To understand the crisis unfolding between the nations of the UK we need to understand how the British state, our collective home, came into existence.
In 1536 English law was extended to completely incorporate Wales into the ‘Realm’ of England. Thereafter Welsh voters were able to elect MPs to the English Parliament. It was the ‘Realm’ and Kingdom of England incorporating Wales that established the 1707 Act of Union with the Kingdom of Scotland to form the so-called ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.
It was the product of these two partially fused kingdoms that passed the 1801 Act which created the union with the Kingdom of Ireland. Thus, if Scotland does become independent, legal and constitutional logic dictate that the 1801 Act will lapse, perhaps reuniting Northern Ireland with the Republic. In any case this will leave Wales incorporated into an unbalanced partnership with England.
Blair’s Westminster government tampered with the Acts of Union in 1998 and naively decided that more independence would be given to Scotland than to Wales, whilst England was not recognised nationally at all. They intended to break England into nine ‘Regional’ pieces. This rearrangement of the British state has meant that the Welsh Assembly is less robust than the Scottish Parliament and also that the English are still left without a collective voice. This places the English question firmly on the table…
The negative long-term effect of the overly prolonged and unbalanced devolutionary process has seen England forced to re-establish herself without any formative leadership, leaving the Welsh to worry about how they finance their services if English funding is reduced or, dare I say it, stopped.
If the current hotchpotch reforms continue without proper consultation (with all due respect to the McKay Commission and their limited remit), the Welsh will be vulnerable to change from England without consultation just as in 1536.
Yet the Welsh do have choices. Either they lapse back into the old Tudor arrangement or they recognise that the British state needs to be re-balanced, with a new constitutional structure that acknowledges England whilst protecting Wales. This protection is important because the Welsh have only a small voice which will struggle to be heard if left alone in a botched, rump UK/English state, under a pretend British parliament.
The Welsh must accept that their political voice will not be adequately heard against a newly formed English dominated constitutional arrangement. The Welsh must raise their voice now and insist that their calls for fairness, democratic equality and constitutional recognition are heard by Westminster before it is too late.
If Wales calls with one voice for an English Parliament, Westminster will need to listen. It will also protect the Welsh identity, as recognition of England will create the constitutional dividing wall which alone will give the opportunity to legally cement Wales’ own separate political identity.
If English and Welsh separation is not consolidated before Scottish independence then Welsh interests will be submerged.
The Campaign for English Parliament does not want to see the Welsh trapped in some ‘botched state’ as the British government continues to run around like a headless chicken after it has been beheaded by a Scottish Yes vote in 2014. There is no need to see a parochial Anglo-centric future imposed on the Welsh. Yet currently it is impossible for English interests be represented equally or indeed at all.
The English understand Welsh concerns, which mirrored English concerns when prescription charges, tuition fees and foundation hospitals were introduced. Suppression of a political voice is undemocratic and erroneous in any country. However, blaming Scotland for this constitutional crisis and for taking more money than Wales will fall on hardened ears in England.
The English and the Welsh deserve a better response than the latest proposals to come from the coalition, but first Wales must accept that they too have been part of the problem. Welsh MPs also vote on ‘English only’ matters, knowing full well that their vote has no democratic legality.
Despite this Wales differs from Scotland in its relationship with England. The Welsh border has always been more porous than Scotland’ – a good example is the tens of thousands of English and Welsh patients who share GPs on alternative sides of the border. However, contentious issues still remain between England and Wales.
Whilst difficult to discuss, Monmouthshire cannot be ignored, bearing all the markings of a contentious issue. If that wound is not dealt with correctly, both England and Wales will find it becoming a festering sore not easily healed. We need Welsh and English leadership to make sure the hand over to either side is fairly managed.
The people of England are beginning to recognise Wales as a different nation. As the Welsh Assembly grows in power we see how Wales has managed to harness their sense of national struggle and mould it into a young but audible political voice. For England this battle has only just begun. As we embark on our own struggle against the British state that fails to recognise the need for an English Parliament, the English will find this denial will make it more difficult to place the building blocks of positive national identity that could ensure equality and fair treatment for everyone.
Wales, and indeed the other devolved nations of the UK, have very different approaches to devolution than England. Celtic experiences have been influenced by the gravitational pull of their larger neighbour. Their growth and development have been about securing power away from that neighbour. England has been slow to realise this and has been blind to how much Scottish and Welsh political identity has grown.
In the past this may have been due to the intertwining of British and English identity. But this is no longer the case, as attested in the 2011 census. While the British Establishment has failed to understand the true importance of a flowering of Scottish and Welsh national identities, the average working class Englishman is increasingly willing to discuss the unfair arrangements within the UK. The majority in England are no longer satisfied with the ‘status quo’, and (perhaps inspired by independence movements of our neighbours) now speak in terms of independence for themselves. As this feeling grows, both Scotland and Wales will need to take measures to protect themselves politically.
If we can learn from our experiences with Scotland, so often shrouded in negativity and mistrust, we find that there are many advantages to a constructive working relationship between England and Wales. If a fuller, more confident Wales called for an English Parliament it would lead to an England and Wales that each have their own, distinct political voices. The British Establishment would then no longer be able to suppress our national identities for its own self-serving careerist ends.