Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

14 August 2007

‘English Devolution’: Why English Independence Is Literally Inconceivable For the Main Parties

Why are Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems so implacably opposed to the SNP’s proposed referendum on Scottish independence? For the same reason that they are opposed to any break up of the United Kingdom, which would be the inevitable by-product of a vote in favour of Scottish independence.

They do, however, seem to have reached some sort of consensus that extensions to Scotland’s devolved powers are required; for instance, in the area of tax and spending. This is the second of three ‘realistic’ options set out by the SNP today in their call for a ‘national conversation’ in Scotland about constitutional reform – the others being the status quo and full independence.

It’s unlikely that the bill for a referendum will make it through the Scottish parliament, given the united opposition from the three main national parties. Nonetheless, the developments in the debate do offer considerable encouragement to those of us who would like to see an English parliament and / or independence. If even greater powers are devolved to the Scottish parliament, such as full independence over fiscal policy, the call for separate voting in the UK parliament on England-only matters would surely be irresistible. And once that concession is made, this might set a momentum going that would lead to still further extensions of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – with consequent pressure for further political separation for England.

Note that I use the word ‘separation’ rather than ‘devolution’ in the case of England. The very fact that the term devolution is applied to the process of handing over more and more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland goes to the heart of why a separate English parliament or state is unthinkable to the political establishment.

Why can’t we talk of devolution for England? This is not because it is impossible as a theoretical concept, far from it. It is because devolution, applied to England, is a logical non-sequitur: devolution from what? The point is that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution is a devolution from England: that’s how they see it and that’s what’s implied by the very term devolution – a transfer of government power accorded by the English to the other countries whose destiny and governance England has essentially controlled for centuries through the Union.

At work is a profound identification between England and Britain: the two terms are virtually synonymous; and Britain, to all intents and purposes, is the English state – its political identity and raison d’etre. Hence, English devolution is a contradiction in terms. Conceptually, this would imply not powers being devolved by an entity known as Britain to a component part of Britain known as England; but rather, this would be a case of England devolving powers to itself.

So, on one level, why bother, the main parties would argue? England already has its own parliament, which is the UK parliament. Well maybe, but if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments, why don’t we re-name the UK parliament and call it the English parliament? Obviously, this doesn’t happen because England-Britain still hasn’t devolved full powers to the other countries of the Union. So maybe we’re going to just have to wait till this happens for Britain to mutate into England – conceptually and in real-world politics.

Let’s finish off with an analogy. Imagine the UK as a conglomerate: Britain Holding (UK) plc. This company has four wholly owned subsidiaries: Britain (England) Ltd, Britain (Scotland) Ltd, Britain (Cymru) Ltd and Britain (Northern Ireland) Ltd. The holding company is a nominal entity, effectively exercising only a supervisory role and being the legal personality for the company (think of it like the British monarchy). As the largest subsidiary in the group, Britain (England) plc has the real executive power and responsibility for strategy, while inviting senior management from its sister enterprises onto its management board. However, in response to calls for greater operational independence, ownership in the smaller subsidiaries is gradually transferred to local shareholders. And eventually, a series of management buy outs results in a complete divestment of the three subsidiaries.

Far from representing a strategic setback for Britain (England) plc, this is now seen as a chance for the company to set its own priorities and concentrate on its core competencies and business objectives, freed from the responsibility to cross-subsidise its less profitable sister companies with their distinct management cultures and economic opportunities. The rationale for a separate holding company no longer exists, and it is merged into the operating company, which is re-branded England plc.

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9 Comments »

  1. That’s an interesting article, and certainly puts a spin on things that I hadn’t considered.

    We might also consider that we don’t talk about English devolution because in practice English MP’s will always hold the absolute majority in any Britsh government, purely on perfectly reasonable and understandable democratic grounds. Out of a UK population of c.60million the vast majority reside in England (Scotland, for example, only having 5million), therefore England doesn’t require devolution; Britain, as you imply, is England.

    Comment by Alasdair — 20 August 2007 @ 10.10 am | Reply

  2. They are most likely to make something of the English Question, but I can’t see the Tories doing anything but talk about English votes on English Matters (EVoEM) — why? Well, they *are* a unionist party. The question is problematic for the leaders of both the Liberals and Labour, not least personally.

    Here’s the thing — the Scottish and Welsh Mps of the three big parties who are in the Westminster, or British / Engluish parliament have a fear of losing out, because EVoEm would leave them looking as pointless as the hereditary peers.

    “At work is a profound identification between England and Britain: the two terms are virtually synonymous; and Britain, to all intents and purposes, is the English state – its political identity and raison d’etre. Hence, English devolution is a contradiction in terms. Conceptually, this would imply not powers being devolved by an entity known as Britain to a component part of Britain known as England; but rather, this would be a case of England devolving powers to itself.”

    I agree that devolution is a contradiction as England and Britian are synonymous (linguistically at least), but it is worth noting that without “Britian” the Establishment in England is somewhat weakened.

    To what extent this makes possible a singificant socio-economic transformation in England – to effect “a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families” – is of great interest to me.

    I believe that “Britishness” is an identity grafted onto that of Englishness to legitimise internal and external colonialism. As Britian dies as an idea before Britian itself has collapsed into its component parts, and as people in England look at the gains of devolution in Wales and Scotland, there is a possiblity for a progressive movement for English self-government which compliments and solidarises with other independence movements within the UK and internationally.

    Comment by charliemarks — 24 August 2007 @ 12.17 am | Reply

  3. “Why can’t we talk of devolution for England? This is not because it is impossible as a theoretical concept, far from it. It is because devolution, applied to England, is a logical non-sequitur: devolution from what?”

    You’re quite correct and it’s a reality which is rarely acknowledged. It has always been a problem with the idea of an English Parliament, how do you separate England from Britain. A simple question which at first would appear to be trivial would be, if there was an English and a British parliament, who would get to keep Westminster?

    Devolution has always been a bodge job because of the idea that it was devolution from England not from a multi-national UK. The idea of an English parliament was not considered then and is resisted now.

    I had a comment on this same topic on Tom Griffin’s “The Green Ribbon”, blog.
    http://www.tomgriffin.org/the_green_ribbon/2007/01/brown_on_britis.html

    “If even greater powers are devolved to the Scottish parliament, such as full independence over fiscal policy, the call for separate voting in the UK parliament on England-only matters would surely be irresistible.”

    That will probably ensure that all three main parties will have to make a decision. Which is worse? A frustrated Scottish electorate whose aspirations for more power in the Scottish parliament are ignored or an aggrieved English population who see the Scots as featherbedded by the establishment giving them more powers. Both will be drivers for a break-up of the UK. The choice for the unionists is always going to be to choose the least worst option. I suspect it will be some minimal transfer of fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament.

    “And eventually, a series of management buy outs results in a complete divestment of the three subsidiaries.”

    I live in hope but especially for Scottish politicians like Brown who have whole-heartedly bought into Britishness it would be the end of their political world.

    Comment by Dougthedug — 25 August 2007 @ 12.55 pm | Reply

  4. Britain is NOT England. Britain is an oppressive force that has been used against other countries and now after its collapse of empire is directed at its “Subjects”.

    The difference between England and Britain? England represents freedom, Britain represents oppression.

    Comment by J C Green — 9 November 2007 @ 11.04 am | Reply

  5. Thanks for your comment, JC Green. In the context of the post as a whole, when I say that England and Britain are in some sense inseparable, what I’m trying to get at is the inability of some people (ordinary English citizens and politicians alike) to engage with the idea of devolution for England, or even see it and issues like the West Lothian Question as important or relevant. For some people, still, Britain (or the UK) is the name for the English state. Technically, this is in fact true: England doesn’t have any separate constitutional status. But I mean this also in the sense of national identity: the reflex thought that ‘why do we need a separate English parliament or nation; the British ones have served us more than adequately up to now’. These are not sentiments I share, as I’m in favour of an English parliament in the context of a federal UK. I was merely trying to understand them.

    Comment by David — 9 November 2007 @ 11.36 am | Reply

  6. […] I have remarked in a previous post on devolution, the British / UK government, parliament and state are effectively the English […]

    Pingback by From a UK Of England and Semi-Autonomous Regions To a UK Of Autonomous Nations « Britology Watch: Deconstructing ‘British Values’ — 8 December 2007 @ 4.24 am | Reply

  7. Amongst nations, Britain is a strange anomaly. Especially England has been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of immigration that will not integrate since the mid 20th century. We have England ruled overwhelmingly by Scottish politicians in the main three parties, with their roots and allegiance not to the country of England. There are separate languages and cultures in the Celtic nations from the English one of England. The diversity issues of multi-culturalism have meant that English culture must adapt to over 200 cultures that have swept over England and are not allowed to show in public their own culture and always they who have to adapt, not the hundreds of other cultures. Everyone suffers Culture Shock, a debilitating shock mental health issue of total lack of comprehension between cultures that are a total world view, even to the emotional response to colour, with no common ground. Language and culture are indivisible. Without the evolved language, culture dies. Without learning language in a cultural context from its native population, comprehension is not furthered. English parliament was a fait accomple once there were parliament buildings in Ulster, Scotland and Wales. And what of Cornwall – it is not English – it is Celt. Yugoslavia was allowed to fall into its separate countries – Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Skopje (no its not Macedonia, which is only Greek Greece) and Serbia. Old nations re-appeared after the Russians left East Europe – Moldovia, Czech Republic, Slovakia. And so on. But what of this mythical Britain thing. Its long past its self buy date. Without independence for England, Cornwall – whoever – the native population will keep on getting more and more irate. Give peace a chance. Let integration be a key to comprehension. Culture Shock can mean mental breakdown and even suicide, so we don’t help migrants either. The hatred of migrants is Europe-wide. The fact England more than any other region gives all this welfare aid to a people who should legally not cross any further safe country by EEC law from their first footfall, means there should be no asylum seekers in England or Celtic Nations of the British Isles. It is just raking up more and more rage. Rage in England and rage in Europe that we have to be infested with crime and disease by peoples all heading for England, for the taxpayers to be burdened with them at a time of great economic pain. It is pain for everyone and England seems to be everyone’s fool. This makes for the English to rage and seethe and there is something bubbling up to the surface that is very nasty indeed. Politicians do themselves no favours in not seeing this trend seeping like a unseen flood, until you realise too late you are cut off in all directions. The emigration of the English is the greatest of any native population as a percentage the media tell us – who amongst the English has not a relative in Australia or America or Canada or New Zealand or living in Spain – a people committing cultural suicide for future generations. For the only nation with the unique English culture is England and yet they are not allowed to call England, English. How many other nations would take that affront and not bellow in rage. It is frightening in the sense that we are losing our English tolerance and love for one another. Will some astute politician amongst the Tory, who are bound to win next time, put in their manifesto for full independence for each Celtic Nation and England and to stop any further migration, and then we can get back to the important stuff of loving one another and peace and quiet. Even the established migrants to England want to stop any more coming as it is spoiling it for them. What the other white Diversity people say is utter bosh. It’s not what migrants want or say. It’s just causing mayhem and ill-feeling. For god’s sake let love rule for a change and stop a way of thinking that has caused so much chagrin. Or we risk falling into the one thing we had the Second World War for – not to fall back into the dark ages of absolute dictators and all that. Are we not like the Ancient Mariner, who walked as if a monster did close behind him tread. Don’t turn round, just move on in love and peace and change for the better.

    Comment by Love One Another and Let Go — 11 October 2008 @ 7.41 pm | Reply

  8. The need for English devolution is absolute. At the moment, the Westminster Parliament is an “Imperial” government overseeing the subject governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales whilst also managing England. To make the inhabitants of the British Isles (I use the term geographically) truly equal, each nation group should have the same level of governmental authority. This leads to the only logical conclusion that England, Northern Ireland and Wales must have the same level of assembly as Scotland. Westminster would then be left solely as the government of Britain as a whole. They would act as our intermediary with the rest of the World. Oh, wait a minute! Don’t we now have an EU President? Surely that does away with the need for Westminster altogether?

    There’s the answer then. Send all Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs back home with the address of the EU President. None of us will ever need to worry about our true nationalities being suborned by Britishness ever again. We will all be Europeans instead – AAAAAAGH!!!!!!!

    Comment by Keith — 18 November 2009 @ 12.58 pm | Reply

  9. I am a second cousin once removed from Artist Ralph Wolfe Cowan. I do not know how he feels about this issue; however, I can tell you how I feel. I am not telling my cousin’s views since I do not know them. I am an American of British, Irish, and Belgian descent. I am also a descendant of King Rhodri Mawr of Wales through the Wynne family. Through another cousin, the late Professor Alf Mapp of Old Dominion University, I descend from King Alfred the Great of Wessex. I do not know how my late cousin, Professor Mapp, felt about this issue either. I will say that I am for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and I am not for the end of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Let Britain stay together.

    Comment by Charles E. Miller, Jr., AB,Old Dominion University; MA, Liberty University--Former Officer, Bank of America — 27 September 2012 @ 8.21 pm | Reply


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