Saturday, 28 January 2012

A United Kingdom and Northern Ireland wide referendum.

An issue raising its head again, but being somewhat downplayed in the media, was a proposal for a fully UK wide independence referendum. A referendum across four nations instead of just being limited to Scotland is being mooted at both Westminster and elsewhere.

Commons backbenchers are threatening action while lords are tabling Scotland Bill amendments; all appear clamouring for this franchise expansion.

Although inconceivable it will be allowed, any advocate of democracy must accept this as a superlative suggestion.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland all deserve to have their individual voices heard as to their preference of the status of this current Union and their places within it. Do they want out, more devolution or in England’s case any devolution, or are they simply content with the status quo.

The question of “Englishness” is in part achieving a higher profile recently after Westminster was warned by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) that it faces a backlash in its Home Counties and shires because it is ignoring “Englishness”.

The IPPR report simply confirms the findings in other polls taken over the last few years that “Englishness” now far outstrips “Britishness” in the way our cousins south of the border view themselves.

THE UK government dilemma from the expanded franchise referendum is basic; until now Westminster has successfully denied the English a representative democracy at national level but is now seeing that perceived right of denial in jeopardy. This arises from both media fed perceptions and Union scaremongering emanating as a consequence of the debate about Scotland’s, and thereby the UK’s, constitutional future.

When this is coupled to Cameron’s own Euro sceptic back benchers, a group flushed with success after forcing the PM to play their veto card, the tide of English democracy may ultimately be hard to deny.

Scots should encourage this voice which we can be certain Westminster will try to silence.

We can work towards and hope for an expansion of democracy in England. It is to everyone’s benefit that Westminster’s suppressive tendencies fail.

A rebel group led by Stone MP Bill Cash and reportedly supported by fellow euro sceptics John Redwood and Bernard Jenkin, appear to be readying to launch an all-party group on “preserving the United Kingdom”. This focus group is reportedly arising from widespread anger, particularly on the Tory back-benches, that the referendum will be limited to people living north of the Border.

What’s interesting is that the United Kingdom itself is under no present threat, just the Union of Parliaments, something we might all do well to remember.

Mr Cash said the new group at Westminster aiming to save the Union would look in detail at issues such as defence, the economy, North Sea oil and energy, as well as international treaties. The principle point in this statement is that Westminster is now beginning to either understand or perhaps simply acknowledge it is in actuality dealing with international treaty law.

These backbenchers have already been somewhat pre-empted by the House of Lords where efforts like that of former Labour chief whip Baroness Taylor of Bolton, born in Motherwell, inserted an amendment to the Scotland Bill calling for expat Scots to get the vote. She is not the first and will undoubtedly not be last to seek to expand the enfranchisement of the referendum.

International law and Scots opinion is reasonably clear on this point, she doesn’t have a hope. At least she won’t be able to expand the franchise with regard to Scotland’s vote, but she can certainly call for one in England.

Then there was the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who had to publicly slap down his own party’s deputy leader at the time of the IPPR report entitled “The Dog that Finally Barked”, after Simon Hughes also called for English devolution.

Possibly the most significant yet underreported aspect of the IPPR paper is that support in England for the constitutional status quo has fallen to just one in four of the electorate.

That figure needs highlighted; just one in four in England want the status quo, but 75% are being denied any input whatsoever. David Cameron is effectively disenfranchising 75% of our English neighbours; over 30 million voters are being denied democracy.

Why are we Scots not seeking to engage this massive suppressed support for constitutional change?

The upper level concern over the possibility of a divided Union tactic by the SNP was additionally highlighted when Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Scottish Secretary and Edinburgh Pentlands MP dismissed the idea of a UK-wide vote as “absurd” confirming “it should be a vote for people in Scotland only.”

Former Liberal leader and Holyrood presiding officer Lord Steel is also on record that Westminster politicians should keep out of the independence debate. Cameron and the Scottish Office are others singing from the “Scotland only” hymn sheet.

There’s a very clear division at Westminster, primarily between party leaders and backbenchers with backbenchers appearing to have the backing of the electorate. Scotland should exploit this in an attempt to benefit the English people.

Party leaders at Westminster are certainly trying to walk the only narrow path that gives them any possible hope at all in maintenance of the status quo. However, as Richard Wyn Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff University and co-author of the IPPR report argued, attempts to promote Britishness by former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as by Mr Cameron, had failed.

With self-evident failure of the “Britishness” experiment, the current Holyrood stance can appear to be somewhat baffling to an unbiased external observer. While the Scottish government’s view that it is “Scotland’s referendum” is completely accurate it appears rather inappropriate for Holyrood to be setting aside the fact that three other nations also have a stake in the UK government.

It may be of far greater benefit to the Scottish Government, which has full autonomy and complete restoration of sovereign rights as its primary goal, to also at least peripherally engage an area that Westminster’s leadership is determined to avoid. Especially as Holyrood already appears to have willing foot-soldiers amongst Cameron’s back benchers, go for an expansion of the referendum franchise.

Let Scotland have her poll, but let England also have one, independent of the Scots. Perhaps Westminster would expand the franchise to the other nations who were not signatories to article 3 of the 1707 treaty but who will be undeniably impacted by events.

That each impacted nation should vote is without doubt the right and proper thing to do. It is called democracy.

Holyrood should argue for all those impacted to have a voice, to be enfranchised. Each nation should be given the options, autonomy, devolution max (constitutionally define) or the status quo. Let the entire peoples of these islands who are presently bound to Westminster make a choice.

Each land should decide for its own nation – again, it’s called democracy.

Westminster will be firm in its determination to prevent this; the powers in London are very well aware they can’t fight and win four simultaneous battles in four nations, all of which have every appearance of requiring separate and frequently contradictory messages from the current establishment.

Westminster politicians knows they can’t broadcast “subsidy junkie” to one populace while hoping the other so-called subsiding nation won’t hear it and will still vote to keep up fictitious subsidies. Human nature is simply not that benevolent, such contradictory message will fail.

With four nations involved perhaps each one will have a reasonable opportunity for a fairer, less biased debate.

Westminster knows the individual peoples may just wake up and smell the coffee, and all it would take is another scandal at just the wrong moment to make any one nation decide that enough is enough. London is well aware it will take only one nation to demand change through democratic means to end its perceived right of diktat.

It would mean 2015 dawning with only those preferring London rule voting for a new parliamentary union, under probably new federal rules. Westminster knows even the English regions might start demanding devolution after that.

London is rightly terrified of an expanded franchise.


  1. Colonialists as heard on Newsweek at c43 mins in.

  2. What do you do if England votes YES to Scottish independence, but everybody else votes NO? Or vice versa.

    1. It's not about one country voting about another's position in or out of a UK.

      This article is dealing with the situation of achieving a state of enfranchisement for those people who are currently disenfranchised.. oh, that'll be England.

      Clearly, I'm NOT suggesting that the English, Welsh or Northern Irish are allowed a vote on the Scots position - or the Scots having a say on theirs etc. Only on how they are governed internally, and by whom.

  3. Hazel - it was an englishman describing the elected mayors and police commissioners in England as being a colonial style of government, reminiscent of the Raj. Spot on, I thought. He also said (I think it was him) that England had been too busy devolving power to the free market to worry about its own governance (or words to that effect. Snappy phrases that I will no doubt use again.

    1. I really think the English are still being hoodwinked into believing Westminster is "their" parliament.

      Scotland realised some time ago that Westminster is indeed a devolved seat of government. England and Scotland both handed their parliamentary powers to Westminster in 1707.

      The remnants of imperialistic and empirical notions is what Westminster is. The place actually believes it is entitled to rule without question.

    2. Hazel, the United Kingdom was formed in 1707 by the Treaty of Union. Before that there were two separate kingdoms that just happened to have the same King. If the Treaty is dissolved, that situation will pertain again. There will be no UK. Canada and Australia are not in the UK, even though they have the same monarch. Scotland will be in the same position as these countries.

      We are indeed talking about the end of the United Kingdom.

    3. Depends how it is put. Do they simply dissolve Article 3 of the Treaty of Union, or do they dissolve the entire treaty?