The overriding issues are those of fairness and democracy. Following the 1997 referendum, Scotland gained a Parliament with devolved powers which included the right to enact primary legislation. At the same time the less pressing demands of the people of Wales were recognised by the creation of a Welsh Assembly with powers to decide priorities in the allocation of finances but without the power to enact primary legislation. Arrangements for Northern Ireland continued to be led by events peculiar to the Province. As part of the Peace Process, Northern Ireland was given an Assembly with devolved powers, including the right to enact primary legislation.The interests of the people of England have been ignored in making these important decisions to devolve power from Westminster. They have not been given the same opportunity as those in other parts of the UK to have an elected body of their own. They are left governed by a United Kingdom government and parliament that is elected by the whole UK electorate and must consider the interests of everyone in the UK. This means that the crucially important power to initiate policy and legislation in areas that affect only England lies with a UK government that does not have a specific mandate from the people of England.
The parliamentary aspect of the problems resulting from devolving powers to a Scottish Parliament was well expressed by the member of parliament for West Lothian (Tam Dalyell) who, before those powers were devolved, asked why MPs from Scottish constituencies in the House of Commons should be able to discuss and vote on English and Welsh legislation, while English and Welsh MPs could not vote on similar legislation affecting Scotland. This has been described as “The West Lothian Question”.
Furthermore, Ministers who control and administer legislation that affects only England may not represent English constituencies. The cabinet inevitably includes such Ministers and they have a corporate responsibility for the government of England. English legislation, unlike that devolved to Scotland, is also subject to consideration and amendment by the House of Lords, whose members include many who do not have the credentials to represent English interests. This situation has been described as “The English Question” and, in some uses, includes the West Lothian Question.
In addition to the unfairness outlined above, the people of England are subject to legislation enacted by a UK Parliament in which they are under-represented. Scotland and Wales have more MPs per head of population than does England. For example, Scotland has 8·6% of the UK population but 10·8% of MPs. England has 83·7% of UK population but 80·7% of MPs.
The Barnett formula is also the cause of a growing sense of unfairness to the people of England as they see the ability of the Scots not only to decide their priorities but also to benefit from the more ample financial resources made available to them.
It is not just the financial and parliamentary aspects that affects the people of England. There are also cultural and educational factors to consider. None of the arrangements relating to devolution acknowledge English identity and culture, nor provide a means for promoting them. These and other forms of discrimination are difficult to challenge and remedy because there is no elected body that represents and pursues the interests of all the people of England. These anomalies draw frequent and continuing public attention to any event in which there is apparent Scottish involvement in English matters. They fuel an increasing resentment among the people of England who feel that they are being treated unfairly with their democratic interests ignored. Devolution elsewhere is causing more and more of them to see their primary identity as English, and to rediscover England’s long history as an independent country enjoying democratic traditions and political freedoms. Following the lead of others, the people of England are beginning to demand that their voice should now be heard.