What demand is there for an English parliament? The British political elite backed up by their stooges in the media like to pretend that there is no desire amongst the English for a parliament, a proposition which they are strangely unwilling to put to a ballot despite the fact that opinion polls show strong and growing support for the idea, for example, the ICM for Power April 2010 poll gave this result
Question: England should have its own parliament with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament.
Strongly agree: 43%
Slightly agree: 25%
Neither agree nor disagree: 10%
Slightly disagree: 8%
Strongly disagree: 12%
The reality is that British fear the English would welcome a Parliament. That explains the fervour with which the proposition is publicly attacked. No one expends much energy belittling something which does not exist or which is not feared.
There is not of course any great public clamour at present. It would be amazing if there was, because no mainstream political party advocates such a parliament and the national media makes a positive fetish of screaming nationalism or racism whenever one is publicly mooted. The media are also most assiduous in censoring and abusing those in favour of a parliament. Without mainstream political leadership and access to the mass media, it is next to impossible for a political idea to make headway. Come the rise of a credible political movement with English interests at heart and things will look very different. The media will not then be able to censor so effectively and there will be a focus for dissent.
Once political leadership is given, it would be extraordinary if the English did not favour control over their own affairs. The mere fact of granting devolution to Scotland and Wales must heighten and clarify English feelings for an English parliament. The natural outcome of such a splitting of political responsibilities will be the growth of a resentment by the English of the subsidies currently given to the Celts. From such a resentment will come a desire within England for each country within Britain to finance both the cost of home rule and a proportionate share of general charges such as defence and the servicing of the national debt. What the Celts cannot reasonably expect to have for very long is home rule financed by England, for that would be having your political cake and eating it. At present we are in easy economic times. Come a depression such as we have now and English resentment of money being exported to the Celts will be fuelled. Already there is dissatisfaction with the proposed cuts in welfare.
There is also the increasingly mean-spirited attitude of the Celts to the English. The extent to which the Scots, the Welsh and Northern Irish Catholics actively wish to leave the UK is debatable. Their widespread resentment of England and all things English is sadly not. To be English in any part of the UK other than England is to risk utterly gratuitous insult. Those who blithely dismiss anti-English Celtic feeling as being either the product of a small minority of political activists whose importance is unduly inflated by media attention or simply sporting chauvinism – implausible even by the dismal standards of liberal apologia – are either dullards or wilfully dishonest.
The unpalatable truth is that Celts too often jealously nurse an ancestral resentment of the English. This resentment expresses itself from the outright terrorism of the Fenian Irish through a belligerent rudeness found most commonly amongst the working class to a snide middleclass dog-in-the-manger attitude. It is something which has grown greatly in recent times. The comedian and actor, Billy Connolly, put the matter succinctly when he said that Scottish antipathy towards the English had gone from being a music hall joke akin to the rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire to a truly vicious hatred of the English. 1 The English, like any other people, do not respond favourably to habitual, gratuitous and sustained abuse.
But even if the English had at present no great desire for a parliament, circumstances make one a necessity. If democratic politics means anything, any responsible British mainstream political party would adopt an English parliament as a matter of prime policy. They are meant above all to represent the interests of their constituents. In this case the large majority of the constituents are English. Manifestly, it is not to the advantage of the majority to subsidize those over whom they have no political control and to have no independent political representation.
As with complaints of English nationalism, the bogus nature of the claim that the English should not have a parliament because they do not clamour for one publicly can be shown by the treatment of the rest of the UK. Support for a Welsh Assembly was muted in the extreme: approximately 25% 2 of the total electorate voted for it and 50% bothered to vote. This did not prevent the government from hastily granting such an assembly. Even in Scotland, only 60% of the electorate voted and a parliament was granted on a YES vote of only 45% of the total electorate. Scarcely rampant enthusiasm.