An English Parliament means one thing: an English Yeltsin
Nick Timothy's Scotland solution ignores the role of devosceptics
One of the biggest problems with the current debate about how best to protect the UK from its various separatist enemies is the stubborn conceit that these movements can somehow be ‘solved’.
It flatters enthusiasts for constitutional reform to imagine that what the moment requires is nothing more or less than sufficient application of their cleverness to the central structures of the Union.
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But there is scant reason for anyone else to believe them. As I have pointed out time and again, the track record of the reform-to-win camp against nationalist sentiment is abysmal. So bad is it, in fact, that its defenders have had to start pretending it was actually never previously about stopping the SNP anyway (whilst insisting that we should keep doing what they want because it’s definitely about beating the SNP now).
Nick Timothy, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has given us the latest entry in this unhappy genre. Does solving the Scottish question, he asks, really mean solving the English question?
Reader, I can assure you it does not.
His mooted solution to the “rotten post-devolution constitutional settlement” is the creation of an English Parliament, and the devolution of anything which doesn’t need to be run at the UK level, “including the ability to determine almost all taxes”, to the now-four national legislatures.
This would be good for the Union, he argues, because it would simultaneously show that Westminster was “committed” to self-government for Scotland and confine the remit of the British Government to policy areas — the military, currency, single market — that he feels are most popular with Scottish voters.
But this is a forecast which can only be constructed by wilfully refusing to engage with the devosceptic case on several key points.
First, one of the big problems with devolution is that it spawns local political classes — the ‘devocrats’ — who derive salaries, sinecures, and status from the institutions and profit from aggrandising them at Westminster’s expense. Timothy provides no reason to think his new English institutions would not do the same thing, and produce their own Boris Yeltsin sooner rather than later.
Second, it is actually a serious problem for the Union that the scope of the powers of the UK Government have been winnowed so dramatically. It deprives the British State of the opportunity to make a visible difference in areas such as health and education which matter most to voters.
The new spending powers included in the UK Internal Market Bill are a belated recognition of this danger. Timothy’s proposals are a step backwards.
Third, the logic of devolving “almost all taxes” is devolved control of almost all revenues. Assuming provisions are made to cover budgets for reserved issues such as defence, this would still make it very tricky to sustain fiscal transfers between the Home Nations. Thus, this plan strikes at the very heart of the mercenary case for Britain, even as it precludes the making of a better one by tacitly conceding the illegitimacy of pooled British governance across most areas of policy.
(And this is to say nothing of the fact that so large is England that a non-balkanised ‘English Parliament’ wouldn’t bring power closer to the regions and would, if anything, be even more beholden to the wealthy South.)
The blunt truth is that saving the Union means making the case for a Union that does more, not less. We won’t persuade voters to reject the SNP’s conclusions whilst ourselves conceding the SNP’s premises about the efficacy and legitimacy of the British state.
Absolutely. Particularly the part about devocrats. It’s the problem with devolving power even at a local level. It sounds brilliant and democratic, but in reality, it just creates another army of dead-eyed bureaucrats, HR staff, diversity and inclusion officers, pointless policy wonks all of whom are overpaid and gifted with gold-plated pensions.
The UK is a country. That’s what it says on my passport. There should be a referendum. The question is, “Should Scotland leave the UK?” Eligible to vote should be, all of the population of the UK who are 18 years or older.
Any idea what has happened to the Disqus comments system Chris?
This present arrangement is awful.
I’ve been wondering this too. It looks crap, but on the other hand I’ve heard that there are a lot of things to hate about Disqus (the old system) so I’m not too fussed.
Really, what was the problem with Disqus exactly?
I found its archive of everything that anybody had said extremely useful plus a complete record of my own utterances.
It ‘failed’ a few months ago, causing much irritation, but was somehow resuscitated .
However ‘ hateful’ it may been it was far, far, better than this present ‘crap’ to use your words.
Google ‘GEORGE LAKE disqus’ for you whole caboodle.
When I click on the ‘thumps up’, it generates a random number of responses: sometimes 6, sometimes 2. If there is a minus figure, and I click a positive response, it reduces the negatives, but again, by an arbitrary amount.
I thought the old system was very good, by far the best such system that I have ever encountered.
Is it Disqus though? The Spectator comment system, which also uses Disqus, appears unaffected.
Quite correct, it must a Fuhrer Directive from HQ UnHerd.
I also note the sudden appearance of “Founding Member” in a little green box.
Who are these exalted ones? It seems rather coincidental ‘they’ appear just as the rest of the system crashes. The two must be linked?
Agreed. Before I could immediately see if someone had engaged in conversation with a comment I had made earlier, it was enjoyable and informative, now I can’t.
Why fix something if it ain’t broke in the first place?
How about a referendum with two questions:
- should the UK split up
- should the regional governments be closed and the country revert to a single parliament
Like it – good idea!
From the moment powers were devolved to Scotland, independence was inevitable.
Agree completely with that. No separatist worth his or her salt would be satisfied with devolution.
What I do not understand is why so many English politicians are opposed to a break up of this union. Far better a clean break now than this wretchedness carrying on indefinitely. Hell is an eternity stuck in a room with Nicola Sturgeon airing her grievances.
The reason why English politicians do not want to see an independant Scotland is because Scotland has one of the most valuable commodities that England needs……WATER.
Plenty or water in the Lake District. Pipe south, but better still reduce immigration to a manageable proportion reduce demand, for all utilities.
Rightly or wrongly a significant proportion of Scots resent England. They lay the blame for all their ills squarely on the English and never look closer to home. To do so is to be seen as a traitor to Scotland. This is why Nicola Sturgeon can get away with any amount of incompetence without criticism.
No amount of tinkering with the Union, no amount of money going north of the border will help; it will only fuel resentment because of where that money originates. The continual stoking of this sense of grievance makes independence more and more likely..
It’s been heading that direction, but it’s not inevitable. Most countries in the world have sub-units with devolved powers and are perfectly stable. Look at US, Germany, Switzerland, Australia for example. Even Canada now appears a stable union. Britain was unusually centralised.
I would argue that a discussion about saving the Union could only be useful if the writer was not English. It is impossible for English people to comprehend what is going on. The UK Parliament will continue to give things to Scotland as a series of bribes but this is precisely the point, – the bribes, the size of the bribes or the lack of bribes are perceived in Scotland as things controlled by England. So England would be treating Scotland as a charity case, another example of the domination of England.
I have lived in Scotland but now I live in Wales. The Welsh Assembly is not blaming England nor even seeing itself as subservient to England. It is teaching people to say, “I am Welsh and I am proud to be Welsh. ” not “I am British and proud to be British.” Every so often I am invited to take part in a survey which asks me, ‘Do you see yourself as Welsh or as British?’ The Welsh Assembly is spending a lot of money on these surveys. Just asking the question is making the point and it doesn’t even matter what the answer is because they keep asking the question, over and over, like a drip of water which won’t go away.
England had been treating Scotland as a
“charity case” since 1707, rather longer for Ireland and Wales.
There should be an immediate referendum in England to ask the question “ Should we continue to subside these ungrateful parasites”. I am convinced the answer would be a convincing NO.
The Union is dead, time to move on, it was fun while it lasted, but “nothing lasts forever” (Goethe) so let’s be done with it,
We might then be able to hold an adult discussion about the restoration of Capital Punishment, which Mr Tom Fox, of Northumberland, for one, is keen on.
Maybe we should revert to the old kingdoms (earldoms or Mormaerdom for Scotland). Forget the current administration districts and lets have a proper Yorkshire back.
The only problem is how far back we go.
Bribes ? The Scots have an insatiable appetite for English Gold, but t’was ever thus. King James VI maintained his court on money sent by Queen Elizabeth I. It’s a fact that after she died in 1603 he was on his horse riding south before it was seemly. When he arrived, a tad early, he could not believe the wealth he found and the luxury of the Queen’s Palaces. Devolution was sold on a false premise and Donald Dewer and Blair/Brown thought it would create a Labour One Party State. Not quite worked out that one. It needs radical reform – devolved matters matched with devolved taxation – and that means an English Parliament on the same footing. Anger is growing at how England is ignored and treated with contempt.
I used to live in Wales, and now I live in Scotland!
And Nicola Sturgeon scares me silly.
(Oops, already silly. Never mind.)
The problem is one of size (which in this case does matter), England dwarfs the other “nations”, so it will always be dominant (even post secession).
It would be interesting to know how influenced by Spain is the Portuguese economy.
Or indeed Switzerland by the Italian economy, or Monaco by the French economy…
I’d love to see an entirely new idea being presented… Why not get rid of the ‘United Kingdom’ and its 4 constituent somewhat together somewhat separate parts, and create one country – Great Britain, with British citizens. Scotland a region of Britain, no more significantly regional than Cornwall or Kent or East Anglia. The Union flag no longer a union flag – just a flag, with no particular meaning as to its constituent parts, just a beautiful iconic design. Time to get over the sectarian nationalist rubbish and just be 1 country – we are already and have been for hundreds of years, we just haven’t formally acknowledged it!
At the moment we all live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – as on your passport. We are already there.
That should appease the Scots and Welsh who are fed with the London hegemony
“The Scots and Welsh who are fed with the London hegemony.”
Obviously the word UP omitted by typo, but spot on.
For daily are the greedy, parasitical, ungrateful Scots & Welsh ‘fed’ by London, but pathetically resent her dominance. The insolence
If you’re going down that route then get rid of Scotland and just have the regions, or do you mean to get rid of the Scottish regions so Scotland becomes a county council and the others eg Highland, go.
That’s not an entirely new idea, because that is what James VI/I wished for.
The funny thing is – we’re told how Europhile Scots are – that’s exactly how the EU treated Scotland – as a region of the UK.
Blair was responsible for inventing this new concept that the UK has 4 ‘constituent’ countries.
While the British state is disorientated by EU secession and trying to regain some balance there needs to be a holding tactic of some kind to prevent lethal fracturing.
At this stage of fragility talk about a better constitutional set up is much less dangerous than pushing devoscepticism as Hill does. And we are talking about talk and about tactics. The SNP thrive on the idea that a powerful English right wing hegemonic centre is denying Scots their rightful autonomy. I don’t think it wise to give them that and at the same time lay yourself open to charges of hypocrisy over Brexit.
I understand the point people like Hill and Tom Harris make about devolution being the solution in the middle that no-one wants. Nobody wanted ‘our wee country’ in NI either, but in the end a compromise no-one loves is better than an increasingly destructive fight between two sides where a winner cannot easily emerge.
I’d strongly question the accompanying idea here that corollary is cause, and that the SNP have essentially achieved their current dominance due to devolution. Europe and the possibility of independence lite rarely gets a look in, and yet this is to my mind was the real structural basis of the SNP’s rise. I should know because I was there.
I come from a traditional independence supporting family. Like many Scots we were simply never actually unionist. Hill and Conservatives and Unionists have a blind spot here. The rise of universal franchise facilitated the movement of the independence struggle towards the ballot box. This was interrupted by war. By the time two global conflicts had passed a very different Britain existed. Scots had become more politcally and culturally British. As the means towards constitutional reform increased for Scots, the will to it decreased. I can look at this objectively now. We were more of a minority post war than we cared to admit.
If many of us Scots were in flux or a work in progress as far as political identity went, any unfinished business could be left unfinished as long as we were in Europe. We could even quietly deconstruct political Britain and it didn’t matter as much.
We more traditional independence supporters made lot of new friends via Sillars’ ‘independence in Europe’ and this became the work horse pulling the SNP cart, not devolution. You can see a similar trajectory in Catalonia. The history is very different, but the rise of the idea of independence lite increased similarly within the EU. The misdiagnosis of cause and effect in Scotland and Catalonia is similar to the one made about Brexit. EU unionists, like British unionists see giving in to demands from eurosceptics as the beginning of the end. Little thought is given to the fundamental role of Europe, the biggest elephant in the bed, in pushing these dynamics .
If we Scots and Irish nationalists/separatists have been willing to sleep through European integration before dealing with painful , unfinished business in these islands, the English have been unable to ,and many of us on the so called Celtic Fringe have been angry at being woken up by them. We are in strong denial about the ascendence of the European federalists and the implications for the future. There are those who are fully aware of an endgame of regionalism in Europe with Franco German hegemony and willing to suffer it as long as England suffers it to. But they are in a quiet minority and allow the majority to keep their illusions about shared sovereignty intact.
Sturgeon is not in the cynical, latter category. She is leader in a pivotal place in Europe and history who is dangerously naive. When she talks of Scotland’s preference for a moral union of equals and thinks Scotland can simply choose what it wants here, she really means this. It is as if the real world stops at Calais.
Sturgeon tells Scots that Brexit is an disaster that can only be avoided by EU accession now via Scottish independence. As a erstwhile independence supporter who has come to accept my country for what it is and not what I wished it to be, I can say that working to make this union a good one is the only way now to avoid the nightmare of an increasingly dysfunctional Scotland.
Strategically, there is no way that the EU can benefit from Scottish EU membership. It can only lose from it. EU technocracy and internal cohesion means Scotland is set to suffer austerity with bells on if it is to accede and this does not benefit the EU. It would benefit more from keeping an increasingly dysfunctional austerity ridden, independent Scotland at arms length and making sympathetic sounds about the disaster of Brexit. This might eventually see the UK as a whole turn into a dysfunctional zone, and if the UK as a whole begs entry back into the EU this is a win for it. If on the other hand Scotland and rump UK remain independent disaster zones, the EU also benefits. All scepticism within will be quietened with a cursory look across the channel.
I would rest easy: there is no chance the EU would want an impoverished independent Scotland to add to Greece and other economic basket cases. Even if the EU did extend the olive branch, Spain and Belgium would exercise their veto.
Moreover Scotland wouldn’t qualify for entry to either the EU or the Eurozone – not that the SNP has come clean about whatever currency it aspires to have, not to mention other rather fundamental constitutional and economic issues where vagueness is preferred to veracity.
The EU sees the NI border as a big problem as it’s an external border but has managed to use the Irish Sea as a substitute border. There’s no equivalent for Scotland, the EU would say NO just so that it didn’t have another external border on these islands. Just think how easy it would be to smuggle vaccines from the Scottish side into the English side!
An English Yeltsin in charge? Codswallop, another Project Fear. Let the Scots go, and go quickly.
An English parliament would deliver an increased possibility for the English people … the native ethnic group … to make the political system honest finally, after seven decades of ever-increasing Establishment contempt. It would be great. Let’s have it!
Test – please ignore
(sorry folks, trying to get Disqus links working after this update
Well done Sir!
The ‘new’ system is rubbish, if I may say so.
Test — please ignore.
It would be worrying if an independent England meant an English Boris Yeltsin, but what if we ended up with an English Nicola Sturgeon?
We nearly had one with Theresa the traitor May.
“An ‘English Parliament’ wouldn’t bring power closer to the regions and would, if anything, be even more beholden to the wealthy South.” This is total nonsense. If the Brexit vote and endless arguments taught us anything it’s that the real divide in the England and the UK, like the US is between the large urban conurbations and the rest of the country. At least with an English Parliament decisions on English matters wouldn’t be filtered through 50 odd shouty Scotts who manage to say that almost anything effects them because of the mechanism of the dreaded “Barnet Formulae”.
Is Timothy mad? To what problem is the creation of yet more politicians the answer? We have far too many already: 650 in the Commons (even Cameron’s too modest proposal to cut that to 600 has sunk without trace), nearly 900 in the Lords, another 200+ in the Mickey Mouse devolved parliaments & assemblies and hundreds more in city mayoralties and ‘cabinets’. And that’s not counting all the SPADs, quangocrats, think tank wonks an thousands of councillors. That’s more than at any time in our history. And are we better governed than at any time in our history? Are the people yoked to their devocrats in Scotland, Wales, NI and the mamy city mayoralties better or worse off? Spare us the burden of an even larger political class. Enough!
The proposal to create an English parliament would be the death knell to the Union. The role of the devolved institutions needs to be recognised as more that of administering public services within a national framework.
The existing country structures should replaced by regional and local authorities with responsibility for all local services based on local single rate tax on all income including benefits calculated using the average national income per capita.
The existing unitary authorities could be used as the basis for local authorities, although I think these are too large. Regions could include the existing devolved countries and city and geographic regions of England, I am thinking conurbations of London, West Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and the existing Regions.
National Government would be smaller providing oversight and financial governance as well as social welfare payments and long term debt for Regions and Local Authorities.
The existing Commons and Lords should be reduced in size and responsibility.
Sweden operates a system that could form a template.
Usual excellent analysis by Henry Hill Also we should be discussing moving some powers back to Westminster; there shouldn’t be a ratchet with movement only one way. For example, the Scottish Parliament should not control the electorate, be able to restrict freedom of movement with other constituents of the Union, or charge English students more than Scottish. We’ve had four centuries of generally happy multicultural union since the Scottish king took over England; all have gained from the cultural variety and opportunities created. Long may it continue.
I think the problem in the UK is that a world city, indeed possibly *the* world city, is in the UK.
London sets the size that regional authorities were need to be to have a chance of both supporting it (as it does bring a lot of money in) but also combatting it’s centrifugal effect on all areas of economic, government, social and cultural life.
As the article says…trying to produce devolved structures based on what is essentially a set of medieval borders that was actually the result of decisons by the Romans for Heaven’s sake has no chance of success.
These will always be too small, and serve to encourage the sort of whinge & moan faux-nationalistic separatism that the SNP currently specialise in.
Whatever the *distinct cultures* of the parts of the UK are, many surveys show that in very large areas of social beliefs, ambitionas, aims and goals there is virtually zero difference between the English, Scots, Welsh and even Irish.
One wouldn’t think so to listen to the relatively small cohort on social media (ie people like us) whose views influence the traditional media far, far more than the traditional like tpo admit…but Them’s the apples.
There is far more unites us than separates us, and we should look to acknowledge and celebrate this.
Luvvies from Scotland have far more in common with Luvvies from England than either actually have with non-Luvvies in either country.
Rancid extremists in Scotland have far more in common with rancid extremists in England than non-extremists in eoither.
So on that basis (and we need to decide what exactly Scottish or Welsh culture actually is beyond the old sort of bantz that in recent years has turned more heightened (or toxic to use the word of our era).abnd a few ticks and traces of vestigal differences as long gone as the Roman Villa sites that dot the countryside.
Then organise a set of more equal , and trans border units that both can be scaled towards that 9/10 million size of London…and coming up with those will be a good argument but (not entirely seriously) and accepting that rural areas probably have more differences and different concerns than very urban ones in any of the 4 *nations* of the UK..a set up based on an old Strathclyde that went down to North Wales, and old Northumbria from Tay to Humber, a South West that combines with the bits of Wales not in the Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow Strathclyde..and a Mercia and East area..with Bristol, South Wales and the west of England in anorther area, and finally the LOndon region and South East.
This would mean larger and more equally sized units who could themselves combine in fluid ideas like the *Northern Powerhouse* far more effectively. Some of this was covered in that idea of Middleland that Rory Stewart went on about a while back, and with Scottish Border regions actually part of wider economic activity across the Border, and vice versa.
The idea would be that it would mean economic, civic and admistrative entities that combined the nations not separated them, that decoupled nationalism in culture from government…and if goes back to the past at least it isn’t all the way back it is a reality that is not based on whatever the Romans decided was the way things were back in the 2nd century.
When there wasn’t even a Scotland anyway… that never started to form until a people came over from the equally non-existant Northern Ireland and started cluturally erasing the Pictish Nation.
Devolution was the right thing to do. This country is more highly centralised than any other major democracy. But Blair was wrong to only devolve to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. This created the impression there was an ‘English’ government for the rest of us, based at Westminster. It also suggested the smaller nations were equivalent to England, despite the massive population difference. This has led to Salmond and Sturgeon essentially becoming national politicians, when they should have been of no interest to the rest of the UK.
The author is correct about an English parliament – but that’s because it will inevitably see itself as a challenger to Westminster. That would hasten the breakup of the union.
When Irish home rule was being discussed a hundred years ago, a wise man proposed further devolution. Not just Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but Yorkshire, the Midlands, the Southwest, etc.
That wise man was Winston Churchill.
No part of the USA is allowed to secede; no part of Great Britain should be allowed to either.
Why? Or why not?
The blunt truth is that saving the Union means making the case for a Union that does more, not less.
Mmmm, Where have we heard the need for more union before? And how did British voters react to the same call from the EU?
If/When Scotland eventually breaks away and when NI decides to join RoI who will stump up the bill for Boris’s tunnel?
The BILLIONS spent supporting Scotland at the moment would pay for several tunnels. £48 billion bailing out RBS, £38 billion under Barnet, £8 billion for vaccines and furlough. Work it out for yourself!
Hopefully if there ever is a referendum there will be a case made for union not another project fear.
Followed by a Putin?
The Marxists broke up the Union after destroying the Empire and the curve goes through swamping the UK with anti-English immigration, breaking up England and taking everything to before the Tudors.
This is not on, England needs its parliament because the Marxists kept every possible adversary of England was kept united.
The only alternative to the Marxist attack on England “devolution” is to devolve all the regions of the UK in the same way around the main cities, and areas like the Islands of Scotland for example, which don’t want the Marxist imposed order, the Islands doesn’t want to be ruled from Edinburgh.
In this way we would areas of Wales, Scotland and England with a regional government, what the Marxists of 1997 did was an attack from inside on England and that treacherous devolution needs to be destroyed.
The only alternative to a proper not nationalist “regionalization” of our Kingdom is to also give England its national right to a parliament and a guaranteed ENGLISH representative who will look after ENGLISH interests.
The risk of this not happening is not only that we will fall in to the Westlothian problems of making OUR laws, England runs the even greater risk of being “represented” by a Scottish Marxist like Gordon Brown, there is no guarantee that the Prime Minister will be English or interested in the interests of England.
England will run the real risk that its shipping industry will be sent to Scotland, that its cranes will be sold to India and that loads of English jobs will be sent to Scotland, and all this only to be met with an unending request for more English money if not Scotland wants independence, so is that an English sister nation in our Kingdom? OR is that a mercenary nation after sucking up the blood of England?
“how best to protect the UK from its various separatist enemies“
Good grief. Enemies! This article reads more like an English ruling class’ last gasp in wanting total control of its remaining empire. A persuasive argument that staying together would benefit all it is not. The bloody opposite in fact.
On Henry’s first point, while Mary Dejevsky has previously pointed to the similarity between England’s situation in the UK and Russia’s in the Soviet Union, an elected English leader will not likely be an English Yeltsin. Belgium went to a federal union and no Flemish Yeltsin emerged. The second and third points are really picky. Reasonable people will always agree to disagree on who gets what taxation powers and spending powers. If Henry doesn’t like a very decentralized federation, one can always opt for a less federalized federation. His point about the North of England being even more at the mercy of the South in an English parliament than in a UK parliament I don’t get at all. Northerners would have relatively more clout in an English parliament than in a UK parliament, would they not? And anyway, isn’t this bickering over whether England should be one province or two or more provinces in a UK that would be a proper federation, not an argument against federation?
The proposal to create an English parliament would be the death knell to the Union. The role of the devolved institutions needs to be recognised as more that of administering public services within a national framework
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