First of all, don’t panic. I’m not, by nature, a political animal. This won’t happen very often. However, I found myself following the results of the elections this week to the regional assemblies (Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the equivalent in Northern Ireland whose name escapes me) closely because the results directly affect me in my Shetland home. When I saw that the Scottish National Party (SNP) had secured an overall majority at the Scottish Parliament, I was stunned. I knew the Lib-Dems would get a kicking over the coalition shenanigans (hah! £5 from anyone who doubted I’d get that word in) in Westminster – which is strange, really, as high-profile U-turns like university tuition fees don’t affect Scotland, it’s a devolved matter. I did not expect Labour to be given the drubbing they got!
Now I’m not a massive fan of the SNP, for reasons I’ll outline below. On Twitter, I asked the following:
Why is it that Scottish Nationalism (SNP) is acceptable and yet British/English Nationalism (BNP) is not? Discuss.
[Update] Not talking about British Nationalism here. This doesn’t concern the BNP[/update]
Now I don’t have that many followers but I know there are the odd random searches that people do which can lead to my tweets coming up on their radar. Within a few minutes later I had received this reply from a Craig Statham, SNP councillor for Dalkeith:
Scot nationalism is pro-Scottish. English nationalism is anti-pretty much everyone. English version needs to grow up.
I also received the following from another Englishman a few miles from me:
because members of the SNP don’t generally tend to shave their heads, tattoo swastikas all over their bodies and spout white supremacy rubbish.
All of which is, more or less, true. I have been in bars where, on placing my drinks order, you could hear a pin drop and someone said, very clearly, “I hate the feckin’ English.” Never have 4 pints of Guinness been consumed faster. If anyone’s interested, this was in the beautiful Kirckudbright. That bar was declared off-limits to all personnel from that day to the day I left that job. Still is, as far as I know. I’d like to think they’d moved on, I just wouldn’t place money on it. Here in Shetland things are far more amiable – until you’ve proved yourself worthy (and I’m still not sure I have) they’ll quite gladly hate you for coming from anywhere south of Sumburgh.
My dislike of the SNP stems from the way they have treated my island home. Do I think the SNP have served the Shetland Islands, a small and (pretty damn) remote part of Scotland, well during the last few years? No. Several opportunities to give us a break have been missed. Schemes such as the Road Equivalent Tariff for pricing ferry journeys have gone to other island groups. Island groups that appear to have voted SNP. Co-incidence? Some days I’d like to back those who claim Shetland is still, technically, Danish. Or was it Norwegian.
The final tweet, from an English nationalist, came from @stgeorgeiscross today. It reads as follows:
mind your own fucking business about England. the scotch can’t help meddling in English affairs
Unfortunately for English nationalism, stgeorgeiscross backs up the argument the Craig put forward – SNP: Pro-Scottish; English Nationalism: Anti-Scottish (and Welsh, and Northern Irish) [updated from BNP: Anti-Everyone-Else. Not talking about the BNP here.]. But he does make a good point, one that hasn’t been addressed in the devolution of powers to the regional assemblies. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have the ability to vote on matters that will never affect them. I don’t think this is right. If the subject matter of a vote is one that has been devolved, then MPs from those regions should be barred from voting on it. If we’re going to devolve matters, do it properly.
Should there be an English Parliament? Yes. Definitely. And let’s build it somewhere sensible, like York. Westminster can be streamlined into the buffer between the regional assemblies and the might of Europe.
English Nationalism needs to grow up, learn from the SNP, start attracting the right kind of people and going about things in a manner that is pro-English. Stop hating everyone else and we might make some progress yet. But I guess we’ve got to work out what it is to be English first.
It’s a day since I wrote the above piece and I’ve had a chance to do a bit more research, a bit more reading. I now know, for instance, that the issue that hasn’t been addressed has a name: The West Lothian Question. Distilled, it is this: An MP for West Lothian can vote on matters that affect any constituency in England but not on devolved matters affecting his own constituency. It was first raised by the MP for West Lothian in 1977. So this is the Scots pointing out the stupidity of the situation. A poll carried out by YouGov (as reported in the Telegraph) in 2007, some 30 years later, reveals that the majority of Scots still think it’s unfair. D’ya think? Really? YouGov’s website only appears to go back to 2010, so I can’t see if a similar poll was carried out asking the English the same question. I would expect the results to be broadly similar.
Greater minds than mine have apparently been pondering this situation for more than 30 years and not been able to come up with a solution. Unless the United Kingdom is completely disbanded, there will still be a need for a parliament that oversees the UK as a whole. Someone, somewhere, needs to discuss matters that affect the whole of the UK and that haven’t been/can’t be devolved. Problem seems to be that, to quote Jeff Beck, “Much is being said, my Lord. Nothing is being done.” It was one of the coalition agreement pledges, apparently, to establish a commission to consider the question.
Quote from wikipedia:
Before devolution, for example, purely ‘Scottish’ legislation was debated at Westminster in a Scottish Grand Committee composed of just those MPs representing Scottish constituencies.
So if this worked before devolution, why not put it into effect now?
The main problem afflicting the English nationalist cause is a lack of cohesion. The Scots have the SNP, the Welsh have Plaid Cymru, the Northern Irish Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (among others). Looking down the results on the BBC Politics website the first party that fits the bill appears to be the English Democrats. Their website front page declares their cause thusly:
England has been buried under a ‘British’ identity by the three main political parties. England is not a disparate collection of Euro-regions, nor is it a cash cow for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Our cause is about trying to save one of the world’s oldest nations from being broken up by a conniving British establishment and Brussels elite. It’s about giving the 50 million people in England a democratic voice through its own parliament.
We are not left, not right, just English.
This sounds good! It sounds right! Dial down the anti-Scots/Welsh/Irish and you’re golden! So why did they only get 2 councillors elected? National Identity, I reckon. The Scots know what it is to be Scottish. The Welsh likewise. The Northern Irish are divided over what it is to be Northern Irish but they’ve got a party for each side of the divide so that’s okay. The English don’t know what it is to be English. And until they work that out, this isn’t going to be resolved.