Monday, September 22, 2014

Yes, an English Assembly and perhaps a Federal Britian makes sense.

Nadhim Zahawi

"When we left Iraq it was Britain where we made our home" says Nadim Zahawi in an article today.

It is a very important comment. It was not England, but Britain. I suspect many of those whose recent ancestors emigrated to the UK would feel the same. But so do I and, as far as I can tell, my forbears have been British since the time of the Normans! I have never felt particularly "English" - indeed sporting events aside I'm not sure what it means. I have a "British" passport and when I have travelled and lived abroad it was Britain that was my home. England means very little to me largely (a) because it is emotionally indistinguishable from "Britain" in my mind (b) it is so diverse and has such cultural differences within it. 

I am "English" because I am not Scottish, Welsh or Irish and because England is that part of Britain, by this exclusion, to which I belong. This fact is now increasingly being institutionalised  in the Governance as the United Kingdom. Devolution to Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff  has happened and the process will continue. I have no problem with this at all. It is consistent with the principle of "subsidiarity" which also governs our presence within the European Union. I see no intellectual inconsistency in the idea that if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are partly self-governing on domestic matters then England should be as well.

If the principle of a self-governing England is accepted alongside the others the challenge becomes to put it into effect. A United Kingdom Parliament for those matters NOT devolved is the start point. Then the creation of an English assembly to match those in the other "countries" of the UK. The fact that England is much bigger than the other three parts doesn't matter. The creation of another tier of Government with phoney Regional assemblies would just add cost and bureaucracy. Similarly there would be little point in having the English assembly anywhere other than Westminster. The chamber exists - let's carry on using it!

So now the challenge is to establish an electoral system that gives effect to these changes. Let's solve the West Lothian question once and for all! Let's acknowledge that a UK Parliament needs far fewer members if many matters have been devolved to English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish assemblies. Let's eliminate for good the undemocratic nonsense of Scottish (or Welsh, or Irish) elected members voting on purely English matters. If all of this leads to the creation of what is effectively a Federal system then so be it. And if these constitutional changes leads us also to review our absurd undemocratic Upper House all the better. 


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