Back in September 2014 Scotland voted to remain in the union. Following the panic in the final week before polling day, when it looked like the Scots would vote ‘Yes’, the result in the end was a significant majority for the ‘No’ vote. Actually what the Scots really voted for is ‘Devo Max’, promised by a frantic establishment in an attempt to bribe Scotland into rejecting independence. Effectively this meant autonomy on domestic issues but remaining subservient to Westminster on matters of foreign relations and defence. The deal was probably something more akin to the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies, although they are of course not technically in the union. However, full internal (i.e. fiscal) autonomy for Scotland was abandoned by the Conservative government shortly after the 2015 general election.

Perhaps part of the reason for this was the potential grievance south of the border. After all, if Scotland has internal self government, why can they return MPs to the House of Commons and vote on matters of taxation and legislation that affect the rest of the United Kingdom but not Scotland? In a nutshell this is the same question raised by the member for West Lothian, Tom Dalyell, in 1977 but turned up to eleven. To placate the loud English dissatisfaction with Scottish MPs who can vote on English affairs, David Cameron proposed a reform bill that would allow only English MPs to vote on English laws. However, the proposal has only been tepidly enacted; English MPs now have the right to veto a bill if the Speaker deems it to apply only to England before a vote to the entire House of Commons. Therefore the English Question remains, essentially, unresolved. England must subsidise Scotland, while the Scots can vote on English matters but not vice versa.

Labour is staunchly opposed to the enacting of English votes for English laws. The leadership probably hopes that their leftward lurch will win back Scotland and a future Labour government will once again rely on Scottish MPs to control the House of Commons. However, opposing this is only going to incur the animosity of the English who Labour will still rely on for votes if they hope to win the next general election. Such a stance could even cost them seats in their English heartlands. Labour’s perceived neglect of Scotland paved the way for the Scottish National Party to take all but one of their seats in the 2015 general election. Such a result would have been inconceivable ten or even five years ago. It is probably too early to speculate at this stage but Labour in northern England, the Midlands and Wales could go the way of Scottish Labour.

The big question is which party on the right can capitalise on English dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs? The Conservatives have committed themselves to continuing the Barnett formula and this is likely to continue whoever succeeds David Cameron because the government fears a renewed secessionist movement in Scotland in the wake of withdrawal from the European Union. If UKIP were to offer to scrap the subsidies for Scotland and an outright ban on Scottish MPs from voting on English matters the party could capture votes that might otherwise be ceded by Labour to the Conservatives. As Labour shifts further to the left under Jeremy Corbyn a majority victory looks increasingly unlikely for them so it could encourage even more Conservative voters to switch their allegiance to UKIP. Indeed, what is stopping so many disgruntled Conservatives from voting for the party which best represents their interests, UKIP, is the fear of another Labour government. Thus former Labour voters voting for UKIP could well result in more Conservative voters voting for UKIP too. It would also very probably result in more defections of sitting MPs from both the Conservatives and Labour fearing defeat at the next general election.

In short, the political fallout of the English Question is a potential boon to the right in the United Kingdom. The opportunity exists for Labour to be prevented from ever forming a workable majority again and to compel the Conservatives to recognise UKIP as a force to be reckoned with. English votes for English laws in all probability means a shift to the right politically and a weakening of the stranglehold the three legacy parties have had on British politics over the last few decades.

There are plenty of political opportunities for UKIP to seize in the months and years ahead whoever succeeds Nigel Farage as party leader. Providing a resolution to the English Question is one such example that the establishment would prefer to ignore entirely. It would be a great shame, not just for the party but for the country as a whole, to let it pass.

 

 

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