Thursday, 19 April 2012

In which I solve all the UK's constitutional questions

While Lord Adonis's suggestion of moving the House of Lords up to Salford Quays is an admirable attempt to spread power away from the capital, it's unclear what crime Salford has committed to deserve having the Lords foisted upon it. It is also, sadly, a bit daft to move a revising chamber 200 miles away from the people it's supposed to be keeping an eye on, even if Adonis's beloved HS2 does get built.

All the idea needs is a little tweaking though. The best way to cure Londonitis is by setting up a devolved English parliament, which also happens to solve the West Lothian question as well.

"But what about regional assemblies!" you cry, eruditely. Well, as an innocent bystander in the North East regional assembly referendum of 2004, I can only suggest that the bludgeoning the idea received at the hands of the voters implies that it's perhaps not the most popular solution.

As far as I am aware the only serious objections to an English parliament are "it's too big" and "London will dominate".

"Too big" is a very odd argument. An English parliament's powers will presumably be similar to Scotland's with control over the NHS, education, etc. All these powers are currently handled by Westminster and on a nationwide basis. Why is Westminster not too big for this task?

If the objection is that England's parliament is much bigger than Scotland's, then I give you Exhibit Germany. The smallest German state, Bremen, has a population of 600,000 compared to North-Rhine Westphalia's 18 million, a ratio of 30 times. England's parliament would represent a mere 10 times more people than Scotland.

And if the fear is that the English leader will rival the PM in power, then again it is not numbers that matter, but the powers they have. An English parliament cannot rival Westminster in power if we don't allow it to by law.

"London will dominate" is a much more serious counterargument. In theory an English parliament based outside of London would mean a large transfer of power away from the capital, but we know from the underhand tactics employed against building a new national stadium in Birmingham that London won't let this happen. The solution is straightforward: make London the federal capital zone of the UK with its own devolved parliament. Happily, it's already got an assembly. Job done. And the English one is made smaller to boot.

All of this, of course, assumes that Scotland won't stick two fingers up at the rest of us. But in part it is the asymmetry of the current constitutional arrangements that is driving them away. If England was just another devolved country, Scotland would finally achieve parity of power, while if England was divided up into regional government, Scotland would feel like it's being treated just like it is in cricket: minor.

Last but not least, a devolved English parliament would be elected proportionally, like all the other  assemblies, putting the public services which first past the post governments so love to screw up every five years into the hands of a more stable politics. What's not to like?