Sunday Review on Monday: The dog that finally barked by Richard Wyn Jones, Guy Lodge, Ailsa Henderson, Daniel Wincott

by Anthony Painter

Is England the new Catalonia? It’s a serious question. We’ve up until this point associated regional pride with secessionist regions in the north of Spain. FC Barcelona, anti-Francoism, pride and fierce independence is how we think of one of Europe’s most vibrant and vivacious regions. It’s easy to see Scotland in the same sort of independent light. But England? Well, a new report into Englishness suggests that we might be entering that territory.

The Dog That Finally Barked published today, by the IPPR, assembles a stack of evidence that suggests that after many years of a predicted rise of Englishness, it is now actually happening. Not only that, but this rising Englishness has a political expression that may become irresistible. This has profound implications for the future of the centre-left. And yet we bury our heads in the sand even more firmly the more difficult questions of identity and nationhood become.

In a selection of European “regions” (or “nation”, cross-national definitions are tricky but bear with it), 45% of Catalans feel more Catalan than Spanish. Scotland is top of the “regional” pride league with 60% saying they are more Scottish than British (only 11% say they are more British than Scottish). Independence is still very much a live possibility.

Yet, it is the English results that are most interesting. 40% feel more English than British with only 16% the other way round. As it happens we are midway down the “attached to our region” chart. But we are third in the “region” over “nation” chart behind Scotland and Catalonia. That’s more “national” pride than the select group of 15 Austrian, Spanish, French, German, and UK regions included in the report other than Scotland and Catalonia.

This rising Englishness has political ramifications. The worst possible outcome for Labour would be for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to be barred from voting on “English” laws. This least favourable outcome is favoured by the greatest number – 34% over 24% in favour of the status quo.

Assuming that laws could be defined in this way, it would mean that there was no proper constitutional debate about a more pluralistic form of politics as the Scottish and Welsh had when power was devolved to them. Westminster’s majoritarian logic would simply be transferred to an English committee sitting alongside the full Parliament and that would shift parliamentary arithmetic in the Conservatives’ favour.

Labour’s traditional favoured solution to asymmetric federalism is for regional parliaments to be introduced. Forget it. It’s a complete non-starter. Even in the north it is the favoured constitutional solution for only 10%. A new English Parliament is favoured by 20% – despite the desire of the majority to locate greater power in English political institutions. However, there is a general desire for more devolution: 17% want the greatest influence for local councils, 12% for regional assemblies, and 36% for an English Parliament (when English vote for English laws is not included as an option).

In other words, only a quarter of the English want to keep things pretty much as they are now. Moreover, they think that the Scottish get far more than their fair share, and are happy to see it head in a more independent direction. Almost 80% agree or strongly agree that Scotland should have more “fiscal autonomy”. The Conservatives have established the West Lothian question commission. The English people themselves are already way ahead of that game.

So what should Labour do? Well, this week, as fears over that the Falklands have started to bubble to the surface, the word “self-determination” has re-entered the political conversation. This should be the core principle of our constitutional future. It should apply to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Kernow, Birmingham and Cumbria alike. If communities want certain powers, and the basic human rights of particular groups do not suffer as a result, then they should be granted them. It won’t be neat, but it will be democratic.

What this means for Labour is that they have to stop allowing Scottish Labour alone to drive its approach to our national and constitutional futures. The non-Scottish elements of the movement have to begin to engage in this dialogue too. Nick Pearce of the IPPR has called for Labour to grasp a “Disraeli moment“. In other words, it must do something counter-intuitive here as Disraeli did with the extension of suffrage.

A response to the asymmetry of power in the UK will come, and perhaps sooner than we think. William Hague’s campaign for an English Parliament bombed, but attitudes have shifted since then and something less ambitious – English votes for English laws – may have more success. And the impact will be pretty much the same as the creation of an English Parliament. Labour’s national leadership is falling in behind the Tories in its refusal to budge from a no retreat status quoism in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the Tories are preparing to shift the status quo in England. Have we learned nothing from Nick Clegg’s experience with the AV referendum? Labour is gearing up to diminish itself in Scotland and disempower itself in Westminster. There is a need for some serious thought about its response to both.

This report demonstrates convincingly that the English dog is now barking. In its stand on English constitutional reform, and its fierce defence of the status quo in Scotland, Labour is letting the tail wag the very same dog.

Anthony Painter is an author and a critic.

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15 Responses to “Sunday Review on Monday: The dog that finally barked by Richard Wyn Jones, Guy Lodge, Ailsa Henderson, Daniel Wincott”

  1. aragon says:

    If the problem is devolution, then perhaps we should consider the opposite of what is proposed and reverse devolution.

    The idea of Scottish independence is ridiculous, split a natural and three hundred year union, because the Scots prefer that nice Mr Salmond, to that nasty Mr Cameron.

    Although with the Labour party acting as a pseudo Conservatives, I can see their point, and none of the major parties (including that nice Mr Salmond) with a clue about economics.

    Devolution created this problem, reversing it will solve it. As for self-determination I am declaring UDI and will not as an individual be subject to the laws and taxes of the United Kingdom, there are a few benefits I would like to keep, but that is OK (It seems for self-determination it does not have to be)with the rest of you as I am exercising my right to self-determination.

    Let’s recognise this farce for what it is, a power grab by Mr Salmond, and if he got his independent Scotland it would be a disaster for the Scots. And the rest of us would be quite happy to see him get his comeuppance.

    Now only if we had a UK political party with a clue about economics and protecting the interests of all the people in the country, we could call it ‘Labour’, there would be much more satisfaction with the Union.

    Self-determination, you will be saying there is no such thing as society next.


  2. JohnB says:

    Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million; Scotland about 5 million; England 51 million. It is unrealistic to discuss England as if it was a ‘region’ like the other two. Think instead of Yorkshire (5m) or maybe Northumbria (2-3m), which like Scotland and Catalonia are set within nations much larger than themselves – which, when you think about it, is pretty much what we mean by a ‘region’. When people feel Scottish or Catalan, it is within this context of being a minority component within a larger national framework.

    England, however, is in a very different and unique position. It is a nation, and has been for a long time (like Scotland), so it’s not surprising that its people feel ‘English’; but it is also the overwhelmingly dominant component of a slightly larger nation, the UK (aka ‘Britain’). So there is no comparability between English people feeling English or British, and Catalans feeling Catalan or Spanish. The context is completely different.

    What I am saying is that applying the same solution to England as to Scotland – whether devolution or independence – may settle conundrums like the ‘Midlothian Question’, but it will not address any of England’s problems and may even make them worse – in particular the huge regional disparities of wealth and power (the North/South divide, which people used to talk about a lot but which seems to have been forgotten now that everyone goes on about Scotland all the time). An ‘independent’ England would be even more dominated by the South-east, the City, and the Tory party than the UK is now.

    England is not a region, it is a nation: arguably a rather unbalanced and dysfunctional one. However, for reasons which are interesting to speculate about, these imbalances have not produced the kind of regional consciousness and resistence within England that has appeared in Scotland and Catalonia: in fact, it could be argued that English regional autonomy has diminished somewhat since the heyday of local government in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What would happen if England became independent is also something interesting to speculate about. This is the dog which has not yet barked, and maybe never will.

  3. Madasafish says:

    Have we learned nothing from Nick Clegg’s experience with the AV referendum? Labour is gearing up to diminish itself in Scotland and disempower itself in Westminster. There is a need for some serious thought about its response to both.

    The answer is obvious. Nothing learned yet..

    Labour oppose moves to equal constituencies.
    Labour oppose plans to make Westminster fair. The Scots vote on English matters.

  4. Colin says:

    Mr Painter has been all over Twitter in recent days promoting the virtues of Labour’s mass immigration disaster so his comments on Englishness should perhaps come with a rather large health warning. Not much Englishness left in the post-national, third world dormitory suburbs of London, eh Tony?

  5. It’s fascinating how threatened people get when the left starts talking about Englishness. Noted.

  6. figurewizard says:

    The union came about as a consequence of the Darien scheme, an enterprise to establish a Scottish colony in what is now Panama. This was to generate great wealth for Scotland and as a result the idea was embraced wholeheartedly. Just as would have been the case with Salmond’s earlier talk of an ‘arc of prosperity’ with RBS, HBOS, Iceland and Ireland all part of the argument, the Darien scheme went belly up.

    Scotland was effectively bankrupt.That is when they turned to England and the Act of Union followed in 1707. If Salmond had got his way earlier he would have saddled Scotland with an arc of bankruptcy. Pursuing a goal of independence now, based on populist ideals and prejudice against the English will do the same again if he succeeds.

  7. Siôn Eurfyl Jones says:

    An English parliament would remove an anomaly that is not often discussed, but which is blatantly unfair to the Devolved countries in the present set up. Ministers whose portfolios apply only to England sit on the UK cabinet, and vote on matters relating to all of us – Michael Gove for instance. And English parliament would have him sit in an English cabinet, restricting the amount of damage he can do to his own country. .

  8. Feneon says:

    “40% feel more English than British with only 16% the other way round.”

    And what about the other 44%?

  9. Feneon says:

    “The worst possible outcome for Labour would be for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to be barred from voting on “English” laws. This least favourable outcome is favoured by the greatest number – 34% over 24% in favour of the status quo.”

    Isn’t this contradictory? If the least favourable outcome for Labour is of Scottish, Welsh and NI MPs being barred from voting on English laws, then how come the greatest number support retaining the status quo in which Scottish, Welsh and NI MPs can vote on English laws?

  10. Colin says:

    Threatened? Naw – just amused by the hypocrisy.

  11. Dave says:

    English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) is simply unworkable due to the consequential impacts of legislation applying to four fifths of the UK. Any serious attempt to try and introduce it work would be tantamount to evicting Scotland and Wales from the Union.

    Experience both from the UK and Canada, Spain etc does however suggest that there is a devolution ‘rachet’ in effect. Once devolved government is granted (in the UKs case entrenched by referenda), no mainstream political party can stand on a platform of undoing it, but the issue is never really ‘settled’ as there will be continous demands for more powers to accrete to the new polities. Particularly in a polity such as the UK with no written constitution and no experience of separation of power it is incredibly difficult to draw a clear line between the responsibilities of differing levels of government.

    History suggests that the break-up of multinational states is usually bad news for all parties involved, but if its going to happen, there are very definitely better and worse ways to manage it. What’s really important is clarity about what’s involved. Without that you get a Yugoslav style scramble for resources and position, with dangerous lack of clarity about where authority and legitimacy are vested. If the UK govt considers it prudent to require banks to lay down a resolution mechanism for winding up their assets in case they fail, then there’s surely a case for doing something similar on the UKs own behalf – at least the Scots would then know where they would stand!

    I would also suggest that a provision that any seperatist referendum should be conducted on a UK wide basis and that a Yes vote from either side would be sufficient for succession (or expulsion) to follow automatically. Such a provision might act as a bit of a counterpoint to the neverendum scenario that threatens to engulf us in regular referenda every decade or so until the separatists eventually win one.

  12. Stephen Gash says:

    Quote: “In other words, only a quarter of the English want to keep things pretty much as they are now.”

    It is highly unlikely these people would call themselves English any more than would Denis MacShane, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, John Stevenson, Rory Stewart, Yvette Cooper, George Mudie, Gisela Stuart, Eleanor Laing, Julian Lewis, Steve McCabe, Pat McFadden, Anne McIntosh, Shona McIsaac, Doug Naysmith, Margaret Hodge, and any number of carpet-bagging foreigners misrepresenting constituencies in England.

    Let’s not forget those born in England, but overly keen to state their foreign ancestry such as Nick Clegg.

    One of the main reasons for Labour’s invasion policy, masquerading as immigration, was to undermine all things English.

    As the English identity is now unquestionably being reasserted, partly due to Scot-Labour’s overt anti-English policies verging on apartheid (well in fact it was blatant apartheid), how about Labour demanding the English be included in both the devolution and independence debates with referenda on an English parliament and independence?

  13. Stephen Gash says:


    The reason there are such “regional” disparities in England is because we are in the Union.

    I live in Cumbria, the most impoverished part of the UK bar none. Cumbria was lumped in with Lancashire and Cheshire to form the unwanted North West Region. This had two effects. Firstly, it disguised Cumbria’s impoverishment by combining it with more affluent parts of England. Secondly, it split the voice of the north. If Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham and Northumberland had been combined into the north of England region, then the massive disparities between it and Scotland would have been magnified. That would never do would it?

    Cumbria and what is now called the North east, would have joined together two of the UK’s poorest parts.

    Labour’s regional carve-up of England also enabled the intact nations Scotland and Wales to compare themselves to whatever spurious region suited their argument best. This was usually London, something Labour and the anti-English brigade have been trying to separate from England to make a city-state since devolution started.

    Regionalisation has wedged England permanently at the bottom of the spending ladder. It is unimagineable now, in post devolution UK that England could ever receive more spending per capita than any other nation comprising the UK. Therefore, England must disappear. That was Labour’s and the Lib Dems goal.

    Well, it’s backfired. In less than a decade calls for England’s independence have risen to match Scots wanting Scotland’s. Indeed, as the IPPR report said, a higher proportion of English people wanting Scotland to secede is higher than in Scotland.

    The English don’t want regions and any party pushing them will come unstuck.

  14. francis says:

    We have to accept that Labour are the most anti-English of the three main parties however does not mean the the Lib Dems and Tories are any good – they just happen to be slightly less anti-English than Labour.

    Labour will NEVER accept the creation of an English Parliament. Their membership just will not allow it. The party is too entrenched with political correctness and anti-English racism to be changed.

    No patriotic Englishman will vote Labour, only the public sector payroll and benefit claimants will vote Labour – that’s why we had mass immigration – to create a Labour voting bloc client state. However this is backfiring big time because the public want the welfare system refomed – Labour do not.

    The Loony Left never left Labour, instead they went under covert and infiltrated Labour by creating ‘New Labour’. Old Labour was much less left wing than New Labour.

  15. shaunthebrummie says:

    stephen gash and francis i totally agree with what you both say..the celts are a far more dangerous enemy to england than the muslims…and the scots are the worst of all the celts…

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