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IPPR - Future of England in a devolved union can’t be decided by expert commission

79% of English voters want Scottish MPs barred from votes on English only lawsAhead of the launch of the UK Government’s West Lothian Question Commission this week, new polling from the think tank IPPR and Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities, shows overwhelming public support within England for addressing this constitutional anomaly.
 
In a major new report on English Identity and the politics of the English Question, to be published by IPPR later this month, a survey asks more than 1,500 voters in England whether they agree or disagree that:
 
“Now that Scotland has its own parliament, Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect only England.”
 
More than half (53 per cent) of voters in England said they ‘strongly agree’, while a further 26 per cent said they ‘agree’. Just 12 per cent ‘disagree’. The report shows that the proportion who ‘strongly disagree’ has more than doubled since 2007.
 
The creation of a commission to investigate the West Lothian question recognizes the strength of public feeling in England on this issue however the report argues that relying on a commission of experts alone will prove insufficient for considering the future of English governance in a devolved union. The prospect of either Scottish independence or ‘devolution-max’ – either of which would have profound effects on the governance of England and the other nations of the United Kingdom, suggest the time has come for a much wider public debate about the future of the Union and the position of England within it.
 
Richard Wyn Jones, Professor of Politics at Cardiff University and co-author of the report said:
 
“While the Coalition is to be applauded for at least broaching this hugely important issue, neither the likely composition nor terms of reference of the new Commission suggest that this represents a serious attempt to finally answer the West Lothian Question.
 
"But if the intention is to kick the issue into the long grass, this is to reckon without an English electorate that appears increasingly restive and increasingly convinced that the anomalies created by the current devolution arrangements need to be addressed. As this evidence suggests, the English are now overwhelmingly persuaded that a system in which MPs from the devolved territories can vote on legislation that applies only to England is unfair.
 
"We underestimate the current mood of the English electorate at our peril. In the 1980s the perceived unfairness of a system which allowed left-leaning Scotland and Wales to be governed by a party without a mandate in those countries led to the generation of an unstoppable head of steam leading directly to the devolution reforms of the late 1990s. It is not hard to imagine how a different set of territorial anomalies could create a similar response in England. Indeed, it might already be happening.”
 
Guy Lodge, IPPR Associate Director, and co-author of the report, said:
 
“The English electorate strongly believes that the anomaly of the West Lothian question should be addressed. Reform in this area is notoriously difficult and so we welcome the establishment of the Commission to explore possible ways forward. However, as our forthcoming report will show, a narrow focus on the West Lothian question will not be sufficient to satisfy English public opinion. A strengthening of English identity, combined with growing interest in how England is governed, pose an important challenge for the centre-left in particular, which has so far failed to engage with these important developments in England. The time has come for a much wider public debate about what form a new constitutional settlement for England should take. Progressive politics needs to lead and not follow this debate.”
 
Notes to Editors

1. IPPR will publish a major report later this month which looks at shifting patterns of identity within England, and what the English think about devolution and the union, and the way they  are governed. The report is part of a major research collaboration between the Wales Governance Centre (Cardiff University), the Institute of Governance (Edinburgh University) and IPPR. The Future of England survey is the only major survey on these issues conducted in England since both the formation of a coalition government at Westminster and the election of a majority SNP administration in Holyrood.
 
2. English public attitudes to the West Lothian Question, 2000-2011 (%):
Question:Now that Scotland has its own parliament, Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect only England, 2000-2011 (%):
 

2000

2001

2003

2007

2011

Strongly agree

18

19

22

25

53

Agree

45

38

38

36

26

Neither agree nor disagree

19

18

18

17

**

Disagree

8

12

10

9

8

Strongly disagree

1

2

1

1

4

N

1695

2341

1530

739

1507

 
Sources: 2000—2007, British Social Attitudes (English respondents only); 2011, FoE. Excludes ‘Don’t Know’ responses
 
3. Importantly the growing proportion of the population in England who prioritise their English over their British identity are even more supportive of reform in this area. 91 per cent of those that describe themselves as ‘English not British’ and 85 per cent of those who say they are ‘More English than British’ agree that Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on English matters.
 
English public attitudes to the West Lothian Question by national identity, 2011(%):
 
Question: Now that Scotland has its own parliament, Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect only England, 2000-2011 (%):
 
‘English ‘More English ‘Equally English ’More British British
not British’   than British’   and British’
 

English not

British

More English

than British

Equally English

and British

More British

than English

British not English

Agree strongly

71

65

47

41

44

Tend to agree

20

20

33

34

27

Tend to disagree

4

7

7

14

13

Disagree strongly

0

1

1

3

6

 
Source: FoE 2011
 
4. Polling figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 1,507adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 27 July and 2 August 2011. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The survey was conducted using an online interview of administered members of the YouGov Plc GB panel of 185,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. An email was sent to panellists selected at random from the base sample according to the sample definition, inviting them to take part in the survey and providing a link to the survey. (The sample definition could be "GB adult population" or a subset such as "GB adult females"). YouGov Plc normally achieves a response rate of between 35 per cent and 50 per cent to surveys however this does vary dependent upon the subject matter, complexity and length of the questionnaire. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data.
 
5. The West Lothian Question refers to the post-devolution anomaly which enables non-English MPs to vote on English matters when English MPs cannot vote on matters relating to devolved matters. The Coalition Agreement commits the UK government to establishing a commission to explore the issue.
 
Contacts
 
Richard Darlington: 07525 481 602 / r.darlington@ippr.org

Tim Finch: 07595 920 899 / t.finch@ippr.org

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