Twice this week I have asked this question in Parliament. To try to win it more traction let me ask it again, at greater length. Who speaks for England?
The Cabinet contains a Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Secretary of State arguing their case for money and laws that will help their parts of the country. Each of these parts of the UK have their own Parliament or Assembly, taking many decisions which for England are taken by the Westminster Parliament.
The English have for many years been relaxed about the Union. There used to be little English nationalism. Most English people have accepted that England, as the large majority partner in the UK, should pay more in , put up with more criticism and accept less good terms than the other parts of the kingdom.
Few English people complain that the Welsh are fierce in supporting their rugby team , or the Scots strong in backing their athletes and sporting heroes. It hurts a bit more if England is the only surviving Union team in an international competition to learn that some Scots will then back anyone but England. In times past support for Scotland from English fans would have been automatic if England had been knocked out.
Until recently few English people have complained strongly about the much higher public spending per head recorded in parts of the three devolved regions than in most of England. The advent of a more powerful Scottish Parliament, putting in different policies on student fees and care costs has started to upset the usually tolerant English.
England and Scotland have coats of arms that vary a common theme. Scotland has one aggressive lion rampant, flashing claws. England has three more sedate lions passant. Their claws are obvious, but they are not raised in anger. For years it has been thus. England expects flashes of Scottish anger. Scotland expects little English reaction, despite the superior controlled power.
Today the Union is at risk in a way unknown to the post war generations, and unknown to anyone born during the last eighty years. We need to go back to the break away by the Republic of Ireland and the stormy arguments over Irish home rule to find a period of greater stress and tension within the Union. When I wrote “The Death of Britain” at the start of Labour’s long period in government in the late 1990s I forecast that devolution would endanger the kingdom, not unite it. So it has proved.
Devolution has given a great platform to the SNP, who have used it well to build support in Scotland for an independent state, or at least for a state with so much devolved power that it is more or less independent. The more aggressive Scottish nationalism becomes, the more a counter balancing English nationalism arises. Once Scotland raises the issue of independence it naturally focuses England’s mind on the deal both countries enjoy. It leads England to question whether and how an independent Scotland could still share an army, a royal family, a Central Bank, a currency and international representation with England.
The English thought nothing of Scotland having her own football league and their results being reported on English tv and radio. Now as Scottish teams shun the greater competition that a UK league would bring, some ask what this means? If a Scottish tennis player wraps himself in the Scottish flag at Wimbledon rather than the Union flag, where an English player would select the Union flag, how should the English in the crowd react? Welsh football teams play against England in the same league, and Welsh players join the English cricket team. Scotland plays it very differently.
Many Scots acknowledge that it makes no sense for English MPs at Westminster to have no say over Scottish health, environment, local government and education, yet Scottish MPs at Westminster have both vote and voice over all those matters for England. Isn’t it time that we had English votes for English issues? Isn’t it time that the English Secretaries of State – for Health, Local Government, Education and Transport – not only worked for England but spoke out for England?