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Monday, July 01, 2019

Is England the biggest threat to devolution?

There was a very useful article in yesterday's Observer assessing the impact of devolution and its legacy. It concludes that those who saw devolution as an answer to the threat of nationalism miscalculated.

In Scotland it was thought that devolution would persuade the Scots to turn their backs on independence and that a parliament elected by proportional representation would ensure the SNP could never win a majority. Such a view was very wrong:

In the event, the SNP won one in 2011, came close to winning the vote for independence in 2014 and still commands the field. The referendum redefined politics. It enabled the SNP to put the constitution front and centre. Against the backdrop of a Brexit that most Scots opposed, the nationalist cause has prospered afresh. Many suspect that the elevation of Boris Johnson may be the best recruiting sergeant the SNP could hope for. 

But the main point is a well-made one. that the biggest threat to the union lies in England:

The UK’s largest nation, and 85% of the UK’s inhabitants, have little systemic devolution of any kind. While other UK nations enjoy forms of self-government and civil societies of notable vibrancy, England as such does not. England is a diverse society; new research shows it is increasingly comfortable with its diversity. Yet the institutions of England resist modern forms of democracy and of open pluralism. The English have no effective self-government at local, regional or national level. Instead, they have a UK parliament elected by first past the post, which stifles minority parties and whose large parties have a built-in interest to resist change. All this has been radically toxified, for England as well as the rest of the UK, by a Brexit vote that was won in England and whose most ardent supporters see themselves as English rather than British. The union is in danger, but the danger is not primarily from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. It mostly comes from England itself.

Until the democratic deficit in England is addressed then devolution in the other countries of the UK will remain under threat. A sobering thought to take to the Welsh Government's celebration of 20 years of devolution in Cathays Park this evening.
Part of the problem is that England does not neatly divide up into parcels for devolving to, the arguments over the One Yorkshire deal (and Yorkshire is one of the more cohesive areas) being a perfect example of that.
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