The call for an English parliament will be loud, amplified by those in the media who want to enshrine the dominance of Westminster and London over the new settlement that emerges. But the last thing England needs is an English Parliament. If Westminster – and all it’s flaws – dominates UK politics, its impact on England would be even more perverse. All attention would be sucked towards an English Parliament and English issues to the absolute detriment and exclusion of anything else from anywhere else. Wales and Scotland (if Scotland remains in the Union) would find their issues ignored even more so by a London-based, London-obsessed media.
And anyone who has spent time in Scotland knows that distaste for the distant, high-handed and aloof politics of Westminster – which for many Scots seems so far away – is part of the push factor the drives many towards support for Independence. People want greater power in their hands, and for it to be exercised far closer to their homes and communities. And it’s not about geography either. The distance – politically – from Hackney to Westminster is as far as it is from Hamilton, Hollyhead or Hexham. Only those inside the charmed circle feel empowered. An English Parliament would do nothing to solve that – and would exacerbate the political listlessness in many Engliah regions.
Centralised power is the problem. It cannot also be the solution.
But Britain is now set firmly on the path to a more federal future. With greater powers for Scotland and justified calls for the same powers in Wales, England must surely receive such powers too. After all, it was only yesterday that Ed Miliband stated that “devolution is for everyone”.
Step forward regional assemblies, your time has come.
I’m part of a rare breed in British politics. I am someone who has voted in favour of a regional assembly – and although they were rejected by the people of the North East 10 years ago, I still believe in them today. The concerns expressed back then were about cost, taxes and more politicians. It was also held at a time when for many in the region the painful memories of Tory government had faded. That’s not the case today.
If handed the powers that Scotland has been promised, we could set in train a radical reimagining of what Britain is – allowing for differences in politics and methods across the country. We were an island of different kingdoms once. As a union we have prospered, but with power devolved to our regions and communities we could achieve so much more.
“But we don’t want more politicians”, I hear you cry. And you’re right. Under such a system, Parliament in Westminster would see it’s powers significantly decreased. Therefore MPs would have less to do.
So let’s found regional assemblies, made up of the MPs from each region, based on their current constituencies. Not more politicians – a better use of the ones we have. That’d mean MPs spending more time in their regions and their constituencies, living in the same physical space and experiencing the same issues as their constituents.
Parliament in Westminster would still need to exist to discuss and debate issues that weren’t devolved. But it would meet less often, consume less energy and cost less money. And it would no longer dominate our politics to the exclusion of everything else.
Whatever happens on Thursday, Britain – and England – needs a new settlement. But it can’t be an English Parliament.