Cameron is unwittingly preparing the way for Scotland to become independent

Robert Henderson

All the signs are that the incoming Tory government is  going to pander incontinently  to the Scottish National Party (SNP)  and grant ever greater devolved  powers to Scotland, viz Cameron saying  post-election  “In Scotland our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world, with important powers over taxation”, while  the newly appointed  Scottish Secretary  David  Mundell  speaks of the possibility of  powers for Scotland  greater than those recommended by the Smith Commission  after the NO vote in the Scottish independence referendum. There are even hints that full fiscal autonomy – the ability to set and collect all taxes in Scotland and decide how to spend the money raised – might be on the cards with Nicola Sturgeon saying the SNP would vote for it if it was offered and  the  Tory ex-Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth has advocated a White Paper on the subject.

The problem with appeasement is that it can never be a strategy only a tactic to buy time.  This is because any concession is viewed as a sign of weakness and  encourages the appeased to demand more and more. What Cameron and his fellow  supposedly  pro-union appeasers of Scotland do not  give any sign of understanding is that each granting of extra powers to the Scotland is preparing the country for eventual independence, because the more power a devolved government has the greater confidence  the politicians in the devolved region will have that they can go it alone.  As things are going,  there will quite soon  come  a point where  the SNP will be able to say to  fainthearted voters , look, we are virtually independent now so  there is nothing to fear from independence.

The reasoning of those  unionists who support   new tax raising  powers for Scotland is that if the Scottish parliament  has to raise much of the money their government spends it will  cause  the attitude of  both politicians and the public in Scotland to change, with the politicians behaving prudently or facing the wrath of the electors, who would cease blaming the UK government and become disenchanted with the SNP.

This is pie-in-the-sky. If the SNP get anything short of full fiscal autonomy they will continue to blame the UK government for underfunding  Scotland. The massive preferential Treasury funding which Scotland receives compared with England (currently worth around £9 billion pa) will show this to be a lie,  but SNP supporters and Scots more widely will eagerly swallow the lie.   Moreover, it will be easy for the SNP to fudge the matter  in public debate,  because if Scotland gets  substantial powers to  raise taxes , the  Barnett Formula (which creates the higher per capita Treasury payments to Scotland) will be adjusted to reduce the amount of UK Treasury  funding  that Scotland receives.  The SNP will inevitably  claim any reduction is unfair.  They will also dispute how much taxpayers’ money  goes on  what might be termed UK spending, things such as defence and foreign policy.

If full fiscal autonomy is given to Scotland the same general problem would  arise, but in an even more extreme form because the Barnet Formula would be scrapped.  This would result in a considerable revenue shortfall  for the Scottish government. Not only would there be arguments between Scotland and Westminster about what would then  be  de facto federal measures – defence, foreign policy, the financing of the national UK debt, the management of the Pound  and so on –  but disputes over Oil and Gas revenues and  things such as the distribution of public money to pay for the administration of the domestic UK national civil service.

The dangers of devolved public debt

Devolving serious  tax and spending powers to Scotland would carry grave risks for the rest of the UK.  A Scottish government might well be reckless in its spending and run up large debts.  This could happen even if no formal further borrowing powers were given to Scotland because policies for Scotland would be based on estimates of future tax revenue.  These estimates could be seriously wrong if the SNP’s absurdly optimistic  predictions  over North Sea Oil and Gas tax revenue  are anything to go by. If serious  formal borrowing powers are  given to Scotland  the risk of overspending and large Scottish debts would be even greater .

These are not fanciful fears.  Spain stands as a salutary  example of what can happen when devolved power allows regional governments to run up debts. A significant part of  Spain’s present economic problems stem from the huge debts the 17 regional governments in Spain ran up prior to the present Eurozone crisis.

The Smith Commission proposals for further devolution to Scotland  (see p 23 onwards)  provide for a good deal of Scottish control over  fiscal matters . These proposals  have been broadly accepted by Cameron’s government. They include the following borrowing  proposals:

(5) Borrowing Powers: to reflect the additional economic risks, including volatility of tax revenues, that the Scottish Government will have to manage when further financial responsibilities are devolved, Scotland’s fiscal framework should provide sufficient, additional borrowing powers to ensure budgetary stability and  provide safeguards to smooth Scottish public spending in the event of economic shocks, consistent with a sustainable overall UK fiscal framework. The Scottish Government should also have sufficient borrowing powers to support capital investment, consistent with a sustainable overall UK fiscal framework. The Scottish and UK Governments should consider the merits of undertaking such capital borrowing via a prudential borrowing regime consistent with a sustainable overall UK framework.

There is untold opportunity for reckless behaviour there.  The danger is that Scotland will run up debts they cannot service let alone pay off and in those circumstances as happened in Spain, the central UK government (effectively the English taxpayer) t would have to bail Scotland out.

Nor would the dangers for England stop there. The effect of  less UK control of  taxation and Scottish borrowing would have a depressive  effect on the international credit worthiness of the UK as a whole  because the rest of the world would see that an element of new potential risk and uncertainty  had been introduced to the UK economy..

Leave the SNP to twist in the wind

The comprehensive  way to deal with the SNP threat would be to set up an English Parliament. That would immediately dissolve  SNP influence over the rest of the UK  both for  now and the future. However, there is no realistic prospect of an English Parliament  in the near future.  (The Conservative proposal for English votes for  English laws is no substitute for an English Parliament although  it is a stepping stone to one).  Short of an English Parliament  what could be done to nullify  SNP  influence?  The answer is ignore them because  the great enemy of the SNP is  time.

There is a kind of collective madness amongst the Scots at present. Not all Scots by any means, but at least half of the adult Scots population. From England it may seem that Scotland is a land of milk and honey because of the incessant reports of the Scots getting heaps of public goodies denied to England ,  such as no university tuition fees and  free  personal care for the elderly.  But the truth is that the SNP is struggling to fund such things even with the £9 billion or so extra they get from the Treasury each year. Look at any of the Scottish national papers and you will find every day a litany of complaint about poor public service or the  incontinent waste of money on projects such as the Edinburgh tram system fiasco.  Importantly, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has calculated that the SNP manifesto  contained larger spending cuts than Labour. If true, those are rather nasty pigeons coming home  to roost in the next year.

The way to tackle the SNP  is to give them nothing  and plenty of it for the next few years so that there is time to allow the economic mess that the SNP is creating in Scotland to come to its full fruition, time to  allow the many disturbingly authoritarian measures they have put in place  such as the centralisation of Scottish Police in a single national police force, the creation of a state guardian for every child in Scotland  and the banning of Auld Firm chants and songs to begin to  seriously worry people.    Sooner or later the Scots will start  blaming the SNP for their policy failures and misrepresentations  and begin chaffing against the growing restrictions on their  liberty. That will be the beginning of the end of  the SNP as a hugely dominant political force in Scotland.

The really angering thing about the dangerous course the Cameron government seems set on taking is that it is completely unnecessary because the SNP are powerless in the present House of Commons.  It smacks of political masochism.

Posted in Anglophobia, Devolution, Nationhood | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Reasons why Ukip will underperform in the upcoming election

Robert Henderson

Editor’s note: Robert Henderson recently sent me a link to his article, “British Future report says 25% of British adults want all immigrants repatriated” which discusses a survey showing a great deal of hostility toward immigration in the U.K. The question then is why are we reading that Ukip is losing ground in the polls and not expected to get more than a handful of MPs. The most recent poll, published in the Telegraph, has Ukip at 13% and 3 MPs for the May 7 election. Given that Ukip rankshighest of all the parties in the popularity of their immigration proposals, the question is why. Many of his points apply also in the United States and  elsewhere.
1. Political inertia.  The first past the post system makes it  immensely  difficult for new parties to get established as a real political force because most British constituencies have large in-built majorities for either the Labour or Conservative Parties.  This is because the nature of the populations in those constituencies are such as to make a winning vote for the  Conservatives or Labour  candidate very likely, for example, Labour safe seats will lie at the centre of major cities and towns and old industrial centres  where thy continue to capture the White working-class vote and those of ethnic/racial minorities. Safe Conservative seats will  tend to be in the suburbs and countryside.   In many constituencies people will think there is no point in voting for anyone but the almost certain winner and often will not bother to vote if they do not support the party of the probable winner.
In the years since the Restoration in 1660 and the formation of the Whigs and Tories only one entirely new party (Labour)  has every formed a government in the UK , although the Whigs transmuted into the liberals and the Tories mutated into Conservatives  during the 19th century.  The fate of the Social Democratic Party formed by four dissident leading members of the Labour Party  in the early 1980s is instructive.  It managed to win by-elections and in alliance with the then Liberal Party managed to gain 25% of the vote at the 1983 General Election. That gained the alliance a paltry  23 seats out of 650.    By the next general election the SDP was a dead duck.   The problem for the alliance was that their vote was spread much more evenly across the country than the vote of Conservative and Labour  parties.  The same applies to Ukip.
2. The fear of being called a racist runs very deep in Britain.  This is unsurprising because almost every week there are stories in the media about people, normally white Britons, being involved in a “race row”.  These incidents  will frequently  result in the person losing their job, and increasingly people accused of racism are being sent for criminal trial. The police also have a regular practice of investigating people for “hate crimes” without any  real intent to prosecute — the intention  being  to intimidate individuals and, by their example,  the general population.
3. People are subjected to incessant politically correct propaganda on race and immigration.  Those under the age of 35 will have had it blaring at them all their lives, including hard-core indoctrination at school.  [Editor’s note: Today, listening to BBC radio while driving through Scotland, there was a comment  on the drowning of 400 African “migrants off the coast of Italy. The comment managed to discuss the Holocaust based on survivor accounts (the Nazis came to our farmhouse and shot our dog in sight of the child) and the British involvement in the slave trade in the 18th century (where slaves were huddled together in overcrowded ships), both of which she recalled from her school days; the message was that the U.K. must be open to such people. Endless empathy and compassion needed.]
This propaganda produces a strange state of mind in many . They  do not agree with the propaganda but they  f eel that opinions which go against the propaganda are somehow beyond the Pale.   Fear lies at the root of it but it manifests itself not in a conscious focused fear but as a general sense that something should not be done or said.
4. The mainstream media  in Britain give far less time to Ukip in general and immigration matters in particular than they do to other parties and political subjects.  When Ukip speakers get onto television and radio  they are almost invariably face a more hostile questioning  than those from other parties.  If they appear on panels  with other politicians or commentators they are invariably in a minority, normally a minority of one with chairman who is biased against them.   If there is an audience the audience will invariably be packed  with people who support the politically correct view of the world. As for the written media, they get much less opportunity to publish their views than the parties who oppose them.
5. Ukip send mixed immigration messages because they try to fit what they propose into a politically correct envelope.  They advocate a points based system  such as the Australians have.  Unless the numbers are severely capped this could mean more immigration than we presently have.  Ukip are advocating a cap of 50,000 per annum on skilled workers  (which would be far  more immigrants more than the British want),  but are saying nothing coherent about immigration through family reunion, students and asylum claims which forms the major part of immigration to the UK from outside the EU.
Then there is the rhetoric. Ukip claim constantly that race/ethnicity does not matter.  They  say that that their scheme for “ managed migration”  shows they are not racist because they want everyone in the world to have the same chance of coming here if they meet the skilled worker  criteria.  The idea that Black, Brown and Yellow migrants are to be substituted  for White European migrants is unlikely to appeal to the British public.
6. Ukip also embrace the free trade mania.  As a prime  justification for leaving the EU,  Ukip place alongside control of immigration the idea that we should leave because this will allow us “to trade with the world”.  Having seen what  “trading with the world” in the context of globalism has brought them even within the EU — offshoring destroying huge swathes of British jobs,  iconic British companies sold to foreigners in the most cavalier fashion and  claims that free trade must  by definition include the free movement of labour  (the reduction ad absurdum of classical economic theory)  — many of the British public are unwilling to jump from the EU frying pan into the laissez faire globalist fire.  That policy will alienate many.
7. Ukip are also for shrinking the British state radically. In particular Farage has made it clear that he thinks the  NHS  should be  replaced by  an insurance system whereby treatment is free at the point of use but the state ceases to own the medical infrastructure and employ the staff. The official Ukip policy is not for this,  but as Farage is seen as Mr Ukip, most voters will think the party is for the privatisation of the National Health Service. That is electoral poison in Britain.
8. The muddled thinking of electors. Many of those who say they want an end to mass immigration also support staying in the EU. This is nonsensical because unless we come out of the EU, immigration cannot be controlled.  This reduces support for Ukip because the “we want to stay in the EU” trumps the desire for immigration control.
9. A widespread  lack of discipline within Ukip, both in terms of promoting Ukip policy and personal behaviour, from Westminster candidates , MEPs and councillors. This all too often provides opportunities for the mainstream media to represent Ukip as at best as amateurs put of their depth.
Posted in Devolution, Nationhood, Politics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Britain needs electoral reform but the abolition of first past the post  (FPTP) is not the answer

Robert Henderson

As parties outside the British political mainstream garner more and more support the call for electoral reform will increase.. It is not simply that the coming general election will produce a House of Commons whose representation will be  radically different from the votes cast , because that has long been a feature of the British electoral system. What is different this time is the number of smaller parties such as Ukip and the Greens who will  gain significant electoral support but few MPs . The position is further complicated by the unbalanced devolution which allows non-English seat MPs to sit in the Commons and vote on English matters while English seat MPs cannot vote on the issues which have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

After the election there are likely to be renewed calls for  some form of PR to replace FPTP for Westminster elections. This would be a mistake because it would simply  be to swap one unsatisfactory electoral system for another.

There are two major problems with any form of PR:

(1) The link between the parliamentary representative  and a constituency is necessarily broken.  There are mixed systems with some members  elected for constituencies and some from a party list,  but they are very messy and do not thoroughly address the main objection to FPTP, namely, the failure to produce representatives  in proportion to the votes cast nationally.

(2)  Experience shows that  where proportional  systems exist the political classes   almost invariably transmute into conspiracies against the electorate.  This happens because majorities for one party are rare and where there is a situation of more or less permanent coalition no party can stand on a meaningful  manifesto  for the obvious reason that no government will deliver on any party’s manifesto or come close to it unless a coalition is comprised of parties whose policies are next to identical.   This means politicians can rarely  be held to account for failing to deliver.

It is also true that many  forms of  PR are complex compared with FPTP and  the  types  of PR which would be likely to be adopted  are  the  ones which would have fair degree of complexity, for example, the Standard Transferrable Vote.  Such a system would confuse a significant part of the electorate – ten percent of the UK population have IQs of 80 or less –  which could drive those people away from participating in elections.   Nor is it clear that having first and second or even more preferences invariably  produces something closer to what the electorate wants.  As I pointed out above, it is rare for any two candidates, even those of the major parties, to represent policies which  overall  are similar enough to make the second choice  a really satisfying option.

What would be better than PR?

I suggest Britain retains the  first past the post system with MPs representing the people who elect them, but moves from single-member constituencies to double-member constituencies .  This would have dissolve much of the objection to FPTP as it is now and bring additional benefits.

How would it work? Each  constituency  would have  roughly double the size of  the present constituencies.  A maximum of two members  for each political party would be able to stand in each double constituency.  This would allow a  single party to get an overall majority. Electors would  be able to vote for two candidates.  The two candidates with the most votes in each constituency would be elected regardless of how far behind the leading candidate the second candidate came.  Second or additional preferences would not exist.    The beneficial  effects of such a system would be:

  1. a) It would undermine the idea of safe seats.  There would still be constituencies  which returned one party over and over again, but the likelihood of both MPs in a constituency coming from the same party  would be relatively small because of the much greater  size of the double constituencies. In most cases this would mean a much more mixed electorate both socially and politically than in constituencies half the size.
  2. b) the constituency connection of the voter and MP would be maintained .
  3. c) Electors would be able to vote for the candidate they favoured with a greater chance of getting them elected.  If the voter favoured one of the two presently major parties there would be a very strong chance that at least one of  their chosen candidates  would be one of the two candidates sent to the Commons.   But even electors who voted for the lesser parties would have some real expectation  of success for their chosen candidate,  because there are many constituencies where the second  party in a constituency is not Tory or Labour. In addition, the fact that  those coming second in an election could  be elected on a substantially smaller vote than those coming first would increase the likelihood of minor party candidates being elected. Moreover, once such a system was up and running and electors saw  how it worked, the patterns of voting could and almost certainly would begin to change with more and more people being willing to risk voting for what are now  smaller parties.
  4. d) Such constituencies would allow for MPs of radically different views to represent the same set of electors. This would mean most electors would be able to have an MP to represent them whose party policies bore some resemblance to the policies they Even if  an elector was in a constituency which had two MPs of the same party, they would still have a choice of two MPs to go to for help  and advice.
  5. e) Because two MPs from different parties would be elected in each constituency and there is greater opportunity for minor party MPs or even independent MPs being elected, the relationship between votes cast and MPs elected for each of the parties would be much closer than it is under the FPTP system we now have now.   However,  unlike PR the double-member constituency would  only mitigate rather than remove entirely  the disproportion between votes cast and seats obtained  under single-member constituencies. This is worth tolerating  because it would avoid the undesirable   state of  permanent coalition.   In terms of party representation and electoral support it would be a halfway house between what we have now and the conspiracy of permanent coalition which is virtually guaranteed by any form of PR.

Other changes to improve alter the balance of power

Other changes to alter the balance of power between voters and politicians to favour electors should be made:

Institute a  power to  for electors to  recall of MPs through a referendum conducted in their constituency.

Citizen initiated referenda on the Swiss model, with tight legal underpinning to ensure that politicians abide by the result  of a referendum and take   the necessary practical steps to  ensure that the will of the electors is realised .

Not perfect, but probably the best which can be done

What I propose would not entirely remove the anomalies and unfairness found in our present FPTP system, but it would remove most of the poison in the system  by giving smaller parties much greater opportunity to gain Commons seats,  whilst retaining the good things such as constituency representation and the simplicity of the system.

It is worth adding that a significant part of Britain’s present electoral deficiencies stem substantially from Britain’s membership of the EU (which increasingly constrains what her major political parties can offer by way of policy) and the imbalance of the present devolution settlement which leaves England out in the cold.  If Britain left the EU and switched to a true  federal system  which included an English Parliament that in itself would make the present British system function more democratically and would enhance the benefits of the double-member solution I propose.

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Who will  speak for England?

Robert Henderson

It is a singular thing that the question of English votes for English laws let alone  an English Parliament  has gone almost unmentioned during the 2015 general  election. There has been a great deal of noise made by the Tories about the threat offered to England  by the SNP in coalition with Labour ,  but precious little if anything has been said about how the SNP threat could be neutralised entirely by  establishing  a federal system for the UK.  This would require an English Parliament, something which could be created  quickly and with little extra expense by simply allowing  MPs for English seats to sit as the English Parliament.   The few UK federal policies such as defence, management of the Pound and foreign affairs could be dealt  with by  representatives from the four home countries  sitting as a federal Parliament in the House of Lords.

Such an arrangement would remove the SNP’s ability to operate as Irish MPs under leaders such as  Charles Stewart Parnell and  John Redmond  operated  before the Great War when Irish MPs sitting at Westminster supported liberal governments  and in return pressured the Liberal Party top grant   Home Rule for Ireland.

Stripped of their ability to interfere with English affairs the SNP would lose  any meaningful power over English politicians. They could of course continue to seek independence or at least more and more powers until they were on the brink of becoming independent, but there would be a great difference in the way such ambitions were treated by English politicians.  There would no longer  be an  incentive for English politicians to pander to the Scots, as they  now do in the most craven fashion, because  the great  prizes  in UK politics would be to become the  Prime Minister of England (or whatever  the position might be called) and take part in the government of England.  As the government of England  would be decided only by the English electorate, there would be no need to make compromises with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which would affect English interest adversely.

There would also be a general change in mentality amongst English MPs because they would have  an English Parliament with an English electorate to satisfy.   English politicians of necessity  would have to look to English interests before the domestic interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland .  Most importantly, the Barnett Formula that determines Treasury disbursements  (which favours not only  Scotland but Wales and Northern Ireland over England)  would be unsustainable.

The extent  to which  England is disadvantaged by the formula is startling.   In 2013 the Treasury funding for each home country was as follows:

  1. Ireland £10,876 per head  (£2,347 more than England)

Scotland    £10,152 per head (£1,623 more than England)

Wales          £9,709 per head    (£1,180 more than England)

England      £8,529 per head

The ONS estimates of each home country’s population for  mid-2014  are:

England 53.9 million

Scotland   5.3 million

Wales       3.1 million

  1. Ireland 1.8 million

If  the per capita Treasury payments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013 had been  reduced to those received by England, the money paid to these three home countries would have been reduced by:

Scotland    £8.6 billion

Wales         £3.6 billion

  1. Ireland £ 4.2 billion

Grand total of reduced payments £16.4 billion.

Such a reduction would be a very sharp wake up call for those wishing to break up the United Kingdom. It would give them a taste of what independence would mean.

If there was such a reduction, the SNP would doubtless keep chanting their mantra about the oil and gas extracted in British waters  being Scotland’s oil and gas. But  even if  all the oil and gas in the North Sea was in Scottish waters, which it is not,  it would be a poor argument because while Scotland is part of a nation state called the United Kingdom, the oil  and gas around British waters is not Scottish oil and gas but the United Kingdom’s oil and gas.  They also need to bear in mind that oil and gas revenues have only flowed since 1980, so there is the previous 273 years since 1707 to be accounted for, much of which time Scotland  was Churchmouse  poor and produced little by way of tax revenue.   Moreover, oil and gas extraction from Scottish waters is expensive compared with much of the oil and gas being extracted elsewhere  and consequently very vulnerable if the price of oil drops below $100 a barrel. If the price remains as low as it is now, hovering around  the $50-60 dollar a barrel mark, even the most naïve Scot would begin to worry about basing Scottish independence on oil and gas revenues as heavily as the  SNP do now.

Apart from the Barnett Formula abolition, the Scots might well find that with an English Parliament the English did such things as taking the SNP at its word about wanting rid of the Trident nuclear submarine base in Scotland and removed the base  to England with the thousands of jobs which go with it and decide to repatriate English public sector jobs administering  services  such as English welfare payments and taxation  which have been sent to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Faced with an English Parliament looking after English interests first,  the prospect of Scottish independence could  fade rapidly. The problem is no party in this election which is likely to win seats is proposing an English Parliament and only two -UKIP  (see the Political Reform section) and the Tories –  support the idea of  English votes for English laws. Even there the Tories are ambiguous about exactly how far their proposal would go in stopping non-English seat MPs voting on English only laws, not least because while the Barnett formula exists  – which it would continue to do while there was no English Parliament to cut the Gordian knot of a misshapen devolution settlement – – there would be few bills of any significance which did not have direct implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because their funding is linked to English funding.: England gets more money for something; the other three home countries get a proportional increase. Even the strictest possible interpretation of what was an English only measure was adopted,  the problem with non-English seat MPs pressuring a party without an overall majority in the Commons  to grant favours to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would remain.  Moreover, under English votes for English laws, it would not be the English seat MPs  only who initiated English-only legislation.

Labour and the Lib Dems are resolutely opposed to  any form of devolved power for England as a nation and are attempting to fudge the question of the imbalance in the present devolution settlement which leaves England out on a limb by Balkanising England by giving power to local and regional bodies in England with the Lib Dems having the particularly fatuous idea  ”devolution on demand” whereby local  areas ask for devolved powers with the consequence of this being a superfluity of differences between parts of England.

Patently, England’s interests are being wilfully neglected in this election. Is there really no one in British politics who will call for an English Parliament,  no one who will  speak for England?

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Devolution and the House of Lords

Robert Henderson

There is one important aspect of the devolution mess created since 1997 which receives little or no attention in the mainstream media or from mainstream politicians, namely, the role of the House of Lords.  As things stand  all legislation which affects England goes through the Lords,  while ever increasing swathes of legislation affecting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland avoid such scrutiny  because the legislation is initiated, debated, amended and either passed or not at the will of the three devolved assemblies. Yet another instance of how England is grossly disadvantaged by the unbalanced devolution in Britain.

Many will shrug their shoulders and say what does it matter, isn’t the Lords just a talking shop with no power?  The answer is an emphatic no. Government ministers sit in the Lords, the House  can initiate their own Bills, amend   or strike down completely  Bills  sent to them by the House of Commons ,ask  questions orally and in writing, including questions of ministers,  sit on  their own select committees and on  joint committees of the Lords and Commons . Members also have the great privilege of a national political platform to get their views to the public.

The power of the Lords to delay

The sharpest power  the Lords has is to delay.  This can be achieved   by being tardy over  their examination of Bills sent to them by the Commons, by heavily amending Bills sent to them by the Commons (this means they have to go back to the Commons for re-consideration) and  by refusing outright to pass Bills. (There is one important exception to the power of the Lords to amend or refuse outright to pass  Bills from the Commons and that is what are called money Bills, legislation  which involves   the collection or spending of money by the government. Such Bills have to be signed off as Money Bills by the Speaker. )

If the Lords does refuse to pass a Bill from the Commons in its entirety or in part, the 1949 Parliament Act allows the Commons to force through a Bill regardless of the wishes of the Lords in the  session of  Parliament in which the Bill was originally introduced into the Common. This procedure    typically  results in  a delay of  around a year.  When the Bill is reintroduced it is passed without the Lords having any opportunity to delay it further. This is a very rare procedure with only seven Acts have been passed in this way either under the 1949 Parliament Act or its 1911 predecessor.

Being able to delay Bills sent from the Commons is a  powerful weapon  because  government legislation may be lost for want of Parliamentary time if an election is looming or a session of Parliament (which normally lasts a year)  is coming to an end and other government business takes priority in the new session.   Even if time is not absolutely pressing, governments are generally anxious to get their legislation through quickly and will often accept a Lords’ amendment to Bills sent from the Commons simply to get the legislation passed quickly.

The political composition of the House of Lords

“As at 16 December 2014, the total membership of the House of Lords was 847. However, excluding those currently ineligible to sit (such as members on leave of absence or those holding particular posts), the ‘actual’ membership was 791. The average attendance of the House of Lords in the 2013–14 session was 497.”

The  791 Members eligible to sit in the House of  consisted of 679 Life Peers, 86 ‘excepted hereditary’ Peers and 26 Bishops.  Their political allegiances, where declared, were:

Conservative  230

Labour  216

Liberal Democrat  105

Crossbench  180

Bishops  26

Even on the declared allegiances  the House is heavily tilted toward the liberal left who are instinctively anti-English.  Not only do Labour and the Libdems  have a majority together over the Conservatives, those  who take the Tory whip  will more often than not have much the same politics  as the Labour and LibDem peers .  As for the officially politically  non-aligned, it is reasonable to assume that  most  of  the Bishops will also be of liberal left  because  the upper reaches of the Anglican Church has long shown themselves to be consistently  left of centre with their unwavering support for political correctness .  The crossbenchers   will also have a healthy component from  the liberal left  simply because  they are selected by those who generally subscribe to political correctness  with  the consequence that they  will do the very human thing of selecting those who resemble themselves.

The geographical spread and size of the  of the Lords is very  important. Peers can come from any part of the United Kingdom and there is no limit to their number.   This means that the Lords could easily become imbalanced, if it  is not already so, by the creation of disproportionately large  numbers of peers who were not English. Moreover, because peers are not elected , in principle,  a government could create any number of new peers to push through  legislation which is damaging to English interests, for example, to Balkanise England with regional assemblies regardless of the wishes of the English.

Less dramatically, because of the power to delay and force compromise from a government, it is easy to see how a House of Lords which was  against England controlling its own affairs could cause considerable difficulties if  the Commons voted , for example, to  end the Barnett formula or to set up an English Parliament  simply by delaying matters, for example, if General Election was due in less than a year’s time and sufficient numbers in the Lords thought there was a fair bet that the election would result in a change of government.

If England had English votes for English Laws

Would English votes for English laws solve the constitutional imbalance?  The idea  raises many problems such as how to define what is English only legislation while the Barnett Formula is in place because the Formula  determines what Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland gets from the UK Treasury  because it is linked to government  spending in England.  But the  Lords adds another complication because the proposal  as it has been suggested to date makes no mention of removing from the Lords’  the power of  scrutiny of any House of Commons Bills which are deemed English only Bills. If that were the case then there would still be the anomaly   that the Lords  could interfere with English only legislation while having no power to intervene over the equivalent legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland .

The difficulty could be surmounted by giving English only laws the same status as money Bills but in reality, only an English Parliament and a truly federal constitution for each of the four home countries will permanently solve the problem of the imbalance of the present devolution settlement.

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The Archers: an everyday story of simple ever more absurd storylines folk

Robert Henderson

What a remarkable place is  Ambridge. In an England experiencing  normal  rather dry winter weather Ambridge is in currently in  the grip of what one can only imagine is a  monsoon  that  has escaped from the tropics and miraculously  arrived in a very small part of the  English midlands to produce the Great Ambridge Flood  as the latest in the  radio soap’s  increasingly improbable storylines .

In its long history The Archers has provided ready satirical fare amongst which has been frequent imaginings of an end to the world’s longest running radio serial  through some catastrophe  such as the village being wiped out by bubonic plague or the entire cast of characters being abducted  by Aliens.  The Great Ambridge Flood has much the same improbable flavour as that generated by such scenarios, with  central characters are placed in danger with reckless abandon.  As I write a great swathe of characters are now homeless.

The Great Ambridge Flood comes on top of a growing mountain  of wildly unconvincing plots,   the biscuit being taken when the  stronghold of the Archer family Brookfield farm was to be sold for no convincing reason and David and Ruth Archer plus their  children moved 200 miles away to the North East of England.  This was supposedly because of the  road which was scheduled to divide the farm in two and because Ruth’s mother  was becoming unable to fend for herself in Geordieland.    This was a  risibly insufficient  reason   for such a fundamental move, not least because the road going through the farm is still subject to appeal.

The sudden volte face  by David Archer who decides to go back on the sale of the farm to the property developer Justin Elliott for £7 million  after  he has a Damascene moment when he imagines  the ghost of his dead father is  talking to him was even more  improbable.   Suddenly the fact that the farm might have a road running through it does not seem so bad and the chance of stopping the development changes from hopeless to possible.  Nor is the fact that in real life the cancellation of the sale would have resulted in horrendous financial penalties  seemingly of any great consequence.

A much more plausible and satisfying plot about Brookfield would have been David and Ruth fighting the proposed  road to the end with its building  being thwarted when Justin Elliot and his cronies are  exposed as having  bribed council officials and councillors to agree to the route for the road to further their development plans.

In amongst this dramatic carnage earlier  story lines than the abortive sale of Ambridge have continued to make of Ambridge an ever  swirling kaleidoscope of  broken relationships, personal disaster  and antisocial incidents. Shula Archer has perjured herself by lying to the police about an assault committed by the exceptionally controlling sociopath from central casting Rob Titchener, Helen Archer is pathetically interpreting Titchener’s comically controlling ways as  just concern for her and her son, the Elizabeth Pargetter – Roy Tucker – Hayley Tucker triangle has reached the point of Hayley asking for a divorce from Roy and the politically correct flag has been waved  vigorously with the introduction of a gay sex  triangle as Adam  Macey is working up to dump Ian for Charlie Thomas.   Strangely, for such a monument to political correctness, there is yet to be some girl-on-girl action. Could it be that…no surely not…

Topping all the improbable stories is that of Lillian Bellamy and Matt Crawford. Crawford, whose last major appearance in the serial involved him getting involved with the Russian mafia in Russia, has suddenly done a runner with as much of Lillian’s fortune as he has been able to lay his hands on. This has occurred without any hint of trouble between the couple  before Crawford fled and absolutely no explanation since.

What next for the Archers? How about a Midwitch Cuckoos visitation with all  the females of  breeding age giving birth to  alien children? Well, that would be no more improbable than the tosh which has been served up for the past few years.

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Devolving powers to Manchester is the thin end of the Balkanising of England wedge

Robert Henderson

The government have recently  announced the passing of responsibility for the £6 billion of NHS money spent   in the  Greater Manchester  area to a consortium of ten local councils.   This is in addition to the creation of a Mayor for Greater Manchester and  the devolved powers granted to Greater Manchester in November which are intended to place  around £1 billion in the same  local government hands  by  2019 to administer new powers over transport,   house building,  skills training and the police (the Mayor will replace the police commissioner). Contrary to some reports  The Mayor will not have formal responsibility for the NHS and Care budget spending, but will probably exert some unofficial influence in those areas.

Greater Manchester is to have an elected mayor  foisted upon it despite  voted against having one  in 2012 with the Tory minister responsible Grant Shapps  stating at the time  of the referendum that  “People should have the right to decide how they are governed in their local area. The whole point is to give people a say. No-one is forcing mayors on anyone.” That one is being imposed now tells you all you need to know about the real  attitude of the coalition government and their commitment to local democracy. It is a case of you can vote anyway you like provided we approve of your choice.  Shades of the EU’s way with referenda which do not go their way.

All of this has got nothing to do with improving local services and everything to do with fudging the issue of devolution in England. Our political elite are utterly  determined that England will not have a Parliament or government to represent her national interests. Labour and the LibDems are reliant on Welsh and Scots MPs for a significant number of their Commons seats and are concerned that an English Parliament and government could seriously upset the UK  political apple-cart by forcing the reduction of the per capita Treasury funding for Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, for example, by reducing it to the per capita funding for England (that would take around £16 billion a year away from the Celtic Fringe at present).

This shifting of powers to an English region is the beginning of a process  which all three major Westminster parties in one form or another all support.  The policy has two great advantages for the Tories, Labour and LibDems. It  allows  them to claim however absurdly that the imbalance in the UK devolution settlement has been addressed and creates  political institutions which once granted would be very difficult to abolish.

The mere  existence of  regional political institutions with differing  powers  would be a great barrier to an English Parliament and government. Such devolution  would create a patchwork of differing powers and provide a ready-made argument for why England should not have her own Parliament, namely,  that an English Parliament would not be able to legislate on a great swathe of  policies because so much had been devolved to the regions and so varied are the different devolved powers that no meaningful national legislation on those policies would be possible.

Apart from the Balkanising effect on England, there are the practical effects which would be obnoxious.  Because it would be impossible to have such devolution throughout the country so inevitably differences in service offered and the rules under which it is offered would arise. The  post-code lottery already afflicting much of public service, especially in NHS provision, would be greatly amplified. There would also be an ugly battle for resources by different regions.

There is a further good practical reason why such devolution is wrong-headed: the quality of both local politicians and their senior officers is generally poor. If anyone doubts this go and attend a few local council meetings and committees. They simply would not be up to the job of administering such responsibilities.  If local authorities whether singly or in concert as is proposed in Manchester are given extensive new borrowing powers there is every chance they will behave recklessly and run up debts which they could not service and  central government would have to bail them out. Spain is a gruesome example of  such misbehaviour by devolved governments.

The fact that it is Greater Manchester which is receiving the extra powers rather than individual councils or even just the councils for the city of  Manchester   suggests that what is being aimed at is a surreptitious resurrection of the goal of  Balkanising England  which was so roundly rejected in 2004 under Blair’s premiership.

Regional bodies such as those proposed for Greater Manchester will have some  ostensible democratic respectability because their members  will be  drawn from elected councils.  But  this democratic respectability will be specious  if there is a Mayor  of Greater Manchester  who is  not attached to any council heading the consortium. Individual councillors from each council will have little if any influence because you can bet the Mayor will form a council of the leaders of the component councils which will proceed to  stitch up deals  that are then  presented as a fait accompli to the individual councillors. Anyone who has had experience of a council which has adopted the “cabinet” system will be only too well aware of how councillors who are not part of the cabinet are left virtually powerless to affect any council policy or behaviour because they are effectively  excluded from decision making.

Scottish  Welsh  and Northern Irish  politicians will welcome such devolution within England because it lessens  the opportunity for England to exert  its natural power in the Union by making a national voice for England less likely. However,  they could find it a wrong-headed move if English regions start demanding some of the additional exchequer funding  over and above that provided to England that the Celts  currently receive.

These new powers for Manchester are not a done deal because the Tory Party may  well not be in power after the General Election in May.  Certainly in the case of the devolution of NHS power Labour have made it clear that they do not want  it to happen with the  Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham rejecting  the NHS Proposal viz:

“If I was health secretary I wouldn’t be offering this deal.”

“My worry is having a ‘swiss cheese’ effect in the NHS whereby cities are opting out.”

 “This deal is only being offered to certain parts of the country too and there’s a real concern that it could cause a two-tier service and challenge the notion of a National Health Service.”

What is proposed for Manchester is the thin end of the Balkanising of England wedge. It needs to be opposed on principle.

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