“England remains little more than a centrally governed colony”

Tony Travers, LSE England First welcome this recent, though indeed very belated, recognition by Dr. Tony Travers of the London School of Economics of England’s constitutional and political situation compared to the devolved status of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Dr. Travers, director of the LSE Research Centre, is the foremost English expert on local government matters, esteemed very highly and consulted constantly by Whitehall, the media and his fellow academics. His recent article ‘We must support Scotland’ (Local Government Chronicle Aug.29th ’09) which deals with the Megrahi affair, has highlighted its constitutional implications for the UK and what it means for England.

‘For the people of England,’ he writes, ‘the revelation that a Scottish politician can make such a life-and-death decision with massive international ramifications serves to point out how privileged the Scots now are within the UK’s so-called constitution. The 50 million English and their elected local institutions have nothing like the devolved power of the five million Scots, three million Welsh or one million Ulsterman. Scotland may now be a nation free to decide its own justice policy, but England remains little more than a centrally governed colony’.

It is to be welcomed that Dr Travers has now had this insight into the implications for England of the 1998 Devolution legislation. It is precisely what England First has been saying for the past 5 years. Regretably however, Dr Travers like many traditional British-minded academics still thinks of English devolution in terms of regionalism, even though the people of England’s overwhelmingly rejected the measure in the 2004 referendum. It is still their mind-set. As George Orwell noted over half a century ago there is an immense pool of English intellectuals who are strangely uncomfortable in their English skin.

The next four significant mental break-throughs for academics like Dr. Travers is first the recognition that Devolution 1998 was given to nations qua nations, as is explicit in the text of the legislation. The second is to make themselves intellectually and culturally comfortable with being English, which is what they are, just as the Scots and the Welsh are comfortable with their national identity. Over 60 years ago George Orwell wrote about the strange phenomenon of an immense pool of English intellectuals who feel uncomfortable in their English skin. The third is to recognise that England cannot be balkanised without immense damage and divisiveness. As Will Hutton wrote in 2001 ‘regional assemblies will a veritable witches’ brew of internecine rivalries’. The fourth is an open mind to the introduction of a new Union in which the three historic nations of this island will stand in the same relationship to the UK government and to each other’.

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