Sunder Katwala’s Open Democracy essay makes the sensible argument that, in the context of political reform, English issues should be answered. First, though, the English have to figure out what they want.
If ‘more powers to Scotland’ is the right response to democratic pressure, it is incoherent to argue that some measure of English devolution must prove divisive.
The charge of party interest from Labour voices sounds very much like a case of pots challenging kettles. No doubt all politicians keep the party implications of political reforms in mind but Labour’s own partisan interests, particularly representing 41 of the 59 Scottish constituencies in the House of Commons, would appear to be playing a significant role in the party’s difficulty in articulating any coherent view about England’s place in the evolving constitution of the United Kingdom.
That core principle is simple: devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland makes the issue of a fair say for England important and unavoidable.
The answer has to be that England should get what England wants.
But what does England want? Nobody can yet be certain of the detail of that.
Here, the proposal of an open and inclusive process is valid – but it has a power only once the core principle has been accepted and agreed. Otherwise it will look, to most people, like an attempt to kick the question into the long grass and to hope it does bit return.
Some form of constitutional convention could usefully be contrasted with the limits of deciding on devolution to England in a Cabinet sub-committee in Whitehall – but only if it is deciding on how to represent England, rather than whether to do so. It should also offer a clear timescale for an outcome to be implemented, as is the case with the Scottish vow.