This is the first part of my latest column for the International New York Times, published under the headline ‘United Kingdom, Divided People’, on the fallout from the Scottish referendum. You can read the complete version in the INYT.
Last week, Scotland voted to reject independence and to remain part of the United Kingdom. Yet — oh, the irony! — the greatest impact of the vote may be the fomenting of an English nationalism and the greater fragmentation of the Union.
In the run-up to the vote, as opinion polls suggested that the Yes vote might just prevail, panic-stricken politicians in London promised to devolve, or transfer, more powers to the Scottish Parliament. A result has been a backlash from English politicians, resentful of Scottish ‘privileges’ and wanting greater powers for England. If Scotland can decide its own health and education policy, they ask, why should not England do so for the English (who comprise about 84 percent of Britain’s population)? And if English members of Parliament have no say in deciding Scottish laws made by the Scottish Parliament, why should Scottish MPs have a say in deciding English laws?
So, in the wake of the Scottish No vote, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to link greater devolution for Scotland with greater devolution for England. Many are calling for the creation of a separate English Parliament. The constitutional ramifications are huge, the potential for instability and chaos manifest.
On one issue both sides in the referendum debate agreed: The prime motive in the drive for Scottish independence was a resentment of Westminster and of ‘London rule’. There is, however, nothing specifically Scottish about such sentiment. Next month, there will be a parliamentary by-election in Clacton, a town not far from London, triggered by the local MP, Douglas Carswell, formerly a Conservative, defecting to the United Kingdom Independence Party. The success of this populist anti-immigration, anti-European Union party in recent years has created panic within the mainstream. Mr. Carswell may well be re-elected in UKIP colors. There is in Clacton as deep a disaffection for Westminster as there is in Glasgow, as overwhelming a sense of ‘they’re not listening to us’ as in Dundee. But whereas in Scotland such resentment expressed itself in support for independence, in Clacton, and in many other English towns, it expresses itself in support for UKIP.
Continue reading the article in the International New York Times.
The crisis of political representation likely felt throughout much of the world today, certainly in Canada, where a conservative government spent the last nine years trying to reshape Canada in its image. Ignoring most Canadians desire for a balanced approach to climate change, deficit fighting, socioeconomic policies and foreign policy, they certainly do not represent more than 2/3 of Canadians vantage point nor understand our values. I suspect our collective desire to see them out of office means we will reengage in our federal politics with a higher voter turnout next year, in comparison to previous federal elections. In a way, our mutual dislike of the conservative government and lack of political representation, has woken us out of a deep sleep.