Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The CEP in Oxford

Yesterday the CEP met outside Oxford's oldest building, the Saxon Tower on Cornmarket Street. Oxford is the birthplace of the English Parliament: it was here in 1258 that the English barons led by Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to accept the Provisions of Oxford; a series of measures which bound him to consult his subjects before acting.

We were there to meet with the Sunday Times in Scotland, who are doing a feature on the CEP for this weekend's edition. We spent half an hour having our photo taken, and a further hour and half talking to journalist Alan Brown. It will be interesting to see what they will say about us!

Beneath the Saxon Tower: (from left to right) CEP Media Unit leader Michael Knowles; Jim Matthews (Media Unit); Chairman Scilla Cullen; myself; CEP member and law student Chris Nelson; veteran campaigner Len Welsh; and local member Alan Mynall.

The meeting with Alan Brown went very well I thought. We were keen to expose the myth that an English Parliament meant an end to the Union- in fact, it is the only way to save the United Kingdom. A majority of people on both sides of the border want an English Parliament, and to ignore them would be disastrous. We also talked about why each of us got involved in the CEP. Everyone (except me!) said that it had been the devolutionary legisaltion of 1998 that had sparked it all- the feeling of having been left out and excluded in all that was going on, and the realisation that England doesn't actually exist. The law only recognises Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For me, it started with football. I love watching England play, whether down the pub on the big screen or actually at the stadium. It led me to ask "what is England and Englishness?". From there I found the CEP on the web, and suddenly everything felt hollow. There we all are, singing our hearts out for "England", and yet officially- politically and constitutionally- it doesn't exist. I then started to notice this in everyday life- how sportsmen and women from England were British, and yet those from the rest of the UK were Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish. Passport forms, driving licences and all other sorts of official documents- even the 2001 census, asked you to state if you were "British, Scottish, Welsh or Other".

And from there it's snowballed. While tution and top-up fees have been abolished in Scotland and Wales by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, their MPs still voted to impose them on the students of England. Pensioners in England have to sell their homes to fund their long-term health care, and yet in Scotland that is provided free. You can get life-saving cancer drugs like Herceptin free on the NHS in Scotland, but not in England- there's not enough money. In fact there's not enough money to do any of this stuff in England, because all the time our money is being used to afford it for the rest of the UK. Had public spending per head been roughly equal across the UK last year, England would have received an extra £12 billion pounds. So you can see why we haven't got enough money to help people with cancer.

On top of all of this, we still have the UK Parliament deciding that English schools will teach "Britishness", and yet because education is devovled to Scotland and Wales, they can choose to teach Scottish and Welsh values and culture. It just aint fair. It's not right. And people are fed up with it.

We are not asking for any more than anyone else- just to be treated the same as everyone else. That is only fair. An English Parliament will happen sooner or later, so take note all those English Quislings and politicians that have their heads in the sand.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Article in the Western Daily Press

An article of mine has been published in the Western Daily Press today.

It's called "Why do the Scots get a better deal?", and you can read it here.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

A Good Day at the Office

Tuesday, 16th January 2007 was the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Act of Union that brought England and Scotland together as Great Britain. Tuesday was also the biggest day in the CEP's 8 year history.

I was on BBC Radio 5 Live at 8 am going head-to-head with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer , with an audience of 2.3 million people. Nicky Campbell was clearly sympathetic to us, giving Falconer a hard time and allowing me a good run of things. This all followed a BBC poll to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union, and found that 61% of people want an English Parliament. Even 51% of Scots polled want England to have its own parliament!

On the way back from the studio, BBC News 24 phoned to ask if I could be on at 11.30- no problem! So it was back to BBC Oxford, mic plugged in and straight on the air. The CEP's first appearence on live television! I was up against former editor of the Scotsman, Magnus Linklater. Those that saw me could probably have guessed that I was more than a little annoyed at yet another Scotsman telling England what was best for us. When Mr. Linklater said that an English Parliament was a bad idea and that people didn't want one, I couldn't but help interupt and point out that a) 61% of them do, and b) it's got nothing to do with him. He respsonded by saying that, as Scotland was still in the Union, many in Scotland had a view on whether England should have a parliament. I interupted again to say that many people in England probably had a view on whether Scotland should have had a Parliament, but weren't asked, and have never been asked anything.

We got on, inevitably, to talk about Scotland, and the SNP's economic case for independence. Mr. Linklater doubted the SNP's figures, but when I was asked what I thought, I simply said that Scottish indepedence was a matter for the Scots, so I wouldn't comment. If more high-profile Scots took that attitude towards England, we wouldn't be in such a mess in the first place.

I also got to answer some of those questions arising about an English Parliament- a new building, the break-up of the UK etc. I said that we could use the West Midlands Regional Assembly building, as an English Parliament would see the regional tier of government in England stripped away. Also, that many people are in the CEP because they believe an English Parliament will strengthen the Union.

Did it feel weird to watch myself back on t.v? Yes, it bloody well did! But the name of the CEP and what we stand for was broadcast on live television for the first time. You can't knock that!

At 15 minutes notice, I also got to speak to Simon Mayo on the 5 live lunchtime news. The Prime Minister had said that morning that an English Parliament was "unworkable" and "unneccesary", as England was 85% of the UK population. I got a chance to talk about this attitude of the British Establishment towards England- that because it was so big it didn't need to be represented properly (I highlighted how England doesn't have a devolved parliament, a Secretary of State and that political parties ignore England in the way they are organised; Scottish Labour, Welsh Labour but no English Labour etc). I said that this was causing resentment in England to grow, and that this kind of attitude is what will cause the Union to split. A good interview all round, I thought.

At around 5pm, I was on the Bill Heine show on BBC Radio Oxford. Again, I had a chance to answer all those questions about more politicians, more buildings etc. etc. I also got to explain about the CEP itself, and that the efforts of ordinary people up and down England for the last 8 years are starting to pay-off. Writing to MPs and newspapers, leafletting, e-mailling t.v. programmes and putting in the hard work has got us to where we are. I also talked about the Barnett Formula, and about how unfair the current situation is. Mr. Heine did his best to give me a hard time, but I think I held my own.

What a day! As you can imagine, I was pretty tired by the end, but absolutely buzzing nonetheless. People in the CEP have looked forward to this milestone-of-a-day for 8 years, sometimes thinking we would never see it. But it came. And so will the day that we have an English Parliament.

A great day at the office!