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Friday, 7 November 2014

An English Parliament?

Last week I was privileged to represent the Green Party on a panel at a meeting called by the Hannah Mitchell Foundation

They campaign for democratic government for the North of England and the meeting discussed new opportunities in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum.

Constitutional reform is very interesting - even exciting now - after the Scotland debate.  Many people saw "Yes" as the progressive option and we saw formerly committed Labour (and Libdem) voters detach themselves from their party's lead, perhaps for the first time.  It may be that the referendum campaign has been a significant "disruptive" event, opening up new political possibilities.

Following the vote, the Scottish Green Party (as well as the SNP) saw a major surge in new membership.  Across the border we are seeing a Green surge too and it may in part be due to English voters' empathy with Scottish voters.  We were engaged in the debate too and in England it is the Greens who were identified with the progressive side of the debate.

Back to the meeting.

Although I am very interested in constitutional issues, I am no expert and it was clear to me that other people on the panel and in the body of the meeting had done a great deal of thinking.

A nice insight from the floor was Liverpool's answer to the  "West Lothian Question" - the "Kensington Question.  An MP representing Kensington in London can vote on transport matters relating to Kensington in Liverpool, but a Liverpool MP can't vote on transport matters for Kensington in London.  Why? Because transport is devolved to the Greater London Authority.

There can be a difficulty if we have a patchwork of devolutions across England with some regions opting to have a devolved assembly and others not.  On the other hand it would be oppressive to impose a pattern of regional assemblies where people don't want them.  In my opinion a referendum would be needed in each case.

Meanwhile the original West Lothian Question remains and, while I distrust David Cameron's motives, the crude slogan "English Votes for English Laws" has some appeal.

The Green Party's policies do include an answer to the Question and forsee situations where a patchwork of devolutions could require different voting rights for different groups of representatives in the various assemblies.

So what about an English Parliament?

Here, I went "off script" and expressed a personal view.  I think there is a need for an assembly to represent England as a political unit.  I dislike the remedy of having two classes of MPs inside the Westminster parliament and I think there is a good case for separating the idea of "England" from the idea of "The UK".  Again, from the floor we had the insight that a new English parliament or assembly could be better modelled on the Scottish Parliament - with proportional representation.  In that way it would be quite distinct from the continuing UK parliament.  Where would it sit?  How about Liverpool?

Over time, the UK parliament might have less and less business to do.  I can think of UK roles that I would like to jettison - particularly the nuclear weaponry and the military interventionism.  But that is a story for another day.

1 comment:

  1. An English Parliament would be dominated by southern Tories and UKIPPers - aaagh!
    Regional devolution is much better all round, with scope to create an 'England of the regions' alongside devolved Scotland, wales, NI and London.

    Posted on behalf of Paul Salveson. (Is anybody else having difficulty posting a comment here? John Coyne