October 10, 2005

Federal Britain

2007 will be the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union and, if political pundits are to be believed, Gordon Brown will be the shoo-in Prime Minister. But will Britain be celebrating the Union, or will constitutionalists be ruminating on the last ever Scottish incumbent at No. 10, and possibly the end of the United Kingdom? The next leader of the Conservative Party will decide.

“People have said … it would be very difficult for a Scot to become prime minister.” The change, if it is happening, is profound. It is the reason why Labour, as a party, is determined to prevent home rule from “getting out of hand”. Should the idea gain ground that Scottish MPs have no legitimate right to Westminster office, the political arithmetic will look very bad indeed for the party. Brown’s personal ambition is one thing, but if No 10’s door is barred to the best-qualified candidate because he represents a Fife constituency, Scottish independence – not to mention English independence – follows. --- Ian Bell, Glasgow Herald; 20th March 2005

On the 28th November HM Treasury will host a debate asking 'How 'British' do we feel? What do we mean by 'Britishness'? which will focus on the impacts of the Government’s programme of devolution on Britishness. Quite why this should be the business of the Treasury can only be answered by one person; Prime Minister in waiting, and present incumbent at the Treasury, Mr Gordon Brown.

It is not Brown’s first incursion into the debate on Britishness, and it will not be his last. Brown’s ambition to become UK Prime Minster rests on his ability to convince the English electorate that he is one of them: A true Brit. But it’s a tall order, for at the heart of his dilemma lies the thorny old West Lothian Question, the question that, as it will pertain to Brown, asks:

How can it be right that Prime Minister Brown, elected to Westminster from a Scottish constituency, has no ability to affect the issues of his constituents which have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and;
If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right that Gordon Brown representing a Scottish constituency in the Parliament of the United Kingdom will have the power to vote on issues affecting England (including those that don't affect Scotland), but English MPs will not have the power to vote on the commensurate Scottish issues that affect Brown’s constituents?

The 2008 General Election may well be dubbed ‘the battle for England’ because Gordon Brown does not see England as a nation but as a collection of regions. Giving his first address as Chancellor of the Exchequer to Labour Party Conference in 1997, Brown spoke of "the nations of Britain". Until then British politicians had spoken only of the 'British nation'. He did not in that speech exclude England as a nation. However he did exclude England as a nation in the next speech he gave on devolution three and a half years later, speaking to the CBI in the Manchester Town Hall in February 2001 well after he had seen the Scottish Parliament firmly established with powers independent of Westminster. This time he spoke of "the nations and regions of Britain". By "the nations" he meant Scotland and Wales by "the regions" he meant English regions.

Since that time Brown has repeatedly used the phrase ‘nations and regions’, much to the annoyance of campaigners for an English Parliament, and at the Labour Party Conference he stepped up the rhetoric in a speech widely regarded as a blueprint for his coming premiership:

"I will in the next year visit every region and nation of our country. With you I want to listen, hear and learn, to discuss the economic, social and constitutional changes we need to build for the future" --- Gordon Brown, 2005 Labour Party Conference

The vernacular employed by Brown has since become accepted Government parlance, and is employed with political intent by UK ministers across all Whitehall departments. But each mention of the phrase ‘nations and regions’ increases the ire of English nationalists, who believe that England is not just a collective of UK regions but a nation too; and is also offensive to Scottish and Welsh nationalists who do not much like their nations being cast as analogous to mere regions of England; and also to campaigners against the concept of a 'Europe of the Regions', a group that has broad-based support within the 'Europe of Nations' Conservative Party.

"We are entering an era in which national government, instead of directing, enables powerful regional and local initiatives to work, where Britain becomes as it should be - a Britain of nations and regions" --- Gordon Brown, Jan 2000

Setting his stall out thus Gordon Brown hopes to appeal to the subset of the British electorate whose primary allegiance is still to the British state. It is a dangerous policy because 'Brits' are a declining demographic, and most of the electorate does not believe that Britain should be a state of 'nations and regions'. Whilst many in Britain have multiple identities devolution to Scotland and Wales has created a climate where British people’s primary allegiance is to either England, Scotland or Wales, and where before British nationalists were the biggest constituency, English dissatisfaction with the unbalanced constitution has manifested itself in a rapidly growing constituency that define themselves as English, not British.

Gordon Brown is of the old order; unlike most Scots he is British first and Scottish second, he believes passionately in the Union and will fight anything - such as an English parliament - that he feels may threaten that union. Brown has seen that the component nations of the Union are pulling in different directions and believes that the constitution must be tailored to prevent this, regardless of whether it places England at a constitutional disadvantage.

I think almost every question that we have to deal with about the future of Britain revolves around what we mean by Britishness, whether it is asylum or immigration, the future of the constitution, our relationship with Europe...[...]...The real challenge over the next few years is to see how our institutions can better reflect these values. That may mean quite profound changes in how our constitution is organised, --- Gordon Brown, Prospect Magazine; April 2005


In contrast to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, the Conservative Party offer up their solution - a constitutional minefield of a solution - that they refer to as ‘English Votes on English Matters’. But a few contenders for the Conservative crown, notably David Davis, have gone further than this by stating their preference for an English Parliament. The prospect of an English nationalist Conservative leader, advocating a quasi-federal Britain, must fill Gordon Brown with dread. How could Brown, a Scot, argue that England should not be entitled to the same level of self-government as his native Scotland? But this is the way that the die could be cast come the next general election.

The West Lothian Question not only remains unanswered, but under Brown's ‘nations and regions’ model, it is unanswerable, and English nationalism looms as an ever-growing immovable object on the political horizon ready to thwart his claim to Tony Blair’s throne. Rather ironically Brown helped to create the resurgent English nationalism that may ultimately floor his ambitions when he put his signature to the Scottish Constitutional Convention, whose claim of right for Scotland read:

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.

But it is likely that Brown and his Labour colleagues had not fully appreciated the knock-on consequences of that declaration:

The long standing paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment though the accumulated failures of successive labour governments… We suggest that the rise of modern Scottish nationalism is less an assertion of Scotland’s permanence as a nation than a response to Scotland’s uneven development … the discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people. --- Gordon Brown, Red Paper on Scotland; 1975

In light of that statement it seems likely that Brown’s signature on the Scottish Constitutional Convention was secured not on Brown’s desire to secure Scotland’s future as a nation, but on his hope that a Scottish parliament would kill off nationalist demands for independence, or perhaps even on the hope that it would secure a permanent socialist foothold in Scotland. This latter hypothesis has some credibility as it is supported by Conservative claims that devolution was an attempt by Labour to gerrymander the UK constitution, and is borne out by the fact that Labour only offered devolution to within Britain to Scotland, Wales, and the three northern English regions – all Labour heartlands.

Opposition Members are prepared - for their own narrow party political ends, because they want to have an entrenched socialist majority in Scotland - to gerrymander our constitution, to put Scotland's vital services at risk, and to play straight into the hands of the nationalists. --- The Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Michael Forsyth (Cons), Hansard; 29 Nov 1995

Today it seems bizarre that Labour did not foresee an English backlash in response to the democratic deficit caused by Scottish devolution. However, the former Scottish Secretary George Robertson - better know to Anglospherists as NATO Secretary General - actually believed that Labour's constitutional plans (loosely modelled on the asymmetrical Spanish model rather than the federal model set up by Britain in Canada and Australia) would ensure that the question could not arise:

The answer to the West Lothian question is the fact that our constitutional plans are not confined to Scotland and Wales. It will also embrace regional government in England, and that's a firm commitment too" --- George Robertson (Labour), Scotland on Sunday; 8 January 1995

Far from worrying about England's second-class constitutional status Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were still more concerned about warding off Scottish nationalism.

Brown and Tony Blair are faced with the very real danger of the 291-year-old Union between England and Scotland being dismembered. The Scottish Question remains unanswered and the forces of the Union are having to rethink, regroup and prepare to strike back. It has been a faltering response so far. Brown, deputed by Blair to sort it out, has been in the vanguard, struggling to come up with a coherent strategy…[…]… In the Treasury, and in Labour's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow, Delta House, the party's brightest have been struggling with ways of making the image of Britain more attractive for Scots. 'Cool Britannia had no resonance for most people,' said one of those formulating the new image of Britain. 'They all felt it was something happening somewhere else which they had no part in.' Many Scots never regarded themselves as British anyway. That view of identity has increased with each generation: Scots now present themselves as both Scottish and European, but not British. Why should they remain part of the United Kingdom any longer? Brown and his colleagues have been working on an answer. --- The Guardian; April 7, 1999

Labour's failure to address the English Question, particularly the West Lothian Question, means that Brown will face the political reality of English, Scottish and Welsh nationalism, but it is English nationalism that causes the most immediate threat to his future premiership. After devolution to Scotland Labour politicians implored the Conservative Party to not ‘fan the flames of English nationalism’ in order to ‘make devolution to Scotland work’. By and large the Conservatives have not fanned the flames, and they have not reinvented themselves as an English party despite the fact that after 1997 their only MPs were based in England. However many in the Conservative Party are deeply concerned about England’s place in the Union, and resentment has deepened since the last election when, in England alone, the Conservatives narrowly gained more votes than Labour. That England is governed in its entirity by a government that does not have the plurality of the popular vote in England suggests to many that Labour has no moral right to govern England on those matters that they devolved to Scotland. If England, like Scotland, was similarly favoured with devolution and proportional representation then England would have a very different government - one that would probably give the Conservatives control over Health; Culture, Media and Sport; Transport; Tourism; Police and Fire Services; Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing; Planning; Social Work; Housing and the natural and built environment in England.

Should the Conservatives feel that they can win the next General Election on the plurality of votes across the UK then they will, likely as not, choose to ignore this constitutional anomaly? However, if the polls are too close to call then the Conservatives will be forced to adopt an English nationalist policy resulting in an attack on the very principle of the House of Commons: That all members of the House have equal voting privileges. On the receiving end of that attack will be a Scot: Gordon Brown.

As they stand now the Conservative proposals to tackle the West Lothian Question - English votes on English Matters (EVoEM) - would have the Speaker designate bills as English and would exclude Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs from voting upon them. It is a policy fraught with potential problems:

  • There would be no English executive, so although EVoEM would prevent non-English MPs voting on English legislation it would not prevent England being ruled in its entirety by a second choice minority government?
  • The ‘EVoEM parliament’ would not be a devolved parliament that is subordinate to the UK parliament, but would instead be a sovereign UK parliament that excluded non-English MPs.
  • The House of Lords would still scrutinize English legislation when it does not, and cannot, scrutinise the legislation of the devolved administration in Scotland.
  • Scottish MPs would still be entitled to be ministers of English departments, unaccountable to the people whose lives their ministerial performance impacts upon.
  • Only the UK Government has access to the Civil Service, Parliamentary draughtsmen, etc. So a Tory English Votes on English Laws parliament would have to rely on the UK Government in order to codify and implement its legislation.
  • There would be no English ‘First Minister’ for English Questions. Potentially Gordon Brown PM would be held to account for areas that his Government was unable to legislate for and that he was unable to vote upon?
  • MPs representing English constituencies will merely be able to react to proposals put forward by the UK government, rather than formulate legislation for the benefit of England?
  • If the Tories were the largest party in an English Votes on English Matters parliament but Labour formed the UK Government Labour Ministers would preside over departments that the Labour Party were unable to implement legislation for.
  • The Speaker’s decision on what constitutes an English bill is subjective, particularly in light of the facts that England and Wales share the same legal system, and the block grant to the devolved administrations is determined by the level of spending in England.

There is little doubt that the Conservatives are aware of these problems which is why they have been less than candid on how English Votes on English Matters would actually work. English Votes on English Matters is not a solution but rather a stop-gap solution to fill a policy gap whilst an internal debate rages inside Conservative Central Office between a progressive pro-English faction and the conservative Unionist faction, though a few voices of Tory dissent have been raised publicly:

I fear that we shall be providing a weapon for the assault on the integrity of the Union....If we exclude Scottish MPs from our deliberations on purely English affairs - assuming that those can be isolated and defined, which I doubt. --- David Curry MP (Cons), Hansard; 21 January 2001

The Labour Party are equally tight-lipped when it comes to the Conservative proposals, careful not to inflame the English Question, but state that the Conservative proposals are ‘unworkable’ whilst refusing to be drawn on quite why they believe that to be the case. Cynically though Labour have counter-claimed against Tory objections to Scottish devolution to argue that the Conservative policy of English votes on English matters is an attempt to gerrymander the UK constitution in favour of near permanent Conservative rule in England.

The [English Votes on English Matters] motion is not constitutional. It is an attempt by the Tories to gerrymander votes in the House to their own political ends. Members on the Labour Benches believe that we remain a United Kingdom Parliament and that, as such, we shall not move into a realm where there are first and second-class Members of the House. --- Anne McGuire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Labour); 21 Jan 2004

The third party in England, the Liberal Democrats, are equally dismissive of the Conservative proposals, and have good reason to be. In 1886 Liberal Prime Minster William Gladstone considered 'English Votes on English Laws' as a solution to the constitutional problems created Irish home-rule but later rejected it as unworkable in practice.

Regardless of just why English Votes on English Matters is unworkable the issue has to be resolved, and if Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister it will have to be resolved sooner rather than later. There are three possible solutions:

  • The dissolution of the devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations, a solution not considered equitable by the Scots and Welsh, and potentially disasterous for the Northern Irish peace process;
  • An England with regional parliaments equal in power to the Scottish parliament, a solution not equitable to the English, or;
  • A federal UK of four constituent nations, a solution equitable to all but never before in the world would a federation have been so unbalanced because 84% of the UK population resides in England.

With the Labour Party entrenched in its position it will fall to the new Conservative leader to decide which of these three options to pursue, and whether England - the Mother of all Parliaments - should have its own parliament.

Posted by Gareth at October 10, 2005 10:38 PM
Comments

I suspect Americans, Canadians, and Australians naurally favor federalist solutions because we are comfortable with the idea of two levels of authority in permanent tension. But the greater degree to which the federalism can evolve from natural units, the more likely it is to succeed. I wouldn't worry about the size disparity of the units -- the difference between California and Wyoming, or Ontario and Prince Edward Island is enormous, but it's never been that big of a problem. One possibility is to make greater London a federal unit of its own -- a Union Capital District,or "District of Britannia", but fully self-governing and with equal representation in the federal Parliament. This would not only reduce the predominance of England, but I have noticed that in values and attitudes surveys London is substantially distinct from the rest of England on social policy preferences. The Rest of England would get much more of what it wanted in policy if London weren't voting in its Parliament. And probably Londoners would be happier too.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 11, 2005 01:05 AM

Is what you propose a federation of four nations and a 'city state' of London?

Whilst in theory your suggestion sounds a good one, as an Englishman I see no reason why my nation's capital (where I grew up) should be dislocated politically from the rest of England in order that the Scots and Welsh may sit more comfortably within the Union.

It makes no more sense to me as it would to a Scot to make two countries out of Scotland (Greater Glasgow - 44% of the population, and the rest of Scotland - 56% of the pop).

In my opinion the political dominance of London should be reduced through the relocation of the English civil service, and possibly the English parliament itself, outside London.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 01:57 AM

It is inconceivable that England should accept anything less than an English Parliament, with equal powers to the Scottish Parliament.
At the moment, the mess of devolution has created a situation whereby people in England are dying for want of drugs that are denied to them, yet they have to pay for these drugs for the Scottish people. This is nothing less that institutionalised murder!
Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, elected as absolute ruler of England by Scottish voters!
What will it take to get equal access to democracy for England - a civil war? I for one am prepared to fight for my country and would do so if pushed far enough

Posted by: Della at October 11, 2005 04:01 AM

Like Gordon Brown I am British first and Scottish second. I have nothing else in common with the man!

I favour the federal solution. The preponderance of England’s population is only a problem because far too much is done by government. If we move in a radical libertarian direction by reducing or eliminating many current government functions I believe that the four nation federal system would be workable.

In my view the ideal endgame would be a United Kingdom, out of the EU, and including a reunited Ireland. Dublin, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh would be the capitals of the four nations and the federal capital would be situated on the Isle of Man, which is not part of any of the nations but is equidistant from all of them.

Posted by: David Farrer at October 11, 2005 05:10 AM

David: Is there any sort of Irish Dependence (opposite of independence) movement? I have never heard of such a thing.

Posted by: Daniel Lucraft at October 11, 2005 09:00 AM

There are these people.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 12:07 PM

Gareth, it would really be more for the rest of England than for the Scots and Welsh; the point of an autonomous Capital district would be to give the rest of England a parliament with a fairly homogenous base for social policy. The seems to be a fairly bimodal distribution of social-political sentiment between London and the rest of England. An English parliament including London would impose policies on the rest of England substantially to the left of what they would choose for themselves, just as the people of upstate New York have to put up with all sorts of social policies and institutions they don't want, compared to their neighbors who live in less-megapolitan-dominated states. William F. Buckley proposed separate statehood for New York City when he ran for mayor; I still think it's a a good idea.

Constitutionally, the Capital District could be a constuct for the life of the Union; if it ever were dissolved, London would retrocede to the Kingdom of England. I used to live in the part of Virginia that had been ceded to the District of Columbia and later retroceded; I walked past the old bounday marker every day on the way to work. There is a socio-cultural argument to be made for a Capital District as well, which is that London ever since first the Welsh and later the Scottish Acts of Union, it has been the capital and chief city of the whole island and has hosted large numbers of migrants from other parts of the UK (and later, from the whole Empire and Commonwealth.) There is something to be said for a capital of a federation which is everybody's city, and where you can come without being a guest in somebody else's nation. That was one of the plus sides of Washington -- there was a certain kind of energy in mixing with people from every state and territory of the Union on common ground.

Still and all, it's just one of several possible architectures. In the long run, it's up to the people and what they decide they want.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 11, 2005 12:20 PM

Most English cities are Labour compared to most rural constituencies being Tory. Isn't the argument for breaking off London also an argument for separating all the Cities of England from the Countryside of England?

Posted by: Daniel Lucraft at October 11, 2005 12:43 PM

I don't think that the problem with power being based in London is one to do with its distance from provincial England. London is seen as remote, but that has more to do with the fact that England has never been afforded ample parliamentary time to deal with its problems, the vast majority of parliamentary time being used up discussing UK governance. Scotland (Wales and Northern Ireland) have suffered less in this respect because they do at least have a Secretary of State of Scotland and a Scottish Office (and even a Scottish Grand Committee) to push their concerns. Now, in addition, they have their own parliament to ruminate over Scottish issues to their heart's content AND have time allotted for Scottish Questions at Westminster.

England has no such thing. Parliamentary time, at the very least, must be allotted to England.

As England has become more urban the balance of power has shifted from the countryside to the towns and cities. There is an argument to devolve more power to counties and shires and to have elected city mayors to deal with the specific problems of the countryside and cities. I see no reason that any of these should be semi-autonomous regions within a federation though.

One of the main reasons behind Prescott the setting up of regional government is to facilitate the transfer of funds to and from Brussels and to circumvent the national parliament. Each of the regions in England now has offices in Brussels. Regional government is offered up as an alturistic system of devolving power but in truth power would be better devolved to shires and cities that have historic identities and government infrastucture already in place.

However, none of this is for the UK Government to decide. As the Government did for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they should let the people of England decide, instead of sacrificing England at the twin altars of the Union and the EU in a top down directive.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 01:02 PM

Jim, I suppose that I could be won around to the idea of a London state, but only if decided upon by an English parliament with the consent of the English nation as a whole.

We are talking about splitting a 1000 year-old nation (the oldest nation state in Europe) rather than a mere state of a 52-state 230 year-old federal nation. Passions run slightly deeper where nationhood is involved.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 01:12 PM

I wasn't proposing a separate capital district status for London merely to gerrymander a Tory enclave, morely to help counterbalance the enormous influence the media-adademic-political complex in London has on English politics. An English parliament including London would actually concentrate this power even more strongly. In American states without gigantic metropolitan areas, the cities still are Democrat strongholds, but they are different Democrats, more to the center, because they have to be. It's a worthwhile dynamic.

The paramount principle, however, is that any alignment of political entities should follow the natural inclinations of the people. That's why the regions proposal was so bad - artificial and imposed from the top down. A devolution to the shires and cities would make much more sense.

London does have a very distinct identity and status, and should be considered in that light.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 11, 2005 02:24 PM

London is the captial city of England and will remain so, when England is granted an English Parliament.
Arguments applied to why England should be dismantled apply more so to Scotland.

No one can pretend the Parliament in Edinbugh has any relevance to the highlands and islands of that EU region (because that's all Scotland is in the 21st century).

There can be no argument that denies England its own Parliament that do not also apply Scotland.

Equality is all that is being asked for England. Equal rights to democracy, to health care and to funding. The Scottish Raj must be made to pack up their bagpipes and get back to the Scottish Parliament, where they can do more harm to England.

Posted by: Della at October 11, 2005 02:42 PM

Frankly, none of this matters while most of our legislation comes in from somewhere else, cannot be thrown out by Parliament (any Parliament) and is often negotiated and implemented by quangos such as the Environment Agency or the Food Standards Agency. The United Kingdom is not, in any meaningful sense of the word, a sovereign country.

Posted by: Helen at October 11, 2005 03:06 PM

I see the creation of an English parliament as the ideal opportunity to break London's stranglehold on the rest of the UK.

An English parliament with equal authority to the Scottish parliament would remove English 'housekeeping' legislation from the UK parliament, and this would free up as much as 70% of Common's time. The UK parliament could be slimmed down - it should be anyway, but that is by-the-by.

Great Whitehall departments (Health, Transport and Education) could be relocated to the rest of England.

Such a reorganisation would be strangely liberating to the administrations in Scotland and Wales who would not be so shackled into towing the party line as decreed by their colleagues at Westminster. In effect it would help break the influence that the UK parties have over the Scottish and Welsh parties. Real devolution! UK parties would also have to create separate parties and manifestos for England - unbelievably, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, they do not at this time (Scots and Welsh are invited to vote at the General Election for UK manifestos in which the majority of policies do not apply to their nations).

There need be no increase in Government either. While devolution to Wales and Scotland caused a duplication (or triplication) of departments, that replicated the work of the UK government in Scotland and Wales, devolution to England will not. UK departments which have a remit for England would simply be renamed English departments (in keeping with their role and accountability), and responsiblity for them would pass to ministers elected by the people of England. If it all seems rather obvious and logical, that's because it is.

David's idea of moving the UK parliament, and keeping the English seat of power at its traditional home in Westminster is equally valid, but I fear that such a solution would sit less comfortably with the Conservatives, who at the present time represent the best bet for acheiving any form of English home rule.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 03:07 PM

That's the UKIP line Helen, and whilst they have a point, you may as well take the view that nothing at all matters and we should all just sign up for ID cards and forego our right to protest and trial by jury right now.

The denial of an English parliament, in preference to regional assemblies, is, to my mind, all part of the Euification of the UK. It's a Europe of the regions that they want and England is just too big to fit into that schematic. The one thing that practically all regionalists have in common is their fanatical zeal for all things EU - with Prescott being at the head of that charge.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 03:13 PM

No Gareth, it is not the UKIP line but a description of reality as it is instead of how you would like it to be. What I said was that building castles in the air matters not a jot as long as we do not legislate for ourselves. After all, what will an English parliament do? Nod through hundreds of EU directives and regulations. It may as well be done in Westminster. So, rather than being completely defeatist and say well, we may as well just make plans that will never matter because we do not want to deal with the political realities, it might be a better idea to sort that out first.

Posted by: Helen at October 11, 2005 05:13 PM

Having talked to Farrage about it I can assure you that it is the UKIP line. Whilst our relations with the EU may be the priority, and understandably so, it does not mean that the UK constitution and politics and at a national level should be regarded as a total irrelevance that should wait until the EU keels over.

Whilst you 'sort out' the EU - and I wish you every success in doing so - there will be thousands of others campaigning to save the countryside; habeus corpus; trial by jury, and; abolish regional assemblies; prevent biometric ID cards; establish an English parliament etc. so that by the time we have finished sorting out the EU we have not reduced our own internal national politics to the totalitarian vision of Blair&Co.

Besides, an English parliament cannot be incorporated into the EU of the Regions anyway. Why do you think they favour chopping England up into nine bite-sized pieces? Do you seriously believe that England would support a regional layer of government as well as parish, county, English and UK government. Regional government would have nothing to justify its existance because English government would have responsibility over everything that is presently devolved to Scotland. There would be no rationale behind retaining the regional undemocratic and unnaccountable quangocracy. It would be abolished.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 05:45 PM

Gareth, Helen has been a consistent critic of UKIP from a Eurosceptic viewpoint on her blog http://www.eureferendum.blogspot.com, so she is not coming from a simplistic position. But I would say that people need to work on whatever issue most motivates them. Not everybody starts from a position where EU iissues are their primary motivators. However, they will soon discover thaty you can't get very far down the road toward a genine federalism in Britain, or any other constitutional reform, without having to deal with the EU issue. So all roads here will lead to Rome, or at least the Treaty thereof.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 11, 2005 07:17 PM

I am aware of Helen's blog, and I am impressed by her writing.

Contrary to what Helen says it's an argument that I have heard many times from UKIP and I still don't understand it. Essentially what they (and she) seem to be saying is that although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have devolved administrations that are considered regions by the EU (and the UK Government), England cannot have a parliament (as opposed to the EU regions it has now) because fighting the EU is more important. And this despite the fact that England is not, and cannot, be considered a region of Europe; indeed a semi-autonomous England is outwith any conceivable plan that the EU state-builders have for integrating Britain into the EU.

That is where we disagree. But do not take my disagreement as a sign of any lack of respect. Helen and I are from different backgrounds - I was born in England. Although it may seem like a churlish point it may go some way to explaining our differences. It's not that I fail to see the bigger picture it's just that in or out of the EU England needs a parliament, and I'm not prepared to sit on my hands allowing my country to be fragmented while the interminable, though crucially important, debate over the EU rages.

I believe that I mentioned that England was being sacrificed at the twin altars of the Union and EU! Whlst that may be acceptable to a Brit I can't say that it is acceptable to me.

Posted by: Gareth at October 11, 2005 08:22 PM

Helen is fighting a war and it is one than many of us agree with. However, in every war there are many, many battles and we choose to fight those how we will. An English Parliament would scupper the "European Regions of England" and give a unified voice to a nation that is quite probably eurosceptic.

She has her eye on a horizon but there are other things between that horizon and where she is standing.

Posted by: JohnJo at October 12, 2005 07:59 AM

It's interesting to observe that three of the blogs linked to from Helen's blog are members of the Witanagemot Club - a blog ring for bloggers that believe that England should have its own parliament.

So maybe it's not the irrelevance that Helen would like it to be.

Posted by: Gareth at October 12, 2005 03:17 PM