Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Its been hard - so far - to get Conservatives to write for OurKingdom about how they see the future of the Union. Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster was asked for his views in a question session on ConservativeHome. The question was: "What should the Party do to minimise the effect of a surge in English nationalism as the next general election approaches? Is a policy of English votes for English Bills enough, or should we at the same time pro-actively seek to give the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments more powers over their economies?" The answer is remarkable, it deserves to be read in full:
I must confess I am wary of the Party adopting an ‘English votes for English Bills’ policy and playing to English nationalism. There is obvious inequity in our current constitutional arrangements as a result of devolution, and there is increasing disquiet from many in England who are concerned about the imbalances left by Labour’s political settlement. But attacking Scottish MPs comes across as partisan and negative. Our mission should be to maintain and strengthen the Union and avoid promoting a solution that could be portrayed by our opponents as putting that Union at risk. This would play badly not only in Scotland (which many Conservatives too easily regard as a lost cause) but also amongst middle class, Middle England voters who continue to value the Union and all it has meant for us. It also runs directly counter to the positive, optimistic messages that the Party is trying to cultivate elsewhere.
But of course it is also dangerous to do nothing. The British respect the concept of fair play and there is a deep groundswell of unease about Labour’s one-sided deal which must be addressed.
I therefore propose a rather more bold solution than ‘English votes for English laws’ which I also fear would be unworkable in practice. I should like to see the Conservatives offer all the British people a new settlement that is demonstrably equitable for everyone.
Since the expulsion of most of the hereditary peers, I have, in principle, favoured the option of a fully or largely-elected House of Lords. However, I recognise that such an outcome is unlikely to be within the realms of practical politics, not least as the House of Lords as currently constituted is likely to be hostile and there would be little agreement as to the timing or form of elections. I would prefer to see the creation of a completely new federal parliament. Four, full, national parliaments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with most of the existing powers of the House of Commons and over them a federal United Kingdom parliament, which would debate defence and foreign affairs, make treaties and administer a cohesion fund for the poorer parts of the UK. It would be funded by a per GDP levy on the national parliaments. There would be no need for extra politicians, as the national parliaments would send representatives to the UK parliament and meet together for its debates, which could be held in the old House of Lords chamber.
I appreciate it is a bold, indeed a radical, suggestion but I believe that the only way to restore the balance of the British constitution, which had served us so well for so long, is to offer the British people this fairer alternative in a referendum once we have won the next election.