Monday, 28 May 2007

Our England's turn for its own Parliament

I'm absolutely delighted that OurKingdom, part of openDemocracy, has opened up a debate about an English Parliament.

This website is read by many academics, MPs and journalists, as well as political campaigners.

Add your voice to the debate by going here.

What a bunch of sour little regionalists

The Constitution Unit (CU) has just published its latest newsletter, Monitor, which comments on, among other things, devolution. Many thanks to Gareth Young via the CEP network for the heads-up on this one.

The CU, being an “independent” group of well-educated academics, has always supported regional assemblies and strongly opposed an English Parliament (?). Their arguments have been shot down one by one over the last few years, but nothing shot them down harder than the people of the north-east of England. In a referendum on a regional assembly in 2004, a whopping 78% of people voted “No” to a regional assembly. Might I just add here that the referendum was a simple “Yes or No” question.

Despite this, the CU continued ploughing what we had always told them was a fallow field. Their retort was always that the grass was hardly greener on our side of the fence, seeing as (according to their favourite surveys), support for an English Parliament was below 20%. In the words of CU stalwart, Prof. John Curtice, in July last year, “yeah, well let us know when you’ve got some public support.”

Then some different people started doing some opinion polling. November 2006- a Sunday Telegraph Ipsos Mori Poll found that 68% of people support an English Parliament. January 2007, a BBC Poll (yes, the BBC!) shows that 61% support an English Parliament. More recently, in April this year, an ICM Poll commissioned by the CEP found that support for an English Parliament was at 67%.

So, what do the esteemed CU say now that their last argument against an English Parliament has been shot down? Yep, you guessed it- “Ok, we can see the blindingly obvious. The CEP were right”.

Erm, no. Try again. How about this sour little whimper: “But all three polls asked a somewhat loaded question with a simple yes/no choice rather than offering policy alternatives.”

That’s right. They didn’t like the way the questions were framed. In particular, they said the questions were “loaded” (I bet Ipsos Mori and ICM have something to say about that!), and that the questions didn’t offer any policy alternatives. Well, neither did the north-east referendum.
A referendum on an English Parliament would ask the public something similar to a “Yes or No” question. It’s simple. There’s no confusion. And if we had one tomorrow, we’d have an English Parliament overnight.

The Constitution Unit remains completely blinkered to the reality. It is such a shame that such narrow-minded and subjective opinions can be portrayed as "independent". You've got a chance to have your say.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

All aboard the 20:07!

Things couldn’t have worked out better. Or worse. Around the same as Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, is sworn in as Scotland’s First Minister, fellow Scotsman Gordon Brown has become Prime Minister-elect of the UK Parliament. A Scotsman running Scotland, and a Scotsman running England.

Not that these two Scottish brethren will treat each other as buddies. This presents its own problems, though. Alex Salmond and the SNP, after their election success, feel closer than ever to their goal taking Scotland out of the Union. Gordon Brown, however, is tantalisingly close to his goal of becoming UK Prime Minister. He will formally cross the finishing line when Tony Blair steps down on 27th June, but until then Gordon Brown will continue on his victory-lap. It’s a strange way of doings things, granted, but what the heck. What would be his worst nightmare, however, is for his Premiership to be cut tragically short by Scotland leaving the Union, and therefore taking him and his political career with him. There is a lot at stake.

The SNP have said they will not call a referendum on independence until the end of the current Parliament, probably in 2010. They want to prove they can govern Scotland effectively. What this means in practice is four years of Alex Salmond bullying Westminster into giving Scotland more and more of England’s wealth. If Gordon Brown dares to stand in the way of the 20:07 Express Gravy Train to Edinburgh, they’ll be sticky bits of Gordon all over the place. Political suicide. The SNP will shout from the platform, “You see! Even when we have a Scotsman as PM, we still can’t have what we want! Independence is the only option!” And yet while that Gravy Train continues to roll in, the SNP can claim to be securing the best for Scotland in a way that no Labour administration at Holyrood could possibly have done so.

So, my concern now is that the next 3 or 4 years will be spent with Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, and UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, effectively bartering with England’s wealth and resources in order to convince Scotland to leave/stay in the UK. This is effectively a new chapter in the history of Britain. How badly do we need an English Parliament and English First Minister to speak up for England?

This concern about Salmond and Brown is not new. I remember worrying about it before.

67% support English Parliament

The most recent opinion poll, conducted by ICM towards the end of April, found that support for an English Parliament is at 67%. Another fantastic result.

People were asked the following question:

You may have seen or heard that a separate Scottish parliament, a Welsh assembly and a Northern Ireland Assembly have been established.

Do you think that England should or should not have its own parliament or assembly?

The results were excellent: 67% of people believe England should have its own Parliament. Just 25% said England should not have its own Parliament. The result is consistent with other recent opinion polls, and so proves that the public supports an English Parliament. We can now add the result to the previous excellent results:

Nov 2006. Sunday Telegraph Ipsos Mori Poll: 68% support for an English Parliament.
Jan 2007. BBC Poll: 61% support an English Parliament.
April 2007. CEP ICM Poll: 67% support for an English Parliament.

Of interest was the differing levels of support across the UK:

All England 67%
South-East 65%
Midlands 68%
North England 70%
Wales & SW England 62%
Scotland 72%

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that, across the whole of the UK, the area where support for an English Parliament is at its strongest is Scotland. For me, this reinforces what I (and a number of other CEP members) have been saying for some time: that we must be even more careful about being perceived as “anti-Scottish”. The CEP was formed out the unfairness of the devolution settlement, and many of our grievances have come from what Scotland has been given at England’s expense. This has led to some accusations of anti-Scottishness, which is of course unfair, but we must nonetheless be aware that people may perceive our views in this way.