Thursday, 2 July 2009

Why UKIP's devolution policy is wrong

In 1997, Tony B.liar presented Donald Dewer, the first Scottish First Minister, with a ceremonial copy of the Scotland Act on the front of which he had scrawled:
To Donald,

It was a struggle, it may always be hard : but it was worth it. Scotland and England together on equal terms!

Tony Blair
The Scotland Act marked a fundamental change in the way the UK was governed and widened the democratic deficit that had always existed between England and Scotland, with the latter already having a disproportionately high number of MPs and its own dedicated Minister and Office within the British government.

The Scotland Act gave Scotland a devolved Scottish Parliament and Executive with control of domestic affairs in Scotland, a Scottish First Minister and a raft of MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) to represent the Scottish people in their new parliament.

Shortly afterwards, a referendum was held in Wales (50% turnout, 51% in favour) and a Welsh Assembly was created with much more limited powers than the Scottish Parliament but an impressive amount of control of domestic affairs nonetheless. A year or two later, the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont was reconstituted, giving the Northern Irish people self-government again.

Far from putting England on an equal footing with Scotland, or the rest of the UK, this put England at a distinct disadvantage. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have continued to attend the British parliament in Westminster and vote on any bill put before the House, whether it something that is devolved in their own constituencies or not. University top-up fees and foundation hospitals are just two examples of controversial legislation that only apply to England that would not have passed without the votes of Scottish MPs. The Scottish health and education services are under the control of the Scottish Parliament north of the border yet Scottish MPs lined up to vote for the introduction of foundation hospitals and top-up fees in England, overturning the vote of the majority of English MPs who had voted against them.

So what is UKIP's policy on devolution? In a nutshell, it is to abolish the devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments and replace them with grand committees of MPs based on the country they were elected in. Scottish MPs would sit in Holyrood for a couple of days a week, Welsh MPs in Cardiff Bay, Northern Irish MPs in Stormont and English MPs in Westminster. For the other couple of days, they would all descend on Westminster to deal with British issues.

When the Hansard Society published their Audit of Public Engagement report, the issue that respondents were most dissatisfied with was Scottish MPs voting on English issues. Not the European Empire (4th), not House of Lords reform (3rd) and not funding of political parties (2nd). Would UKIP's policy address that dissatisfaction? Yes, to a certain extent but would it work?

The UKIP policy is a variation on the English Votes on English Legislation (EVoEL) policy the Tories announced a few years ago. On the day the Tories announced their new EVoEL policy, an MP from a Scottish constituency said that under EVoEL he would still be able to claim an interest in any English matter because any money spent in England would affect the amount of money in Scotland's block grant.

This wouldn't happen if an English executive was created with clearly defined areas of responsibility. I don't know if this was the intention of the committee that came up with the policy but it is the only way that it can work without MPs representing the celtic nations undermining the whole setup as mentioned in the paragraph above. But if you create an English executive then why not create an English Parliament?

Under the current system, Scottish people elect MPs to represent them in the British parliament and MSPs to represent them in the Scottish Parliament. In Wales they elect MPs to represent them in the British parliament and AMs to represent them in the Welsh Assembly. In Northern Ireland they elect MPs to represent them in the British parliament and MLAs to represent them in the Northern Irish Assembly. In England we elect British MPs to represent us in the British parliament but nobody to represent us in an English assembly.

Under UKIPs proposed system, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and English people would elect MPs to represent them in the British parliament and their national assemblies at the same time. It's a bizarre concept because it requires MPs to put Britain first for a couple of days a week and then put their own nations first for another couple of days a week. There is a clear conflict of interests and divided loyalties in asking MPs to put Britain before their own nation for half of the week and then put their own nation before Britain for the other half.

It's worth repeating a quote from the bible that I used a couple of weeks ago:
No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other.

Matthew 6:24
You cannot reasonably expect an MP to effectively and fairly separate their loyalties based on what day of the week it is. You also can't expect MPs elected in England to suddenly rediscover their loyalty to England when they've spent over a decade defending a system of apartheid against their own constituents.

But the biggest problem with UKIP's devolution policy is not that it won't work, it is that it is out of step with public opinion. Had the members ot the committee that came up with UKIP's devolution policy done their research and looked at what the many independent opinion polls say, they wouldn't have come up with this policy. There is a large majority in favour of the creation of an English parliament, just as there is a large majority in favour of the Scottish Parliament.

So what are the arguments against an English Parliament (or any of the other devolved assemblies) within UKIP? Well, so far I've heard the following:
  1. It will lead to the break-up of the union
  2. Too many politicians
  3. It's playing into the hands of the European Empire
Let's take the first argument - it will lead to the break-up of the union. Firstly, the union will be dissolved in my lifetime. I'm not advocating the break-up of the union, I'm just telling it how it is. All over the world - but particularly in Europe - the nold unions are breaking up and historic nations are re-emerging. The union between England and Scotland was never a strong one - Scotland retained all its own customs, traditions, legal system, etc. and has never really been integrated into the union in the same way England and Wales have. Now they have their own parliament, the union is virtually unravelled from Scottish life. The Scots would declare independence before they lost their parliament and while the Welsh are a bit less enthusiastic about their assembly than the Scots are about their parliament, that would change dramatically if it was under threat. The only chance the union has of surviving is to put all four home nations on an equal footing and as devolution cannot realistically be rolled back, that means by converting the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies into parliament and creating an English Parliament.

The second argument - too many politicians - is a common one and the easiest to dismiss. We currently have over 650 British MPs. If you took away 80% of their job by devolving it to an English Parliament, why would you still need over 650 British MPs? It needn't mean more politicians, just different politicians. With a devolved parliament in all four home nations and a small federal British government, there would be no need for any more than one British MP per county with the balance (or less) being English parliamentary constituencies, allowing for 2 or 3 Members of an English Parliament to represent each county.

The third argument - that it is playing into the hands of the European Empire - is such bunkum that it's barely worth talking about but if I don't dispell the myth it will perpetuate. Our imperial overlords on the continent split the UK up decades ago. They didn't split it into four, but into twelve euroregions - Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and nine euroregions of England. Uniting all nine euroregions under one devolved English Parliament would not be playing into the hands of the European Empire, it would be a two-fingered salute to the anglophobes and federalists that see a future where England only exists in history books.

UKIP's devolution policy loses us support from a large number of voters who want an English Parliament, 99% of which are arch-eurosceptics. Those people generally vote for the Tories because of their vague promises (aren't they always vague?) to sort out the West Lothian Question or, if they feel that strongly about it, they vote for the English Democrats. If UKIP came out in favour of an English Parliament, we would not only reinforce our credentials as a democratic, libertarian party but we would attract the vast majority of English Democrat voters and an even bigger chunk of Tory voters. If we can't convince enough people to vote UKIP in the general election on our policy of leaving the European Empire, let's convince them to vote for us by supporting an English Parliament.

For Info: I am a national council member of the Campaign for an English Parliament


Bob Feal-martinez said...

Campaign for an English Parliament:

Yes but who are you.

wonkotsane said...

I don't understand the question. Who am I personally or who are the Campaign for an English Parliament? The former you should aready know as we're Facebook friends and I'm active on the UKIP forum. The latter, you can click on the link and read at your leisure. I didn't write this to promote the CEP, I mentioned my membership of the CEP so that readers know my not exactly vested interest (I don't gain anything from being in the CEP, it costs me a lot of money!) in the subject but that I have an interest in it nonetheless. Best to be upfront about these things.

If that doesn't answer your question, please clarify what you're asking. :o)

Dark Lochnagar said...

As a Scottish Nationalist I am all for England having it's own Parliament. 95% of people in Scotland would NOT THINK that it is fair that Scottish MPs vote on purely English issues. That is why SNP Members do not vote thus. It is only the Lapour Party cannon fodder who would agree with this policy.

AProlefrom1984 said...

Very well done post. I agree with everything raised. UKIP saying it'll abolish the existing assemblies is a non starter. The English Parliament question needs to be clearly answered for practical reasons - most of UKIP's support is in England. And most people minded to vote UKIP want our own version of the SNP. You're right, this is why UKIP's support during the gen election gets shaky. In London, UKIP did worse than they could have done last year because they'd earlier stated they thought the GLA was a waste of money. People love devolved power, and UKIp has to deal with this. When many didn't know of UKIP it was ok to have a policy that only addressed Europe, but now UKIP is seriously an option at the ballot box, this fundamental question must be addressed BEFORE the next general election campaign kicks off. The election may even happen before June 2010, depending on how chaotic the Labour conference becomes. And UKIP needs a UK based leader to speak on these local issues in a high profile manner.
Finally, I'm also mystified by Feal-martinez's question. Mrs Wonko knows the answer to that, so that's all that matters. :-)

AProlefrom1984 said...

I forgot to add that Scotland only went for the 1707 Act as England provided access to a very profitable empire. England provided the navy & army in west Africa for e.g. and Scotland set up trade & together with Ireland gave us teachers and missionaries.

Steve Fowler's Blog. said...

Stu, why don't you get involved in the Constitution policy paper then?.

I do think that you have the right ideas and that you can help get the policy on the right course if it is wrong.

wonkotsane said...

Steve, if I'm invited, of course I would take part. I suspect I'm a bit far off message on this to be invited onto the committee! Feel free to make the suggestion to DCB.

Prole, that's part of it but the main reason was that Scotland was bankrupt after taking on massive debts and piling most of its sovereign wealth into the Darien Project to colonise Spanish Panama. It was disastrous and the country was bankrupted. The English government paid off Scotland's national debt and gave money to the Scottish gentry to distribute amongst the Scottish population in exchange for signing the Act of Union. Most of the money was kept by the gentry, hence the saying "bought and sold for English gold".

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