth, of course, this change in public attitude is no more than bringing sentiment into line with history. Throughout the centuries, the English have been a polyglot nation, forever refreshed and developed through new people and new influences. We love our history, but we know it is not pure. Of the millions in the West Midlands who proudly want the Mercian treasure hoard to stay there, how many could honestly claim a pure Mercian ancestry. It doesn’t really matter.
This is all good news for those who want Englishness to be a progressive national identity.
But there is a discernable third trend which we cannot dismiss or ignore. As Britishness has become established as a genuinely multi-ethnic identity, there are some who now seen an ethnic Englishness as the best way of resisting our diverse modern society.
In the last year we have seen the viciously anti Islamic English Defence League play to that idea. No one who has read my public statements about the EDL will be in any doubt about my rejection of their politics. It is though interesting that in their public statements – albeit entirely denied by their public actions – that they claim to represent a non-racist view of Englishness. A forced concession to the wider changes that have taken place.
The fear must be, however, that without positive action designed to promote a positive, modern and inclusive notion of Englishness, the idea of Englishness could once again slip back into a racist and ethnically defined view of what it is to be English.
Pride in Englishness is shared widely across English society, in all social classes. The story of English identity over the past 20 years has been predominantly positive and forward looking.
But in my work at CLG I have highlighted in the past year the position of some of the established white working class communities who have seen great social and economic change, including in some areas the impact of significant migration, who do ask who speaks for us. Despite the demonstrable investment in public services, housing and neighbourhood improvement in ‘those areas, there is a still disconnect between what those of us in government believe we have delivered and the extent to which they feel they have a voice, or that their concerns are being addressed. The £20m a year connecting communities initiative is working with local authorities to ensure that these communities do not remain feeling that there are not listened to. But this is not a short term fix but something that needs to be sustained for years to come.
One thing that could undermine this work is a retreat into a narrow and defensive view of ‘the rights of the English.’
I said earlier, that the notion of Englishness is the least well-developed of our national identities. I think the pressing challenge is to promote actively a positive English cultural identity.
As Billy Bragg has written ‘what we lack is a confidence, not so much about who we are, more about whether it’s OK to celebrate being English. We need to stop being embarrassed about our home and find a way to celebrate the things about it we love – both to respect the locals and to build bridges with newcomers’.
To do this, we need to generate powerful new ways of bringing people together to celebrate their Englishness.
Ways which go beyond the purely historical. Too often, celebrations of Englishness are entirely rooted in history and focus wholly on the past.
This isn’t true of celebrations of St Andrew or St Patrick’s Day – they are about what it means to be Irish or Scottish in today’s world – and are celebrations that people around the world want to join in with.
I would suggest that the starting point should be to develop the festival of St Georges Day itself.
Actually bit by bit, this has been developing in cities, towns and villages across the country.
And nothing I’m saying today means that I think people need to be told to celebrate Englishness, let alone been given permission to do so. Patently y they don’t.
But there are ways in which government could work with the grain of what English people are already doing. Helping give a shape and focus to a national day of celebrations.
It would St George’s Day a celebration of a modern inclusive Englishness within the wider Britain.
This would give us an opportunity to mark key developments in our culture as well as our history and heritage, and to promote its international identity and contribution.
But more importantly it would give us the opportunity to promote a sense of unity and belonging – a sense of English identity which can be claimed by the majority who want to be welcoming, neighbourly and friendly.
A chance to celebrate what we can be proud of and what we have in common, enriched by our differences as well as shared values and shared experiences.
There are many aspects of Englishness which we should be proud of. The English language and our great writers. Our tradition of philanthropy and past and present campaigners for social change. Our role in inventing or codifying much of modern sport and our national sporting heroes who come from all communities and all parts of the world.
And the strand of radicalism in English thought – I will return to this later.
Above all, these celebrations will need to be inclusive. Inclusive in terms of age, interests and accessibility of course. But also inclusive in terms of ethnicity.
Take the Out of Many – One England Festival in Sparkbrook Birmingham, held to celebrate St Georges Day and which brought together people from across of minority ethnic and white British communities and from rural and urban England.
Leicester plans to run a three day festival over St Georges Day weekend which looks at England’s contribution to literature: in later years they may look at sport, science of politics.
I have not been able to identify another country in the world which does not have a day to celebrate its national identity. Some have a national holiday, others a body to run a national festival or celebration.
Some countries encourage schools to participate, or recognise the achievements of its citizens. All encourage the use of symbols – flag flying, the use of national colours or the wearing of national emblems.
Many have parades, national sporting or musical events, celebrations of national writers and literature and other cultural events.
I believe it is time to looks seriously at what we in England can learn and take from these international examples. Not all will be appropriate for our particular context, and local areas should be the ones to take decisions about how St George’s Day is celebrated.
I think we have the model. Last year we supported a highly successful Inter-Faith Week. Again, people of faith don’t need government to tell them to be faithful, nor to work together. But by supporting a national steering group and a couple of major national events, and by supporting similar approaches at regional level, we provided the framework for an astonishing and diverse range of local and national activities.
We could do the same for St George’s Day.
And we probably should not stop there. Ben Bradshaw and I have been talking about the World Cup and the possibility of a wider cultural festival celebrating Englishness at a time when the nation will focus on our football team. And perhaps we should look ahead – to other sporting events – like the Rugby World cup – and coming cultural events to se the opportunities to celebrate a diminish of Englishness.
And let me end on one last thought about why this should be a project for the centre-left.
Our English history is not all maypoles and Morris dancers. Nor is it simply the somewhat Eeyoorish observation of George Orwell that it is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays.
It is the history of English radicalism too. The Making of the English Working Class shaped many a student radical of my generation. My part of the country gave birth to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Captain Swing. It is the history of the cooperative movement. Our English history is the history of a people who embraced and defended and married migrants as often as we resisted them.
If we need a national progressive and patriotic politics today, we should not be shy of making our history an ally.
Smith Institute Election 2010 Lecture by John Denham MP, delivered 2nd March 2010 in Committee Room 8, at the House of Commons.
Part of a series of four lectures covering Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England; in which Mr Blunkett discusses Englishness, citizenship and identity and the implications of current and past political thinking for the English nation
It will shortly be a hundred years since the Encyclopaedia Britannica made the most terrible faux pas. Scholars who looked up Wales were greeted simply with the injunction: “See England”.
Those days have long gone. Wales now has its own National Assembly, has revitalised the Welsh language and has long put behind it the burning of cottages and the bitterness from a handful of zealots against the ‘incomers’. It also has – at least temporarily – the most senior Labour politician in office in the UK in the form of the First Minister, Carwyn Jones – in coalition with Plaid Cymru, of all things, which could never have been envisaged 20 years ago.
In this lecture, I want to examine those things which we have and still hold in common between Wales and England and Wales and Yorkshire – particularly here in South Yorkshire and my home city of Sheffield.
I want to identify the particular nature of Englishness. I wish to examine the political differences which exist in England compared with the rest of the United Kingdom; and why Labour has some historic and continuing lessons to learn about the innate conservatism of very substantial parts of England.
In addition, there are ramifications for Yorkshire which form an interesting backcloth – and I shall ask the question, perhaps tongue in cheek, of whether it is time for Yorkshire to consider its own ‘independence’ – or, more accurately, devolution – whilst remaining a key part of the UK!
Finally, I shall explore why the present Government and their economic policies, their ideology and what for some is a ‘scorched earth’ approach to our public services could undermine the union of the UK and, at the same time, fracture the nation of England. I will highlight the inherent London-centric nature of decision-taking and the differential impact of policy which retains power at the centre and decentralises the pain.
What we hold in common
There are some clear and obvious areas, particularly between South Wales and South Yorkshire, that are common to the recent history of our people: the emphasis on steel and mining; the propensity to grumble – particularly about London and southern England; and an undeserved reputation for penny-pinching. We even have strange dialects which are different between the north and south of both Wales and Yorkshire; and, if we don’t quite have a language, then for some south of Nottingham, it’s difficult to always understand broad Yorkshire!
In North Yorkshire and North Wales we have the rural beauty; the hills – in Yorkshire’s case, the Dales – to walk in; the special things to eat; and the rawness of the coastline. In Yorkshire as a whole, as with Wales, we have the poetry, the music and, yes, the folk heritage to draw down on – everyone from Ian McMillan and Simon Armitage to Alan Bennett and the music of Delius, not to mention the historic ballads and brass bands from the mining and wool industries of the past.
In substantial part, we also have solidarity and a sense of mutuality. We have a pride in being different which can sometimes be irritating to others and can appear aloof or even arrogant; but, even with the Yorkshire tendency not to suffer fools gladly, it adds up to being something different to the Anglo-Saxon individualism which is the hallmark of England as a whole.
The English are more difficult to define. As I spelt out in an essay I wrote for the ippr in March 2005, there is a mixture of confidence and internationalism borne of the outreach of the English language; the development of empire; the reliance on trade; and the stability of being part of ‘this island race’. There is, too, the self-belief that comes from a thousand years of defending Britain from invasion and our overseas military successes; and the endurance of institutions like the Anglican Church, the ‘Church of England’, which, whilst in attendance it may not have the significance of years gone by, still remains a symbol of the cultural differences that can be seen within the UK.
There is also, of course, a pessimism that ensures that certain branches of the English media will jump immediately on bad news. Take the recently-published ‘Prosperity Index’, which hardly anybody had heard of until it told us that we had ‘slipped’ to 13th in the so-called ‘league of happiness’! This is, of course, reflected in the headlines of the London-based newspapers on a daily basis.
Today, the benefits of the English language and the historic outreach of trade are reflected in new forms of communication, from satellite and the internet to mobile phones – and the consequent downplaying of the need to adopt and understand other languages and cultures.
This form of internationalism has both pluses and minuses. Free trade has been a feature of the ‘English’ political debate for 300 years. This has inevitably created a different sense of identity and of our place in the world, which has both reinforced that arrogant self-confidence on the one hand and diluted a sense of identity and belonging on the other.
Inward migration has both benefited and disquieted the English – more so than in Scotland or in Wales – and is now the subject, once again, of political controversy. What Daniel Defoe described four centuries ago as ‘this mongrel race’ likes to think of itself as anything but!
Individualism, philosophically and instinctively, is much more an English trait than it is Welsh or Scots. Rousseau and David Hume may have walked the hills of South Derbyshire and North Staffordshire, but it was John Stuart Mill who articulated and affected the psyche of the English.
Roger Scruton and David Starkey believe that Englishness is dead. But theirs is an Englishness of a bygone, ‘Wessex’ version of the English nation.
The Scots may cry in their whisky, the Irish may grow melancholic over Guinness, the Welsh may sip at their Under Milk Wood beer; the English simply love to wallow in a nostalgia for a never-present lost era as they sip an indifferent Bordeaux borne of Aquitaine, rather than the missed opportunity of an alliance with the Burgundians.
For some, therefore, the John Major, 1993-version of Orwell’s reminiscences of a mythical English scene constitute the backcloth from which the world is viewed. Linda Colley, with her interesting reflections on nationhood and identity, looks at changes towards the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries, with the retreat of Bonnie Prince Charley and the paranoia invoked by Napoleon. Somehow, the concept of Britishness and an emerging English identity started to emerge.
Others – including Krishan Kumar – believe that it was at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the appalling experiences of young men in the First World War – men who had previously never been further than the local market town – that created a particular version of Englishness. This is underpinned by the endearing reflections latterly in Upstairs, Downstairs and currently in Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey on ITV.
By contrast, the Welsh had a cultural sense of identity – as well as grievance – going back to medieval times, when their own moral and legal code was retained whilst their bigger and more militaristic neighbour sought to suppress their independence. Scotland, with its own legal and judicial system and with its own connections and contact with the continent, was able to retain a much greater sense of its own identity – but a greater bitterness towards the English.
Sharing a sense of belonging, of shared identity, at local level and through nationhood, matters more at a time of flux and change than in periods of economic prosperity and peace. Aneurin Bevan – an example of the Welsh predilection for the use of language to invoke emotion – rightly described that what we had to fear was fear itself. Yet for a nation to be outward-looking, inclusive and internationalist, it is necessary to reinforce that sense of security through a strong individual and collective sense of ourselves, our history and our current place in the world.
That is why, as so often, the opportunity to debate these issues as part of the development of the so-called Defence Review and military expenditure has once again been missed.
It is fair to say that Englishness has been welcoming, avoided the worst of bigotry and has been strong and certain, not weak, defensive and prejudiced. The English have been outward-looking as a naval power and a trading nation, which is why the use of fear and prejudice by the British National Party and the English Defence League are so worrying.
That kind of nationalism is equated with the far-right, with resentment, deep-seated fear of change and a particular form of individualism which has a dangerous attraction – as can be seen from the election of the English Democrat Mayor of Doncaster and his son, the right-wing Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies. The economic meltdown and the Government’s response reinforce the political view that, far from ‘all being in it together’, we fend for ourselves, we reject the social wage, we undermine that feeling of solidarity which comes ‘from each according to his means, to each according to their need’.
Of course, change brings instability. Rapid change brings gross uncertainty and worry; and that brings the desire for something to hold on to – a rock, a shelter, some certainty in a world of insecurity. This can pose its own dangers, undermining any sense of wider place; of city, county or regional identity. The danger, therefore, is of evoking a reaction from the little Englanders who, in running our country today, have transformed one-nation Conservatism into a reflection of just one nation – or rather, just a part of one nation – of the union of the United Kingdom.
This raises the danger of a new form of English colonialism, with power drawn to the centre, with the abolition of regional development agencies and regional government offices, with the power of local government to raise its own finance restricted still further and with the distributive nature of public expenditure curtailed.
More of that shortly, for I want first to explore the disconnection between my own party and the individualism, the small ‘c’ conservatism, which makes up part of the English nation.
Please indulge me for a moment. I need to explore how social democratic politics responds to the nature of a specifically English nuance, a voting pattern which has historically been small ‘c’ conservative.
There are exceptions across England; places where mutuality and solidarity are seen as part of a local culture, mirroring that of Scotland and Wales. It is reflected at times in the history of our northern cities and towns and, of course, in our mining communities; and yet, within them, we see the seeds of the artificial disconnect between reciprocity on the one hand and mercantile enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship on the other.
We delude ourselves if we forget that, until recently, Liverpool was controlled by the Liberal Democrats, Leeds and Bradford often revolved into Conservative/Liberal administration, Newcastle is under the control of the Lib Dems and, of course, currently – but not for long – so is the city of Sheffield.
But through the Midlands, the south, the east and south-west, the ‘anti-state’ nature of individualism and that innate conservatism I have spoken about is a powerful force. In large cities such as Birmingham and Bristol, Labour has struggled over the decades to hold the hegemony which popular myth within the party would have us believe exists across the major urban conurbations of England.
Outside the culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city of London, the south and east returned just ten Labour Members of Parliament out of over 200 constituencies on 6 May this year. Current opinion polling shows voters broadly still in support of the draconian cuts in public expenditure.
Yet self-reliance, entrepreneurship, enterprise and innovation are a feature of Britain as a whole and of those areas of England where solidarity has remained from time immemorial. Sheffield is an example of the tremendous gains that have been made in research, in hands-on and imaginative industrial and craft skills. Still, the city historically has had a reputation for left-of-centre politics.
So what conclusions can we draw? At least in part, that England and Englishness has an overriding suspicion of big government – an Anglo-Saxon aversion to being herded or being told what to do. At the same time, it has a natural caring and generous spirit, which nevertheless is not automatically turned into socialised or collective generosity. As can be seen in many of the right-wing states of the US, a willingness to give, to support, to be a good neighbour is not always translated into voting for reciprocity writ large or mutuality in political institutions.
How, therefore, to convert this innate and instinctive decency into a social and political reciprocity has to be the question for the English – or at least for those of us on the social democratic left, if we ever hope to return to government in Westminster and to build a politics in England which would draw on the earned entitlement, the ‘something-for-something’ attitude, which the New Labour era endeavoured to inculcate into Labour thinking.
This brings me to Yorkshire.
In Yorkshire, we represent a mix of both the mutual and the stolid ‘no nonsense’ type of individualism. Yes, an emphasis on self-reliance, on knowing what’s best; but then being prepared to join in moving from individual caring to collective action.
In political terms, this is almost a mix of the more ‘English’, anti-authority conservatism and the more collective reciprocal commitment to each other.
Economically, we are innovative, inventive and hard-working. But a century ago it was the workers of Sheffield who gave their pennies to create a major contribution to the development of this university, with what in today’s money would be £15 million, literally volunteered from the weekly wage packet of Sheffield workers.
But unlike Scotland and Wales, we are not self-determining in our political structures. Our own destiny does not lie in Yorkshire. We cannot deal with the spending reductions, the social consequences and the reinvestment of growth in our own way.
The population of Wales is 3 million, Scotland’s just over 5 million and Yorkshire’s 5.2 million. Using what is known as the Barnett formula for distributing UK-wide government income, we could expect a tremendous advantage in having what in Wales is known as the Central Fund and in Scotland the Block Grant. Wales – the best comparator – will receive £14.5 billion for Assembly purposes in 2011-12. Rounded up for Yorkshire, this would be £24 billion.
Like London, we could then have our own development agency; draw down on and match European funding; ensure that we were able to reach out for inward investment and build up the capacity for our own knowledge-based economy. We could set our priorities, share across departmental budgets and charge others for the use of our facilities.
It may well be tongue in cheek; but, instead of a projected 82,000 job losses, independence for Yorkshire could have ensured the raising of loans for Sheffield Forgemasters, using all the resources of that part of HBOS which used to be the Halifax and taking our share of the Higher Education Funding Council money to make our priorities work for the people of our area.
Above all, we could reinforce our identity, develop the pride and motivation needed, restore our own form of Englishness and assert that important combination of bluff independence with caring mutuality.
We could include parts of the North Midlands, if they chose to do so. With the power stations, the military installations from RAF Menwith Hill to Catterick Garrison and with nine members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet – including the Leader of the Opposition – Yorkshire would be well-placed to be the driving force of economic recovery outside the south-east of England!
Even better, we wouldn’t have to put up with the Deputy Prime Minister – the man who, on 19 March in a question and answer session organised by the Yorkshire Post, let it be known that he was horrified by the idea of a Conservative Government who would “slash public spending by a third”. Nor would we need a Prime Minister who on the one hand cuts investment to companies involved with the Advanced Manufacturing Park and describes the centre and the work done from this university with the private sector as cutting edge – while at the same time pulling the plug on the innovation and enterprise that goes alongside it.
So, back to immediate reality!
What are the political voices of the south of England doing to the union? What is happening to our sense of ourselves – to our identity? Are we really going back to the ‘I’m alright, Jack’ or ‘It’s down to you’ view of the 1980s – overlaid by the so-called ‘Big Society’, when it is literally ‘down to you’?
From a governmental point of view, it’s very clever. If the State does not accept responsibility for the actions it is taking, how can it then accept the blame?
If we don’t respond adequately, if we don’t deal with our own problems in our own way, if we don’t play our part in the Big Society … it becomes our fault.
The actions that the Government have taken are making it more difficult to reinforce that sense of belonging which, even in the face of draconian cuts in essential services, can hold the fabric of society together. It is the fracturing, the tearing of that fabric, that concerns me most. The fact that we are likely to see a disintegration of the acceptance of responsibility, of the obligations and duties we owe to each other, as well as the imperative of fending for ourselves.
Examples are stark. Some of them are very small, but important.
The abolition of the Migrant Impact Fund reduces the chance of ensuring proper integration and building on the citizenship programmes and the teaching of the English language which has been so important to me over the years.
The demolition of specific funding for special and deep-seated needs – the Area Based Grant to local government and other ring-fenced funding – is deeply damaging. It is paraded as giving ‘freedom’ to decide. In reality, the decision already made – to change and to withdraw funding specifically directed to the most disadvantaged – is of course to take that money away from those very people.
Self-evidently, you have the choice of spreading the resources away from the greatest need and hence to protect the not-so-unfortunate from the impact of cuts. Sheffield City Council, under the Liberal Democrats, practices this policy already with devastating results – as shown by Professor Danny Dorling and his colleagues at the Department of Human Geography right here at this university.
Both the spending cuts themselves and the architecture of the British constitutional settlement now set London and the devolved administrations apart from England. The Balkanised nature of England affects us economically, in terms of determining our infrastructure and planning. Local Enterprise Partnerships – all 40 of them – cut regions into pieces, funding streams into smaller and less viable applications. Funding cut by two-thirds already is then fragmented even further; and, with the centralised governmental structures and the abolition of what is dismissively described as ‘quangos’, the influence over real decision-taking has been dramatically centralised.
Even in budgets that are superficially protected – the core schools budget and health – top-slicing means that demographic expansion will put more, not less, money into the south-east of England.
The denial that there is such a thing as regional identity and the failure to continue the previous Government’s emphasis on Core City development pulls the centrifugal force of England into London and alienates those who are hardest hit by the cuts. London retains a development agency and demands more resources – and in capital funding, gets it – as the scarce resources available are pulled like a magnet into the developments for and around the Olympic Games.
Preaching decentralisation and practicing metropolitan hegemony is undermining the union of the UK and a common sense of belonging and identity for England itself. Given the disparity of expenditure and the lack of flexibility within England, it is quite likely that Scotland and Wales – as well as Northern Ireland – will be able to protect services to a degree that will prove impossible in fragmented England. The improvements that have been wrought in public services could easily slip backwards as they are forced to make cuts and to switch services into an increasingly uncertain marketplace – just at the time when stability and reforms were beginning to bear fruit.
What’s more, our civil society – the glue that holds us together and the driving force for being able to assist each other in times of need – will be unable to respond as the years go by. Self-help is only possible when we pull together and support each other at times of greatest need.
Historically, a fear of patriotism as being jingoistic has run through thinking from the Stoics, Kant and Marx to modern thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum. Particularly on the left of politics in England, celebrating and applauding other people’s heritage and national pride – particularly the Irish – has been much more acceptable than identifying with and developing a sense of belonging from our own, English roots.
That is why I spent so much energy developing citizenship in schools. The Government’s proposals to abolish the curriculum will take us back to a belief that acquiring information without acquiring the means to use it will be sufficient for the future. Uniquely within the Midlands and the south of England, the politics of the right have asserted a narrow definition – a Home Counties view – of thinking in relation to Englishness, at once patronising and pessimistic at the same time.
Of course, some have said that ‘Britishness’ was invented by the English to assert cultural dominance throughout the UK. Well, it clearly hasn’t worked – but the English are still wary of the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown can attest to this.
So I am advocating today that we rebuild confidence. Not in nationalism built on grievance; but on embracing an inclusive form of togetherness.
In our civil society and in helping each other to survive the years ahead, we will need to reinforce that reciprocity. We will need to ensure that people feel that independence of spirit, self-determination in daily life and self-reliance in economic survival can come together with that care and compassion that builds from the family into the neighbourhood and community. We can reunite our nation by acting collaboratively and collectively.
Today we are more mobile, we communicate more, we absorb through the immediacy of satellite television what is happening across the world. The fear of terrorism, the shock of conflict, the globalisation of economic activity – all bring an underlying sense of change, rapid change which is out of our hands and out of our control.
Rooting back into community and into nationhood a sense of ourselves can help us to find a way forward in what will be the uncertain world of the decades ahead.
David Blunkett, Speech to Sheffield's Cambrian Society, 27 October 2010
Alex Salmond's speech, upon the occasion of winning an SNP majority in the 2011 Scottish general election, 6th May 2011.
KIRKCALDY is my kind of town. It gave us Adam Smith, Jack Vettriano and Gordon Brown. And earlier today, it gave the SNP our 65th and winning seat in the Scottish parliamentary elections. I am, therefore, delighted to confirm that I will be seeking re-election by the Scottish Parliament as the First Minister of Scotland.
Earlier today, in a very gracious phone call, Iain Gray conceded defeat and also assured me that he would see that the Labour Party would work constructively with the SNP. I wish Iain well with the future, since I understand he is standing down as Labour Party leader.
Before I left Aberdeenshire, Tavish Scott also phoned me to also assure me that the Liberal Democrats would seek to work constructively as an opposition in the Scots parliament.
Later this evening, I will be speaking to the Prime Minister and laying down markers as to what this result and this mandate means in terms of Scotland's relationship with the United Kingdom.
I welcome the declarations from the opposition parties about constructive opposition because, although the SNP has a majority of the seats, we don't have a monopoly of wisdom.
And the areas that we want to pursue as an immediate priority in terms of reinforcing the parliament's economic teeth, with the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, are areas which carry not just the support of the SNP but the support of other parties.
In identifying borrowing powers to keep the revival in the construction industry moving and the recovery of Scotland, we have the support of the Labour Party. In identifying the control of the Crown Estate Commission, so as Scotland gets the benefit of its vast renewable wealth of offshore resources in the way we never did in terms of our vast oil and gas resources, we have the support of the Liberal Democrats.
And, of course, in identifying the need to devolve corporation tax, it was a committee of the entire parliament that made the point that that power would have to be devolved to keep Scotland's industry competitive with elements elsewhere. We have a majority of seats but no monopoly on wisdom and we will welcome the support across the parliament as we seek to pursue these powers for the benefit of our people and secure jobs for our people.
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants to travel in hope and to aim high. Scotland has chosen to believe in itself and our shared capacity to build a fair society. The nation can be better, it wants to be better, and I will do all I can as First Minister to make it better. We have given ourselves the permission to be bold and we will govern fairly and wisely, with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive.
This is not just a victory for a single political party. I believe it is a victory for a society of people and a nation. To make this historic breakthrough required more than the hard work of the SNP faithful. It needed the trust of the people; all the people. When our movement began, it called itself the National Party of Scotland. And that is what it is today again. A party for all the people; a national party. Team Scotland has won this election – the job creators, carers, the nurses, the small businesses, the ambitious and the aspirational; they have all won.
We are not fixed on the past in all its great colour – our eyes are on the future and the dreams that can be realised. I will govern for all of the ambitions of Scotland and all the people who imagine we can live in a better land.
This party, the Scottish party, the national party, carries your hope and we shall carry it carefully and make the nation proud.
David Cameron's Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference, Friday May 23, 2008
"It's great to be here in Ayr. This is a town with a special place in the hearts of Conservatives. Ayr was ably represented for so many years by that great Scottish Tory, George Younger. It is also the home base of one of our Party's most redoubtable fighters, Phil Gallie. And it was the scene of a famous by-election victory in 2000 when John Scott won the Scottish Parliamentary seat from Labour.
"Down south it's taken us a bit longer to get the hang of by-elections. But I think you'll agree that in a seat that was labour for 30 years, in the north of England where they said we couldn't win, with a Labour campaign that threw every bit of dirt, class war and scare tactics at us, after the Prime Minister brought forward his entire legislative programme and a mini budget to spend 3 billion of your money to try and save his own skin.
"After all that, when we ended our by election drought - as we did last night in Crewe and Nantwich - we did it in some style.
"I've been keeping a close eye on what's been going on in Scotland. There's certainly a fight going on. And here's the tale of tape as I see it.
"In the blue corner, there's Annabel Goldie. The best performer in Holyrood, unwavering and unstinting, leading a strong and united team, dedicated to standing up for the best interests of Scotland and Scottish people.
"They got extra police, cuts in business rates and more drug rehabilitation. That's the Conservative Party - and Conservative principles - in action.
"And then, in the red corner, there's Wendy Alexander, not exactly steady on her feet …. quite liable to knock herself out.
"First she opposed a referendum on independence. Then she did a u-turn and said "bring it on." Then Gordon Brown u-turned on that u-turn. Then Wendy Alexander u-turned on Gordon Brown's u-turn on the first u-turn.
"You still with this? I'm not. You don't know whether to laugh - or cry. Knowing Wendy, she's doing both.
"So that's it. That's the bout. It's Solid Goldie versus Bendy Wendy. If I was the referee, I'd stop the fight right now.
"This would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Labour think they're being clever. What they've actually done is put the Union under greater threat.
"To play games by calling for a referendum right at the moment when people would take any opportunity to give the most unpopular Government in living memory a good kicking, isn't clever, isn't good politics, isn't defending the Union. It's absolutely reckless - and we should have no part of it.
"And that's what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the future of the Union. And I want to talk about the future of the Conservative Party. And I want to show how these two things are inextricably linked.
"We - the Conservative Party - are a party of the Union and a part of the Union - and we've got to play a leading role in defending the Union - because, heaven knows, Labour won't. And I want to explain what playing our part means. It means continuing what we've started - changing our Party so we can change our country. It means setting our minds to the great challenges both England and Scotland face. Above all, it means recognising that the Conservative Party is at its best when it's talking about - and acting upon - our country's future prosperity and future progress.
"But to start, we've got to be completely frank. The simple truth is that the Union between England and Scotland is under attack as never before. Whether we like it or not, the ugly stain of separatism is seeping through the Union flag. And it's up to serious politicians to put their cards on the table.
"Let me make it one hundred percent clear: I am passionate about the Union. I don't want to be the Prime Minister of England. I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - all of it, including Scotland.
"I absolutely believe we are stronger together, and weaker apart, and I will do anything and everything to keep our two countries as one. And that means addressing one-by-one the deeper questions that are fuelling separatism.
"Now, there are some would simply blame constitutional and economic arrangements between England and Scotland. 'Sort out West Lothian, renegotiate Barnett, and everything will be fine' they say. Sorry, I don't think that's an adequate explanation for the separatism we're seeing today.
"The West Lothian question and Barnett Formula have been around and been debated for decades - don't tell me it's only now that they've lit the separatist touchpaper. Of course, that doesn't mean we should ignore them. It's essential that we find answers to any unfairness in the Union - and to questions of accountability, justice and democracy. And unlike Labour - who sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away - we will take those questions seriously. I am confident it will be possible to develop an arrangement whereby, when the House of Commons considers matters that affect only English constituencies, it is English MPs who have the decisive say.
"But let me say this: if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I know my choice. Better an imperfect union than a broken one. Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce. My answer is simple: I choose the United Kingdom.
"The Union is in danger for other reasons too. There is, of course, the question of identity. The number of people who think themselves British - ahead of Scottish or English - is in decline. People no longer look to the Union flag for their sense of belonging - they look to the cross of St.George or the Saltire … if anything at all.
"It doesn't have to be like this. Being British is one of the most successful examples of inclusive civic nationalism in the world. We can be a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-national society can and should be. And the challenge now is to renew that sense of belonging.
"It's vital we get this right. As so often, Gordon Brown gets it wrong. He approaches the question of national identity like an advertising exec. So we have citizen's juries - focus groups - to decide what it means to be British. We have a competition to come up with a motto for Britain. And we have the attempt to replace the National Anthem.
"It all goes to show: Gordon Brown's view of Britishness is mechanical, not organic, it's something to be redesigned, repackaged and relaunched by Whitehall, not something which lives in our hearts.
"He talks about British values - liberty, fair play, openness. He's right, but these are general, unspecific, almost universal. What the Prime Minister's response lacks is the emotional connection with the institutions that define Britishness. These institutions are the vital part of what it means to be British.
Our armed forces.
"I have to say to the Prime Minister, you don't stand up for Britishness when you weaken our Army by destroying the Scottish regiments. And you don't stand up for Britishness when you undermine our Houses of Parliament by passing more and more power to Brussels without giving people the referendum you promised. Britishness is a matter of instinct, not calculation, and the sooner we have a Government that is willing to stand up for, and take pride in, that instinct then the sooner we can fight the forces of separation.
"But let us also acknowledge this truth. We will serve neither our Party's interest - nor the Union's interests - if we think this is enough. The Conservative Party is, and always has been, a party of the Union. Its fortunes are wrapped in ours. When we succeed - the Union succeeds. In the 1950s, when the Conservative Party was at its strongest in Scotland, the Union was at its strongest.
"But when we fail - we weaken the Union. You know what I mean. I don't want to stand here and talk about the mistakes that were made in the 1980s - I've said it before and that's all in the past. But let's recognise - for the strength of our Union - that it's vital that we succeed again now. And I'm one hundred percent clear about how our Party has always succeeded - and will succeed.
"Yes, we're a party of the centre-right - of enterprise, of families, of self-reliance, common sense and practicality. But that's not enough. We really succeed when we're the party of everyone - rich, poor, young, old, urban, and rural. And most of all, we really succeed when we're the party of the future - the party of progress.
"Just think about it: when has our Party served Britain best? It's when we have relentlessly pursued progressive ideals. We're the party of Wilberforce, who brought down slavery. We're the party of Peel, who took on vested interests, repealed the corn laws and brought cheap food to everyone. We're the party of Disraeli, who spoke of One Nation, stood up for the poor and cleared the slums. We're the party of Churchill, Macmillan and Eden who took on fascism across the continent, and built and sold homes to create a property-owning democracy. And we're the party of Margaret Thatcher, who rejected decline, refused to live in the past and who freed up our economy and stood up for aspiration for all.
"And that spirit, that determination, that drive to be on the side of progress, on the side of freedom, on the side of giving everyone the opportunity to make the most of their lives is what should fire us in the 21st century too. Not only because it will make our Union stronger - by joining everyone into a shared purpose of fighting our social ills. Not only because it is the right thing to do - because a country where someone's life story is written before they are even born is a tragedy for us all. But because history - because social, technological and economic change - is on our side.
"We have both the will - and the means. In the twenty-first century - the century of opportunity, of the information revolution, where people have and want more power and control over their lives - progressive ends will best be met through conservative means.
"Let me explain what I mean. Take fighting poverty. No one can deny Labour's sincerity when it comes to erasing poverty from our land. And it would be churlish to say they haven't achieved anything. Giving low paid people more money through tax credits has helped lift many out of poverty. But for too many it's been about taking people from just below the poverty line to just above it - and when there's 600,000 more people in severe poverty now than there were in 1997, it's clear Labour's methods have run their course.
"What we've got to do now is get to grips with the persistent causes of poverty - not just the symptoms. We've got to tackle head on the family breakdown, the drug addiction and the debt which traps people into a life of deprivation. And how can we do that? Through Conservative means.
"Using our tax system to help make Britain the most family-friendly place on Earth, so young kids get the best and most loving start in life. Reforming our welfare system so people out of work really get the help they need to get off benefits - and yes, some pretty tough sanctions so that anyone swinging the lead can't live a life on welfare if they're able to work. Tackling the causes of poverty means sorting out our prisons so we focus not just on sentencing but also rehabilitation, giving people the chance to move away from a life of addiction, poverty and crime to one of hope and opportunity. And it means recognising that in all these areas; voluntary bodies, charities, social enterprises - they aren't the third sector - they are often the first and best sector….
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"What about the key progressive aim of protecting our environment? As Conservatives, this comes naturally to us. Passing on an inheritance to future generations is what we're about. So how are we going to do it? Of course, there's a role for government to set the framework, establish the targets for carbon reduction and lead by example - especially internationally. But leave this to Labour, and you'd think this was it. The truth is, real environmental transformation will only come when we harness the Conservative means to that progressive end. Setting a price for carbon in our economy. Creating a market so our best businesses and best minds come up with the products and services that will transform our environment and our economy. Creating incentives and profits for innovation and research - so we lead the green revolution like we did the industrial one a century and a half ago. When Conservatives look out from Aberdeen, we don't see depleted North Sea oil fields we see the ideal location for Carbon Capture and Storage, so we secure our energy supplies, protect our planet and lead the world in the new technology.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"And what about the most fundamental progressive ideal of all? Equal opportunity and real social mobility. The idea that no one should be imprisoned by the circumstances of their birth. The idea that you can go from the very bottom to the very top. We all know that outside the home the real engine of social mobility are schools.
"And again, let's not dismiss Labour's record. Our schools needed investment and they gave it. But the approach that says - it's just money plus endless central direction has run its course. The Chief Inspector of Schools told us this much in plain terms, education standards have stalled.
"So what's the answer? It's time to open up the state monopoly to new providers, to new ideas and new pioneers - so that people with a passion for giving children the best opportunities can set up new schools. It's time to recognise that every child is different so they should be taught according to their ability, with setting in every school. It's time to make every Headteacher the captain of their ship, so they can really create disciplined and ordered learning environments.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"This is why it's so exciting to be a Conservative right now. Not because we're doing well in the polls - though, of course, that's good. Not because we've got the strongest team in Parliament - though, of course, we have. But because we're coming up with the plans to help with the cost of living, to take up the fight against crime, and to really reform and improve our public services. Because we're leading the intellectual agenda. Because we're winning the battle of ideas.
"And it's absolutely vital that we lead that agenda and win this battle in every corner of the United Kingdom - including right here, in Scotland. At the moment, Scottish people have no choice.
"On the one side is the establishment Labour Party, offering big state solutions and endless interference into peoples' lives. And on the other side is the disestablishment SNP, making up for rhetoric on the dismemberment of the Union what they lack in intellectual coherence on any other subject.
"What Scotland is crying out for is a strong, sensible and moderate centre-right party. A Party that says yes, we're for the Union - for England and Scotland together as one. A Party that says yes, we back families, we'll take the fight to crime and we'll always remember that it's your money, not ours, that we're spending. But also a Party that stands up for progressive ideals, like tackling poverty, unlocking social mobility and protecting our planet. We can be that party. For the sake of the Union - we must be that party.
"So, to Alex Salmond, I say this. I know you've got a plan. I know you think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs, and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union.
"As we already are with the Calman Commission, we will work to see how the devolved settlement can be improved upon so it builds on what we have, takes it forward and continues to deliver for the people of Scotland.
"So after we've just won our first by-election victory in a quarter of a century. In a constituency which had been Labour for sixty years and in which no one gave us a hope. At a time when people said that the Conservatives couldn't do the North.
"Now is the time for us - the Conservative Party - to stand up and say there really are no no-go areas for us anymore. Right here, in Scotland, we can be the force that defends the Union. We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. We can be the force that makes Scotland - makes the United Kingdom - stronger, richer and fairer. We can be. We must be. And, together, renewed, rejuvenated, reinvigorated by our great success this year, we will be.
"We've got David Cameron as Prime Minister now. A wet lipped buffoon who looks like he should be playing a trombone in a fucking Lurpak butter advert!" - Frankie Boyle
Yesterday David Cameron gave a speech on public services in England without once mentioning the word 'England'. Instead we were treated to 18 instances of the phrase 'our public services', 4 instances of 'our country' and 2 mentions of 'our schools' (not to mention 'our schools and hospitals', 'our universities', 'our teaching hospitals and universities', 'our children', 'our health outcomes', 'our society', 'public services in our country' and 'our Foundation hospitals'). He managed to mention the word 'Britain' 4 times but to his credit he spared us the moralising guff about 'Britishness' and 'British values' that would have cluttered up a Gordon Brown speech.
So, Mr Cameron, instead of this:
Some of our Foundation hospitals are bringing the very best care to the people who need it most.
City Technology Colleges and Academies are transforming education results in some of our poorest communities.
Why not say this:
Foundation hospitals in England are bringing the very best care to the people who need it most.
City Technology Colleges and Academies are transforming education results in some of England's poorest communities.
Would it be so very fucking difficult to mention England when it is England of which you speak?
Jack Straw told the Hansard Society on Tuesday that the Conservative's plans to cut the number of MPs was a "dangerous, destructive and anti-democratic" piece of gerrymandering. The full speech is up on the Hansard Society website, here's the relevant section:
The apparently virtuous call to cut the cost of politics is actually camouflage for a dangerous, destructive and anti-democratic piece of gerrymandering. Their proposal is not about cutting the cost of politics; it is about advantaging the Conservative party. Boundaries drawn on the basis of registered electors, rather than the population as a whole, already distort the electoral map because registration rates are lowest among specific groups congregated in specific locations.
According to the Electoral Commission's recent estimate, most of the three million-plus people who are eligible to vote but who are not registered are to be found in our inner urban areas. Cutting 65-80 seats by crudely equalising registered voters would disproportionately reduce representation in urban areas and would also disadvantage Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And it would hit every island community. Orkney and Shetland would be amalgamated with a large part of the highlands. The Isle of Wight would be amalgamated with a large part of Hampshire.
In stark contrast to Labour’s agenda for moving towards a new politics on the basis of popular consent, the Conservatives aim to butcher scores of constituencies for sordid political ends. I don’t think that’s the right way to go about significant constitutional change, and I don’t think it’s any
way to build public confidence in Parliament and the political process.
- The Conservative's policy is "dangerous, destructive and anti-democratic" because it reverses the Labour Party's inbuilt advantage and makes a Labour government less likely.
- Equalising constituency sizes would disproportionately reduce representation in urban Labour-voting areas.
- Equalising constituency sizes would disproportionately reduce representation in Labour-voting Scotland and Wales (where MSPs and AMs handle much of the constituency work previously handled by MPs).
My obvious disdain for Jack Straw should not be taken as an indication of support for the Conservative policy. Straw does have a point about island constituencies. It would be daft in my opinion to break up the Isle of Wight, the UK's largest constituency, or to amalgamate Orkney and Shetland into mainland constituencies (if that is indeed what the Tories advocate). And I see no particular reason why there should be a strict equalisation of constituency size according to population. But it is deeply hypocritical of Jack Straw to accuse the Tories of planning to gerrymander electoral boundaries that are at present so biased in favour of his own party.
A transcript of George Monbiot's speech to the Campaign for an English Parliament's Future of England debate.
Speaking as an honourary Welshman - and that's the only introduction you're going to get - I feel entitled to observe that the English are crazy. They will put up with anything except an improvement in their lives. They regard an enhancement to democracy and social justice as a mortal threat. They will defend the unjust Status Quo to their dying breath. And hence, we have the situation which everyone is talking about tonight.
Let's examine some of the implications of the absence of an English Parliament. The English are currently governed by a Scotsman who uses foreign mercenaries to impose decisions over purely English issues upon the English. Take for instance the issue of university top-up fees, these were resoundingly rejected by both the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments, and yet it was Welsh and Scottish MPs who imposed them on England. There is no justification, no right, no democratic basis for doing that.
Similarly with foundation hospitals, again rejected in Wales and Scotland, imposed on England by the Welsh and Scottish mercenaries drilled through the lobbies by the Scottish prime minister. That is simple unfairness and injustice of a kind that people like ourselves, certainly the progressive people in this audience, have campaigned about in other countries when we campaign against the dictatorial powers of undemocratic governments. And yet somehow we find it so much harder to see it in our own country.
Heathrow! The third runway at Heathrow, whatever you might think about it, this was entirely imposed upon the English by MPs from the other three nations. The Government won with a majority of 19 votes in the House of Commons, after 67 MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where induced by that Government to vote for it. It was an English affair but it was not allowed to be resolved in an English chamber or even by English MPs within the British chamber. That again is grossly unfair.
But the unfairness, as David has suggested, extends much further than that because the only government of England, such as it is, is the network of regional development agencies. And with the exception of the London development agency they're subject to no direct democratic scrutiny whatsoever. At the moment the only oversight of the RDAs is through unelected regional chambers. Now next year the Government has announced this wonderful democratic policy of replacing the unelected regional chambers with local authority leaders boards. Well, it sounds sort of OK if you can accept the principle of photocopy democracy. In this case you have an elected body - the local authority - which appoints a leader, who then joins a committee which has oversight over another committee. And with every copy, democracy becomes fainter and greyer.
But Ladies and Gentlemen, it's not even that good, because under the Government's proposals the RDAs will have joint responsibility with the local authorities leaders boards for setting the regional strategies and then monitoring their delivery. It's the only official body I can think of in Britain which has been charged with monitoring and overseeing itself. This is a colonial model of administration. This is a model of administration that bears no reference whatsoever to the people of this country.
We hear all these wonderful statements about sustainability and delivery, and regional growth and employment, and all the rest of it...Whatever those stated terms might be, in reality they are pork distribution offices. And they're there to hand out lavish grants to undeserving causes. Now I did a bit of research on this myself and I found out that over the past ten years these regional development agencies in England have handed out £63M to regional airports to expand those airports.
Now, we've always been told by government that airports are commercial operations, and that if we don't like the expansion of airports we should "vote with our feet and not fly abroad", and "I'm sorry, we can't buck the markets, that's just how it is". But suddenly, as a result of this research, I have discovered that these RDAs have been bucking the market. Now again, whatever you think of the expansion of airports in Britain - and we're back to the old third runway business - it is surely either a matter for government intervention or it is a matter for the free markets. I would argue as an environmentalist, that if it's a matter for government intervention then the government should be intervening to reduce our use airports and trying to channel us to alternative means of travel. The consequences of global warming, and many other issues like the quality of life for those living under the flight paths, get worse and worse as those airports expand. But secretly, without any proper oversight, without any democratic control, these RDAs have been handing out slatherings of money to these regional airports.
It's no surprise to find that all nine of the RDAs are run by former corporate executives, three of whom were formally senior officials of the Confederation of British Industry. These are people who are well known to business but completely unknown to the electorate. These are not representative of the people of this country. If you want to elect former corporate representatives you have plenty of opportunity to do so, but I don't see why we should accept that they be foisted upon us. What this system of RDAs reminds me of is the system of district commissioners and district officers imposed by Britain on its possessions in colonial times. These are people who, in this case, actually aren't even answerable to the centre. But they are appointed to the centre to govern the unruly natives and to keep them in their place and make sure that those interests of the colonial centre are represented, even if the interests of the subjects of the colonial centre are not.
This time you crazy people have been doing it to yourselves. The great colonising nation has acquiesced in this project to turn it into yet another colony. As David says it has become an internal colony, which is a profound irony here because the idea was that Britain was the great colonising nation. It has internalised that oppressive power.
Now. here's where a lot of people in this audience are going to disagree profoundly with me. But that's why we are here. I believe that one of the reasons why so little has been done to address this is that two completely different issues have been mixed up. One is democracy and the other is nationalism. My own feeling is that you don't have to be English and you don't have to be a nationalist to support the case for an English parliament. You just have to be a democrat. You don't even have to love England, you just have to love democracy. That's what we're talking about Ladies and Gentlemen, we're talking about the fundamentals of democracy - that you can make your own decisions over your own country, it's as simple as that. And so as much as I admire Blake's great poem and Parry's setting, I won't be singing Jerusalem with you this evening. I actually love the hymn, I think it's a fantastic one, but I think these are two separate issues which should be kept apart. By all means love England. By all means express your love through English nationalism, as long as doesn't tread on anyone else's toes, as long as it harms no one else - that's absolutely fine by me. But you don't need to confuse and conflate these two issues, as sometimes, it has to be said, the Campaign for an English Parliament does. They can be kept apart and I think it is much better to do so because I think there is a latent progressive interest in the idea of an English parliament out there, that tends to be put off by what they perceive - rightly ot wrongly - as jingoistic attachment to certain English values, which are a different argument as far as I'm concerned.
Let's support the idea of democracy everywhere and in all its forms.
Now I completely agree with Paul when he says this should be done by referendum. But I would like to put forward my own favoured idea and how I would like to see that referendum pan out. Because it seems to me that we can solve two problems very simply in one go, and we can solve them right here in this House. Everybody has been wondering what on earth we should do about the House of Lords, and every proposal that comes up is met by a counter proposal and there's all sorts of problems thrown up. It seems very obvious to me, we've got two chambers here. Isn't that what we want? Don't we want a chamber whose purpose is to oversee issues that have to be dealt with by a UK parliament because they are issues which are issues that are relevant to the whole of the UK, and can't be divided up by the national borders; and don't we also need a chamber whose sole purpose is to deal with the affairs of England, and the people dealing with it should be England's elected representatives?
Should we not turn the House of Lords into the UK parliament and the House of Commons into an English parliament?
It is profoundly ironic Ladies and Gentlemen, that the English, who believe they invented parliamentary democracy, should be one of the last nations on earth to benefit from it. I hope that situation doesn't last much longer.
George Monbiot is a writer and political and environmental activist.
A transcript of Peter Facey's speech to the Campaign for an English Parliament's Future of England debate.
Thank you for inviting me.
I hope there will be a big clap at the end. Hopefully. Well, we will see.
Unlock Democracy, like the Campaign for an English Parliament, is a pressure group. Our basic mission is to change and improve the quality of democracy in Britain. We believe that this country is too centralised; that power is held by too few people; that our constitution actually enables government, not citizens; and that fundamentally that to unlock the potential of the people of these islands we actually have to empower individual citizens and communities. We are a democratic organisation that you're all welcome to join, and I am accountable to my membership and to our elected board. However, the views I’m going to speak here are fundamentally my own, so shoot me not the organisation.
When I was asked to come and speak I was thinking about where to start. I think probably the first thing to do is to start with me and how I feel. My father is from Devon and my family name, Facey, is a Devon-Cornish name, so it’s half English and half Cornish. My mother is Manx and is very, very proud of being Manx. I'm one of the few who as a child would have heard the Manx national anthem being. I think of myself as English. I'm proud to be British. I'm proud to be a citizen of the United Kingdom. I'm married to an Australian, and I have two children who are both English/British but also Australian. And we're arguing at the moment about what cricket team they play for when they grow up.
I for a long time have considered myself to be English. The question is, what that actually means in terms of governmental structures and what that should mean in terms of how we as a people are governed. Today, as well as being the Queen's Speech, in Wales the All Wales Convention reported and actually recommended that there should be a referendum on giving Wales more powers, effectively, but not quite, bringing it up to the level of the Scottish Parliament.
So we are facing the possibility of a devolution settlement in terms of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that gives a large amount of decentralisation of power to 15% of this country. Now I'm in favour of that, Charter88 - one of our predecessors - campaigned for it, I apologise to nobody for it, and I think in terms of those parts of the United Kingdom it is an asset positive good.
But the question remains, what about the 85% ?
For me, and I live in the great county of Cambridgeshire, my life is probably more centralised today than it was 12 years ago. Decisions that affect me where I live, whether it's about the new towns being built around me, or education or health care, are more centralised than they were 12 years ago. I have very little say, and my neighbours have very little say, about the priorities in our area. This place [The Houses of Parliament] dominates every decision, whether it’s about licensing laws, healthcare, education or the A505, which runs past my village. All of that is dominated not by my county council, not by my district council, or parish council, but by this government.
For me that is wrong. In some ways those people who campaign for an English parliament and us, at that point, agree. I believe that power should be decentralised more to people so that they can shape the issues in their lives that affect them. I do not see why people in Scotland should have a say over education in England, I don't see why people in Northern Ireland should have a decision on that - but also, to be honest, I don't see why the people of Yorkshire should have a say over lots of things that happen in Cambridgeshire, because actually it's none of their business, it's our business locally.
For me that's an important democratic issue.
So to the constitutional question about where England is. One of the few places where you can see England mentioned in our constitutional settlement is when you walk through central lobby. Look up, it's beautiful. You look up and you see the four patron saints of the United Kingdom: St George, St Patrick, St Andrew, St David. And that's one of the few places you will see England mentioned. Part of the problem is that This Place used to be the English Parliament, but it became the British Parliament, and England and Britain became one. They didn't become one in Scotland, but in England they did. In fact we are governed in a way that doesn't actually recognise that there are four distinct parts to the United Kingdom.
Earlier this week I had a meeting at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Now, for all intents and purposes that is an English department; it has nothing to do with Scotland, nothing to do with Wales and nothing to do with Northern Ireland. There is a nice Union Jack flying outside it - that's a new thing! Up until recently we weren't allowed to fly the Union Flag - apart from the Queen's birthday and other strange days - so that flag flies outside but nothing else flies outside. There is no recognition that it's not a UK department but, actually, it's an English department.
It isn't just about the constitutional situation, it's also about a cultural situation. There is a redneck quality about saying "I'm English", it causes a particular stir. Every day on my way to the train station I pass one of those roadside snack bars that flies the English flag, it alternates between the Confederate flag and the English flag.
That cultural sense I think can be addressed in a very simple way. Here's a novel idea. Everywhere that we have a town hall or flagpole, why don't we fly flags? At the moment we have the idea that we can fly one flag. Flying one flag is boring. Alongside that Union Flag why not have the flag of St George, and in your locality why not fly your local flag, and if you want to why not fly the EU flag? If you want to! I know, I know, that last suggestion was a terrible one.
I used to live in Croydon, and in Croydon, for a while, unbeknownst to anybody, the council suddenly started to fly flags. If anyone knows Croydon, it's one of those wonderful 1950s towns that had its centre taken out. There's a big motorway runs through its centre and there's a bridge that goes over the top with four flagpoles on it. All of a sudden, the council decided that they're going to fly something from this, and so they began to fly the Croydon Flag, the Flag of St George, the Union Flag and the European Flag. Then they were most probably told that it was illegal to do that at the time, and they stopped. But actually, that says a lot. Flying those flags said where Croydon was in the world: It said it was proud of being Croydon, of being one of the largest parts of London, of being the largest town that is not a city in the United kingdom; it was proud of being in England; it was proud of being in the United Kingdom; and we can have a debate about whether it was proud of being in the EU or not.
If that was replicated across the breadth of England, whether it is in Stoke-on-Trent, or in South Cambridgeshire where I live, then that itself would start sending the message that actually identity isn't just a single one. My problem with the Government's agenda of Britishness is that they've effectively told the people of England that they can only have one identity. That's not true.
I originally grew up in the South West, in Devon, and for a long time you saw people crossing the Tamar with the Cornish flag, and we went through a popular time were they flew the Cornish flag and the Canadian flag from their fishing boats - a little issue to do with Spanish fishing boats.
The people of Devon know that they are equal if not better than the people of Cornwall and decided to create a Devon flag. This phenomena of people creating or recreating and flying local flags is spreading. For me it is a trend that should be encouraged.
What do we do about the question of centralisation? I agree that we should have people deciding their constitutional settlement for themselves in England, I support a constitutional convention, and I support people being involved in that process. But I also support an idea that goes beyond just simply saying "we need an English Parliament", and that idea is a Great Enabling Act - a Devolution Enabling Act - which basically says that we're going to do it fundamentally differently in England to how you did it in Scotland and Wales. We're not going to let the centre say "this is what you can have, these are the options", we're going to say, people of England you can have this power, this is the power you can have, but we're going to allow people to call it down.
Now it may be that those of you in the Campaign for an English Parliament will succeed and we will decentralise power to England, but it could be that we decentralise it to Cornwall or Kent. One little fact: Kent actually has more people than ten US states. All the power which we have exercised at the moment in Wales, in most European countries is exercised at a level a lot below the nation. A German lander has significant power, a Swiss canton has significant power, and the US capital - Washington DC - has more power than Cornwall. But Cornwall has more people than Washington DC.
The idea that we have simply to decentralise power to a large unit, that being England, is wrong. Now I'm not going to sit here and say that it has to be one or the other. What I'm going to say is that the people of England have the right and that we should have a process whereby that power can be pulled down.
We should have two principles.
Firstly, it should be driven from the bottom not the top, so that either local authorities or people via petition can trigger it. That would encourage competition between rival campaigners. Those of you who campaign for an English Parliament would have an opportunity to trigger a referendum, pull down power, and have an English parliament, if you persuade the people of England that that is what they wanted. But also other people, like the campaigners in Cornwall - who have raised 50,000 signatures for a Cornish Assembly - could actually have a Cornish Assembly, if they could get it.
And the second principle would be that power, once devolved, could not be taken away and back to the centre without the consent of the people in that area.
That would say to the people of England that it's in our hands to decide how we are governed and where power should lie. People like me who are localists, and who want to draw it down further than England, would argue one thing; and those people who believe that actually devolving from 60 million to 50 million is sufficient can have another argument. But that would be a wonderful argument to have.
There is, according to the old joke, no equivalent in Gaelic to the word mañana - nothing, as the crofter is supposed to have said to the tourist, "expressing quite that degree of urgency". By the same token, there is as far as I am aware no equivalent in Gaelic, or for that matter in English, to the word schadenfreude, a useful German expression meaning to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. But it is not an emotion exclusive to the Germans.
Do I detect a certain schadenfreude among Scots at the apparent current turmoil among the English over their sense of national identity? If so, it is given extra savour because that crisis of identity is provoked at least in part by the creation of the Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales. Suddenly it is Scotland which is forging ahead in a grand constitutional experiment, and England which is poring over its national navel and asking: who are we ... and why?
Many in England once used the terms 'English' and 'British' interchangeably. Yet, in the wake of our constitutional revolution, the nature of Britain itself has changed. We no longer live in a unitary state, with a single common identity - representative bodies in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and growing interest in regional government in England are focusing attention on the different ways we see ourselves. Britain is now more diverse than ever, with diverse identities: to be British today is more to accept values of tolerance and decency, and a spirit of innovation, rather than being about ethnic origin, religion or even language.
We are increasingly celebrating diversity, and this has implications for several policy areas. In particular, Britain needs much clearer rules for regulating relations between the constituent parts of the Union. Liberal Democrats have long argued for a written constitution for the UK. Now, more than ever before, this is an urgent need, if we are successfully to cope with the tensions that will inevitably arise from the existence of powerful bodies in Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh and London.
Supporting diversity also means that we should be taking action through a coherent race relations policy when harmony in this area is undermined, and providing refuge for genuine asylum seekers. We should be proud of the heritage of our isles, but we are an innovative and resourceful people who are not restrained by tradition. The idea of Britain now encompasses the Londoner whose grandparents came to Britain from the Indian sub-continent, and the Welsh man or woman whose family has tended the same farmland for generations. And we will all feel at different times that we belong to different groups - as someone who feels himself to be a Highlander, a Scot, a Briton, and a European, I am more comfortable in the new diverse Britain than I ever have been. The Britishness of the modern United Kingdom is a picture painted with a broad brush, but it is no less a work of art for that.
Yes - these are indeed remarkable times in the relationships between the nations of our isles. For a significant part of the twentieth century, and indeed during the latter years of the nineteenth, British politics has been beset with the problem of how to govern the non-English nations of the Union. First, we had the Irish Question, which exercised Westminster politicians for well over forty years until it was 'settled' in the early 1920s, only to re-emerge nearly fifty years on. By that time, of course, we also had Scottish and Welsh Questions to answer. It was many years until those of us asking those questions received a satisfactory answer.
Yet today, the Scottish and Welsh Questions have been answered basically to the satisfaction of all but the nationalists. We may even be on the verge of an answer to the Irish Question.
So the most remarkable feature of British politics today, is not that politicians are finally dealing with 'Questions' about Britain's non-English lands. It is that there is a new question - and it deals with England. The English Question, put simply, asks how England should be governed in the light of Britain's constitutional revolution. South of the border, people have suddenly realised that England has no democratic structure of its own, and that its affairs are dealt with through a British Parliament in which MPs from outside England sit. Some, most notably Teresa Gorman, have said that a separate English Parliament is the answer to the English Question.
I do not want to rule out an English Parliament, but there are problems with that approach. First, it is simply not true that an English Parliament would entirely solve the English problem, for the situation is not as simple as advocates of an English Parliament suggest. Under the current devolved framework, the Scottish Parliament has more powers than the Welsh Assembly, and they both have different powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. This means that there are certain areas where Westminster legislates for England alone, but others where it legislates for combinations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To tackle this problem we might not need just one extra Parliament, but, conceivably, several - dealing with English, English and Welsh, English/Welsh/Northern Irish, and conceivably English/Northern Irish matters. Would this really make sense to the British people? Would it in any way reflect the identities of communities within the Union?
The second problem is that an English Parliament would do nothing to give voice to the serious regional differences within England. The population of England is vast compared with other parts of the Union. A national Parliament within the UK is all very well for the Scots with a population of five million, but will the forty-six million people of England really get something much more accountable than Westminster if an English Parliament is established? And, if an English Parliament was established in Westminster, as it surely would be, would the people of Newcastle, or Cornwall really feel that it is any less remote than the current UK Parliament? Within England, there are serious concerns in areas such as the North-East and the South-West, that the current Westminster Parliament treats these areas as peripheral. The regions of England are not bothered about Scots and others voting on English matters - they are far more concerned about decisions being taken in a far away place which seems to know nothing of huge swathes of England. An English Parliament would do little to meet these regional concerns.
The third problem with the idea of an English Parliament is that the English Question is itself misphrased. Surely we should instead be focusing far more on a new British Question - how do we create fluid structures which allow new relationships to develop between the different nations and regions of the Union? Instead of assuming that cities such as Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle want to look towards London all the time for their next level of government, we could be much more imaginative. If you live in Bristol, it is, by and large, far more easy to reach Cardiff than London. If you live in Newcastle or Sunderland, your nearest capital city is Edinburgh, not London. And if you live in Leeds, you are probably far more likely to think of that thriving city as the centre of a bustling region with international strengths, than you are to feel like a junior partner to London.
We need in other words, to rethink the idea of Unionism, so that it is no longer associated with the Conservative Party, or one community in Northern Ireland. A new Unionism in Britain should not be about treaties between capitals and crowns. It should be about relations between the regions of England, and the other nations of the UK, in which the North-East works with the Scots, and the South-West works with the Welsh, and both work with Europe, just has much as they feel subject to London. The new Council of Isles to be established as part of the Good Friday Agreement already offers exciting opportunities for liaison between the various UK capitals and Dublin. The English Regions should be added to this equation.
There was much wrong with the old Britain. It was the most centralised democratic state in Europe; it assumed that there was little regional diversity within England; and it gave the non-English nations of the Union with a profound sense of being ignored. In the past three years, the sweeping away of that old structure has been truly a sight to behold.
Yet we must not throw the idea of Britain itself out with the proverbial bathwater. The diversity of the Union gives us many strengths. Centuries of success and innovation have shown the British together to be a resourceful, tolerant and open-minded people, with much to learn from each other, and much to give to the wider world. Michael Ignatieff recently argued that "there is something intrinsically good about multi-ethnicity", and that this applied to the nations of the UK as much as anywhere else. "Let us remain together" he said, "so that we can continue our argument together". There are certainly great arguments to be had within our own nations in the United Kingdom. Yes, this means tackling the English Question. But, just as importantly, it means rethinking the way Britain as a whole is governed, and giving it new meanings in the next century.
Charles Kennedy: Lecture to the Scottish Council Foundation by Charles Kennedy MP, 30 June, 1999