What this article is about
This article sets out the variety of national identities across the peoples of the UK, and the untenable nature of the present-day constitutional position which does not reflect this variety. The article goes on to explain that the result of this mismatch is that, within the current UK, English lawmakers and English political agendas inevitably dominate. This amounts to a constitutional suppression of the right of each UK nations to self-determination. The result is enduring resentment which continues to threaten the existence of the UK.
Our separate national identities
Scotland and Wales have a unique culture and a clear sense of national identity which is distinct from a wider UK cultural identity. Along with Northern Ireland, they also have a unique civic identity which they express through the powers and institutions which the Westminster parliament has devolved.
England has a clear cultural identity though arguably no clear civic identity which is distinct from the wider UK identity, either on the street or in the corridors of power. Recent legislation for an English Grand Committee within Westminster has altered the situation somewhat though I won’t go into this here.
Even if the people of any one UK nation considered themselves to be nationals of the UK first, it doesn’t follow that other nations do or should feel the same way. In fact, the present-day reality is that a majority of Scots consider themselves Scottish first and British second (or British not at all). Northern Irish Catholics overwhelmingly consider themselves Irish first and British not at all. The picture is more mixed in Wales, while in England, there is more of a general sense that being British and being English is one and the same. Northern Irish Protestants predominantly consider themselves British but obviously not English.
Nevertheless, the current reality on the ground is that each of our 4 nations has a sufficiently clear sense of national identity to be considered a nation, or a people, distinct from the other UK nations. From this basic principle flows the concept of the right to self-determination of each UK nation – Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.
Each nation should have the right of self-determination, and decide freely to join or leave the UK
It is clear that there is no uniformity across the UK nations on what the British identity means. This naturally reflects the fact that each UK nation has a distinct civic culture and identity. It logically follows that each UK nation must have complete and unfettered political freedom to decide whether or not they wish to be united with any of the other 3 nations, and on what terms. Although each UK nation should have the right to self-determination, the present-day constitutional reality is at odds with this.
The constitutional suppression of the rights of UK nations by English MPs
This current constitutional reality is that the UK is a unitary state. The Westminster parliament is sovereign and the House of Commons is composed of members elected on a population basis. 85% of MPs are from England and this is because 85% of the population of the UK lives in England. Westminster has legislated to devolve certain powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These devolved powers and their terms are ultimately in the gift of the House of Commons. Therefore, MPs from England in practice have the power to delegate their own powers to UK nations and to retract them.
Though informal consultation make take place at the level of UK nations, the UK nations themselves have no constitutional status which requires them to be consulted, or which requires their consent to any issue of distribution of powers between Westminster and national governments. The Westminster parliament remains sovereign.
Furthermore, the UK nations have no constitutional right to secede from the UK, or even to hold an election within their own nation on the issue of UK membership.
UK nations do not freely hand over power to the UK. In practice, English MPs, through their huge parliamentary representation, have the final say on the national destinies of all UK nations. This is an intolerable situation for any people which defines itself as a nation within the UK. This is the ultimate source of every political tension between England and the other nations of the UK.
An intolerable constitution
The peoples of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have to request the delegation of powers to them from Westminster with its huge, inbuilt English majority. The views of MPs and Lords from England may coincide at times with those of non-English politicians but why would any nation willingly leave its national destiny to be determined in this unpredictable way? We English would not tolerate it, were the boot on the other foot.
If we English could put ourselves in the shoes of the peoples of other UK nations, we would see the injustice of the situation and understand and respect any desire for independence from any citizen of any other UK nation.
In short, the UK constitution violates the fundamental right of each UK nation to self-determination. There is no question in my mind that the status quo is tolerable. The question is whether an acceptable federal solution can be reached or if the UK will disintegrate.