Scottish Parliament

People in favour of an English Parliament

Via Toque we see that in a Mori poll, 41% of people favoured an English parliament. This sounds like 59% don't, but not so:

41 per cent said they favoured an English Parliament 'with similar law-making powers to the Scottish Parliament' and Only 32 per cent said they were happy with an unchanged House of Commons.

Source: The Observer via Guardian Unlimited

Presumably this means that 27% are either in the 'don't know' or 'English votes for English MPs' category.

This undermines Lord Falconers' previous statements on the issue, on the 'Today' programme he said the following:

That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues.

Under first past the post (which our current government seems to favour) that means that the English parliament idea is the winner.

He also argued that an English Parliament would inexorably lead to the break up of the UK (but a Scottish Parliament would not).

It's about time I wrote another letter....

Dear Lord Falconer

On Friday 10th March this year, you appeared on "The Today Programme". In the interview you discussed many things, not least of which was the anomaly that is the lack of parity between England and Scotland with regard to representation. There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?
Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

You gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but you did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that you addressed these issues and so am turning to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that you said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

I am writing at this stage due to a poll reported today in the Observer (it's also reported on "Guardian Unlimited"):

The poll says that 41% favour an English parliament with 32% favouring an unchanged house of commons. Presumably the rest are in favour of "English votes for English MPs" or are "don't know".

If this were a general election, under "first past the post" the English Parliament proposal would be a clear winner. Given this, have you revised your view that there is no demand at all for devolution to England?

We now have a situation where you have admitted that anomalies exist, though you did not indicate how you would solve them. We also have a situation where you have stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear what your next step will be in resolving this anomaly in our constitutional arrangements. If you do not deem that a solution is needed, then I would ask how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot – and why one would necessarily lead to the break up of the Union and the other would not.

I look forward to your considered response.

Yours Sincerely,

St. George's Day

Flag of England and St. GeorgeToday is the National Day for England, St. George's Day. Compared to St. David, St. Patrick or St. Andrew, I expect very few English people to notice.

Scots, Irish and Welsh have an obvious sense of identity, whereas the English do not in quite the same way. In the six nations tournament, each country had it's own anthem, and England got... 'God Save the Queen' - the Anthem for the UK as a whole. Similarly, England is the only nation in the UK without any control of it's own destiny, we have no parliament.

Historically as the most dominant country in the UK we did not define ourselve by reacting against 'the other' and so outward displays of national pride can be seen as distasteful by the English. It's too showy, too 'in your face'. Visiting the USA can sometimes give that 'over the top' feeling!

The English, on the whole, tend to prefer understatement. Indeed, unthinking national pride is a bad thing for lots of reasons, not least of which is that it suspends the critical faculties and doesn't allow one to consider the view of 'the other'. The flag itself (like the Union Flag) has been appropriated by racists and bigots - patriotism can so easily slide into nationalism. 'My country right or wrong' is potentially very dangerous.

As a result of the flag being appropriated by bigots I have grown up not feeling an affinity for this flag. It's very weird, but a pretty safe rule of thumb is that if someone is walking toward you carrying a Union or English flag, they're probably not someone you're going to want to stay on the same side of the road for. It's quite a terrible thing. I recognise it. I resent it. Yet the association is still there. The same is sometimes true for the Union Flag.

I googled around a little on the subject, and came to this nice post which was made a year ago.

I just don't feel any affinity for the symbol of a group that I have very little to do with. To be either proud or ashamed of being English or British seems ridiculous to me; you didn't have anything to do with the World Cup, or the British Empire, or any of that, how can you feel proud or ashamed of something you didn't do? My sense of responsibility is limited to how I affect the community as a current part of it, and so I am somewhat ashamed of, say, how asylum seekers are treated, because I could do more to stop it. But that never goes as far as me feeling a personal affinity to any flag.

That pretty much sums it up for me.

To be English is probably best summed up as being fairly confident in who you are, whilst at the same time being a little bit reticent about showing that confidence. The English as a whole do not to have the need to wave a flag to demonstrate identity, and they find that need somewhat distasteful (at the same time, the reasons for this distaste are incredibly hard to articulate!)

As I mentioned, England is the largest country in the Union, whereas historically one could imagine the other countries in the Union threatened by England, and hence with a need to demonstrate their own identity. For many English, the words 'English' and 'British' are (unfortunately) synonymous. The same is not true of, for example, the Welsh (note to Americans, a Welshman is usually happy to be called British, but never English!) If you take a British person at random, chances are that they will be English.

Though England is dominant in the Union, the other countries in the Union have a disproportionate power. For example, Scottish MPs have been known to tip the balance of a vote on a bill which does not affect Scotland. Similarly, like it or not, more votes in England went to the Tories in 2005 than to Labour, not only do we have a labour English majority in the house, but this is augmented by MPs from the other parts of the Union. These MPs can vote on matters which do not affect their own constituents, but do affect English ones.

So why this post at all? Primarily it's about the future, in the UK, England has laws made for it by Scottish MPs, elected by Scots, and those laws have no role in Scotland. This can't be just - and over the long term is likely to divide the Union due to a growing sense of injustice. I don't want to Union divided, I like the Union - but the solution is not to have a second class of MP as proposed by the Tories ('English votes on English matters'). We need a UK parliament (probably seated at Westminster), which has true jurisdiction over UK-wide law (including Scotland and Wales), we need national parliaments which vote on national issues - for each of the countries that make up the Union. Currently Wales has an 'Assembly' with much fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and England has no seperate voice. A seperation of bodies would clearly allow English versus UK matters to be clearly defined, if it's in the UK parliament it's a UK wide issue. If it's not, it isn't. What goes where would be clearly defined. Our piecemeal approach that we have at the moment cannot be sustainable, and that is bad for the Union.

If raising the profile of the symbol that is the English flag can help that end in some small way, if we can reclaim the flag from the bigots, then so much the better.

At the moment the flag still has unfortunate associations as for so long it was appropriated by thugs. I do resent this, and hope that we can claim it back for civic purposes, removing that association.

Even if successfully reclaimed, it'll probably still remain that flag waving for the sake of it will, for many English, seem, well, 'tacky'. It will also remain the case that most of the world (and some English) won't understand this.

Letter to Lord Falconer - English parliament

This letter will be going to Lord Falconer:

Dear Lord Falconer

Last Friday, you appeared on "The Today Programme". In the interview you discussed many things, not least of which was the anomaly that is the lack of parity between England and Scotland with regard to representation. There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?

Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

You gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but you did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that you addressed these issues and so am turning to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that you said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

In addition, since the broadcast there has been a poll on the BBC News website running at over 5 to 2 in favour of the English Parliament. As I write there have been some 2752 votes with over 72% in favour. Also, in the introduction to "Any Answers" on Saturday, Jonathan Dimbleby said "We have been deluged with calls and emails on this issue.”

We now have a situation where you have admitted that anomalies exist, though you did not indicate how you would solve them. We also have a situation where you have stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear what your next step will be in resolving this anomaly in our constitutional arrangements. If you do not deem that a solution is not needed, then I would ask how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot – and why one would necessarily lead to the break up of the Union and the other would not.

I look forward to your considered response.

Letter to Harriet 'no anomalies' Harman - English Parliament

This letter has been drafted for sending off to Harriet 'no anomalies' Harman.

Ten months ago I wrote to you after an appearance on "Question Time", a letter to which I never received a reply. To refresh your memory, there was a question about constitutional anomalies. At the time I was surprised that as a Constitutional Affairs Minister you said "What anomalies?".

This was surprising given the disparity between, for example, England and Scotland and the fact that one has the trappings of nationhood, and the other does not.

Last Friday, the Lord Chancellor appeared on "The Today Programme". There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?

Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

The Lord Chancellor gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but he did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that the Lord Chancellor adequately addressed these issues and so am turning back to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that the Lord Chancellor said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

In addition, since the broadcast there has been a poll on the BBC News website running at over 5 to 2 in favour of the English Parliament. As I write there have been some 2752 votes with over 72% in favour. Also, in the introduction to "Any Answers" on Saturday, Jonathan Dimbleby said "We have been deluged with calls and emails on this issue."

We now have a situation where the Lord Chancellor has admitted that anomalies exist, though he did not indicate how he would solve them. We also have a situation where he has stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear your views on these matters and, in particular, how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot.

I look forward to your considered response.

Reply from the Department of Constitutional Affairs

I've received a reply, as promised from the department of constitutional affairs with regard to my letter on electoral reform and the English Parliament. My MPs reply to a previous letter is here There are so many points to take issue with here, it's difficult to know where to start. Not least of which is the complete sidestepping of the issue - and who to reply to? The person writing the letter is probably just a lowly civil servant.

1 June 2005

Dear (name removed)

Electoral Reform

Thank you for your letter to the Prime Minister dated 6th May 2005, regarding the voting system employed to return Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. Your letter has been forwarded to the Department for Constitutional Affairs for response, as the lead department for electoral issues.

I can confirm that an internal review is currently underway within the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which will review the new electoral systems introduced for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly this review is at an early stage, and decisions regarding any next steps for the review will be taken in due course.

The government still maintains that a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.

With regard to the second point you raised; the UK Parliament is responsible for matters that affect the entire UK, including England. A fundamental principle of the UK Parliament is that all MPs have equal rights, and can therefore vote on any matter brought before them, whether they represent constituencies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

The vast majority of MPs are against removing this equality, with House of Commons rejecting a motion in January 2004, which sought to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on matters that did not ostensibly affect Scotland, by 377 votes to 142.

Thank you for writing to the Prime Minister and I hope this satisfies your enquiry.

Yours Sincerely,

(Civil Servant's name removed)

English Parliament and Electoral Reform: A reply from Michael Gove MP

I have received a reply from Michael Gove to my previous letter. I've also received a reply from the department of constitutional affairs. This will appear later. I'll write the responses sometime over the weekend. The issues covered here are the English Parliament and electoral reform

9th June, 2005

Thank you for your letter of 27th May. You make a series of interesting points. Funnily enough just after replying to your previous letter I read a piece by Matthew Parris in The Times which encapsulated, even better than Jack Straw's article, my main feelings on changing the electoral system. I appreciate that the Single Transferable Vote and AV+ are among the more attractive PR systems available, but I still believe that first past the post is the best means of securing effective Government.

I do, however, believe there may be a case for a form of Proportional Representation in Assemblies which are more deliberative and I am open-minded on the case for PR in a future reformed second Chamber.

You am quite right to bring me up short for my failure to answer your question on England. I think there is a problem for English voters now that Scotland has a Parliament and Wales has an Assembly. I suspect the answer may be something close to the proposal outlined by William Hague when he argued that laws which apply only to England need to have the support of a majority of English MPs. But these are difficult matters to navigate and I do not have a definitive view on precisely the right means of addressing the problem you correctly identified. I know you will still find this answer unsatisfactory but thank you, nevertheless, for taking such an informed interest in this important question.

Yours Sincerely,

MICHAEL GOVE

I have several points I will be making in response (not least of which being my amusement that he doesn't view the commons as deliberative, but admiration at his honesty).

If you have spotted things which need comment, please use the comment form for this article. It may duplicate my list, but there is no harm in that!

Update: This post mentioned in Britblog

Letter to Harriet Harman

Last night, Harriet 'What anomalies' Harman appeared on Question Time, where electoral reform got a good airing. Boris was on top form, though his idea of 'electoral reform' amounted to pushing the boundaries around a bit, thereby completely missing one of the main points.

Ms. Harmen annoyed me greatly when a panellist mentioned constitutional anomalies in the UK and she said 'What Anomalies?'

She will shortly receive the following letter:

Dear Ms. Harman

Last night you appeared on "Question Time". There was a comment about constitutional anomalies. In an astonishingly unaware comment from the Constitutional Affairs Minister you said "What anomalies?"

Please allow me to explain just a few of them.

In the UK, the government launched into a system of constitutional change, despite your statement on Question Time that this is not something to be rushed.

Your Government emasculated the House of Lords without having adequately thought through what would take its place, or consulting the public on a question which affects our governance - one item in a manifesto does not make a consultation. To date, the House of Lords question still remains unresolved. Any resolution should build in the ability of the Lords to be independent. My ideal would be three member constituencies, with one member elected via STV every three general elections. Thus the individual Lord is not continually looking for their next election and can scrutinize legislation without personal worry for their post.

Your Government also started on a process which weakened the UK government by devolving power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. Whether this was a right move or not is incidental at this stage. The situation as it stands is that, for example, Scottish MPs can vote upon matters which affect English constituents but not vice versa.

I fully accept that the UK parliament is for the whole of the UK - and so it should be for UK matters. Nevertheless it is fundamentally unjust that English constituents can be affected by votes from Scottish MPs and the reverse is not true. I do not personally want the UK to split up, but this imbalance can only grow with time - for the long term stability of the UK, balance is needed.

A failure to address this matter appears to be driven purely by concerns of party above country, especially given that the Conservatives won the popular vote in England - something which personally I'm not thrilled about.

Given that yesterday you were not aware of anomalies, I hope this letter has helped you to recognize some of them. I wish you well as you begin to address them.

I would be interested to hear your views on these matters and, in particular, how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot.

BBC seat predictor

A response from the BBC:

We are sorry you feel the application is deficient by not having a section for calculating seats in England.

For budgetary and technical reasons we had to keep the number of options on the seat calculator to a minimum and, as in other areas of our election and general political coverage, decided to give priority to parts of the UK with a representative institution - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of course the whole of the UK.

However, we have already decided we need to review this decision should we use the seat calculator again, and views like your own will be taken into account in that review.

Where's England?

The otherwise excellent (and scary) BBC Electoral seat predictor for the UK election has subdivisions for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, but not England. Why not? Even though England is governed in part from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (all with national bodies), it would be good to see a breakdown for this part of the UK. The subdivisions are for the westminster vote, not for the various assemblies and parliaments.

I've asked them this question and will relay any reply I receive - even if it is my error!

I note that your excellent 'seats predictor' has subdivisions of the UK offered. These are Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Unless I've read it incorrectly, the subdivisions all relate to the Westminster vote and not to the Scottish parliament, welsh assembly etc. Why is England not represented seperately as well in this case?

I look forward to any response, and will update www.murky.org to reflect your reasons.

Update: A reply from the BBC