"Post-post-nationalism" and the English Question

Andrew Blick
3 June 2008

Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): A new political term was coined Monday night - 'post-post-nationalism'. Its inventor, David Goodhart. Editor of Prospect, was giving a paper at another lively 'Combining All our Strengths' Rowntree seminar in Westminster on the 'English question'. When asked if he was really simply talking about nationalism, he insisted that he wasn’t – and if it was he would have saved himself the trouble and called it just that.

Goodhart’s basic thesis was that a 'post-post-nationalism' is necessary in the UK to replace the current 'fuzzy' concept of nationalism and create 'markers for a post-ethnic national citizenship that is also open to the world.' This project is particularly important to the liberal left, with the increased demands it wants to make on citizens, 'whether paying higher taxes or being more active citizens.' At this stage in history, the nation is a vital unit for collective action and 'without it we are sunk'. Given his benign attitude towards nationalism, the default establishment of a separate English state and Parliament that could follow Scottish independence is, in David Goodhart's view, nothing to fear, even for the Labour Party, which would simply have to work harder at winning English middle class support.

It is interesting that the idea of an English Parliament or a separate English state (or a UK minus Scotland) is often discussed in terms of a reaction to what Scotland may or may not do, rather than starting with England itself. This focus betrays the lack - as yet - of a groundswell of opinion in England in favour of a national representative institution. So what of the idea that Scotland may force a Parliament upon England through opting for separation? Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit cited opinion poll data suggesting that support for independence in Scotland remains constant at around only a third, splitting across all the main parties. He also described the various constitutional and procedural obstacles that could scupper a bid for separation. Yet, as Anthony Barnett of OK noted, if the political will existed, such difficulties could surely be surmounted.

But would the creation of an English Parliament, part of a UK federation or otherwise, be a worthwhile devolution of power? Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, though sympathetic to an English Parliament in principle, does not think so. As he puts it, it would involve 'devolving from 60 million people to 50 million'. He believes there is no reason to suppose that a newly-established English Parliament would set about handing down the powers it had just acquired. A more pressing issue to those concerned with the unequal geographical distribution of power in the UK is the ability - or lack thereof - of local authorities to pursue policies independent of centralised interference. This problem would not be solved by establishing an English Parliament that would probably be as jealous of its powers as the Westrminster regime is now.

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