So English votes for English people isn’t going away. Over the weekend and while considering this when it first came up, and considering the Unionist’s offer to Scotland, I decided to look at what powers have been devolved. Having looked at them I really can’t see which of these powers it makes administrative sense to devolve further, although the Scots clearly have an appetite to take greater control of their tax and fiscal policy. The devolved Scottish government have shown how devolution can be used to deliver public services, or at least have them accountable to the political consensus. These include policies such as Higher Education. Also since Scotland has had it’s own legal system for centuries, Law & Order makes sense to be fully devolved. An example of English/British localism that existed until the ’80s was that the Greater London Council ran its own film censorship scheme, granting GLC ‘X’ certificates until its abolition. Furthermore while we remain within the EU, it seems sensible to have one jurisdiction on consumer protection, data protection and much of trade & industry all of which are, or are becoming becoming EU competencies.
Devolution in the nations of the United Kingdom has been an administrative and political success; it’s the lack of devolution in England that is the problem. Mucking around with the powers of MPs, creating second class MPs is not the answer; devolution of powers and budgets to the cities and regions is. It requires the devolution of budgets as well as powers.
Moreover, an English Parliament couldn’t talk for me and so I wondered how a London devolution would work. I again rapidly got to money and taxation. Even London would struggle to raise revenue from its richer workers who live in the surrounding home counties. It’d be quite funny to see London complaining about the offshore tax haven of Godalming, Haselmere and Tunbridge Wells. Also even if London could stand on its own, as an independent city state like Singapore, it’d be wrong. One of the biggest problems in local government, and one of the reasons we have the lowest rate of local taxation is the unfairness inherent in the so-called post code lottery. Poorer areas have both lower levels of income and wealth to pay taxes and higher levels of deprivation and demand for services. They can’t raise the revenue to pay for the enhanced services. Welfare, Pensions, Unemployment Benefits, student finance, regional investment, social care and public health programmes are all about risk sharing; there’s one view that these are all transactional and that it’s down to individuals and families to sort themselves out and others who believe that the risk & provision should be shared together. Regional or even National devolution is another attempt to embed a social conservatism into our constitution. The bigger the population acting in solidarity, the less the contribution and the fairer the society. Running these solidarity programmes on the basis of the whole of the UK today and the European Union tomorrow is the goal we should aim at.
It’s what the Unionists should have argued but they were frightened of the English reaction to the current payments made by the UK Exchequer to Scotland. This must become needs based and applied to the whole of UK. Devolution from Westminster based on solidarity and fairness has to be at the heart of building a new UK at ease with itself.
There’s no real appetite in England for an English or even regional Parliaments, they’d leave the national Parliament responsible for Foreign Affairs and cross regional tax sharing policy. It will make the creation of income transfer programmes, “from those according to their ability, to those according to their need”, much harder.