Wednesday, 10 April 2013
The English Question discussed - part 1
Sir William McKay, as I was commenting in one of my recent previous posts, has helped the English nationalist Cause by going perhaps somewhat "off Piste" in his Commission's Report and has really explored what is now to be officially called:-
"The English Question"
1. The UK’s territorial constitution comprises those sets of governing arrangements which give voice to the distinctive concerns of the UK and its different parts while maintaining an overall balance between them and maintaining the stability of the UK state as a whole.
2. Our analysis is that the governing arrangements for England in the post- devolution era are emerging more or less by default, as a residual category created by the decision to establish distinct governing arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The result has been increasingly to limit the territorial coverage of significant amounts of UK Parliament legislation to England alone (or to England-and-Wales).
3. This increasing focus of the UK Parliament on England is set to continue. The new variant of legislative devolution endorsed in the March 2011 referendum in Wales has established full legislative powers for the National Assembly for Wales in 20 policy fields and will likely lead to a clearer demarcation between Welsh and English legislation. The debates on yet further devolution that are unfolding in Wales (as the Silk Commission deliberates) and in Scotland in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum may also have the effect of further marking out England as a distinct legislative space.
4. Yet this process of demarcation of legislation for England is occurring within a Parliament that has not in any systematic way adapted its approach to making law for England (or, indeed, for England-and-Wales) from that which applied before devolution. The House of Commons does not differentiate its mode of operation for English as compared with UK-wide matters. It lacks a capacity to focus directly on England just at the point when more of its work deals with English matters. In the absence of change in the way the House of Commons works, the consequence – clearly unintended, but nonetheless important – may be to impede the voicing of any distinctively English concerns, or perceived concerns, that exist on wholly or mainly English matters. One of our most important considerations, therefore, was to discover what evidence there is that distinct, English concerns exist which lack procedures for their expression.
5. For this reason, we have given careful consideration to the findings of survey research on public attitudes in England that was presented to us by the National Centre for Social Research using data from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey over the past decade and more,6 and by the team from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh that conducted the Future of England Survey (FoES) in 20117 and 2012.
6. We are aware of the different survey methods used by the BSA and the FoES and note that in some fields – notably national identity – similar, or even the same, survey questions can produce different findings. The FoES, for example, detected a strengthening of English, as distinct from British, national identity in 2011 (though this was less in evidence in the 2012 survey, perhaps as a consequence of the Diamond Jubilee and/ or the Olympic Games) and an association of stronger Englishness with preferences for England-specific political institutions.9 However, the longer time series of the BSA, extending back to the late 1990s, suggests a broad stability (and balance) of English and British identities among the English since 1999, and finds a weaker relationship between stronger English identity and preferences for England-specific institutions.
7. The most comprehensive survey of national identities in England ever undertaken was in the 2011 census, which asked about national identities in each part of the UK for the first time. Of the 50.3 million respondents in England, some 60.4% claimed an “English- only” identity, while only 19.2% claimed a “British-only” identity.11 There is no time series to enable us to tell whether these figures have changed over time. It is striking that they reveal a significantly higher proportion of English respondents claiming an exclusively English identity (and a significantly smaller proportion claiming an exclusively British identity) than in any other surveys of which we are aware.
8. We are mindful, though, of the very extensive academic literature that contests both the definition and the political significance of “national identity”, and are wary of exploring options for considering English matters differently in the House of Commons simply by reference to data on national identity. Our focus lies more in indicators in survey findings of differences of interest that those in England perceive as distinct from, or relative to, the interests of other parts of the UK. There is evidence across the BSA and FoES surveys that suggests a significant level of grievance among the those in England sparked in particular by the advantages that Scotland is perceived to enjoy, relative to England, under current governing arrangements.
9. Asked, for example, whether Scotland receives its fair share of public spending, more than its fair share, or less than its fair share, those respondents from England who expressed a view felt strongly that Scotland gets more than it should, and there is evidence that that view has strengthened significantly over time (Table 1). Strikingly, in the 2012 FoES over half of the survey respondents in England felt that Scotland received more than its fair share of public spending.
10. The 2011 FoES found that Northern Ireland and Wales were also felt by respondents in England to get more than their fair shares, though less so than Scotland, and that England was significantly disadvantaged. In both 2011 and 2012, the FoES found that 40% of respondents felt that England received less than its fair share and fewer than 10% felt that it received more than its fair share (Table 2). There is a clear perception in opinion in England that Scotland is strongly advantaged and England strongly disadvantaged in the distribution of public spending.
11. Similarly, when asked in the FoES “whether England’s economy benefits from having Scotland in the UK, whether Scotland benefits more from being part of the UK, or whether the benefits are about equal”, some 52% felt in 2011 (49% in 2012) that Scotland’s economy benefits more and just 7% the English economy (8% in 2012), while 23% identified equal benefit in 2011 (and 19% in 2012).
12. Alongside a clear perception of unfairness to England, especially in relation to Scotland, in the distribution of public spending and economic benefit there is a very strong view that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible through its own taxes for raising the money it spends (rather, though this is implicit in the survey question, than through general UK taxation revenues allocated to the Scottish Parliament by HM Treasury) (Table 3). It is striking that, consistently, across surveys and over time, 75–80% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the Scottish Parliament should levy its own taxes. There is a powerful sense that Scotland should be more self-reliant, and less reliant on the UK taxpayer (and, it may be inferred, on the taxpayer in England in particular).
13. The preference for a clearer demarcation of England from Scotland extends beyond fiscal policy into representation in the legislative process. The broad issue of principle raised in the West Lothian Question – that it is anomalous if non-English MPs vote on England-specific legislation, whatever the majority relationships in the House of Commons – has a very strong resonance in English public opinion. There are clear, consistent and strong majorities over time and across different surveys suggesting that people in England do not think it right that Scottish MPs should be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect England only. The BSA time series shows a marked growth in those strongly agreeing that Scottish MPs should not vote on English laws, and the FoES findings indicate an even higher level of strong agreement (Table 4).
14. These figures suggest that the West Lothian Question has a strong negative resonance. Respondents from England are strongly of the view that it is wrong, in the context of devolution, that MPs from Scotland should still be playing a role in shaping laws that affect England only.