England?s grievances would be addressed by a new Act of Union
By Michael Fabricant
Devolution has changed the relationship between England and Scotland, so a new Act is needed to reinforce the bond
The spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the heart of my Staffordshire constituency look out across the very middle of middle England ? both demographically and geographically. This part of the United Kingdom has remained silent as our Union continues to change. Today, as the Member of Parliament lucky enough to represent the heart of England, I want to speak for England and press the case for a new Act of Union.
As a piece of legislation, the Act of Union ? or to be more precise – the Union with Scotland Act 1706 and the Union with England Act passed in 1707 ? has been amongst the most successful of all time. The fusion of two separate nations has developed to become one of the world?s most important single markets, a beacon of free trade, monetary union, joint democracy and entrepreneurial endeavour. This is just England and Scotland. Our United Kingdom is made up of four distinct nations. A united country is about more than economic purpose ? no matter how well it works. It is about political purpose too.
What is remarkable about the Act of Union is how much of the original purpose is still as relevant to our times as it was in 1707. An Act passed 69 years before the creation of the United State of America and 82 years before the storming of the Bastille in France. 15 of the 25 articles in the Act of Union are about economic union which still stand. Today, it is almost inconceivable to imagine there not being a currency union in the United Kingdom, or that there could be trade barriers placed upon goods passing between constituent nations. The United Kingdom truly is the most successful economic union that has stood the test of three centuries of fundamental external change.
What has changed is that devolution has changed the model of our Union for good and next year?s referendum in Scotland will press the case further. Devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has allowed a divergence in policy that at first began with service delivery, but soon could potentially begin to impact on the remaining 15 economic articles of the Act of Union. The Silk Commission in Wales and the clamour in some Scottish quarters towards devo-max mean that soon there could be divergence in taxation too.
What I want a new Act of Union to be about is a unification of what is good about our existing Union; the single market, the strong currency union, the fairness of wealth distribution from richer areas to poorer and of course protecting the strong social and cultural union which goes beyond politics. But it is now time to count the largest part of the Union which is England. My constituents in Lichfield have their health and education services voted upon by MPs who themselves can?t vote on health and education in their own constituencies because of devolution. To be clear, there isn?t an appetite held widely for an English Parliament, but there is for English votes for English MPs.
So why a new Act?
The nature of the changing union has been towards power edging away to the nations bit by bit. Next year?s referendum in Scotland might perhaps go even further. Now is the time to fix the parameters so that everybody in our Union feels their voice is counted equally and decisions are made by people they elect ? either in a devolved institution or elsewhere. But what is clear is that the world is changing too. When the failed Darien project in Panama by Scottish colonists failed and pushed Scotland into union with England in the 1700s nobody then would have imagined we?d be in a customs union in the 2000s with France and Germany. What is becoming clear is that if our relationship with a European Union of 40 years standing is beginning to change, we must first secure the strongest union: The United Kingdom.
A new Act of Union is more than legislation. It is the change for a full, comprehensive and frank revaluation of union which has been more successful than any other. It is about securing what is good for all, and recognising that things have changed over the last 306 years.
Alex Salmond shouldn?t be able to decide the future of our Union on his own next September. We all should.
You can also read the article on the Daily Telegraph website here: