Due to lack of time and, to an extent, a lack of motivation, I have decided to stop blogging here.
I thought I'd find the debate about the Scottish Independence Referendum enjoyable but I'm bored of it already, which is unfortunate because the Scottish Question is, once again, dominating everything, as if the Scots are the only people whose opinion on the Union and how they wish to be governed matters.
As far as the political classes are concerned the English Question can be answered by mitigating the West Lothian Question (see IPPR paper England and the Union: How and why to answer the West Lothian question), devolving power to city regions or electing mayors. What they definitely won't do is what they should do: ask the people of England how we want to be governed, which is actually the only way to answer the English question. It even sounds as though Nick Clegg's constitutional commission will treat England as a collection of disparate entities rather than as a nation.
Q: The committee's next inquiry will be on the need for a constitutional convention in the UK. The committee will meet people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But who does it meet to discuss England?
Clegg says he agrees with the need to decentralise power within England. Sometimes reform can happen in a piecemeal way. The government's city deals will give eight cities unprecedented powers. Yesterday he had a meeting with colleagues who said, if cities can get these powers, why not Cornwall. That shows how these initiatives develop.
The government has move "relatively fast" to give powers to cities, he says. But these powers have not been properly deployed yet. For example, business rates have been devolved.
In the event that the Scottish nationalists lose the independence referendum, which I fully expect them to, and start to push for greater devolved powers, the political class will then have to discuss England. In other words I think we have to wait until we know for definite where the Scots stand. There are other groups too who need to work out where they stand. UKIP for example. Are UKIP for an English parliament or against it? And the English nationalists of the Tory party, are they prepared to fight for England to be self-governing, or will their 'English nationalism' - such as it is - be mollified by a more EU sceptical stance from the UK Government (see John Redwood's England Expects and my Euroscepticism: A very English disease?)? And then there's the English Democrats. Are they the modern, acceptable face of English nationalism, or are they the final bolt hole for BNP rejects? The available evidence seems to point to the latter. Steve Uncles' policy of recruiting BNP into the English Democrats appears to have been a success.
I'd like to think that I've done all I can to promote an inclusive civic nationalism and reign in the idiots who control the English Democrats. At this present time it looks as though I have lost that battle. But in the great scheme of things I think it is of little consequence. Common sense and decency will eventually prevail, it's just a shame that the English Democrats have been allowed to do so much damage to the Campaign for an English Parliament. I haven't been a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament for a couple years now because of their association with the English Democrats, but as of now I am cutting all links with the CEP. I feel that the non-partisan nature of the CEP is compromised by it being top heavy with English Democrat supporters, and because many of the national council seem to be inexplicably in thrall to Robin Tilbrook. I'm tired of being slapped down by CEP members for criticising the English Democrats and have no wish to be associated any longer with an organisation that has intimate links with the English Democrats and which consequently therefore is increasingly linked by association to the BNP and their racist ilk.
Thank you for reading.
In February Frank Field asked the Prime Minister to open a debate on the English Question. Cameron shrugged off the question. Remarkably, Field reveals that on the strength of that question the BBC asked him to appear on Question Time from St Andrews, and that the Labour Party leadership tried to persuade him not to appear.
Following a question I put to the Prime Minister on what I call the 'English Question', the Question Time team asked whether I would like to go on last Thursday's show, as it would be broadcast from Scotland.
I readily agreed, but I wondered whether the powers that be in the Labour party would try and block my appearance. They did, or at least they tried.
It was presented to me that I should not go on and that any appearance by me on QT could lose Labour any number of elections in the foreseeable future.
This is the normal treatment. Last time I was on Radio 4's Any Questions?, the team refused to buckle to Labour pressure to get me off. This time the line was that I could not possibly understand complicated Scottish politics. They were really worried that I was going to express my views as an English MP and they didn't know how to handle this.
Nigel Farage take note. Perhaps the BBC are crying out for politicians with a national profile to discuss the English Question.
Field said he was shocked by the Question Time audience and the sub-standard level of debate surrounding the Scottish Independence referendum. Instead of charming him with the values and virtues of Scottish independence the audience was, Field said, scrubbing around on the floor arguing over whether Scotland would be better off or worse off financially and whether 16 year-olds should vote.
I have to say that I agree with Field. But it's not the audience that should be ashamed, it's politicians on both sides who have reduced the independence debate to such triviality. The longer the debate goes on the cheaper and more tawdry it appears, so much so that the stereotype of the penny-pinching Scottish miser is going to be the only winner. Unless, that is, the penny-pinching Shetlanders and Orcadians beat them at their own game.
The other day, someone in my party-an accomplished policy wonk-was challenged with the notion that the Scotland Bill and the move towards taxation would inevitably result in discussion of the Barnett formula. He said: "Oh, there is no way that people will ever take that money away from Scotland. We are safe". We must not make these assumptions. These are deep waters.
The identity of the policy-wonk remains a mystery but it might as well be George Osborne who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has well and truly kicked reform of the Barnett Formula into a distant and unknowable future.
A poll by Harris Interactive has found that the Scots are the most, and English the least, well-travelled nations within the UK.
Wales and Scotland remain unexplored by at least a quarter of Brits, a survey reveals.
The research also found Scots enjoy a domestic holiday more than their UK neighbours, with Scottish nationals on average having visited 2.02 other countries within the UK. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the English, visiting an average 1.69 countries outside England.
Additionally, the study by discount travel website Hotwire.com revealed that Brits are more familiar with foreign destinations than what lies in their own backyards. That 71 per cent of Londoners have been to Paris, compared to 69 per cent who have been to Wales, reveals domestic destinations are overlooked, the travel company says.
I actually think these are quite sad statistics.
When I was at school I was
encouraged forced to write to German and French 'pen friends' who were schooled in the towns that my home town was twinned with. I found it a completely pointless and unrewarding task. To this day I remember the horror and incomprehension that I felt as my thirteen year-old self opened a letter from my German pen friend, only to find a poster from a German teen magazine featuring Don Johnson on one side and Michael Hasslehoff on the other. WTF? Was this hate mail. Was I seriously expected to correspond with this loser. What is there to say except "your taste in music sucks and I am absolutely certain we have nothing in common".
Wouldn't it have been better and possibly more rewarding culturally (if not linguistically) if my home town had been twinned with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish towns? Or with towns in another part of England. I realise that a domestic British twinning system would not be rewarding for everyone. Town councillors and teachers wouldn't get their free junkets to France to pick up duty free. And the EU would lose a valuable opportunity to indoctrinate schoolchildren. But those downsides would be a good thing for most people.
Given that British towns are now un-twinning for reasons of politics and money, I'm surprised that a Unionist politician hasn't suggested intra-British twinning to strengthen Britishness.
Lillibet kept this quiet.
Yesterday, the day before Robin Tilbrook appears on the Daily Politics to discuss an English parliament, Prof John Curtice released British Social Attitudes polling which shows support for an English parliament at just 26%. English Democrat supporters might smell a rat. Curtice is the BBC's psephologist of choice and a regular on the Daily Politics. These figures were due for publication in the 29th British Social Attitudes report which is published in full in September. Did Andrew Neil ask his fellow North Briton to bring forward publication to counter recent polling from ippr and British Future, both of which show far greater support for an English dimension to devolution?
Probably not. But the early publication of this data might still be politically motivated. John Curtice would say that it's all about 'impact' but I'm sure it has been released early in order to influence the West Lothian Commission and the debate on Scottish Devo-Max/Plus/Independence.
Anyway, the 2011 figure of 26% in favour of an English parliament is up on 2010's figure of 23% but, as is always the case with British Social Attitudes polling, it is on the low side when compared to other polls.
At the end of the report there is a chapter which attempts to explain why British Social Attitudes finds less English discontent, grievance and nationalism than every other pollster. It's worth a read.
Whilst I accept that British Social Attitudes has methodological consistency on its side I find it almost impossible to believe its findings:
As discussed in the introduction to this report, those who believe that there will be – or has already been – an ‘English backlash’ to devolution in Scotland and Wales argue that this will be reflected in:
- a heightened sense of English identity and a corresponding decline in feelings of Britishness
- increasing resentment in England towards the financial deal other countries get from the union, and
- growing calls for changes to the way England is governed – from removing the voting rights of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons to establishing a separate English parliament.
The latest data from BSA provides little evidence to support the first of these predictions. To the extent that any shift towards a greater sense of English identity did occur, it was both very modest and occurred at around the same time as the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in 1999.....
....Although there has been a small increase in demand for an English parliament since around 2008, this largely reflects a fall in demand for English regional assemblies, rather than any shift away from the status quo.
This doesn't, in my opinion, reflect the reality of life lived in England. It seems to me that there is a palpable sense of rising English identity and discontentment with the status quo. It's not necessarily channelled into outright calls for an English parliament, and it's not necessarily anti-British, but the grievance and sense of Englishness is certainly there. I'd be interested to know what John Curtice's gut feelings are. Does he believe his own findings? Has he ever visited an English pub and raised the subject of Scottish independence to see what responses he gets? Anecdotal evidence is no substitute for scientific evidence, but the former does help corroborate the latter.
Does British Social Attitudes face-to-face method of polling reveal a 'Shy English Nationalist Factor' similar to the 'Shy Tory Factor'?
It's the only explanation I can come up with to explain the discrepancy between what British Social Attitudes report and what I perceive with my own eyes and ears.
English nationalists often complain about my negative commentary on the English Democrats and ask why I never report a good news story about the EDP. So I've been waiting, patiently, for a good news story about the English Democrats to come up. And wouldn't you know it, two have come up on the same day!
After the film has been shown during the programme I shall be appearing in the studio to debate the need for an English Parliament with a Government Minister and an Opposition Shadow Minister on what is after all the Daily Politics Shows most high profile programme in the week i.e. the one following on from Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Please do look out for the programme and tell all your friends and family to either watch it or play it on BBC IPlayer as this certainly will be one of the most high profile bits of media coverage that anyone from the English Nationalist cause has yet managed. Let’s work to ensure that by the next leap year we have really made a difference – for England’s sake!
To get a Tory Minister and Labour Shadow to debate the case for an English Parliament live on air is something of an achievement. I will certainly be watching.
And second. Having previously raised objections to homophobic comments from certain English Democrats, I'm pleasantly surprised to learn that Michael Felse is the English Democrats' candidate for the Salford Mayoral elections.
The Scottish Government are the most resolute defenders of the Barnett formula, arguably against the interests of the other nations of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State therefore think that if the people of Scotland vote yes in a referendum on independence, the Barnett formula should apply to the nation’s debt?
I do not envisage that Scotland will become independent from the United Kingdom. I think we are stronger together and weaker apart. The hon. Gentleman touches on the fundamental issue of sorting out what the basis of that independence might look like, and the Scottish National party has so far singularly failed to answer questions on that.
First published on Our Kingdom.
From an English perspective David Cameron's most recent speech on the Union is marginally better than his previous big speech on the Union - also delivered to a Scottish audience - in which he blamed the rise of Scottish separatsim on English ignorance and promised to fight 'sour Little Englanders' all the way. David Cameron probably decided to leave the English out of Thursday's speech after reading that the Institute of Public Policy Research found that only one in four of the English support the status quo; that 59% of the English do not trust the UK government to work in the best long-term interests of England, with 79 per cent saying that Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on English laws, and; that 80% of English people support Devo-Max for Scotland. It was a calculated mistake; England, and the rest of the United Kingdom, complicate matters.
David Cameron (or rather Westminster) may have the legal right to prevent a legally binding referendum on Devo-Max but he does not have the moral right. Cameron, however, has gambled big by stating that the case for Devo-Max, the preferred choice of both the Scots and the English, cannot be an considered until after the Scots have rejected independence. This is snake oil salesman territory. Cameron will not consider Devo-Max as it is understood by the Scottish public because, as one questioner put it, "devo max is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state [status quo] of the United Kingdom as independence." Or to use Lord Forsyth's turn of phrase: "Devo max would mean creating an English Parliament and a federal government". Fiscal federalism of the kind that 'Devo-Max' entails would arguably have more profound consequences for the Westminster bubble than the loss of Scotland.
Even if federalism were a desirable outcome from a Conservative perspective, Devo-Max would still not be an option because it requires the consent of four nations - not just the Scottish people - and there is no Unionist blueprint for such an eventuality, nor any roadmap that could be rolled out in time for Autumn 2014. So Cameron is left selling a product that he and his Scottish audience do not understand. Will the quasi-federal Union that Cameron wants the Scottish nation to buy into be one in which Scottish MPs are prevented from voting on 70% of Westminster legislation, logically, therefore, excluding Scottish MPs from ministerial positions with an English portfolio? Will it be a Union in which reform of the Barnett Formula will trim Scotland's budget by £4.5 billion? Will it be a Union in which Scotland has proper tax and spend powers or control over oil revenue? Or will it be a Union in which Scotland has greater non-fiscal powers but in which Scottish Government policy is shackled - via Barnett - to those of the UK Government's in England, while the unwanted status quo remains a reality for a constitutionally discontent and increasingly nationalistic England?
Unionists need to answer these questions prior to the referendum on Scottish Independence.
We need to know exactly what manner of Union Cameron is asking the Scots to vote for? In refusing to countenance Devo-Max, and by ignoring the English, Cameron belies his claim that "The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership".
In what way is it a free partnership if the Scottish are not permitted a vote on Devo-Max and the English are never even consulted?