only search

About Gareth Young

Gareth Young (alias Toque) is a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament and convener of What England Means to Me and Anthem4England. He lives in Devon with his wife and daughter.

Articles by Gareth Young

This week’s front page editor


Sunny Hundal is openDemocracy’s social media editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

England – the nation that is not to be named?

Where once politicians spoke of England when they meant Britain, they now speak of Britain when they mean England.

The Anxieties of a British Nationalist by Ed Miliband (aged 42 and two quarters)

The Labour leader's attempt to open a conversation on Englishness should be welcomed. But it stops short of real engagement, while its cack-handed clumsiness tell us much about the party and Miliband as a leader.

St George's Day, a retrospective

In Britain, there is a country that is not officially celebrated: England. But it has a national day: St George's Day. This was yesterday, 23 April (also Shakespear's birthday by happy coincidence) and an active supporter of England gaining its own government sums up the mood.

Buyer Beware: David "snake oil" Cameron does not know his product

Cameron must limit Scotland's choices because financial autonomy for Scotland would arguably have a more profound affect on the status quo than Scottish Independence.

British Future: State of the Nation(s) 2012

For those interested in the constitutional future of the United Kingdom, the Hopes and Fears State of the Nation 2012 report by British Future provides interesting reading.

Euroscepticism: A very English disease?

With the Eurozone crises threatening to blow the Coalition Government out of the water, Gareth Young examines the implications for English nationalism and the Union dynamic between England and Scotland.

For England's Sake!

Why does England lack political representation? Why is English nationalism associated with intolerance? Why is 'England' an inconvenient word for politicians? The British establishment has long stifled these questions - now OurKingdom has launched a section to seek some answers.

The emotions of Britishness and being English, a response to David Mitchell

David Mitchell has said that the prospect of Scottish independence makes him worried about his British national identity. Gareth Young responds by asking Mitchell and other Brits who wish to save the Union to imagine a multi-national Britain that embraces hybridity instead of relying on Anglo-centric notions of Britishness

AV is dead, where now for electoral reform?

Arguing for electoral reform in isolation from a full bloodied constitutional settlement that includes the UK's national question was far too limited and asked to fail.

Let us speak of St George and Little England!

The 23rd of April is when Shakespeare died, allegedly was born, and is St George's day, the national day of England - were England to celebrate it. It is about time that it does and gives Britishness a healthy shaking

Baroness Warsi says England should learn from Scotland

Scotland has received praise of late for encouraging social inclusion, bringing about a strong sense of national identity. England is placed in contrast, as a country that wants everyone to 'be like one of us' and become English. What nonsense. Today's England has failed to foster any sense of civic nationalism, whether inclusive or not.

England is the country: How language hinders our understanding of devolution and English identity

When our media and politicians use the term 'the country', they often mean 'England', rather than Great Britain. The subsequent confusion is used to promote the idea of the UK as united under the control of Westminster, while muffling the debate around England as a distinct national, political and economic community.

Students of England, the NUS has failed you

After the passing of the tuition fee legislation through the Lords, many students in England feel abandoned and voiceless. They should remember the initial betrayal of their interests in 2004, when the undemocratic decision to impose tuition fees on English students went unchallenged by the NUS.

Scottish votes on English laws

We’re now into the last week of the Power2010 online vote and there appears to be just one competition: English votes on English laws v. an elected second chamber

What Happens to England?

An OurKingdom symposium: see also articles by Gerry Hassan, James Mitchell and David Torrance

It seemed unlikely that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling would be hounded out of office by the English mob, like Brown's predecessor Lord Bute, but for a moment in 2006 Alan Duncan looked like he might be a modern day John Wilkes. He was quickly slapped down. Since that time there has been a grumbling English discontent - articulated most forcefully by the likes of Simon Heffer, David Starkey and Kelvin MacKenzie - but the Tories themselves have resisted the temptation to play the English card and have not made an issue of Gordon Brown's Scottishness, or more specifically his lack of mandate on English domestic issues.

Soon though, baring divine intervention, the boot will be on the other foot; soon it will be Scotland that is ruled by a man they have not elected, who is not one of theirs, and who to them has no mandate. Step forward David Cameron to deliver the acid test of devolution. It was the democratic deficit of the Thatcher and Major years that provided the unionist rationale for Scottish devolution: Why should Scotland put up with a right-wing Tory government, and an English one at that, when Scotland consistently voted left-of-centre? If the devolution theorists are correct then the devolved Scottish Parliament should buffer Scotland from the worst excesses of English Conservatism and mollify the nationalist impulse. But there's a fly in the ointment, some Scots, most Scots in fact, are saying that devolution doesn't go far enough. They want a referendum and more powers, especially enhanced fiscal powers, and David Cameron doesn't want that. Respect, yes; powers to tax and spend, no! At least not yet, not now.

David Cameron is English, he's posh, he only has one Scottish MP, and he's a Tory. On paper he's an easier quarry for Alex Salmond than Gordon Brown is. But Salmond is a wily character, and he doesn't want the SNP to be the nasty party, so just as the Tories refrained from attacking Brown on grounds of his Scottishness, the SNP will most likely refrain from attacking Cameron's Englishness and class. This leaves Cameron's 'Tory-ness' and his lack of a Scottish mandate as the best grounds for attack, but then an attack on Cameron's Tory-ness may sound too much like the class-warfare and anti-Englishness of old, and may well alienate the Scottish voters that the SNP most wants to attract - those looking to cast their vote tactically against Labour. So Salmond's best tactic will be to point to Cameron's lack of Scottish support. Taking the best possible Conservative case-scenario that has presented itself so far (YouGov, 8th - 9th October 2009; Lab 34%, SNP 28%, Con 22%, Lib Dem 10%) the Conservatives could capitalise on the collapse of the Labour vote by picking up 7 Scottish MPs in 2010. However, this really is a best-case-scenario, for all their superior resources the Tories will find it tough campaigning in Scotland where they have failed to sanitise the Conservative brand to the extent they have in England and Wales.

George Osborne's proposed cuts in public spending will hit Scotland disproportionately hard, and hard hit too will be Scotland's representation at Westminster, delivered a double whammy of cuts through boundary changes and then enfeebled by English Votes on English Laws. "Vote Tory at the General Election and I won't be able to vote at Westminster" is not necessarily a good election slogan for doorstepping Tory candidates. On English Votes on English Laws the Tories may find that they have an ally in Alex Salmond, a man keen to see Scots side-lined at Westminster, though they may also find that it is Salmond who is the unlikely champion of England's cause. Worst of all, the Tories in Scotland have to explain their position on the Calman Commission, and they're not too sure what that position is. And the Tories in England don't particularly want the English to read in their papers about more Scottish devolution, lest they begin asking their own 'English Question'.

An open letter to the Liberal Democrats

"I'll consider anything that makes the political elite accountable to citizens" wrote Gordon Brown. Stopping unnaccountable Scottish MPs from voting and speaking on English matters, and from participating in the government of England, would seem like a good start in achieving that. Like Meatloaf Gordon Brown might consider anything, but he won't do that. But what will the Liberal Democrats consider?

Dear Liberal Democrats,

Given the sudden interest in constitutional reform is there any chance of getting the ‘English Question' on the political radar? An English parliament offers the opportunity of ushering in many of the constitutional reforms that are suddenly being discussed, and probably represents the best chance of a more deliberative democracy. Until people begin to think the unthinkable and talk seriously about an English parliament - even if only to advocate asking the people how they wish to be governed instead of imposing top-down solutions - I tend to think that serious constitutional reform is off the agenda. Not because an English parliament is necessary for reform, but because opposition to an English parliament is so often predicated on a desire to prevent serious constitutional reform and a rethink of what it actually means to be a multi-national United Kingdom. Talk of an English parliament raises all the difficult questions that the political establishment wants to - and will - avoid at all cost. All the more reason to raise them then.

Political authority has been hived off to Scotland, Wales and NI which makes this current crisis of legitimacy as much of an English constitutional crisis as a British one, especially because the dreadful prospect of English self-government has prevented Labour from ever asking the dreadful English (the rump of Britian) how they would like to be governed (a mistake that Cameron appears destined and willing to repeat). However, in calling for the English - as a nation - to be consulted on how they wish to be governed the Liberal Democrats could quite legitimately tap into a popular national mood that increases the likelihood of a citizens' convention for the whole of the UK (because England cannot be considered apart as Scotland was).

Panic on the streets of Westminster

You may have read in the Guardian that Gorgeous George has blamed Speaker Martin's fall from grace on English snobs:

English snobbery can do a morris dance of delight at the political demise of the Speaker, Michael Martin. The bigots have put the taigs back in their place.

Amongst those who signed Douglas Carswell's petition for the Speaker to resign were Norman Baker, Jo Swinson and Gordon Prentice, and they are all Scots. In fact a disproportionately high number of Scots contributed to Martin's downfall.

Is it possible that Michael Martin was forced out not because of English snobbery but because he was hopelessly partisan and useless at his job. We are in the grip of a very British constitutional crisis, and at a time when the House needed leadership there was none on offer.

Amid the Westminster panic circulates rumours of a coup against Gordon Brown and the possibility of a constitutional convention

English nationalism vs British nationalism

Gareth Young, campaigner for an English Parliament, examines the English Democrats' alliance with the white nationalist England First Party.

On Monday morning Nick Griffin, BNP leader, was interviewed on the BBC's FiveLive Breakfast Show. "Isn't your party full of neo-nazis?" asked Nicky Campbell. "No", said Griffin, "Britain's neo-nazis hate me, they say that I've sold out...They call me a liberal".

One such group that hates the superficially more moderate and 'liberal' Nick Griffin is the England First Party (EFP) who describe the BNP leader as 'fundamentally flawed and psychologically disfigured' and object to Griffin's 'watering down of nationalist principles

The death of community pubs

Yesterday's press release from ippr contains some sobering statistics for those of us who love our pubs. Across England, in the four years between 2005-2009, a total of 2,707 were lost. Scotland lost 562. And Wales a further 236.

Region/county Number of pubs 2005 Net pubs closed 2005-2009 % pubs closed 2005-2009
West Midlands 6013 -576 -9.6
Scotland 5971 -562 -9.4
North West 8513 -612 -7.2
East Midlands 5259 -356 -6.8
South East 8521 -530 -6.2
Wales 4147 -236 -5.7
East of England 5562 -311 -5.6
Yorkshire and the Humber 6181 -322 -5.2

Hardest hit is the West Midlands, losing a staggering 9.6% of its public houses.

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of pubs, I see pubs as vitally important to both the historic and modern cultural fabric of England, and it breaks my heart to see pubs local to me closing (Just outside Lewes The Abergavenny Arms and The Pumphouse have become dead pubs, both of them the only pub for the respective villages of Rodmell and Cooksbridge). The loss of a village pub is a loss just as great as the loss of the post office, the village shop or the church. Frenchman turned English poet Hilaire Belloc wrote, "When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England". It is a quote that that adorns a thousand beams, usually in gold italics, in pubs the length and breadth of England, and its marketing appeal lies in its simple truth. To sit in a traditional English pub is to connect with generations that have gone before. The English pub is redolent of Englishness: from its architecture; to its furnishings; to the peculiar etiquette of the inhabitants, the games they play, the way they interact and the language they speak.

The state, the nation, and civil liberties

On Thursday I went to London, to the Foreign Press Association, situated in the former residence of William Gladstone, to record a video for The Convention on Modern Liberty (who were holding a press conference there).

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when I asked the ticket officer at Lewes Station for a return ticket to “piccalilli” instead of Piccadilly. Anyway, the little speech that I had intended to deliver to camera didn’t come out quite as I had intended, and in order to illicit a more conversational style I was prompted with questions and asked to improvise a response. It was excruciating, even more so for the film crew than myself I imagine.

Having thanked the crew for their patience I went to meet Anthony for a cuppa, and he suggested that I posted the speech that I had intended to make to Our Kingdom. So without further ado, this is what I had written down and had intended to say.

New Labour, new British nationalism

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): Gordon Brown’s British nationalism project has been seriously struggling of late. The recommendations of Citizen Goldsmith were remorselessly mocked, a British Football Team now looks unlikely and plans for a museum of Britishness have been scaled back.

But amidst all the gloom there are encouraging signs for Gordon Britishness Brown, as the green shoots of a nascent British nationalism appear on the picket lines of oil refineries, construction sites and power stations the length and breadth of Britain. Bonds of belonging, common purpose and shared values are all evident in spades, and the decision of Scottish and Welsh workers to come out in a display of British solidarity with their English counterparts, and to Gordon’s clarion call of “British Jobs for British Workers“, is a delicious irony.

As someone who has lost about 50% of his colleagues to an Indian call centre over the past year, I have a certain sympathy for those British workers fighting to protect their livelihoods, and I will shed no tears for a prime minister hoist by his own petard.

But are there any lessons for Gordon? Yes, I think there are.

1. Don’t steal BNP slogans.
2. Leave British nationalism and economic protectionism to the BNP. They are more left-wing than you, and for all their faults they have a clear idea of what it means to be British - when they say “British Jobs for British Workers” they mean it.
3. Put emphasis on a pragmatic unionism: economic, not cultural, solidarity.

This England, What England? (Gordon Brown and the denial of England)

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): It’s taken seven months from petition end but finally the Prime Minister has gotten around to replying to my ‘Say England’ petition. Since it’s been a while I will remind you of the details of the petition:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop saying ‘Our country’ or ‘This country’ when he is talking in relation to devolved issues such as health, education and housing. If Mr Brown is talking about English matters then he should say ‘England’, even if it is politically inconvenient for him to do so.”

Brown must recognise England's claim of right

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): The Scottish Claim of Right of 1988 was signed by all the Scottish Labour MPs, with the exception of Tam Dalyell.  In 1997, with the advent of the Labour Government of the UK, one third of that initial cabinet (8 out of 24) had signed that claim and were thus pivotal in influencing the Labour UK Government, which issued the white paper, the Scotland Devolution Bill 1998.

The Scottish Claim of Right acknowledged that the Scottish people have the sovereign right to decide the form of government best suited to their needs.  That 'form of government' must include independence as well as devolution, yet those cabinet members do not seem in any great hurry to hold a referendum on independence. When they signed the Claim quite possibly it never occurred to them that the Scottish people might decide to get rid of them altogether. They should be reminded of it at every opportunity.  Rather than display a willingness to hold a referendum on independence, apart from Wendy Alexander's short-lived "Bring it on!", the Unionists claim instead that because there is a Unionist majority in the Scottish Parliament, the people of Scotland have "voted for the Union". It is just possible that the SNP may gain a majority of the Scottish Westminister seats at the next General Election, and if so that will mean, according to Unionist logic, that the people of Scotland have voted for independence. I'm sure they will try wriggle out of that.

The Scottish Claim of Right was a principled recognition of the sovereign right of the people.  It is hypocritical of Gordon Brown, and others who signed that Claim of Right, to now deny that same sovereign right to the people of England, especially as recognition of the Scottish sovereign right has moved power away from Westminster in a way that has damaged English voters.

The madness of Ken Clarke

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): Ken Clarke's plans to solve the West Lothian Question, have been greeted with predictable disdain by most political commentators. Typical was Iain Dale who declared that "England deserved better":
From what I have seen I cannot in any way defend this so-called solution. It is not even a half way house. Either you believe that England should have devolved government or you don't. If you do, then you either believe in English votes on English measures or you believe in some form of English Parliament.
But Iain Dale is wrong. Not that England deserves better, of course she does, but because neither Clarke's solution NOR English Votes on English measures are for people who believe that England should have "devolved government" (or "English government" if you prefer). Instead both are crude technical devices that attempt to right the democratic deficit brought about the very absence of English government. Clarke's contrivance is contrived to such a ludicrous degree precisely to avoid even the pretence of an English parliament that EVoEM seems to offer, and the consequent threat that such a democratic English body would pose to the Union when Scots object to it on the grounds of their own irrelevance. Indeed, as Clarke went to pains to point out on the Today Programme, his solution "means that the government retains control of the agenda; it retains control of the money." Scottish MPs would vote on the second reading of an English bill - "which is the vote on principle on the bill" - thereby ensuring the legitimacy of any cabinet government that contained Scottish ministers. But as Malcom Rifkind points out Clarke's mechanism would not have prevented the disgraceful actions of Scottish MPs during the Foundation Hospital and Top-up Fee legislation, even if last week's English Planning Bill amendment, scuppered by Brown's non-English MPs, could have been carried by English rebels. Under Clarke's scheme the English will be denied the affirmative expression of national identity afforded to the Scots; instead English MPs will speak for England only negatively - by wrecking UK Government legislation through the of tabeling ludicrous amendments, or the deleting of English clauses at committee stage. But fear not, for as Clarke points out the UK government retains control, and:
"at the final stage all the UK members would vote so if the English have transformed it to a way that is unacceptable to the Government the government could ask its majority to veto and abort the measure."
Or in other words if the English have transformed the bill to a manner that is acceptable to the English, the government could abort the legislation. Malcolm Rifkind does offer a slightly more sensible alternative to Clarke's madness:
There could be a requirement that at Second Reading and at Report stage, for a vote to be carried on amendments to an England-only Bill, the vote, to be declared carried, would need a majority both of the House as a whole and of MPs representing English constituencies.

Though one has to ask Rifkind why, if the English can veto the UK Government, should we bother letting the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish vote at all; why not just let the English draft and vote on their own legislation instead of muddling up UK Government and non-English MPs in the process? The simple answer to that question is "The Barnett Formula", a funding mechanism that provides Scottish MPs with the constitutional right to vote on English legislation by dint of the fact that English domestic legislation determines the block grant due to Scots as an inflated percentage of what is available to the English. Naturally Ken Clarke does not even bother to address the Barnett Formula.

Hypocrisy over St George

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): In the knowledge that the Scottish Government spends £300,000 a year promoting St Andrew's Day "to help promote our distinctive national identity and attract tourists", it must have been with some embarrassment that Margaret Hodge revealed that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport spent just £230 over the past five years on promoting St George's Day.

As the Daily Mail was only too quick to point out it is yet another example of Government words not matching Government deeds:

This April, Downing Street proudly raised the flag, and Mr Brown's spokesman said: 'The prime minister's view is that of course we should celebrate our Britishness, but celebrating our Britishness does not mean we cannot also celebrate our Englishness, Scottishness, Welshness or Northern Irishness.' Justice Secretary Jack Straw urged the English to reclaim the day from 'bigots'. 'Anyone proud to be English is equally proud of St George and what, down the ages, his myth and his flag have come to represent for this nation within the United Kingdom,' he wrote in the Daily Mail.

The BNP is the new Labour Party

Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): Upon reading Frank Field’s Speech to the University of Hertfordshire one Campaign for an English Parliament member told me that “the fact that Frank Field had made the threat of the BNP central to the article taints the English Question in the way we have fought so hard for it not to be”.

For a pressure group like the CEP, who make the constitutional case for an English parliament to represent all the people of England as one people, it is obviously disappointing to have our cause linked to immigration and the rise of the BNP. But for Frank, who looks through Labour eyes, The English Question is about addressing the practical results of devolution and Labour’s failure to discuss English issues. For Frank The English Question is not so much about a popular sovereignty that allows the English to decide how they are governed, in fact he barely mentions that. Instead it is a list of English grievances, symptoms of Labour’s failure, and the rumbling discontent that will cost Labour votes.

The dangers for Labour of failing to lead the debate are perhaps even greater. That conclusion may come about not simply by the Tories being generally accepted by voters as the English Party. An even worse outcome would be for Labour to concede to the BNP yet another issue – along with immigration – with which to appeal to Labour’s core voters. If this was allowed to happen we would then begin to witness what a future historian might call The Unnecessary Death of Labour England?

My first contact with the BNP came at eighteen, as a young dreadlocked and politically naive student at Leicester University, when I went down to Leicester market to demonstrate against a stall that was selling denial of the Holocaust books and distributing white supremecist literature. Leicester Market promoted itself as the largest permanent open-air market in Europe, it was a congenial and fun place to shop, a place where people of different races and religions set up shop alongside each other to trade. And as far as I was concerned this stall was most definitely not welcome. Our demonstration took the form of a human barrier between the public and the BNP stall. It was a disruptive but peaceful demonstration. Until, that is, a van load of booted and suited - and frankly very scary - thugs turned up in a van and the police were forced to intervene, disperse the combatants, and eventually close the stall down.

Syndicate content