Friday, 19 September 2014

Who is asking 'The English Question'?

As you probably know by now, Scotland voted 'No' to independence from the rest of the United Kingdom in yesterday's Referendum.  (If you didn't know, and you're now annoyed with me for posting 'spoilers', you can get stuffed.)

Much of the post-Referendum talk today, however, has been about England, and the so-called 'English Question' which now has to be answered (apparently).  My question, however, is this: who is asking this English Question?!  So far as I can see, it's mainly politicians and and political commentators all asking each other.

As a brief summary of what this English Question (also often known as the West Lothian Question) is supposed to be, consider that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that any issues which affect only those countries are handled by their own devolved legislatures - the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies - whereas, with no regional legislature of its own, issues affecting only England are still handled by the national Parliament in Westminster.  This means that only members of the Scottish Parliament debate and vote on issues which affect only Scotland, but issues which affect only England are debated and voted on by MPs from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in Westminster.

Yeah, I get it.  It's 'unfair'.  But it's difficult to get worked up over this stuff.  I mean, really?  I find it difficult to believe that there are people all across England furious that Scottish MPs are voting on things.  Honestly, I do.  After all, as the always astute Hopi Sen explains, the inherent asymmetry of the United Kingdom means that this issue is considerably less problematic in practice than it is in theory.  How much does this 'problem' actually affect people's day-to-day lives?

I understand the theory behind it.  I just think politicians who are desperate to show England that we won't be getting a raw deal in the post-'IndyRef' world are barking up somewhat of the wrong tree.

I like to think I'm fairly engaged with politics.  I'm already planning my all-night 'General Election and Curry Party' for next May (contact me for an invitation - seriously, you're very welcome).  I don't find politics off-putting.  But I struggle to get excited about the idea of an English Parliament, or devolution to Regional Assemblies, or any of the other suggestions which have been put forward as potential 'West Lothian Answers'; they simply don't inspire me.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe there is a burning desire across England for devolution, and I'm just not 'getting it'.  But I somehow doubt it.  I think we'd know.  I can't help but feel that the political classes have got themselves worked up into a lather over a topic which a considerable proportion of the general population aren't that fussed about.  At least, I'm not that fussed about it.

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