Written evidence from Stephen Vivian-Davis and Rupert Vivian-Davis (EDE 23)
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
The Evolution of Devolution: English Devolution
1. Yes, the people of England have the same rights as any other nation in the world to order their own affairs.
2. England is arguably the second oldest nation state in the world. Indeed, many governments around the world, which includes some of the worlds most powerful countries, own their existence to the English model. It is a tragic consequence of British government policy over the years that it is the only country in the developed world that does not have its own government. The first aim of devolution must be to redress this.
In this case we are not talking of devolution in England but devolution for England there was never any talk of devolution in Scotland even though Edinburgh and Glasgow were ripe for devolved mayors. It was always devolution for Scotland to keep Scotland a united nation, with a national voice. If this was the aim of devolution for Scotland with only 12% of the UK population then why not for England which has 84% of the UK population. Some commentators and intellectuals have voiced the opinion that such a disparity between the populations of UK nations would unbalance a federal system. This is clearly nonsense as several federal constitutions manage perfectly well with such disparities. Think of California and Oregon for example. Of Australia where each territory sends the same number of delegates to Parliament regardless of the territories population. And, can you think of any country that would deny the majority 84% of its population the same level of democracy that the minority 16% enjoys just for the sake of government procedures and the inconvenience of having to make a disparity in numbers work. When all that would be needed to make it work would be some imaginative thinking and the political will.
The second aim of the devolution is that it should be for England, to keep England a nation.
Once England has its own devolved parliament we can start to talk of devolution in England. That is if The English people want devolution in England. The stated aim of devolution in England is to bring democracy closer to the people. However it could be argued that the present devolution in England is designed to break England up. Professor John Denham has postulated that British politicians attitude to England is one of implied unionism.
Implied unionism has five stages.
1, England must be governed by the British government.
2, England must be governed from Westminster.
3, The identity of England must be British.
4, That this state of affairs is so perfect that it cannot be altered.
5, That English nationhood must be denied for the sake of the union.
If this is the case, and many people agree with Professor Denham, then this is a dangerous road for the government to take as it breeds resentment and distrust within the English nation. The McKay commission found that a full 60% of English people did not believe that a British government could be trusted to do the right thing for England. Successive UK governments and to a greater extent the media have reinforced this opinion in the public by referring to the UK as the nations and the regions. The nations being Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the regions being England. This is an injustice and a show of disrespect to England. The people of England should be made to feel that they are a valued part of the union for themselves and not as at present valued as a cash cow to keep the so-called nations happy via the Barnett formula subsidies. The third aim therefore should be to give England the respect that it deserves by giving England devolution for the whole nation the same as the Scott’s. In this way the union is reinforced with an England that wants to be a part of it because it feels a valued part of it.
4. If England is broken up into regions with their own limited government we will see the asymmetry within the present arrangement grow. Some asymmetry is inevitable in a country like England with its difference of locations but this should de kept to a minimum. We can only imagine the ill will that would be engendered between regional governments and people in the lobbying for funds. The government could soon be embroiled in dispute after dispute between regions over funding and almost certainly being accused of bias by the side that’s loses out. Would we also see a future government using funding to browbeat regions into compliance. Then what happens if we get Labour mayors in all the big cities and Tory governments in all the English regions. Is that a recipe for unity in the UK? We can see the trouble the UK government is having with Scotland, Wales, and Manchester in regards to the covid problem. What if you add nine English regions to that.
It would seem to me that anyone wanting to divide England up in such a way is doing it to keep England weak as a means of control. How much better to give England the same devolution as Scotland leaving England in tact and forming a proper federal union with all four parts equal within a new Constitution rather than an asymmetrical union with each corner fighting for itself.
5, the purpose of the current devolution arrangement was supposedly to bring greater democracy to the people. On the 3rd of May 2012 England had mayoral referendums to replace local council leaders in 12 major cities. The results of these referendums are below.
The question was, do you want elected mayors or remain with the status quo.
Yes.% No% Turnout %
Birmingham. 42.0 58.0. 27.6
Bradford. 44.9. 55.1. 33.5
Bristol. 53.3. 46.7 24.1
Coventry 36.4. 63.6. 26.2
Doncaster. 62.1. 38.0 referendum to retain existing mayor.
Leeds 36.7. 63.3. 30.3
Manchester 46.8. 53.2. 25.6
upon Tyne 38.6. 61.9. 32.0
Nottingham 42.5 57.5 27.6
Sheffield 35.0. 65.0. 32.1
Wakefield. 37.8. 62.2. 28.6
Information, various city council websites. BBC. The Guardian. Wikipedia.
North-east England devolution referendum 4th of November 2004
Yes 22.1%. No 77.9%. Turnout. 48%
every council area in the region had a majority for No.
If one adds the people who did not vote, because they did not think it was worth their time, to the no vote then this was a massive rejection of devolution in England. After rejecting Westminster‘s attempts to break England up some of the city’s found that they were going to have devolved mayors imposed upon them. It could be surmised that Westminster‘s understanding of the word democracy is different from that of the Oxford English dictionary.
Obviously then bringing democracy to the regions is not the aim. So what is? Breaking England up and denying us our nationhood, as mentioned above, springs to mind. If this is so then this is an aim that can only lead to disaster for the UK and the ending of the union. The chart above shows that the English people are suspicious as to what Westminster are up to. If the people do not want this kind of devolution then they will resent its imposition. And can you wonder. The English do not see themselves as North easterners, or South westerners, or East midlanders. And trying to label people as belonging to regions that are just points of the compass and thought up by some civil servant for the sake of convenience is to display a staggering lack of understanding of the history of England and an arrogance that fully deserved the the rebuff it received.
Also there is the inconsistency of Westminster’s argument. In the past they have argued against an English parliament as it will just be an extra layer of government and mean many more MPs. They then advocate nine regional assemblies a dozen or more city mayors which means nine times the number of elected or imposed representatives.
6, The question of how English devolution be decided is simple. By a national referendum, which is long overdue. Scotland has had five, Wales and Northern Ireland three each England as a whole has not been asked once. The question put to the people must be a fair one with proper options. One option must be for an English Parliament. Not just options that central government wants.
7, The all England option will allow regional concerns to be put into a national perspective and not viewed separately. Also devolved matters can be dealt with by an English parliament with no reference to central government – reducing central governments role, which is supposed to be the aim of the devolution. Also the All-England option will mean fewer MPs or assembly members and therefore far less cost to set up, and less taxpayer money to fund the day-to-day running, and more efficiency as it will not have the extra regional level of government between the county councils and an English Parliament. That would leave the county councils as the main devolve units answering to an English parliament. With no more than two or three English parliament members for each county and larger city’s. This would give an English parliament of around 150 members. Far fewer than would be the case if nine regional assemblies were set up.
The McKay commission on the consequences of devolution stated that only an All England solution was acceptable and rejected regional assemblies as English devolution.
The benefits of an all English solution are as follows.
So that England can be recognised politically and constitutionally.
So the union can be rebalanced and strengthened.
It will also ensure the future existence of England.
It would give England an equal voice in Westminster.
It will also ensure that England has an equal voice internationally.
It will ensure all of the citizens of the UK have equal representation and enfranchisement.
To represent the English when laws are imposed upon us.
To ensure the accountability of MPs.
To assure equality of funding.
To assure equitable taxation.
To allow the English to control our own assets.
To deliver a government for England that is appropriate for England and of equal value to the rest of the UK.
To support and protect English culture.
To prevent the submersion of England into Britain and to serve a separate English identity from British.
To discourage discrimination on the grounds of nationhood.
Because all the other proposals for England’s future do not answer all the questions arising from the current imbalance in the union. Regional assemblies are not wanted by the people. The imposition of mayors in our cities is not wanted. EVEL has proved to be a worthless endeavour.
The only lasting solution to our present constitutional mess is an all England one. Only an English Parliament will do.
8, As we have seen with the city mayor referendums there is very little appetite for regional assemblies or elected mayors in England, that is to say devolution in England.
I believe there is public demand for devolution for England, however to convince Westminster politicians that this is so we should have a national referendum in England to ask the English people what they want.
9, on what basis should the form, geography and extent of devolved regions or area be determined and what role should culture and identity play. As mentioned above there are no hard and fast regional identities in England that conform to actual geographical locations with fixed boundaries, except perhaps East Anglia, and to be honest I have never heard any one call themselves an East Anglian. You certainly never here anyone call themselves a North Easterner, or a South Easterner. If someone does come from the North East they will usually say the are from Durham, or Newcastle, and that’s where their sense of belonging is to be found and the source of their pride. These places are in the north east but the north east is not the source of their pride in its self. Fixing of such boundaries is then going to be arbitrary unless you are going to ask people what side of the line they want to be on. Or of course you could use county boundaries. Easier between north east and west, harder between east and West Midlands and the south and dividing or hiving off parts of counties to make the numbers fit, either population or aria, should be avoided at all costs. Remember the anger at the county reforms of the 70’s. Was anyone ever proud to be from Humberside or Avonmouth. No, as far as these people where concerned they were still from Yorkshire and Somerset respectively, no matter what the politicians say.
Regional identity is usually found in ones county. People are proud to be from Cornwall, Yorkshire, or Kent etc. Points of a compass should never be used to determine our identity, nor should they be used to impose an arbitrary and false identity on people for the sake of politics.
 Stephen Vivian-Davis, Chairman of the campaign for an English Parliament.
Rupert Vivian-Davis, National Council Member.