Tuesday 1 July 2008

The English Question

From my reading of what Kenneth Clarke had to say today, the Tories are continuing to struggle with the whole issue of devolution, and particularly with the question of what to do in England. It would be pretty easy for us here in Wales – particularly in Plaid – to say it's an English problem; leave them to it. After all, our argument is that we want Wales to be free to follow its own path; why wouldn't we be content to allow England to do likewise?

Easy, but mistaken in this case. If the Tories (or any other party come to that, but Labour have already been bitten once, and seem unwilling to come back to the question) were suggesting some sort of separate institution for England, either as a whole or else by establishing regional assemblies, then I would be quite content to leave them to it. But they're not; they're trying to tinker with UK institutions to achieve their objectives – and that makes it our concern as well.

The first question is why they are doing it. Their proposals bear little sign of serious thought about what the constitution should look like, and every sign of trying to play on – and foment – English resentment and anger as a tool for their own electoral purposes. In the short term, it may even work, but they are likely to find that they create as many problems as they solve in the process.

The second is that, since the extent and nature of devolution differs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the issue isn't as simple - as they seem to think - as defining 'English-only' legislation. Some laws will apply only in England; some only in England and Wales, some only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, some only in Northern Ireland - and just about every other possible permutation. That makes at least four different classes of MP, and deciding which MPs can vote on which laws looks like an absolute nightmare to me.

This confusion might also create an opportunity for Wales, however - if the Tories were ever to discover the concept of consistency. Given that devolution, particularly to Wales, remains incomplete in a whole host of areas, Westminster may still be passing some laws which apply only to Wales – and there are rather more which include clauses relating only to Wales. What about only allowing Welsh MPs to vote on these laws and clauses?

The Tories' proposal is aimed at preventing Welsh and Scottish MPs (predominantly Labour) imposing their will on England (which is generally predominantly Tory). Logic would surely dictate that English Tories should, in the same way, be prevented from imposing their will on Wales, wouldn't it? And, while we're about it, how about only Welsh MPs voting on Assembly LCOs...


Anonymous said...

The Tory sub text is the English vote tory and the question goes away ,and if the English want it to stay away they must vote tory.Also they must maintain at all costs the concept of britain in europe because euro sceptic England will pull out.
This more than just dry politics too,the term nations and regions must go, we are either all nations or we are all not.

John Dixon said...

I'm sure that positioning themselves as some sort of English Nationalist Party will help them in England. But it will completely undermine their position in Wales, although I guess they won't really care about that.