EVIL BE TO HIM WHO EVEL THINKS IT?
There is the famous story of how, in a fit of petulance, Edward III decided that his Order of Knighthood wasn’t going to be of the Arthurian Roundtable but rather of the Garter, when his courtiers sniggered at a garter falling off Edward’s mistress’s stocking and which he had bent down to pick up. He is said to have responded ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, the motto of the garter (meaning evil be to him who evil thinks it).
The Conservative’s House of Commons procedural EVEL tinkering which gives predominantly Conservative MPs a veto in the House of Commons over Bills which the Speaker of the House certifies as being English only has caused a flurry of comment. Some of it utterly hysterical, especially from the Scottish contingent, whether they be SNP or Labour; also, indeed, some Scots representing English seats for the Conservative Party and also the Northern Irish Unionists and Welsh MPs commentators. Generally English commentators tend to think that it is a fairly minor alteration which is merely a nod in the direction of English interests.
As English Democrats we of course say it is far too little to give a proper voice to our Nation’s interests. However one of the more interesting and thoughtful articles written about this has come from the Economist’s constitutional commentator, writing as Bagehot’s Notebook. I reproduce his article below but I think the importance of the article is that it highlights two significant issues.
One is that there is a fundamental choice facing English people in the fairly near future. This is whether the English Nation is happy to be broken up into some sort of bogus regions; whether they be the nine EU “Regions” or Osborne’s half baked “Northern Powerhouses”. What the article shows is that the only viable alternative to Regionalisation is Independence. That is very much the English Democrats’ analysis too and that is, of course, one of the reasons why, as English nationalists, we support English Independence.
The other point that he mentions, but has not yet fully thought through, is the new politicisation of the role of Speaker.
The current Speaker, John Bercow, with his background considering himself to be British not English, will be very likely to certify that any bill where there is any doubt is a British Bill and therefore all MPs have equal rights over it. But when John Bercow stands down or is replaced there will inevitably be a much more hotly contested election than before to be the next Speaker. English MPs, who are moving in the direction of English nationalism, will want to make sure that the next Speaker is much more concerned about English interests than John Bercow is.
On the other hand the Scottish contingent is certain to want a Scot, whether he represents a Scottish seat or an English seat, to try to make sure that there is never a veto on Scottish MPs having a full say on anything which they want to have a say on.
In the meanwhile here is the Bagehot article from the Economist :-
English-only votes set Britain on the path to federalisation—or break-upOct 22nd 2015, 17:54 by BAGEHOT
THE House of Commons has just voted in favour (by 312 MPs to 270) of English votes for English laws (EVEL). Superficially a piece of legislative housekeeping—it became law by standing order—this measure fundamentally changes the way the United Kingdom functions. The country should be an unwieldy, unstable beast: few multi-part polities in which one segment is much mightier than the other work out. But Britain’s union, 84% of which is England, has lasted for three centuries because the English have for centuries allowed their political identity to be blurred into that of the British state (as I argued more fully in a recent column, pasted below this post). Today’s vote draws a line under that; a faint one, perhaps, but a line nonetheless.
Its roots lie in the febrile final days of the campaign leading up to Scotland’s independence referendum last September. Polls suggesting that the Out side was narrowly ahead panicked unionists in London, who issued a “vow” promising extensive new powers for Edinburgh. On the morning after the In victory David Cameron, in a speech outside 10 Downing Street, argued that it was also time for England to gain some self-determination. The moment had come, he argued, for EVEL: a system giving MPs for seats in England precedence in parliamentary votes no longer relevant to the devolved parts of the United Kingdom that now control swathes of their own domestic policies (most notably Scotland). The Conservatives used this pledge to tar Labour, opposed to EVEL, as the vassal of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in the run up to the election in May. Duly elected with a majority, the Tories have now enacted it.
I struggle to find the measure particularly offensive. It is wrong that Scottish MPs get to rule on bills concerning, say, only English hospitals. Banning them from participating in such votes would create the risk of two separate governments; one English, one British (in the event of a Labour government reliant on its Scottish MPs, for example). So EVEL rightly gives English MPs a veto, but also requires all bills to pass the House of Commons as a whole. As compromises go, it could be worse.
Still, the risk of a “two-tier” Commons is real. In a chamber where all are notionally equal Scottish MPs will be less powerful than English ones. EVEL greatly inflates the role of the speaker, whose job it will be to decide whether a bill is English-only—and thus whether the English majority should wield a veto. In practice, he will generally rule on the side of Britishness. This, and the fact that further fiscal powers will soon travel north to Edinburgh (meaning that even budget votes could generate expectations of an English veto), will eventually render EVEL insufficient. It seems to me that this movie has two possible endings.
The first, happier one is federalisation. Giving England power over things that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already control would clear the way to a Parliament and government in Downing Street responsible only for matters affecting all British citizens equally: foreign affairs, defence, monetary policy and so forth. An English Parliament risks exacerbating the problem that for centuries has been smothered in the mushy blur of Englishness and Britishness: the unworkable rivalry between any English government and a British one. But English devolution could yet take different forms. Sub-national authorities in England are already assuming powers unthinkable a few short years ago: Greater Manchester will soon run its own health service, for example. The long-term solution to Britain’s constitutional quandaries is probably a federal system in which Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Cardiff, Southampton, Edinburgh and Belfast meet together, on equal terms, in London.
The second and more likely possible outcome is separation. English self-denial has been the glue holding the union together. It is melting. Both EVEL and the broader rise in an English sense of identity (comprehensively outlined in a 2012 paper by the IPPR, a think-tank) suggest that the United Kingdom is experiencing a great normalisation. Its constitutional imbalance is finally asserting itself. A ship that has sailed forth for many years despite a strong tilt is finally listing towards the waves. Last year’s Scottish referendum—and the strong appetite for a rerun evinced at the recent Scottish National Party conference—suggests that it is already taking on water. EVEL may prove the point at which it tips too far; at which England’s reemergence accelerates and at which the ship capsizes.