Campaign For a National Referendum (2): Downing Street Referendum Petition

Just signed the Downing Street petition for a referendum on English independence I came across today. This actually calls for a referendum on English independence irrespective of whether the Scots are offered a referendum on independence for Scotland, or if they go ahead and have one anyway whether the British government, or the Scottish First Minister for England, grants them one or not.

Of course, there’s absolutely no prospect of this referendum taking place; certainly not on its own and very unlikely even in tandem with a Scottish vote. And I question whether, tactically, it makes much sense to call for a referendum without considering the context in which it could and should take place. For example, if a referendum on English independence were held today – as the opinion pollsters phrase things – I’m pretty convinced the majority would vote no. The best opportunity in the foreseeable future for a favourable vote on a federal or totally independent England would be the occasion of a Scottish referendum: not just because if they vote ‘yes’ to independence, we’d be left with a de facto independent England anyway; but also because then we could put the argument that England deserves a say in its future, and that of the UK, just as much as Scotland does. In such a situation, support for independence in both Scotland and England could be mutually reinforcing: wavering Scots might think to themselves, ‘what’s the point of voting to stay in the UK if even the English are steadily giving up on the Union’; while previously unionist English voters might think ‘to hell with the Scots if they want to quit the Union’, and vote for separation themselves.

Even then, I’d say it’s doubtful that the English would vote for independence; and it might be better to have some negotiated solution such as a federal UK, with national parliaments with real powers, on which all the people of the UK could vote. This could be an option that, temporarily, would satisfy both sides of the argument in England: people who want to preserve the Union and those who just want semi-autonomous or independent self-rule for England. Things might then stabilise at that point and, who knows, a federal UK could bumble on for many more decades or even centuries. More likely, this wouldn’t stop the momentum for independence in Scotland. But then at least, when Scotland left, we’d have a much more satisfactory situation of governance in England, with English institutions and an English parliament dealing with English political, legislative and cultural matters. Whether we stayed united to Wales and Northern Ireland in a federal set up or went totally independent at that point would be academic.

So why did I put my name to the Downing Street petition? Because the call for a referendum for England on these national questions needs to be heard. Any referendum, even if it were just on a devolved parliament like that in Scotland, would be better than none. And actually, if the Scots go it alone with a referendum in 2010 without the constitutional arrangements for the remaining UK having been worked out and put to the electorate beforehand, then we’d be morally entitled to a referendum on English independence: why should the Scots have their ‘sovereign right’ to determine their own governance recognised while that of the English is ignored?

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3 Responses

  1. There are a few similiar petitions out at the moment but none of them seem to do very well unfortunately.
    very depressing.

  2. Thanks for signing the petition.

    Whether people want English independence or not I’m fed up with the presumption that only Scottish opinion matters.

    Labour have taken the English for granted and are paying the price. The Tories will do the same because the Tories never learn.

    I’m just fed up with being taken for granted and all debate about England’s home rule being suppressed by the mainstream media.

    Cheers

  3. I agree with you, Stephen. The Westminster politicians have got a lot to answer for; and if England gets independence by default (because Scotland have voted for it), they’ll only have themselves to blame. Mind you, I’m sure they’ll try to engineer a way to preserve their current privileges.

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