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English Devolution - The Next Step Towards a Fairer System?

11/06/2013 13:16 | Updated 09 August 2013

The stories of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution have generally been successful. But is it time to take a step further and give England its own parliament? Should we take a another leap down the road to federalism? And what will its repercussions be?

David Davies thinks it's time. He has made the case this week that English devolution could save the UK, and make the current lopsided system fairer. Currently, non-English MPs can vote on issues, which are solely about England. But yet, English MPs have no say on issues such as health and education in Scotland, due to those power being devolved to Hollywood. This imbalance has, according to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, created an 'asymmetric union'. An English parliament would address such an issue.

Of course, at a time of much resentment towards the political class, the creation of another tier of politicians may not be favourable. Indeed, this was exemplified back in 2004 when the north-east of England voted against a regional parliament, with one reason for the 4 to 1 no vote being that it would just create more politicians. However, another reason for the killing of English devolution in 2004 was that the new parliament would have had no real powers. A future devolved English parliament would need to have real powers on a par with Scotland and Wales. That would be fair and would once and for all resolve the West Lothian question.

There is a worry of course, that an English parliament would lead to a rise in nationalism. UKIP, would arguably take up this role. Those sceptical of UKIP would be given an opportunity to view them on a 'national' level if they were elected, and could judge from that. The important thing to remember is that although the devolved parliament would have power, the people behind it would have the real influence, as they could elect and de-elect.

A devolved England, as well as taking us closer to a federal model, would also have another consequence. A new parliament, or parliaments, would have elections based on AMS or STV, resulting in a progressive step forward. If this happened then there would be a strong case to bring electoral reform back to the table for Westminster.

Of course, any movements towards a change in the system would require the consent of the people of England. However, according to the National Centre for Social Research (p.9), in 2011 a poll showed that only 25% of English wanted a devolved English parliament, and only 12% wanted regional assemblies. 56% said they wished to keep the status-quo. If correct, these findings show that another move towards English devolution would be killed almost immediately.

But, as mentioned already, the new parliament(s) would need to have real power - on the same level as Holyrood's - if people are going to support them. The change may take a while, but it could save the UK, as David Davies thinks. At the moment it is incredibly unfair that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, can vote on English only matters. As a Scot myself I recognise the flaws in the current system.

However, if the result of a referendum is a desire to retain the status-quo, then new laws need to be made to ensure that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs cannot vote on English only matters. This would resolve some of the imbalance and be a step forward, but there would still be a constitutional imbalance.

The status-quo is unfair, both on the English, and other Brits alike. We need a change - and something more than just a review. The case must be made for an English parliament - or at least new laws to keep Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs out of English issues - before it is too late. Furthermore, electoral reform may be a desirable consequence in the long run. Change is required. Let us give a fair and respectable answer the the West Lothian question.

(image: flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattphotos/3012672941/ flickr - taken by mcaretaker)