(September 25, 2014) Under devolution, socialism shrinks while England becomes a bastion of free enterprise.
This article, by Lawrence Solomon, first appeared in the National Post
Since World War II, England shed most of its empire — India and other Asian possessions, its African colonies, Palestine and other Middle East lands. And now with devolution underway, England’s grip on Scotland is loosened, and Wales and Northern Island are in play.
These developments may be bad for England’s image but they’re good for its pocketbook. As England unburdens itself of imperial obligations, it will better thrive, in some ways becoming more like Canada along the way.
Military conquests didn’t enduringly enrich England — its possessions became a burden. England’s riches stemmed from its Industrial Revolution, which over a century transformed the aristocratic, agricultural country into an industrialized urban powerhouse with an educated and professional middle class. England became so affluent that until World War II it could afford the lavish expense of maintaining its colonies abroad along with the lavish expense of social programs at home. When the burdens of maintaining both became too great, England dumped its empire in favour of its welfare state, although much of it, too, soon had to give way.
With devolution, Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — England’s fellow nations within the United Kingdom — some powers similar to those enjoyed by Canada’s provinces. Under the status quo, for example, Scotland has little leeway to tax the Scots to provide the revenue needed for, say, Scottish schools — instead, the central government in England collects virtually all the tax revenues needed by the nations, divvies it up based on a per capita formula, and sends funds in a block grant to each nation. Under Cameron’s proposed devolution — one of many “devo max” scenarios, as they are called — each nation would do much of its own taxing as well as it own spending in areas of national jurisdiction, such as health, education and welfare.
Citizens would more often be paying their own way — the very essence of small government conservatism.
Giving the U.K.’s nations tax and spend powers similar to Canada’s provinces would make the United Kingdom more of a federation, and so more like us, but with a twist. Because the United Kingdom parliamentarians whose ridings are outside Scotland now have no say in those areas considered domestic Scottish business, such as Scottish schools, Cameron is also proposing that members of parliament from Scotland not have a say in domestic English areas. For example, Scottish MPs could not vote to raise tuition fees in English schools, as they have in the past, to the chagrin of English MPs. As Cameron succinctly puts it, “English votes for English laws.”
The immediate effect in England of denying Scottish MPs a say in domestic English affairs would be to tilt decision-making rightward — most of Scotland’s 59 MPs are from the Labour Party, compared to just one Conservative. If the Labour Party narrowly won the next U.K. election but maintained its wide gap among Scottish MPs — a plausible outcome — the Conservatives would still hold sway in domestic English issues.
Such a stick-to-your-own-knitting policy in Canada would mean, for example, that federal MPs outside Alberta wouldn’t have a vote on federal legislation that targeted Alberta’s oil sands — natural resources are a provincial responsibility — or that federal MPs outside Ontario wouldn’t be voting on subways for Toronto. The result — in the U.K. as in Canada — would be a federal parliament less focused on domestic affairs, more focused on foreign policy and defense. And less socialistic, since with domestic programs funded locally and without federal programs benefiting one region at the expense of another, citizens would more often be paying their own way — the very essence of small government conservatism, the very antithesis of empire-building.
The Scottish referendum results promise little change for Scotland, but sea change for Great Britain, with England flying the flag of free enterprise.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com