It wasn’t until I watching part of the BBC’s Question Time the other night that I was reminded about the proposed elected regional assemblies in England, an idea that was raised as a possible answer to Scottish devolution and the increasing uneasiness regarding the almost gradual dismemberment of the UK by both major political parties. John Prescott having jogged my memory that the idea of these planned assemblies had been rejected by voters in the North East, I was surprised to learn that not only had the idea been flatly rejected by voters living in the region, but the response had been so negative that proposals for ballots elsewhere in the country were very quickly abandoned. Apparently, the North East of England was the area thought to be most likely to adopt these new assemblies, so the fact that the plans were rejected by more than three to one, sort of suggested that if the argument couldn’t be won there, then there was no chance of winning public approval elsewhere. According to figures on Wikipedia, some 696,000 people rejected the idea of a new elected assembly, as against the 197,000 who thought it would probably be a good thing.
For most of those who rejected the proposed assembly their biggest concern was that any such body would simply be an expensive talking shop that would achieve very little, apart from creating yet another layer of bureaucracy, which would inevitably lead to higher costs and therefore higher council tax bills. Of course for the Labour Party, it was hoped that the establishment of these new assemblies might go some way to offset the effects of their wider devolution experiment, under which the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies have been created. For others though, the idea of regional assemblies smacked of a foreign system, where individual states, regions and provinces, operate independently, but still find themselves under the umbrella of a central federal government. At least one commentator noted that rather than moving the whole country forward, such regional bodies were simply a step backwards to the medieval period, when much of England was ruled by a series of appointed councils populated by the great and the good of the region, overseen by an antiquated feudal system that our country has quite rightly consigned to the history books. Likewise one might well make the argument that the forthcoming elected police commissioners and proposed professional mayors, such as Boris Johnson represents in London, are both in their turn throwbacks to the Sheriffs and Earls who dominated the towns of cities of England hundreds of years ago; and that have little place in our country today. Once again though, you could be forgiven for believing that these newly resurrected posts are simply populist imports from the United States and Europe, of which our current crop of governing politicians seem to be such huge fans.
One wonders just how far these experiments in regionalism, or localism will go before the entire project comes falling down around their individual architect’s ears, where people simply stop regarding themselves as British, or English, or Scottish, or Welsh, or Irish, but begin referring to themselves in territorial or regional terms, be that a Glaswegian, a Cumbrian, a Northumbrian, a Mancunian, etc. etc, etc. What chance for our country then, when we no longer have a national identity, where there is no commonality or link between the peoples of Portsmouth and London, between those living in Norwich and those who reside in Manchester, or between the populations of Birmingham and Glasgow? That master of disaster, Gordon Brown, bemoaned the fact that our country and its people no longer recognised or celebrated their “Britishness”, which shouldn’t really be any great surprise, given that successive generations of national politicians, including Gordon Brown, have worked so hard to undermine that national identity to begin with. After all, why should children growing up today celebrate a history, a culture and traditions that are largely unknown to them; and that are regularly attacked and vilified by politicians, commentators and educators alike? Why should anyone celebrate Britain, when the message seems to be that “Britishness” is bad; and that our country’s rich history is a blood-soaked one, marked by human exploitation, personal enrichment, divisiveness and cruelty to anyone that wasn’t British? Just who in their right mind would want to celebrate that sort of heritage anyway?
No-one should be surprised that the idea of “Britishness” or being British is a rapidly disappearing concept in the UK, or indeed that nationalism in Scotland, Wales and even to an extent in Northern Ireland is beginning to gain ground. In the face of increasing European-ism from the continent, championed by the likes of Clegg, Miliband, Blair, Brown and Cameron (yes, he of the proud Scottish heritage); and the recent antagonism caused by the apartheid messages of the SNP, it is perhaps little wonder that increasingly those that live in England now choose to refer to themselves in that way, as a way of reinforcing their pride in their nation. Quite whether national politicians are concerned about this slow but sure fragmentation of the UK is unclear, although purely from a electoral perspective it has been suggested that the Conservative Party (at one time a staunchly Unionist party) has much to gain from this political dismemberment of the country, because traditionally, Scotland and Wales tend to return more Labour Party representatives to Westminster than they do Tories. As a result, critics have implied that David Cameron’s Conservatives have much to gain from Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism, which offers their party overwhelming political control of England’s remaining parliamentary constituencies and therefore the Westminster Parliament itself. Even though Cameron and his deputy, the equally Europhile Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, have both dismissed the suggestion of electoral advantage as a consideration in any negotiations regarding Scotland’s proposed independence, the fact that one or both parties would be likely to benefit from purely English elections, should make us all question both men’s commitment to actually holding the union together. The very fact that Cameron chose to try and “bribe” the Scottish electorate into delivering a “no” vote for full Scottish independence, by offering the promise of further devolved powers, might well suggest that his intention was to either deliver Alex Salmond a hefty majority in the forthcoming ballot (thereby guaranteeing an independent Scotland), or to offer the Scottish Parliament such new powers that they would in effect be independent in all but name. It may well be the Coalition’s intention to create a Federal Britain by stealth, first by creating a fully devolved Scotland, then Wales, then Northern Ireland and finally England itself, a creation that would seem to fit in with the federalist principles of the European Union, which believes that no individual state is bigger than the community itself, unless of course you happen to be one of the chief architects of the scheme, such as Germany or France.
If indeed it were the case that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all became federal states, once again history would be repeating itself, restoring a situation that hasn’t existed for well over three hundred years, with England bordered by foreign nations to the north, south, east and west, states that have no cultural or national affiliation to us, save through sometimes tumultuous and antagonistically historic ties, as well as the offices of and the unelected officials from Brussels. One wonders just how accommodating the federal parliaments of a nominally independent Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland would be, in the event that their own national interests conflicted with those of the one at Westminster, especially if the will or the wishes of the European Parliament was brought into play?
It has always been the intention of the European Community to create a “federal” Europe, a single political and economic entity made up of nominally independent states, but where a single body or a central government has control over the individual supposedly sovereign territories. Had former French President, Valerie D’Estaing, had his way, we would already be a member of a formally identified European Federation; and it was only because of British objections that the word Federation was replaced with Community, in what one can only assume was an attempt to deliberately hoodwink people. According to experts on the subject, the only difference between the current “union” and a fully fledged “federation”, is that member states continue to hold the power to change various treaties; and that the EU lacks a real tax and spend policy (something that will undoubtedly change in the very near future in light of the continuing Eurozone crisis)
Although the idea of Britain becoming increasingly fragmented and therefore less influential in the world may seem fanciful, consider this, like it or not, it is in Europe’s long term interest for Britain and her population to become less resistant to further European integration. As one of the world’s leading economies, major military forces and biggest consumer markets, a Britain outside of Europe is not only harmful to the whole European experiment, but might be deemed to be a major obstacle to the ongoing expansion of what is in all but name a federalist bloc, one that has been designed to compete with the likes of America, China, India and Russia. Is it so fanciful perhaps, given that we now have very little say or control over the masses of laws, statutes and legislation that affects every aspect of our everyday lives. So fanciful that our international policies are being dictated by unelected politicians and presidents in continental Europe. So fanciful that our Armed Forces are now in such a parlous state that we have the smallest standing army since Queen Victoria was sitting on the throne. So fanciful that despite being an island state, we have few effective ways of projecting our military power across long distances, assuming of course that we can’t find a willing ally to lend us their territory. So fanciful in fact, that we now have to consider sharing the cost and expertise of our future weaponry with a continental neighbour, who has not only been one of greatest military allies, but also one of our foremost political enemies, depending on which way the winds of opportunity have been blowing at any given time. Its worth remembering that although the Entente Cordiale binds France and England together, another agreement, the Auld Alliance, pre-dates that and having an independent and belligerent Scotland in the north, allied to an antagonistic France in the south, was yet another one of the reasons that eventually drove England to seek a permanent union with our northern cousins, so for all that to be undone, really would be taking us back to the past.