Eddie Bone: A sensible prescription for an English Parliament
A DECADE ago, the people of England would not have been discussing the prospect of independence for Scotland.
However, independence is now clearly on the horizon following the historic and game changing Scottish National Party victory in May.
Most people when they’re asked about Scottish independence will say that the unfair system now operating in the UK needs to change and they highlight the Barnett formula which gives Scotland a bigger share of public spending. They might not understand this formula, but they see its effects.
They see the Scottish elderly getting subsidised care; they see free university education for Scottish students when English students are landed with thousands of pounds worth of debt.
The Campaign for an English Parliament (CEP) knows a key concern for the English is the establishment of a different style of NHS created by unfair cutbacks being implemented on them.
They now realise that the health service is being protected in Wales and Scotland but not in their communities.
The CEP has been campaigning for over a decade and in the early days most people viewed themselves as British and not English.
What we’re now realising is that more people in England are identifying themselves as English than British and, as national identities evolve, it becomes inevitable that the British identity will become less attractive.
If the Unionist parties fail to show the value of Britishness, then it will disappear.
Although the Union has given us all constitutional stability over the past 300 years, it now means that England doesn’t have a democratic voice.
This has meant most people are rekindling their love of England out of both want and necessity.
They do not want their children to suffer with tuition fees or their elderly relatives to suffer for the sake of feeling British. The chain that interlocks Englishness and Britishness will be broken altogether if it is twisted too hard.
This should make us all reflect on a line in a Rudyard Kipling’s poem when he writes “he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right”.
Although he is talking about a different time period, everyone in England is now awake to devolution and the talk of injustice.
People appear to accept that Scotland always had national institutional recognition, so when Scotland talks about independence, you’ll find that people are coming round to the idea that it might break away.
Yet it is a different scenario for Wales. It is seen as having more of a cultural nationality. The CEP has noticed an uneasy feeling since the Welsh were given more powers through the Assembly.
It seems to have unnerved the people of England and for the first time they are able to see that the break-up of the Union might actually impact on their lives. The domino effect of devolution has finally penetrated English consciousness.
We’re only beginning to feel the real impact of public spending cuts which will accentuate the problems.
Already 64 per cent of people in England are saying “give us a Parliament for England”. Yet what is more surprising is the quickly achieved percentage jump of people in England willing to discuss independence. It appears that the English just did not want to take responsibility for the break-up of the Union.
Now they can place it at the feet of the Scottish they appear happier to express their Englishness.
Our union of nations needs discussion not from a Scottish view as the British Broadcasting Corporation appears to want, but it also needs to be discussed from an English and Welsh perception.
The writing is now on the wall; the English are starting to enjoy Englishness again.
Most British MPs make the mistake that when they initially mention devolution to people in England, their eyes glaze over.
But if you mention the effects of not having a Parliament on issues like prescription charges, all of a sudden they become very vocal, their eyes become bright and they quickly say, we need an English government. And they’re right.
Eddie Bone is chairman of the Campaign for an English Parliament
Last week British Future director Sunder Katwala wrote an article in the Guardian arguing that people should not feel uncomfortable about celebrating their Englishness, in response to David Edgar’s piece about the Festival of Englishness making him feel “queasy”. In this guest blog by Eddie Bone, the campaign director at the Campaign for an English Parliament challenges Sunder’s article and offers his own argument on the future of Englishness.
Over the next few years the tectonic plates of UK devolution will move and England’s 1,000 year existence will be challenged. Scotland’s seismic decision to have a referendum on independence will bring a tsunami of debate as to why the UK was created and it will become essential for England to unite and speak with one voice.
During these negotiations the British government will claim to speak for all the nations of the UK, yet individually it speaks for none. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have first ministers to speak on their behalf. It is England alone that is left vulnerable and without a voice and during these negotiations the people of England will not be properly represented.
Currently these negotiations will be held between Scottish representatives of the British government (Brit-Scots) and Scottish representatives of Scotland (Nat-Scots). This is of grave concern as all negotiations need to be truly representative of those involved. If negotiations are not transparent and fair then the aftershock of the referendum could be devastating. How you identify yourself will become imperative. The nationality of Alistair Carmichael, Alistair Darling, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond is obvious, Brit or Nat they are all clearly Scottish. Now all political leaders involved need to declare their nationality as well. Just being British is not enough for these negotiations as Britishness is a political construct.
To illustrate we need to examine what happens when other states divide. The creation of Pakistan in 1947 is a good example. How ridiculous would it have been if negotiations only occurred between Pakistanis and Pakistanis with Indians being wholly excluded from the discussions? Another more recent and sobering example is Tito’s Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia experienced constant weak reforms which failed to resolve key national problems. In the end the continuation of Yugoslavia came to be seen as working against the majority nation, Serbia, who became increasingly frustrated as they perceived that they were subsidising the others at the cost of their own standard of living. We therefore need to learn from the past and understand that only fair representation will stop the threat to maintaining a peaceful UK.
Those living in England now have a choice: embrace Englishness or allow a British government to control them using the method of divide and rule. Splitting groups and stifling sensible debate is one way the British establishment will succeed. Another is excessively favouring one group. In the case of the UK this is seen by the English as overly favouring Scotland whilst creating division in England. British representative Lord Mountbatten provided an outstanding example of British imperialist technique of creating division. It is now accepted that he overly favoured India during negotiations with Pakistan and they ended tragically in bloodshed. The effect of that division is still noticeable today.
England should probably thank the Scottish National Party (SNP). Their referendum may help release it from the chains of an unfair settlement introduced in 1998. The SNP have given the people of England an opportunity to embrace a rebirth of English identity. This identity needs to be inclusive which, although richly influenced by all the cultures living in England, will be held together by the cement of Englishness. This is not to say that British multiculturalism has failed, but it is now necessary for it to evolve and embrace a new approach.
This new approach is essential due to the potential cessation of the UK. Multiculturalism needs to flower into an English multi-ethnic and multi-racial society that unites all the skills held within our communities. Having the courage to move forward provides a fantastic opportunity. The creation of an English parliament will facilitate a rebalancing of all ethnic identities within the political process, ensuring ethnically diverse views and representations are included. It would allow everyone to stand together, different but harmonious.
Instead of being entrapped by an outdated imperialist British identity dipped in the blood of colonialism, all ethnic identities could become involved in the creation of an English parliament, laying a claim to protect democracy and the subsequent standards of living in England. An English parliament and a cohesive, harmonious English voice that appreciates we have different political and social views are needed to unify England.
Many settlers in England took on a British identity without issue. Embracing Englishness will be no different. For Englishness to fully supplant Britishness, everyone in England needs to feel a kindred spirit towards being English. This has been achieved in the US and people of diverse cultural backgrounds embrace being American. For example, Indian-English, Polish-English, Australian-English, Jamaican-English and so forth, as the American model shows.
This does not mean that people settling in England should give up their national origins. If they want to, they should embrace their past and traditions and forge them into English society through democratic process. Scottish devolution has shown the English what communities can achieve if they argue the case of protecting national interests – together we will be strong. Scotland has developed a new sense of self, England can do the same. Devolution has given all living in England a new chance, a new beginning just as Scotland is experiencing. Let’s start working together. Let’s protect England and our future.