The nightmare scenario: United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland

In answer to the speculation in my last post about what the new United Kingdom, following Scottish independence, would be called, maybe we’d be looking at the nightmare scenario of a ‘United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland’, instead of a possible ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’.

The Union establishment will do anything in its power – and anything, in fact, exceeding its rightful powers, as I suggested in the previous post – to maintain its pretension to be the heir and continuation of imperial Britain, with all its supposed international prestige and ability to ‘punch above our weight’. As I argued, the new UK could no longer call itself the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, as Great Britain would be dissolved by Scottish independence. However, there’s no theoretical reason why ‘Great Britain’ couldn’t be replaced by ‘Britain’ in the official name of the state. After all, Roman ‘Britannia’ comprised basically England and Wales, and referring to all the territories that in fact form part of the pre-Union Kingdom of England as ‘Britain’ at least gets over the clumsiness of an alternative comprehensive designation of the state as ‘the United Kingdom of England, Wales, [Cornwall], Northern Ireland and the Crown Dependencies’. The possibility of that latter title, of course, would result from the awkward question of Cornwall’s status being raised, which can be glossed over if all the British parts of the new state are simply and indiscriminately dubbed ‘Britain’. Plus it would allow ‘Britain’ to continue to exist as a more historically and politically resonant synonym for the state’s legal personality and brand in international affairs and commerce than ‘the UK’.

All the more reason, then, why the English people should demand a say in the new constitutional settlement resulting from Scottish independence. We must be offered the choice as to whether we consent to England continuing to be subsumed within a would-be British nation, and whether we are content for the name of ‘England’ to still be excluded from the name of the state of which we are citizens.

English parliament

Advertisements

The constitutional morass of Scottish independence: is there ANY proper way of doing it?

There’s been something of a storm in a teacup brewing over the question of the legality or otherwise of an independence referendum legislated for by the Scottish parliament. For a summary of the legal and constitutional issues, see Alan Trench and Lalland’s Peat Worrier.

From an English perspective, the crux of the matter, for me, is what say, if any, English people get in Scottish independence and the consequential break-up of the Union. I would argue that, at some point in the process, the English (and the Welsh and Northern Irish) people have an absolute right to be consulted. This is because Scottish independence does not just involve the departure of Scotland from a state or country – the UK – that remains intact or retains its existing identity despite that departure. Independence for Scotland would require the Acts of Union between England and Scotland of 1707 to be repealed, which means the end of the United Kingdom – or technically, the end of the ‘Kingdom of Great Britain’ resulting from the 1707 Acts, and hence the end of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland’ of 1800.

No doubt, in the drawing up of the legislation for Scottish independence by the UK parliament, new clauses would be drafted setting out the status and composition of the, or a new, United Kingdom replacing the one dating from 1707 and 1800. And that’s why the people of the new UK state should be consulted: if the very identity and constitutional basis for the country of which you are a citizen is being changed, you have an absolute right to a say on the matter.

So really, I’d now argue we could be looking at three referendums. There are two possible scenarios for this:

  1. The Westminster parliament takes over the process and passes a Bill authorising a Scottish independence referendum in, say, 2012 or 2013. At this point, you could argue that all UK citizens have a right to take part, because the vote involves deciding whether or not to break up the UK. In addition, if you restrict the referendum to Scottish residents, you are already implicitly allowing a large number of non-Scottish people to take part, e.g. the hundreds of thousands of English people who currently live there. By the same token, you are excluding potentially over a million Scots living in other parts of the UK or the wider world. However, if you regard this first referendum as advisory rather than binding, then ‘Scottish residents’ could be a pragmatic approximation to ‘the Scottish people’. Scottish independence may well involve breaking up the UK, but it’s ultimately for the Scots to choose between independence and continuing to be within the Union. But for any subsequent, binding referendum, an attempt should perhaps be made in advance to draw up a more exhaustive list of ‘Scottish nationals’, i.e. those who would become Scottish citizens if independence were carried in a referendum. This is a political hot potato, admittedly, but one that perhaps needs to be grasped: shouldn’t it be only prospective Scottish citizens who should be asked whether they wish to actually become Scottish citizens, which is what Scottish independence would mean for them?

    So let’s say a majority voted in favour of the principle of Scottish independence in this Westminster-enacted referendum. There would follow a complicated process of negotiations and discussions leading up to Westminster legislation enacting Scottish independence. As I’ve been saying, there are two parts to this: what kind of independence ‘deal’ is on offer for Scotland; and what new constitutional arrangements are in place for the / a residual UK. (I’ll return to this question below.) These two questions demand two further referendums: one asking the Scottish people to endorse the independence deal; and one for non-Scottish UK citizens to approve or disapprove the new constitutional arrangements for their citizenship and governance. Incidentally, this is another reason why it might be necessary to draw up a more robust list of prospective Scottish citizens, because just as only Scots should resolve the question of Scottish independence, only the prospective citizens of a UK without Scotland should decide whether to create such a new UK.

    What would happen, in these binding referendums, if the results were contradictory: if the Scots voted for independence, but the other British people rejected the new UK settlement; or the Scots rejected independence, but the rest of the UK supported the new UK state? In the first instance, logically, Scottish independence goes ahead, and it’s back to the constitutional drawing board for the residual UK. In the second instance, the legislation would have to be drawn up in such a way that the structure, governance and constitution of the new UK would be unaffected by whether Scotland were part of it or not. See further below.

  2. The other scenario is that the Scottish government is allowed to go ahead with its own plans for a referendum some time in 2014 or 2015. In this instance, clearly, it is just for the ‘Scottish people’ to take part – as the referendum is purely advisory and seeks a mandate from the Scots for independence negotiations with the UK government – notwithstanding the caveat expressed above that the term ‘Scottish people’ is only an approximation in this instance. Following a vote in favour of independence, then I would argue that the same process as outlined above should take place: negotiations and legislation towards Scottish independence followed by two referendums – one of the Scottish people only (about independence), and one of non-Scottish UK citizens only (about the constitution and composition of the new UK).

    What about the issue of the SNP’s plans to ask two questions in its referendum: 1) whether people want Scotland to be an independent country; and 2) if they do not want independence, whether they want so-called ‘devo max’ or ‘independence lite’: fiscal, and virtually total political, autonomy under the UK defence and macro-economic umbrella? In a sense, if the SNP-organised referendum is purely advisory, I don’t think this matters, as whatever the outcome, there would still need to be negotiations with, and legislation by, Westminster to enact whatever was decided; and, I would argue, there would need to be a second binding referendum in Scotland even for devo max. In fact, it might even be more convenient for Westminster if the Scots opted for devo max, as the UK government could probably get away with not consulting non-Scottish UK citizens about it on the basis that the existing Union remained ‘unaffected’.

Somehow, I don’t think the process in reality will work in such a neat, logical and fair way, because it raises too many intractable questions that neither the Westminster nor Holyrood governments, in their different ways, wish to bottom out. A non-exhaustive list of these questions is as follows:

  1. Who would be eligible to vote in a binding Scottish-independence referendum, and how would a list of eligible persons be drawn up? My contention, as above, is that only prospective citizens of an independent Scotland should vote, including those resident outside Scotland. But how do you determine what constitutes ‘Scottish nationality’?

     

  2. What is the constitutional justification, and what are the constitutional implications, of these referendums, potentially three in number? The UK government might wish to restrict a binding referendum to Scottish nationals / residents on the independence question, in order not to stir up the issue of popular sovereignty for the residual UK: if the UK government’s legislation on Scottish independence and a new settlement for the remaining UK is dependent on the approval of the people in a referendum, then this involves conceding that, in this instance at least, the people are sovereign, which therefore challenges the whole doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty on which the established system of governance in the UK depends.

     

  3. The English Question: a referendum on the new UK, minus Scotland, would involve consulting the English people for the very first time regarding the arrangements for their governance, just as the people of the UK’s other nations have already been consulted about devolution, and the Scots would be being consulted about independence. This potentially establishes a legal precedent that there is such a thing as ‘the English people’ who might have the human and legal right to self-determination. In practical terms, any public debate and referendum on the constitution and governance of the residual UK would inevitably force the Union establishment to engage with the English Question in some form or other, even if only because the option of an English parliament would inevitably come up for discussion.

    In addition, if the establishment tried to reaffirm the existing constitutional and governance arrangements unchanged – apart from the absence of Scotland – there could be a real possibility that the new UK settlement would be rejected by the English people in a referendum. For instance, if the new UK involved no recognition for a distinct English nation, no English parliament and even no attempt to prevent non-English-elected MPs from voting on English legislation, it is quite likely, in my view, that it would not pass. Maybe even the Welsh and Northern Irish would vote in favour of the new UK while the English rejected it. What then? Better to keep the English Question in the bag by not asking it.

  4. What would the composition of the new UK be, anyway, and what would its constitutional status be? The new UK could no longer formally call itself the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, because Great Britain (the product of the 1707 Acts of Union) would be dissolved by Scotland’s departure. But could the new UK even call itself the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’? I ask this because, at the time of the Acts of Union of 1707, ‘Wales’ didn’t exist as a distinct, separately named kingdom or part of the Kingdom of England: it was fully subsumed into the Kingdom of England, and the Acts of Union involved a union between the two kingdoms of England (including Wales) and Scotland. So if the Acts of Union are annulled, does not ‘Great Britain’ just revert to the two former kingdoms? Where is ‘Wales’ in the equation? Would a new Act have to be legislated actually creating or re-creating Wales as a distinct kingdom? Or would it be a case of ‘re-naming’ the re-emergent, post-Acts-of-Union Kingdom of England the ‘Kingdom of England and Wales’? And how would the English and Welsh people feel about being merged into a single nation and / or kingdom thus named?

    And then what would the status of the union with Northern Ireland be? Wouldn’t the 1800 Acts of Union between Great Britain and Ireland also be nullified by any repeal of the Acts of Union between England and Scotland? That’s because the ‘Great Britain’ that was united with Ireland via the 1800 Acts would no longer exist. So would you need a new Act creating Northern Ireland as a kingdom and / or merging it into a single ‘Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’? And how would that affect the delicate sectarian balance in the Province?

  5. And then there’s the question of the broader constitutional ramifications of repealing the Acts of Union. These are an integral part of a whole host of foundational acts of parliament that make up the delicate constitutional fabric of the United Kingdom, including, among others, the Act of Settlement of 1701, the Bill of Rights of 1689 and, of course, the Acts of Union of 1800. If you repeal one such act, you might have to repeal or fundamentally amend all the others, so you could easily end up needing to produce a completely new written constitution for the new UK-minus-Scotland. That might not be a bad thing in itself, and it could allow for a more flexible, federal constitutional structure in which the UK state is not completely dissolved or fundamentally altered by one part of it deciding to leave or re-join. This flexibility could enable the Scottish people to have a real choice in their binding referendum between independence and being part of a new UK constitutional settlement that would remain in place without them (thus solving the problem discussed above of what to do if the Scots rejected independence but the remaining UK supported the new constitution that was put in place as a consequence of the Scots voting for independence in the first, advisory referendum).

    I feel that, because of the intricacy and potentially unforeseen consequences of repealing any of the parts of this delicate constitutional tissue, this may be considered far too important and technical a matter to be entrusted merely to the people. It could be left to the lawyers, politicians and constitutional experts to resolve. But the net effect could be that profound decisions affecting the nature of our nationhood and our rights as citizens could be decided as it were behind closed doors, and by a sovereign UK parliament that is unwilling to let go of any of its powers even if the original constitutional foundations and justifications for those powers no longer apply.

    But the politicians should be extremely wary of tinkering with elements of the UK constitution whose interdependencies and effects even they do not understand – or they could find that their very authority to make such changes is challenged as never before since the English Civil War. For example, the English Act of Union with Scotland explicitly states: “the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland shall . . . for
    ever after be united into one Kingdom by the name of Great Britain” [my emphasis]. This Act and the corresponding Scottish Act of Union with England also incorporate the Act of Settlement of 1701. This is the Act that specifies that the king or queen of England, and thereafter Great Britain, cannot be or be married to a Roman Catholic, and states that if this provision is ever broken, “the People of these Realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their Allegiance”. In other words, if today’s parliament takes it upon itself to dissolve the Kingdom of Great Britain that was originally instituted as a permanent settlement (lasting ‘for ever’); and if, in so doing, they repeal the Act of Settlement (which David Cameron has recently talked of doing independently of its impact on the Acts of Union, if such were possible), then it is possible they are guilty of high treason and that the people of England are absolved of any allegiance to the new state, whatever it is called, and to its king or queen.

Consulting the English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) people on what would effectively be a completely new constitution – whether a single written document or a series of fundamental amendments to existing constitutional Acts – could be a way to avoid potentially years of contestation and even violent resistance to a new settlement that contravened ancient, hallowed constitutional provisions setting out the rights and responsibilities of the rulers and the ruled. But precisely because it would stir up such intractable issues affecting the constitution and the composition of the UK, and the status and interrelationships of its different national parts, the establishment is likely to seek to gloss over these complexities, and will try to retain the constitutional status quo without consulting the people of the residual UK. So Scottish independence is unlikely to be done properly, and it could be a messy, protracted and painful process for the residual UK: a far more complex process in fact than Scottish independence would be for Scotland itself.

There could be a more rational alternative: a constitutional convention for the whole of the existing UK to work out and through a set of alternatives for the future constitution and governance of the UK, as such, and its constituent parts, which could include a form of independence and confederation for each of its nations. But politics doesn’t work in such a rational manner, at least not nationalist and unionist politics, which can contemplate only their all-or-nothing objectives, and not a happier, clearer and more constructive means to work out how the people of these isles can live and work together in an uncertain future.

What would it take for such a constitutional convention to become a possibility? An overture from the Westminster government to the SNP administration? A willingness on the part of the SNP to engage in such a process so long as full independence was a serious option on the table from day one? Recognition on the part of the Union establishment that England is a nation and should also be represented as such in the discussions?

It’s an exciting vision, but I can’t see it happening. But the alternative could be much, much worse in so many ways.

English parliament

UKIP adopts an English parliament policy: great news, but is it too late to save the Union?

I’m delighted that UKIP leader Nigel Farage announced on Friday that his party now supports the creation of an English parliament. In so doing, he’s almost certainly secured my vote at the next general election. And I’m sure that many thousands of other supporters of democratic fairness to England will now also switch their allegiances to UKIP, including the growing ranks of Tory voters disaffected with their party leaders’ new-found europhilia and inaction on the West Lothian Question, which in the case of David Cameron represents a betrayal of promises made during his campaign for the Tory leadership.

The fact that a credible mainstream political party – the fourth-largest in England in terms of electoral support – is now backing an English parliament should mean the issue is discussed more frequently and seriously. And as UKIP chips away at the Tories’ support, this will apply considerable pressure internally on the Conservatives to do something about the West Lothian Question. (On that topic, I note in passing that I’ve drafted an amended version of my previous post on the ‘English Majority Lock‘ mechanism for dealing with the WLQ, which I’ve sent to Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home for potential publication. Still waiting to hear back.)

Full details of the UKIP English-parliament policy have yet to be published, but it seems likely it will be along the lines of the proposals by Paul Nuttall, which are available here. Basically, this is a federal model involving separate parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within a continuing sovereign Union. There would also be a Union parliament to deal with reserved matters such as defence, macro-economics and foreign policy; and the Union parliament would double up as a second house, providing scrutiny of legislation emerging from each of the four national parliaments.

In the UKIP document, it is spelled out clearly that the primary aim of the policy, alongside democratic fairness for England, is to preserve and stabilise the Union state, which would be unsustainable the longer English people’s grievances about asymmetric devolution and unfair public spending are not addressed. While I absolutely welcome the UKIP change of direction, and will be voting for UKIP and backing their support for an English parliament in any way I can, I do wonder whether it’s already too late to be pushing for a federal UK. For the present at least, there appears to be an unstoppable momentum towards Scottish independence, and I’m not sure that any sort of federal solution that preserves sovereignty with the UK parliament and state has any chance of being supported north of the border.

Or south of the border, for that matter. I’ve written before that I think a solution that stops short of full sovereignty for England will not satisfy English people’s growing aspiration for integral nationhood. For a start, an English parliament would eventually demand so much fiscal autonomy that this would be practically tantamount to de facto independence. I can’t imagine that any English parliament worthy of the name would be content to have its budget handed down to it from a Union parliament while the vast majority of taxes raised in England continued to wing their way into the Treasury and, doubtless, would continue to subsidise higher spending in the Union’s other nations. Ultimately, I feel the only way any sort of enduring Union can be secured would be through confederalism (which involves full sovereignty for each of the Union’s nations) rather than a federal but sovereign UK. This might also offer Scotland an option for remaining within a much looser UK, akin to existing SNP ideas around ‘independence lite’.

Despite these reservations, I’m going to get fully behind the UKIP policy. It’s the only one on the table, and even if it never works out in practice, it’ll move the debate forward and take the argument to the unionist parties. So well done, UKIP: you’ve just done yourselves and England an immense service!

36% of English people support independence – for England

A ComRes opinion poll commissioned by BBC Radio 4, published yesterday, found that 36% of the English-only people questioned felt that “England should become a fully independent country with its own government, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom”. By any account, this is an extraordinary finding. However, if all you had heard about the poll was what was said about it on last night’s Newsnight programme dedicated to discussing Scottish independence, and its impact on England and Britishness, you wouldn’t know about this particular finding, as it was not referred to.

This appears to be another, all-too typical, instance of the establishment suppressing discussion of the English Question: the question of how England should be governed. For all that the programme represented a refreshing attempt to deal with the impact Scottish independence might have on the rest of the Union, and to consider an emerging sense of Englishness and English nationalism, it glossed over what for me is the most important issue: England’s democratic deficit and how this should be remedied, irrespective of Scotland gaining independence or not. The programme did not dwell on this issue or treat it with any degree of seriousness, nor did it link it to the issue of an emerging English consciousness, to which it is central: one of the main purposes of an English parliament or English independence being that they would give England a national voice and institutions, around which a confident English identity could coalesce.

How significant is the 36% support for English independence, though? Another finding of the ComRes poll that was reported is that 36% of English people favour independence for Scotland (versus 48% who oppose it). This is also, incidentally, a striking finding. The programme did acknowledge that this represented a significant increase on the last time support for Scottish independence in England was canvassed, when it stood at 16%. However, one suspects that there is a close correlation between the 36% of English people who favour English independence and the 36% that support Scottish independence. In other words, people must be assuming that English independence would result from Scottish independence; and in that, I can’t help feeling that they’re sadly mistaken.

This was another thing that the programme didn’t explore (well, I guess you can’t cover every aspect of the question): what sort of residual United Kingdom, if any, would be the by-product of Scottish independence? My own feeling is that if the Scots voted for independence in a referendum, the inhabitants of the rest of the UK would not be given the opportunity to decide in a referendum how they wish to be governed (although 45% said people in the rest of the UK should have a say in whether Scotland became independent, while 47% thought they shouldn’t).

Specifically, I think the English people would not be given the chance to choose whether to have a parliament of their own, still less independence. Instead, the UK Parliament, which is presently sovereign in such matters, would simply decide what sort of state the residual United Kingdom would be. Overriding any consideration of whether the United Kingdom as such should be considered dissolved as a consequence of Scotland separating from the Union (because this breaks up ‘Great Britain’, and hence dissolves the union of Great Britain with Northern Ireland, which is what the UK is), Parliament would simply decree that a new United Kingdom (e.g. a ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’) should inherit the legal personality and constitution of the old UK. And Parliament would then carry on governing England as the UK, as if nothing had changed – except it would be less likely, but still not impossible, for a UK government to be formed based on a majority of UK MPs without enjoying a majority of English MPs.

The programme did not nail down this issue, which is central to the whole debate: would Scottish independence be a separation from a United Kingdom that would carry on pretty much unchanged as a consequence (in which case, it could be considered to be a purely Scottish matter, although the Welsh and Northern Irish might wish to dissent from that view if it meant they were dragged into what they perceived as an even more England-dominated UK); or would it involve breaking up the UK altogether by virtue of dissolving the Union of 1707 – in which case the other party to that Union (England) should have a say in its own constitutional and political future.

These are two quite distinct questions, and the ambiguity in the Newsnight discussions in part resulted from a failure to make a distinction between them. And that further reflects the establishment’s reluctance to explore any avenue that might lead to something such as a distinct English nation deciding how it wishes to govern itself. Because, surely, that’s the logical outcome from the Scots opting for independence: that each of the UK’s remaining nations should then be allowed to choose whether the UK itself remains, or whether they follow Scotland’s example and decide for independence.

England won’t win till its players know the meaning of ‘playing for your country’

On Saturday, I fantasised about the idea that Divine Providence might somehow have decreed that it would be England’s turn to lift the cup at South Africa 2010! So much for all that, then.

What sort of providential reading can I make of England’s 4-1 drubbing (correction, 4-2 drubbing) at the hands, or rather feet, of our greatest adversary? Well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, as they say. But if you believe in Providence – the idea that everything that happens in our lives is the manifestation of a divine ordinance that ultimately works to the benefit of all – then another way of saying the same thing is that it was meant to be: it was our turn to lose, again, and the Germans’ turn to win.

The Germans have been gracious in victory – rather more than the English popular press has been magnanimous in defeat. And perhaps their ability to accept victory modestly, and the unwillingness of many in the public eye in England to accept defeat without blaming others, provide the moral justification for the Germans to have won the tie at all, even if the match did turn on a moment of injustice.

What sort of just God, one might ask, would allow the travesty of England’s disallowed second goal, when the ball was a foot or more over the goal line as everyone watching around the world could plainly see? Well, not everything that appears unjust to us is God’s fault, nor does it appear unjust to everyone. God allows ‘human error’, and that was evident in spades yesterday; and, after all, it’s FIFA president Sepp Blatter who’s put up a one-man defence against introducing goal-line technology, not God. Perhaps God, who was also watching the match, was sending us and Sepp Blatter a little message about the absurdity of not using the technology and common sense at our disposal.

And the Germans certainly seem to be viewing the disallowed goal as ‘justice’, albeit of the poetic, providential kind: as pay-back for Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup final that did not cross the line, according to them, but was allowed all the same, and which provided a crucial turning point in the match, which we went on to win. A 4-1 win for Germany (actually, 4-2, as we all saw) in apparently unjust circumstances to reverse that previous 4-2 win for England that equally appeared to turn – depending on your point of view – on an injustice.

It would be almost impossible not to see the ‘hand of God’ in such an ironic twist of fate, or Providence. Yes, the hand of God can reveal itself through a refereeing error and the act of cheating of a football genius, especially if the right and best team still wins at the end of the day, as Germany did yesterday.

Will two wrongs now make a right? Have old scores finally been settled, and are we now even – level on aggregate, so to speak? Can we get over 44 years of hurt alongside the wounds of the present?

These are the questions yesterday’s game is asking of us at a moral level, or that God is asking us through yesterday’s events. If football, in the words of the legendary Bill Shankley, is more important than life and death, what do we do when we pick up the threads of our collective life as a nation once the football and the shouting are over? What lessons if any can we, the English nation, learn from our failings on the football field?

Well, it seems to me, the two things our players lacked most of all, apart from cohesive team work and a coherent game plan, was passion for the country and the will to win. Passion and determination cover a lot of footballing sins and have often carried the England side through gruelling World Cup duels in the past. They briefly flared up in the ten-minute spell when England scored twice (but only once officially) at the end of the first half, but we did not maintain that spirit in the second half.

The players in our national side often say they feel it is an honour to put on the shirt and wear the Three Lions on their breast. Yes, it is an honour – but it’s an honour that has to be earned by the manner in which the wearer conducts himself on the playing field and is not something to which that footballer is somehow entitled through the mere fact of having been selected to represent the nation.

Our footballers need to learn what it means to play for England. This isn’t just some feather in their collection of international caps: something that merely enhances their CV of footballing accomplishments, and boosts their egos and bank accounts. It’s something that confers duty and a serious responsibility: to play for the country and not just for themselves and their personal roll call of success.

If our players really believed in their hearts that ‘England expects each man to do his duty’, then there’d be no such lily-livered, spineless performances again: every man would genuinely give their utmost, and focus every thought and strain every sinew towards the task of winning for the sake of the devoted England fans in the stadium and all their compatriots back home.

But you can’t blame the players alone. In a way, they merely reflect England’s national malaise. It’s not just our footballers who lack ambition for the country, it’s the country itself that shies away from greatness. We can’t expect our footballing ambassadors to project pride in the English nation and to demonstrate the unwavering will to win if the English at large do not have the will to be a great nation and to win on the world stage.

It’s nobody’s fault – least of all, God’s – that it has come to this for England: ignominy on the greatest stage on earth, and a political and liberal establishment at home that despises the very concept of the English nation, let alone the idea of taking pride in it. But if the England team is going to be restored to the position of pre-eminence that was once rightly its own – dodgy extra-time goal notwithstanding – then this will have to be the consequence of a collective reawakening of English self-belief and a restructuring of the game of football in its home country so that players, fans and lovers of England alike unite around the common task of making the national team a statement of collective pride in England and all it has to offer to the world.

We need now to stop looking back nostalgically to a golden age of the past, which only allows us to wallow complacently in the inadequacies of the present. We need to focus on a planned future of success: not for the FA, not for Wayne Rooney, and not for the hundred and one corporate sponsors – but for the country.

Bill Shankley was right: football could mean life or death for England – the nation that invented it and whose very identity it is so central to. And if football is ever to come home to England, and the Three Lions that never roared are to be shaken from their slumber, then the whole country must back the changes required and make it clear what we expect of those who play in our name.

And if that happens, then yesterday’s disappointment may well have served its purpose.

What does the Cross of St. George say about England?

There has been much ink spilt and HTML spewed about the patriotic displays of the Cross of St. George, which we see fluttering from houses and cars across the land at World Cup time. Most of this has focused on what you could call the sociological significance of the nation’s flag: whether it betokens a new, benign, inclusive nationalism; a harmless, football-focused patriotism; or a disturbing manifestation of xenophobic nationalism owing to the flag’s alleged, but in my view mistaken, association to far-right, racist movements.

I am not going to adopt the sociological approach here but rather carry out a semantic analysis. This asks: what does the Cross of St. George, as a visual symbol and icon for England, make us think, consciously or subconsciously, about England and the English?

First and foremost, it seems to me, the Cross is a reference to England’s Christian legacy: the reason why St. George’s symbol is a cross is that it refers to the Cross of Christ. The Cross of St. George is, therefore, a visual statement of the fact that England is historically a Christian country, rather than a secular state like France or many other European republics that do not include crosses on their national flags. For many, of course, including myself, England remains a Christian country – which doesn’t mean it can’t also tolerate a plurality of other religions and philosophies, including Islam, so long as that religion’s proponents do not seek to impose their views on the rest of society.

The reason why the reference to Islam is so important is that the Cross of St. George is also associated with the medieval Crusades that sought to expel the Muslims from the Holy Land. We in our turn may wish to build our own New Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land – but this must be an enlightened society that turns its back on the religious intolerance and prejudices of our medieval past, while nonetheless remaining proud of all that is good and true in our tradition.

Apart from the association to the Crusades and a battling English past, the fact that the Cross itself is red in colour contributes to the fear it provokes in some. As I have written elsewhere, red is the colour of violence owing to its association with blood; and this tie with blood may also be a reason why British-liberals erroneously think of the Flag as a token of violent English-British ethnic nationalism. But the red cross is also associated with the Blood of the Cross: the blood shed by Christ in order to save humanity.

This link with the idea of saving, safeguarding and defending life is one of the reasons why the Red Cross was adopted as the symbol for the humanitarian organisation of the same name. And while the red cross embodies a specifically Christian association, the link between ‘red’ and ‘saving life’ is also intrinsic to the connection between ‘red’ and ‘blood’: blood is essential for life, so it is ambiguously associated both with violent destruction of life and with preserving life, and all that is most precious and sacred in life – just as the death of Christ (i.e. Life itself), in Christian belief, paradoxically saves all life.

In the specific English context, then, it seems to me that the Cross testifies to the willingness of English people to fight the good fight in order to safeguard and protect the lives of other English people, and to save Christian England itself. And that combativeness implies both a determination to spill the blood of England’s enemies and a willingness to sacrifice one’s own life in defence of the lives of loved-ones, and for the sake of England.

But these associations to violence in the cause of Right and of country are against the background of white, with its associations to peace and non-aggression – so much so that the white flag is of course the sign of surrender. You might say that the superimposition of the red cross on the white flag signifies ‘no surrender’ – but equally, it betokens the fact that, at heart, the English are a placid, peace-loving people: preferring nothing so much as the quiet enjoyment of their homes and gardens, or the more gregarious, social and essentially peaceful past-times of going down to the pub, sport, trade and shopping.

So the blood-red cross on the white background says that the English will fight to the death if necessary to preserve what they have and who they are – but that they’d rather co-exist peacefully and tolerantly with other peoples, and take part in sporting and economic competition with them rather than fight them on the battlefield. And that’s one of the reasons why the Cross of St. George is such a fitting and potent symbol for English sporting teams: it points to the role of sport as channelling nationalist aggression into peaceful competition between nations on an increasingly global scale, which is in fact one of the great legacies that England (the inventor of so many of the world’s great sports) has bequeathed to the world.

Many people would reject this assertion that the English are essentially peace-loving, pointing to our imperial past and violent subjugation of our Celtic island neighbours. While I’m not denying that the English have a violent streak, I would say that they are by no means unique or even the worst in that respect, certainly among the nations of Europe. But that would be missing the point I’m making: the important thing is not whether a country or people is violent (ultimately, all human beings are capable of violence) but what they do with that aggression and what values they promote around it. And I would say that it is the British flag, more than the Cross of St. George, that actually celebrates the aggression that English and British armies and colonialists have wrought upon other nations. It is, after all, the flag of the British Empire and so the symbol of British-imperial domination.

By contrast, the fact that it is the Cross of St. George rather than the Union Flag that English people have now espoused as their national flag symbolises the fact that the English have disengaged their national identity from the British Empire and, in its latter-day incarnation, the British Crown and state. We are content now to be ‘merely’ England and not all-conquering Great Britain – which means we can now celebrate England and Englishness for and in themselves, and not as a glorification of conquest and power. So while the red Cross of St. George proudly proclaims our willingness to fight for our country, this fight is no longer an imperial war of conquest but rather a defence of all that we hold to be precious, indeed sacred, about our land and its people; and of all that we have contributed to the culture and economy of the world at large.

I have a theory, based in a faith in Providence, that the country that wins the World Cup is in some way the most fitting one to do so at that time: that there’s a kind of poetic and divine justice that manifests itself in footballing glory. I think it was symbolically fitting and ‘just’, for instance, that the French won the World Cup in 1998 in their own country, having been arguably robbed of a deserved crown by bruising semi-finals with West Germany in 1982 and 1986. Similarly, it was right that Brazil won in 2002, as they were the only team whose world class was not in doubt, and this was a just recognition of the merit of players such as Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and the fact that – but for Ronaldo’s nervous crisis on the day of the final – Brazil really deserved to win in 1998, based on footballing merit. Italy’s triumph last time was perhaps providentially decreed to ‘save’ the beautiful game in the country that is one of its leading exponents, engrossed as Italy was at that time in scandals around corruption by leading club officials.

Is 2010 perhaps England’s turn for a providentially fitting triumph: a token of divine blessing for a new peaceful, non-violent and inclusive English nation; and a victory that in itself would help to accelerate the formation of a new England: a country that is proud of all that it has contributed to the world – particularly, the game of football itself – recognised as a stand-alone nation in its own right and no longer symbiotically confused with Britain?

Such is the stuff of dreams – but of that is football made. Maybe that dream will flounder against the rocky realities of iron German determination or fiery, England-hating Argentinian passion. But then there’s always the World Cup in England, in 2018 . . ..

South-East Cambs candidates’ views on the Power 2010 pledge

I’ve had a couple of replies from my local candidates on the Power 2010 Pledge, which I wrote to them about on St. George’s Day. Their responses are basically in line with their parties’ manifestoes, which I suppose is no surprise.

First, the incumbent Tory MP, Jim Paice:

“My Party is a Unionist party – and so we will not put the Union at risk. However, having said that we are supportive of devolution and have committed in our Manifesto to rebalance the unfairness in the voting system for devolved issues in Parliament (the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’). We have pledged to introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England (or to England and Wales as is also often the case) cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries. The Labour Government has refused to address this situation, and it is not a Manifesto commitment of the Lib Dems.

“You can read the Manifesto here http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Manifesto.aspx and the relevant section is pages 83-84.”
Firstly, Jim Paice is right about Labour and the Lib Dems on this issue. Indeed, the Lib Dems have indicated elsewhere that they are prepared to tolerate the continuation of the WLQ until more fundamental reforms of the constitution, parliament and voting system are enacted – which is highly convenient if they actually need the votes of Scottish Labour MPs to pass English legislation in the event of a Lab-Lib coalition after the election.
This emphasis on resolving the West Lothian and English Questions within a broader context of constitutional reform – again, consistent with the manifesto – is what emerges from the reply I received from the Lib Dem contender in South East Cambs, Jonathan Chatfield:
“Thank you for writing to me about the English question and wider Power 2010campaign.

“I am delighted to support the campaign for a reforming Parliament and have signed the pledge. Liberal Democrats have been calling for wholesale reform of our Parliamentary system for a long time and I am pleased to say that it is already our policy to:

“Introduce a proportional voting system

“The Liberal Democrats will change politics forever and end safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs, and for the House of Lords. By giving voters the choice between people as well as parties, it means they can stick with a party but punish a bad MP by voting for someone else.

“Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state

“Liberal Democrats would scrap ID cards. Getting rid of this illiberal, expensive and ineffective scheme, will free up money for thousands more police on our streets. We will also get innocent people off the DNA Database and scrap the intrusive ContactPoint database which will hold the details of every child in England.

“Replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber

“Liberal Democrats will replace it with a fully elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.

“Draw up a written constitution

“Liberal Democrats believe that people should have the power to determine this constitution in a convention made up of members of the public and parliamentarians of all parties, and subject to final approval in a referendum.

“The only part of the pledge with which I do not agree is the call to ‘allow only English MPs to vote on English laws’. We need a wider look at the constitution and our electoral system, rather than creating two types of MPs at Westminster. I believe that the better approach to solve the anomalies in the current constitutional settlement is to address the status of England within a Federal Britain, through the Constitutional Convention set up to draft a written constitution for the UK as a whole.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

No surprises there, then, and no surprise that the Power 2010 movement itself enjoys the backing and participation of senior Liberal Democrats: the Power 2010 Pledge (apart from English votes on English laws) could almost be taken out of the Lib Dem manifesto!

Of course, from my perspective, it’s highly problematic that the only part of it that Jonathan Chatfield doesn’t agree with is the proposed remedy to the West Lothian Question; and it’s ironic that this is the only bit that the Tory candidate does agree with.

Sort of. Because the Tories’ ‘answer’ to the West Lothian Question is not a real answer. It’s true that they would allow only English MPs to determine effectively the final shape of any England-only legislation, by allowing only English MPs to participate at the report and committee stages of bills. But non-English MPs will still be allowed to vote on those bills at their second and third reading. So if there’s an overall Conservative majority among English MPs (the most likely outcome of the election) but not a Conservative majority across the UK as a whole, there could be stalemate if the other parties and non-English MPs voted down English bills at their second and third reading.

This is another reason why the Conservatives are banging on about being given an overall majority across the UK as a whole (which actually means a substantial majority in England only), because otherwise they would not be able to govern in England if they formed a minority government and still tried to adopt their proposed mitigation of the WLQ. Expect that to be dropped then in such an eventuality.

The Conservatives’ proposal would, however, nicely salve their conscience if there were a hung parliament but they had enough MPs to make a deal with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the UUP to give them an overall majority. They could then defend themselves against accusations that they were, in effect, using the votes of non-English and, in some instances, anti-Union MPs to pass legislation in the Union parliament that affected only England! They would argue that their ‘English pauses for English clauses’ arrangement effectively gave English MPs – i.e. the English Tories – the final say on English bills.

Equally, the Tories’ tweak to the procedures for English bills could be introduced in the event of a Con-Lib coalition, especially as the Lib Dems seem to have no difficulties of conscience in practising West Lothian voting. So in effect, the Tory and Lib Dem positions ironically dovetail on the West Lothian Question: they’re prepared to continue with that anomaly so long as it suits their political interests and they can appear to legitimise the governance of England by the Union parliament for the Union – as opposed to government of the English people by the English people for the English people.

So should I conclude that I should give my vote to neither the Tories or the Lib Dems? Well, my view, as frequently expressed in this blog during the election campaign, is that, without a hung parliament, there’s no chance of driving through the radical constitutional reforms that could lead to constitutional recognition of England as a nation and to an English parliament. The Tories clearly are not interested in addressing the broader English Question, and their proposal doesn’t even amount to English votes on English laws – partly because of the unworkability of that proposal, at least under present parliamentary arrangements.

The Lib Dems, on the other hand, do recognise the need to address the English Question, even if they are at best equivocal about what the status of England, if any, would be in their federal blueprint for the UK; and even if electoral reform begs the English Question even more critically than carrying on with West Lothian voting in a non-proportionally elected House of Commons, as I argued in my previous post.

So it’s still the Lib Dems for me, as they’re the only party in South East Cambs that could unseat the Tory MP and help towards a hung parliament. But if they do have a share of power after the election, they’d be very much on probation, as far as I’m concerned. Their credentials with regard to real democratic reform will be dependent on the extent to which, if at all, they allow the English people to determine the way they are governed. And tolerating the WLQ isn’t a good start.