UKIP digs itself into another hole over an English Parliament

UKIP’s attempts to turn itself into more than a single-issue party have led them into choppy waters in the past, with their proposals to impose a very southern-English-looking form of ‘Britishness’ across the UK, and constituting the devolved legislatures with MPs who would sit in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast for part of the week and London for the rest.  In his speech to his party’s conference on Friday, reported here by the BBC, Nigel Farage restated support for the idea of an English parliament.  The policy seems to originate with one of UKIP’s MEPs, Paul Nuttall; there’s a more detailed exposition of it here and the full policy document is here.

In itself, UKIP support for an English Parliament isn’t particularly new (it figured in their manifest for the 2010 UK election, though not in such bald terms).  Nor is this yet adopted formally as their party policy.  However, there is a significant change, as now they’re supporting a wider ‘Englishness’ platform extending to matters such as funding and a separate ‘home rule’ government, as well as separate elections for the English Parliament.  By the same token, Nuttall proposes retaining the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved legislatures in their present form – rather than constituting them with MPs from those parts of the UK, as was their policy at the 2010 election.

There are several flaws with this policy, starting with the fact that the same matters are not devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (policing, the courts and criminal justice in Wales being the main one, also social security in Northern Ireland).  But the big problem here is a familiar one: a separate English parliament implies something very like a federal division of powers between the UK as a state and its four constituent parts.  England, however, would dwarf the others as it has around 85 per cent of the UK’s population, and that is not a recipe for a lasting or stable union.  No federal system with any comparable imbalance has been able to last for long.  It’s hard to see how unionism and an English parliament are compatible, attractive though it may be at first blush.

For English nationalists, that may not be a problem.  But UKIP have to overcome the relationship between this policy, and their concerns about the EU.  On that score, an awful lot hangs for them on the UK as a unit surviving.  It’s one thing to advocate the UK as a whole distancing itself from, or leaving, the EU.  It’s another to advocate that for England alone.  The difference in population may not be huge, but the wider implications of an independent ‘little England’ outside both the UK and the EU would be tough indeed.  UKIP risk undermining their wider goal of withdrawal from the EU by pursuing the narrower one of winning English votes by adopting the cause of an English Parliament.

UPDATE, 24 January 2014: As UKIP have removed their older policy documents from their website and the link above no longer works, I’ve uploaded their 2011 ‘Union for a Future’ paper so readers can see the document for themselves.  It’s available here.



Filed under English questions, UK elections

20 responses to “UKIP digs itself into another hole over an English Parliament

  1. Joseph

    “no federal system with any comparable imbalance has been able to last for long.” – Really? Are you sure? Positive? – what about Australia?

    You can put the whole of UK into Queensland, and not even move out of the SE. Tasmania is not exactly the size of Western Australia is it? And the wealth generated by the Mining states far outweighs states like SA and the territories put together. NSW has a population that dwarves many other states – so how imbalanced is that? But our federal systems works just fine thank you.

    This is a silly argument from an agitated unionist who is seeing the end of his world as he knows it. Federation works well even with a much greater imbalance than you have – but you need the will to work the system out fairly. That will is lacking in the unionists – but growing exponentially with the English people. Better make the most of it before you get washed away in the flood. (No pun intended Qld!)

  2. David

    This analysis is a bit schematic and simplistic, it seems to me. I agree with you that UKIP’s federal model is probably unworkable, but for different reasons. Primarily, neither the Scots nor a self-governing England would be content for sovereignty to continue residing indefinitely with the Union / federal state. Maybe the English alone would, if Scotland were content with federalism. But the English are not going to stand back and watch the Scots gaining some form of independence without demanding sovereignty for England, too.

    In theory, a federation with one of its component parts accounting for 85% of the population could be made to work if the whole thing were bound up with a written constitution, and the British parliament / upper house had powers of scrutiny over legislation from the national parliaments. Perhaps you’d need some sort of qualified majority voting in the British parliament. But in practice, the Scots appear to be set on an inexorable course towards independence, and the English aren’t going to put up being governed by a state that is a Union in name alone.

  3. Geoff, England

    So an English parliament would dwarf the other legislatures, because England has 85% of the ‘Union’s’ population? Wasn’t that the same problem when the ‘Union’ was a unitary state? If ‘Unionism’ and an English parliament are incompatible, tough. End the ‘Union’, if necessary. Why the hell should the residents of England continue to prop up a ‘Union’ that discriminates against us at every turn? The ‘Union’ is purely a political/legal, and therefore fraudulant, construct, just like the former Yugoslavia or the USSR. That makes it expendable. England is not expendable.

    • Finally, and Englishman who understands the iniquity of the union! Spread the word, Geoff!

      No Celtic nationalist actually wishes any harm to England, certainly not in politics (Rugby is a different matter, far mote important!). We just don’t like being bossed around by you. The sooner England redresses the obvious imbalance that devolution has brought – the democratic disadvantage that it has inflicted on England, the better for all of us – but reversing devolution is not an option, it has to be taken further, including devolution for, and within, England. The old idea of Britain is no longer a useful, accurate or even workable construct, something new is forming before our eyes. I think that the best result that those who have a sentimental attachment to the idea of Britain will be a Scandinavian style arrangement, but there are so many unionists so wedded to the post war idea of a unitary state where we all pull together for a putative common good, that this is unlikely to come about without some trauma on all sides.

  4. Rob

    [1] UKIP will implode because of the contradictions in its position
    [2] the fringe nations will not allow the UK to exit the EU intact
    [3] an English parliament representing 85% of the UK population would destroy the union
    [4] devolution to the standard English regions can not work, because the fringe nations would not wear being merely on a par with an English region
    [5] the nationalist position of independence for England from both the UK and the EU, represented by the English Democrats, has logic on its side
    [6] the main hope for maintaining the UK as a federal state would be for England to have more than one government – a London assembly; a northern English assembly, perhaps in Leeds; a South Country* assembly, perhaps in Bristol; an English parliament, perhaps in Nottingham; a federal parliament at Westminster.
    (* South Country – the half of England south of the Wash)

    • I think that there is every likelihood that were the NE of England to be polled on establishing an assembly now, they would vote strongly for it (as long as it was not being touted to them by John Prescott). I agree that the only hope for the union is assemblies for the regions of England, each between 1million and say 8 million (London). Then a proper federation would be possible. Proper (or at least better) democracy, also.

      • David

        But were the whole of England polled on it at the same time, the balkanisation of England would be decisively rejected.

  5. Alan, please name some examples of comparable federal systems with a similar size imbalance that have been unable to last. Feel free to provide a comprehensive list of these failed states to add some credence to your assertion that a federal UK, of which England was one part, would not work.

    • Imbalances and populations: well, New South Wales has about 7.2 million people, out of a total Australian population of 22 million – so about 33 per cent of the whole. Ontario (13.2 million) accounts for about 38 per cent of Canada’s, and that’s the most imbalanced system that has lasted.

      A complete list of failed federations would be rather long and complex, as federations fail for a number of reasons. The standard account, if a bit dated now, is Ursula Hicks’s Federalism, Failure and Success: A Comparative Study (Macmillan, 1978; available from Amazon here). But as regards unbalanced federations, Prussia (with a population of 38 million) was about 61 per cent of the whole of Weimar Germany. The Czech lands accounted for about two-thirds of the population of the former Czechoslovakia by the time of the Velvet Revolution, followed by its split less than two years later. When Pakistan split in 1971, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had about 55 per cent of the population of the whole.

      The figures I’ve found for Nigeria (here) suggest that the Northern region of the country was about 51 per cent of the whole in 1960. Struggles over the structure of the country led to a 1966 coup, the brutal civil war over Biafra in 1967, repeated military take-overs and reconstitution of the country as a federal system with, now, 36 provinces – so although the state hasn’t failed, that initial federation based on religio-ethnic communities did.

      All those imbalances are far smaller than there would be in a ‘federal’ United Kingdom with England as a single unit, of course.

      • The current quasi-federal system is clearly not working and you seem to be arguing that a genuine federal system between the nations of the United Kingdom won’t work either.
        (And which implies a rather jaundiced view towards future relations between the British nations if you don’t mind my saying).

        So does this mean you are arguing for an end to Devolution or for an end to the Union? Because it rather reads like the latter….

      • Personally I don’t think Czechoslovakia, Nigeria, Pakistan or Prussia are in any way relevant to the modern day United Kingdom. If you’re using these as examples then you might as well give up on the Union now.

      • Did any of those federations break up because of a politicial imbalance due to population size? I don’t think so, you are comparing apples with oranges. There are no examples of federations where one state in the federation has ~80% of the population so it is only your opinion that it wouldn’t work based on no evidence either way.

        However, I have to point out one flaw in that argument: the English Parliament would be responsible for English domestic affairs that have been devolved to it whilst the British Parliament would be responsible for what was reserved. The same would apply to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliament/Assemblies. With clearly deliniated areas of responsibility and competency, how would an English Parliament’s administration of English domestic affairs unduly influence the British Parliament’s activities any more than it must surely already be influenced by the fact that for 80% of the time, the British Parliament does the job of an English Parliament?

        Until the idea of a confederation takes root in the political and academic psyche, a federal structure is the only workable, logical and acceptable solution to the train wreck that is the British union.

      • Hi Alan,
        I’m not convinced that the comparison with Pakistan is a fair one, because apart from anything else, Pakistan was not a federation between two components (E. & W. Pakistan) but a federation between a much larger number of provinces. If you look at Pakistan as it now is, you find that one province (Punjab), with 73.6 out of 132.4 million population, accounts for 56% of the population. This is a much larger figure than the 33% (NSW) or 38% (Ontario) maxima cited above.

        However, if we put this technical quibble aside and accept your original argument about E vs. W Pakistan in a spirit of pragmatism, then there is very strong evidence that such imbalances need not be a problem.

        Take, for instance, Malaysia (a country I know very well as my wife is Malaysian). Here, Eastern Malaysia (Borneo) and Western (peninsula) Malaysia work together without difficulty, despite the fact that 80% of the population (22.6m out of 28.3m total) is based in the western part. This seems to me to be strong evidence that your concerns about England’s 85% are not justified by comparisons with other countries. I can understand that you wish to preserve the Union, and see this as a higher principle than that of establishing democracy on an equal basis between the UK nations; however I don’t see that the evidence presented is sufficient to support your argument.

        It would be great to know your views on this please.


  6. UKIP’s difficulty over this is only a manifestation of the incongruous position of any old-world unionist in contemporary Britain.

    I would like to ask Farage how he can reconcile advocating an English Parliament (and idea that I wholly support) with his party’s aim to effectively render devolution meaningless in the other parts of the UK. He would doubtless give a cheeky grin, and laugh it off as a trivial, nonsensical question.

  7. Rob

    With reference to Alan Trench 12 September 2011 at 12.19 am: The comparative percentages for the UK would be, roughly, Northern Ireland – 2.5 per cent; Wales – 5 per cent; Scotland – 8.5 per cent; London – 18 per cent; North and Midlands “province” – 36 per cent; South Country* “province” – 30 per cent.
    (* South Country – the half of England south of the Wash)

  8. Rob

    the choice is between devolution within England and a federal UK, or no devolution within England and an independent England, which is the English Democrats position, but not that of UKIP, whose position of devolution to England but maintenance of the UK intact is untenable.

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