Thursday 12 May 2022

We Have an England-only Parliament. It’s Westminster.

Nationalists of a Scottish persuasion regularly post this meme on social media. To their mind, it demonstrates that Westminster IS the English parliament (working in English interests, against Scottish interests) and that Boris Johnson is an English nationalist.

But Boris Johnson was referring to the English Votes on English Laws mechanism that operated in the House of Commons at the time he uttered those words. An ‘England-only parliament’, not an English parliament. In actual fact, Johnson opposed an English parliament in favour of the more ‘elegant’ English Votes on English Laws (EVEL):

"The most elegant answer is not to have an English parliament (we have quite enough politicians), but to have English votes on English laws; and to kick the Scots and Welsh out of the division lobbies on matters affecting England alone."  – Boris Johnson, Telegraph, 10 July 2003


English Votes on English Laws was not English nationalism, it was a bit of tactical English populism from a British nationalist party that was designed to pull the rug from under the Labour Party’s feet and simultaneously undermine UKIP's foray into English nationalism (at the time UKIP under Paul Nuttall were for EVEL and debating whether to make the creation of an English parliament policy). The Conservatives feared that an English parliament would undermine a sense of unitary Britishness and attenuate the British state. This is from the Conservatives' own policy paper on the English Question

So EVEL it was. EVEL, however, did not give England a voice and it didn’t stop non-English constituency MPs from voting on English legislation (all UK MPs always had the final say at Third Reading). EVEL was about Westminster party politics, not about improving English democracy. It was a sop to those who felt aggrieved about the West Lothian Question but it fell short of actually answering it. In one instance, the votes of Scottish MPs were still decisive on English policy. Over time it became clear that all EVEL had achieved was to give some substance to Scottish nationalist claims that their MPs were second-class members of the House of Commons. It was a divisive policy that provided ammunition for the SNP and, more importantly, was of little use to the Conservative Party when Scottish Labour became dead in the water and Farage had won his Brexit referendum. And so, Boris Johnson simply abolished EVEL, without even a vote on it. Which brings me to the next quote from the previously quoted Telegraph article by Boris Johnson:

"On Tuesday evening, 40 Scots voted with the Government for its imperfect plan for foundation hospitals, a good idea that has been vitiated by Treasury meddling. Labour’s majority was only 35, which shows how important these Scots can be in a tight vote. But the key point is not the numbers of Scots voting for or against the Government. The infamy is that they are allowed to vote on the matter at all."  – Boris Johnson, Telegraph, 10 July 2003


Johnson describes Scottish MPs voting on English matters as an ‘infamy’ (an evil or wicked act). Should we therefore understand (given Johnson has abolished EVEL) that such infamy now takes place in Westminster’s division lobbies far more frequently and with Johnson’s approval? More to the point, what is he going to do about it now that he’s abolished the EVEL that was supposed to prevent this infamy? Successive UK governments have failed to give England a voice and failed to answer the West Lothian Question. It is time for the people of England to be consulted and for us to decide how we wish to be governed.

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