To mark the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, which brought Scotland into the bosom of the United Kingdom, a new poll has been released suggesting that many now believe England should have its own parliament.
The survey, commissioned by the BBC, throws up various intriguing little soundbites – such as 61% of English, 51% of Scots and 48% of Welsh believe there should be self-rule for England (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6264823.stm).
Other findings, however, include significant support in all three countries for the Union to continue.
So what are we to make of such a poll and such findings?
While not doubting the manner in which the poll was conducted or even the timing, I can’t help think that the questions were rather weighted in favour of reaching the type of conclusions we have seen.
There appears to be more than a hint of a “Well, if it is good enough for the Scots and Welsh…” attitude to the support shown by many in England for self-rule.
More significantly, perhaps, the poll disregards one of the primary reasons why the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were established in the first place.
Devolution came about because of the English bias many believed existed at Westminster – whether perceived or otherwise – and an agreement that on many issues a “one size fits all” approach simply didn’t work.
In other words, historically, culturally, geographically, economically and for all manner of other reasons, the Scottish and Welsh approaches to particular issues weren’t compatible to the English approach. The relative successes enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in areas such as education and health services, for example, are testament to that.
There have been more than a few teething problems in Scotland and Wales. But these were surely to be expected with such a significant change of approach and there is evidence that both bodies are now finding their feet.
Clearly there are problems which still need to be addressed, such as whether devolution in Wales goes far enough for the Assembly to be truly effective. Biggest of them all, however, is the so-called West Lothian Question – should Scottish MPs have a right to vote on English matters when English MPs have no influence on Scottish matters?
This is clearly a messy situation which should not have arisen in the first place.
One wonders whether we would have such findings in similar polls if the West Lothian Question was never an issue?
But it also begs the question of whether the English need their own parliament?
Surely it already exists in Westminster.