Tuesday, 16 April 2013
The English Question - part 2
A few days ago I set out the first part of Sir William Mckay's Commission's report on the English Question. Here is the remainder, I have been able to enlist the necessary help to make Blogger reproduce the tables set out in his report. His conclusions are striking and are mostly highly satisfactory, from an English Nationalist perspective (albeit much less so from a British or EUish Establishment/Elite perspective!).
Here is the text of the report:-
1. Some witnesses were sceptical, however, that the issues raised by the West Lothian Question and other concerns about the balance of interests between England and the devolved nations were especially salient for people in England. That is, while these concerns may in principle be felt to prompt a sense of grievance, there was doubt that people in England felt that it was much of a priority, in practice, to address them. The 2012 FoES survey offered a new perspective on the question of salience by asking respondents to identify those constitutional issues that in their view needed “urgent action” (Table 5). It will surprise few that the UK’s relationship with the EU was the most popular choice, at 59%. However, 42% felt that “urgent action” was also needed on “how England is governed now Scotland has a Parliament and Wales an Assembly”. This was a strong second preference for action and suggests that the complex of fiscal, economic and representational issues that produce a broad English Question does indeed have salience.
2. People in England appear less able to envision more concretely the set of governing arrangements that would better suit them than those they have currently. The BSA has a stock question asking whether respondents want England to be “governed as it is now, with laws made by the UK Parliament”, or through the alternative options of elected regional assemblies or an English parliament. The “as now” option has been fairly stable at 50–55% since 2000 – with support for regional assemblies, which peaked at 26% in 2003 and stood at just 12% in 2011, ebbing in favour of an English parliament (17% in 2003 and 25% in 2011).
3. But the BSA question does not offer insight into attitudes towards the possibility of introducing procedures within the UK Parliament for dealing with England-specific laws. The FoES, however, provides a different menu of options, including that of “England to be governed with laws made by English MPs in the UK Parliament”, alongside the more conventional options of the status quo, an English parliament and regional assemblies (Table 6). The lead preference in both 2011 and 2012 was for “England to be governed with laws made by English MPs in the UK Parliament”, with a little over one-third of respondents in favour. Next, and only just edging out the option of an English parliament, was the status quo option of England governed “with laws made by all MPs in the UK Parliament”.
4. A further question in the 2012 FoES offers an alternative wording: “Thinking about possible arrangements for making laws for England, two options are often mentioned. If you had to choose, which one would you prefer?” In fact, three options were offered; top was for England to be governed with laws made solely by English MPs in the UK Parliament, at 30%, just ahead of an English parliament, at 29%, and keeping “things as they are at present” at 25%.
5. These are extremely significant findings. In neither variant of the FoES questions does more than a quarter of the respondents favour the status quo. And, if support for law- making by English MPs in the UK Parliament and support for an English parliament are added together, support for some form of England-specific procedure for making laws for England has the support of over half of the survey respondents.
6. This lack of support for the status quo, combined with an openness to England- specific institutional change, can usefully be read together with two other findings in the FoES. Table 7 reveals a remarkably low level of trust in the UK Government at Westminster to “work in the best long-term interests of England”. Around six in ten respondents do not, it seems, trust the UK Government “very much” or “at all” to pursue the interests of England.
7. This finding may, of course, reflect to some extent the mid-term unpopularity of the incumbent government at a time of economic difficulty and/or amid a sense of disillusionment with politics. But the figures in Table 8 suggest that, beyond just short- term dissatisfaction with the government of the day, people in England think their interests are not currently being met. Asked which political party best stands up for the interests of England, the top preference in both 2011 and 2012 was that stands up for those interests. Strikingly, only 45% in 2011 and 38% in 2012 felt that any of the established parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – stand up for the interests of England. Even more strikingly, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) overtook the Conservatives and was pressing Labour as the leading defender of the interests of England in 2012. And, taking “none of the above”, UKIP, and the other non-establishment parties of right and left together, the “non-establishment” total clearly exceeded that of the established parties in 2012. (Isn't it bizarre that an anti-English, British Nationalist Party, like UKIP should get this entirely erroneous English nationalist credit? It shows that the English Democrats have some work to do on breaking that down!)
8. These survey findings suggest a potent combination of dissatisfactions in England. There is a clear and enduring sense that England is materially disadvantaged relative to the other parts of the UK, especially Scotland. There is a clear sense in recent surveys (and more enduringly around the West Lothian Question of Scottish MPs voting on English legislation) that the current institutional arrangements for making laws for England are wanting and need to be modified to establish some form of England-specific legislative process. And there is a growing sense that people in England feel that they lack effective advocates for their interests in government or (conventional) opposition.
9. These dissatisfactions exist in a fairly uniform way across England. Table 9 sets out region-by-region findings on some of the indicators explored above which suggest that people in England feel that they are being unfairly treated. These findings are not skewed by unusually high responses in particular parts of England, but are strikingly similar in all parts of England. Variations around the mean are limited, and – with the exception of a sample of Londoners generally a little less dissatisfied than the average – are patternless. These are genuinely England- wide – not just northern, not just peripheral, but general – dissatisfactions.
10. Survey findings are of course a snapshot, and can be read in different ways. On balance, though, the findings set out above provide compelling evidence that there are distinct concerns, felt across England, that lack sufficient opportunity to be expressed through current institutional arrangements. We have heard evidence from a range of sources16 that reinforces this conclusion and suggests a need for a significant response to enable those distinct concerns to be – and to be seen to be – addressed, and for them to be addressed in a way that takes into account the measures taken since 1997 to give voice to the distinct concerns of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As Professor Arthur Aughey put it, the English feel that “if we are going to construct a union that is open and fair and genuinely democratic, then our voice must be heard”.