Opportunities for participatory politics to the north, west and across the Irish Sea increased under the New Labour government. There (proportionally) representative bodies are now responsible for health care, education, transport, planning, the environment, and much besides. The results have been significant improvements in these areas.
Scotland has re-elected the SNP, this time with the first outright majority since the reinstallation of the Scottish parliament, providing a strong mandate for increasing autonomy north of the border and a referendum on independence, one they are likely to win.
Meanwhile Wales now has a Labour government and primary law making powers, after they were approved in a referendum. Like in Scotland, the Welsh government will sit for 5 years instead of the usual 4. With these unprecedented regional powers Labour and the SNP will be judged on what they do with them, but not until 2015, and then again in 2016. In Scotland the SNP stands to gain MPs, at least at the Lib Dems’ expense, whilst if Scottish Labour is to reverse their decline independence from London on a range of issues seems vital. Meanwhile, Labour need to defend Wales from the right wing central government if it is to prevent a Plaid Cymru come back.
England, with no parliament of its own, now has a situation where UK MPs not from England vote on English legislation. Not only do we lack our own proportionally representative polity but we have (59-6*+41+17=) 111 of the 646 MPs voting on English legislation who no one in England actually voted for! This means that 17% of votes on English legislation are readily sold to the highest bidder or coerced by party whips without any constituents to answer to.
Without the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs top up fees would have been rejected, as would foundation hospitals, and so too the application for Heathrow’s third run way! (as in Monbiot, 17, 02,09) This has meant that, in stark contrast to the more progressive policies in Scotland and Wales, England has increasingly reactionary ones. Without changing this scenario ongoing prospects for progressive reform in England are grim.
In each of the three northern English regions Labour would have a comfortable majority over their right-wing rivals in any regional assembly, despite a UK wide Con-Dem majority. Barely one-third of our MPs make up the government whilst in the non northern English regions over three-quarters of the MPs do so. (The North sent well over half the Labour MPs now sitting at Westminster whilst contributing less than 1/6 to the reactionary coalition.)
Without the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, Wales and The North would be without prospects of a representative UK government in any decade soon. Whilst London and Wales have assemblies of their own, the North lacks any alternative means of representation. Wales' response to such a scenario would likely be to try to intensify its own degree of autonomy. If there was no prospect of a change in the status quo (Tory rule) the case for full independence is sure to be strengthened, further condemning The North to perpetual deprivation at the hands of the conservatives.
We in the North should prepare for the realignment of our island's government by launching a debate on what we want for ourselves. A Northern Assembly? Three Northern Assemblies? Or to be part of an English Parliament? Our chance at a UK representative government of the centre left has come and gone and it won’t be back.
We in England need to debate whether we want to create a new England-only Parliament, leaving Westminster in control of pan UK issues, or restrict Westminster (and the house of Lords) to England-only issues whilst creating a new UK ‘senate’ responsible for pan UK issues. Either way, it would seem this new polity needs to be located outside of London and that begs the question of where.
We in Europe need to come up with a means by which member states can negotiate separating their membership, as we have no precedent and the list of members with secession issues is nearly as long as the membership list itself. What we have is a Union dominated by the larger states, with very little democratic accountability. A flexible and democratic EU, made up of smaller more representative nation states, is the only way to assume Europe’s rightful place in the world.
*SNP MPs do not vote on English only legislation, unless Scotland’s financing is tied to it.
Someone Else's England, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 17th February 2009