Cant say I 100% agree with this. I understand the population imbalance but breaking the UK into regions would piss off English nationalists who would see it at the institutional separation of one of the component nations of the UK.
It would also piss off Welsh and Scottish nationalists who would likely see it as an attempt to make their historical claims of nationhood equivalent to English regionalism.
Good points. I was thinking through something along these lines: English (and later British) identity was from the beginning based on a centralised and unitary state, similar to France - and in contradistinction to say, Germany, or even the United States, where separate entities were brought together into a federated system. At the same time the more peripheral regions (Wales, Scotland, but also Cornwall and, in France, Brittany) retained and developed a cultural identity distant from the central state.
I accept an all-England parliament isn’t unreasonable but my point was it already pretty much exists in the form of Westminister (especially with certain exclusions of Scottish MPs from voting). So one devolved parliament for four-fifths of the population just seems odd, especially if you take the purpose of devolution as facilitating local (smaller-scale) autonomy rather than just expressing historic national identity. Even if today’s result is (as I suspect too) a No, it brings into question the current relationship between those two things.
If Scotland votes no (Which I have a suspicion they will) it would make more sense for the UK just to ‘come out’ as a federation and have Westminster act as a proper federal parliament.
A devolved/regional parliament for all of England wouldn’t make much sense when it represents almost 84% of the UK’s total population, or 53 million out of 63 million people. Which I think puts in perspective the accusation that ‘Britishness’ is primarily/solely about ‘Englishness’ - indeed according to that table Scotland (8.4%) has a smaller population than half of the English regions. It’s difficult to get that from a map because of the different population densities, not just in Scotland but also (to lesser extents) in Wales and Northern Ireland.
I agree a federal system - with parliaments for each of the English regions - would be a good idea, combining regional autonomy with the economic scale of the UK as a whole (and without overindulging in cultural nationalism as a basis for political decision-making), but within the borders of England I think it runs contrary to assumptions about the unitary state, or parliamentary democracy, somehow?
also, more good news today: I got a first class honours for my dissertation (provisionally)
"The greatest error of Marx and the Marxists had been that of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois optimism. It consisted in predicting a development of industrial technique simultaneous with the development of human mentality: technology and “enlightenment,” awareness on the part of the working class, the advent of socialist morality. But the techniques of production had a prodigious development, far outstripping that of social organization and that of the average man. Socialism delayed liberating the wage earner from this well-controlled technology: industrial techniques, fallen into the hands of scheming blackguards, fools, and reactionaries, became a mighty instrument of bondage and destruction.”
Victor Serge, ‘The Future of Socialism’, Partisan Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, December 1947
See also André Gorz, thirty years later
"May 1st 1707 wasn’t a day of liberation for either party. The English might have celebrated it as the day they’d finally subdued their rebellious neighbours. But that wasn’t quite it. Their welcome for the incorporation of Scotland was matched by the contentment of the Scottish ruling class, its own imperial ambitions having come to naught, at the prospect of joining in the Empire’s plunder of the world while keeping its “own” lower orders in check.
Thus it is that the independence campaign – perhaps to an extent unappreciated outside Scotland – has not been fought on the basis of national pride and liberation but mainly on the proposition that Scotland would be a more just and decent society freed from entanglement with England.
This hope may prove futile in an independent Scotland. The notion of Alex Salmond and his party as radical crusaders for a more equal society is fanciful. And the same pressure from global capitalism will press in on independent Scotland as on Scotland as part of the Union.
The difference might be that the referendum campaign has mobilised more people in grass-roots political action than any other issue in a long, long time, while creating an excited expectation of social and economic change for the better.”
This is a good piece by Eamon McCann which starts by asking if Northern Ireland would be perceived as much of a loss to British party leaders (no - aside, of course, from the Unionist politicians who consider themselves British and sit in Westminster). But the point in the second paragraph above is I think very important and expresses something which I knew but hadn’t (and probably still haven’t) fully internalised. Or rather it was a motive I already knew but got obscured by the rhetoric of a campaign which often seemed to be opposing Scottish independence (and its emotional and cultural appeal) to ‘British nationalism’, whatever that is, with its imperial and Tory cloak. Except, of course, it’s not that simple.
As an irish person I am deeply sceptical of nationalism, and the concept of national self-determination, while at the same time having to recognise that it’s foundational to my ‘national’ identity. And I’m not someone to really disown that, although I know a few, seeing the Tricolour as my flag despite its association with republican terrorism, and the Republic (twenty-six counties) as my political home despite the myriad ways in which it has yet to live up to true republican ideals. But there’s a big difference between accepting where you are and even being proud of that position, and committing to that as a political and philosophical choice when in fact it has only been a fait accompli from long before your birth (admittedly the same argument applies a fortiori to Scots and the Union).
If I had to vote on Irish independence, say in some alternate 1914 when instead of parliamentary Home Rule legislation, a plebiscite on full independence were offered to an electorate beyond over-30 property-owning males, would I say Yes? As you can surmise, it’s a rather drastic counterfactual, and just on that basis I could refuse to answer. I might also borrow from another constitutional tradition and plead self-incrimination, because honestly I’m not sure. Let me unpack this:
For a start, half my family is Protestant - but (as I know thanks to my parents’ interest in family history) certainly not Anglo-Irish gentry. On one side of that, my grandfather’s, were rural schoolteachers, a bicycle shop owner and small farmers. On my grandmother’s, migrants from the western extremity of Wales who worked for several generations in the maritime industry in the harbour town where I still live, then called (effectively from its construction, or at least of its piers, til independence) Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire (the old name, from the fort of a medieval king). The latter especially, I always assume although I don’t know, must have been Unionists when it came to the ‘Irish question’. And I’m certainly not bereft of Protestant privilege, even if from relatively modest forebears: as it happens, both my Catholic and Protestant grandfathers were the first in their families to go to university, with all their children (five and three respectively) becoming educated professionals.
Of course, my family history is not necessarily determinative and (depending on the rules of counterfactuals) I may have had different, independent opinions on the merits and demerits of British rule when it was in question for Ireland. Actually phrasing it like that makes the end result seem entirely obvious - the legacy of ‘foreign rule’, the oppression of Catholics by Protestants in Ireland and England - but my point is I doubt many of my contemporary relatives woud have seen it that way, and regardless of whether I’d have agreed with them or not, it creates some cognitive dissonance to see them as part of a rejected tradition. Of course, that is the passage of history, often for the good (like American slaveowners, perhaps, or any such injustice - although then we return to the issue of reparation). But still, I can’t help feeling that, more so than my immediate background (which seems quite unremarkable in truth), that legacy pushes me towards subtlety in considering issues of nationalism.
The other objection is that nationalism, and independence as the over-riding goal of same, has been in many ways a political failure in Ireland since 1922. It never resolved until quite recently, and then only in part, the question of accommodating the Unionist and Protestant tradition in the north-east of the island (this, at least, is not a problem Scotland appears to face, although the tradition itself extends and originates there). More importantly, the pre-eminence of a nationalist party stifled political debate along class or left-right lines, with the unitary Sinn Féin only splitting over strength of attitudes to nationalist goals and a certain degree of class interests, between larger and smaller farmers. Hence this kind of criticism can be made of Scotland’s putative de Valera and his party:
"Former Labour minister Brian Wilson – no friend of Salmond, it has to be said – says “the most remarkable fact” about the SNP’s time in power is the lack of a social imperative.
“The SNP is Scotland’s Fianna Fáil: Big tent, non-ideological, populist, everything to be resolved though constitutional change, unembarrassed by where the money comes from since Scottish millionaires are, by definition, part of the same, big happy family as the rest of us,” he says.”
I don’t think cultural identity is unimportant, but I dislike it as the animating fact of political discourse. The objection that that’s not the case for much of the independence movement may be true, but then why independence? The 21st century, the era of globalized decision-making, hardly needs another nation-state. What it needs is more solidarity and effective democracy within existing structures; to which, of course, many will reply that they are simply broken. Scotland is then on the road towards being 'post-sovereign'. And that is where I come round again to having sympathy - but also renewed scepticism - about a new polity rising above Salmond’s conservative nationalism with its own kind of democratic, independent politics. Paul Mason argues that young Scots are embracing independence as an alternative to the domination of Westminster politics by free-market economics, in a more positive mirror to the rise of UKIP within England; somehow I doubt scepticism of the free market is, in general, anything more than inchoate if held at all. Independence is less important than interdependence.