The Welsh powers referendum, the West Lothian Question and the AV referendum

Yesterday’s resounding ‘yes’ vote in the referendum about the Welsh Assembly taking on primary-legislative powers is good news for English nationalists. The change will be another nail in the coffin of the idea that the UK is a unitary state across which the Westminster parliament’s writ applies uniformly. Welsh Assembly Members (AMs) will now be able to make laws in the 20-odd policy areas that have been devolved to them without any reference to the UK government or any formal scrutiny from the UK parliament.

English people, once they realise the implications of this major item of constitutional change, will be bound to question further why Welsh and Scottish MPs should continue to be able to make laws for England in devolved matters while English MPs cannot make laws for Wales and Scotland in the same areas. In other words, yesterday’s Welsh referendum begs the West Lothian Question.

This is clearly one of the main reasons why the Welsh referendum garnered such pitifully scant coverage from the so-called anglo-centric (in reality, the brito-centric) media and the likes of the BBC: they don’t want English people to think about the implications for England of legislative devolution for Wales. Until last week, I’d actually forgotten that the Welsh referendum was taking place this week, and I consider myself to be someone who follows such matters relatively closely. And that’s because there’d been virtually no mention of it in the BBC and other England-based media. On the actual day of the referendum – Thursday of this week – I was watching out for BBC coverage. On the lunch-time news, there was literally only a 15-second snippet on it, with a picture of someone leaving a polling station identified as Welsh by virtue of the polling-station sign being in English and Welsh. This item was followed by a roughly three-minute piece on UFO scares in the 1950s and 60s: clearly, far more relevant to English people, and British people in general, in the present!

To give the BBC their due, it’s obviously true that it’s not easy to explain to English people why the Wales referendum matters to them. Such constitutional issues are regarded by most people as highly geekish if they’re aware of them at all; plus the Welsh story was competing against more dramatic and TV-friendly items such as the uprising in Libya. And doubtless, the BBC and other London-centric media are holding their fire until May, when the referendum on the voting system will be taking place.

It’s easy to argue that a referendum on changing the electoral system used for UK-parliamentary elections is of much greater import than a poll of around 5% of the UK’s population on whether to give their elected representatives power to make laws. But from a constitutional perspective, the Welsh vote is arguably much more significant: it means that, more than ever, England stands out as the only UK nation not to have been consulted on whether it wants a national parliament and what powers it wishes that body to have. And England is now much more obviously the only UK nation whose laws in devolved matters are made by representatives from across the UK, rather than by representatives elected from within its own borders.

By contrast, the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) changes nothing about England’s constitutional position and will do nothing to increase the legitimacy of the UK parliament as the legislative body for England: it’s merely a shifting of the chairs on the deck of the Titannic we call the UK, which will not prevent her inevitable shipwreck. Better to start building a new federal UK, with a written constitution and law-making parliaments for each of its nations, that might yet salvage the best of the old UK. That’s why, when the AV referendum comes around, I’m urging people to spoil their ballot papers by writing ‘English parliament now!’ on the paper: don’t support either of the flawed voting systems that are designed merely to prop up the illegitimate Westminster parliament. Vote for real change by not voting at all!

England has been denied a referendum on its own constitutional future and a parliament of its own. The best way to put across our demand for such a referendum is to not go along with a phoney referendum that aims only to create the appearance that English people have been consulted on how they wish to be governed while in reality they will still be ruled by a parliament they alone have not elected.

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