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:
- 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
England 53.9 million
Scotland 5.3 million
Wales 3.1 million
- 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
- 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?