Ken Stevens is a retired admin manager from Oxford. He was born and raised in London, but moved away after marrying a “Scots-born Unionist Brit” with whom he has three children, and has since lived in various places including the Shetland Islands. He regards himself as a “one-nation centrist conservative”, and votes UKIP.
I’m a Unionist who moaned to Henry Hill that this site – and his regular ConservativeHome feature “Red, White and Blue” – seemed rather oriented from the perspective of three of the four components of the UK, ignoring my bit of it. His response, in effect, was to do something about it, so here is one Englishman’s view of Unionism.
Born almost seven decades ago, I grew up in the subconscious understanding that I was British (which to me included Northern Ireland), happening to be in the part called England. Latterday developments have caused me instead to feel overtly English, within a construct called Britain. What changed my attitude was not some blinding flash of proud realisation of English Nationalism,but a reaction to the fact that two of the four territories showed a distinct taste for wanting to do their own thing, expressed first in devolution and now in Scotland’s case possibly to leave the Union.
Some in Northern Ireland also want to leave the Union but that is for different historical reasons, which I can at least understand (though without in any way condoning the atrocious manner of expressing that desire). Ulster Unionists are self-evident in their desire to stay in, perhaps the only visible ongoing element of the UK to proclaim so!
In a shorter span of time than the merger of England and Wales and their subsequent union with Scotland, the USA was created, admitted more territories, and survived a comparatively recent civil war. Yet there is no serious sentiment in any US state to secede from their union – indeed, Puerto Rico wishes to join. So how did it go so wrong in our case? I’m not suggesting that the Union was perfect prior to devolution, but that instead of improving unity, devolution has only served to erode it.
Given that we’re where we’re at, with devolution rather than where I would have preferred to have been after centuries of Union, the way ahead has to involve some form of federalism. I am a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament, as I subscribe to the notion that that the present set-up is democratically unfair to England. However, that is only one element of a necessary wider UK revision that I believe should happen.
The potential difficulty with federalism is that it could institutionalise our separate existences to have four wholly unconnected national parliaments and governments over-arched by a separate, small UK forum and government handling a few pan-UK responsibilities such as defence and foreign affairs and entailing yet another set of directly elected representatives. Therefore I favour the idea of just one set of representatives sitting part-time in their respective national parliaments and part-time all together in UK session, rather than having Westminster MPs and also MSPs, etc. One less tier of representation – what’s not to like!
Such a significant change would require a rewriting of the constitutional rule book. There should be a codified written constitution, something I have long advocated regardless of devolution, because it seems that the present mish-mash is too dispersed and enables politicians to interpret it conveniently to suit their purposes. Also, there are various constitutional matters that have been dealt with or are under consideration in isolation from each other, such as voting systems, Lords reform, the EU and devolution. Reappraisal of our structure and codifying it should be aimed at giving us all a refreshed, coherent sense of UK identity that nevertheless facilitates celebration of our various national identities within the Union.
Changes of presentational detail should also be effected. Some examples:
- Why after all this time is it still The Bank of England, rather than The Bank of the United Kingdom?
- Why are there Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not for England?
- Why is our side of the British-Irish Council comprised of representatives of the UK government and separately designated ones of the administrations of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey – but not England? (IoM and CI are not even in the UK, for heaven’s sake!)
- Why do Her Majesty’s guards regiments consist of Scots, Irish and Welsh ones but not English Guards?
- Why do the main parties have a UK organisation plus separately designated Scottish and Welsh ones?
Yes, I know there are various historical reasons but the whole point of reappraisal is to upgrade and update. Those kinds of continuing nomenclatures perpetuate the impression that UK = England… plus some appendages.
By the way, can I forestall any suggestion of a “solution” to the fact of England’s disparity of size compared to the other UK nations by splitting it into bite-sized chunks akin to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and directly represented as such in the UK Parliament. Sorry lads and lasses but you’re not going to resolve your perception problem by abolishing my nation as a single entity!
So, that’s my ingenious master plan for the future of the UK. Do I believe that this or an alternative grand scheme will come to pass?
The more likely scenario is of a halfhearted sop such as “English Votes for English Laws” and/or a parliamentary English Grand Committee, though not until after the referendum so as not to spook Scotland beforehand. Scotland will then vote No, though with a sizeable Yes minority, and be rewarded with yet more devolution, which the government hopes will kick the topic into the long grass for a while.
It will gradually thereafter be perceived in Scotland as such a small step onward to independence that when the inevitable rematch occurs further down the line, the Yes vote will prevail. In the meantime, popular sentiment in England will be so disenchanted by the Union that it won’t give a damn about Scotland’s departure.
Where is the visionary statesman who can, hopefully, prove me wrong?
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