Wales politics

IPPR report: More English think devolution and Welsh assembly harmful

A growing number of English voters think devolution has worsened UK government, according to research.

The report on changing attitudes in England found a sharp rise in those who think the Welsh assembly has had a negative impact.

It said the shift in opinion may be due to people in England feeling they get a "raw deal" from devolution to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The report is by the think tank IPPR and Cardiff and Edinburgh universities.

It found in a survey:

  • 31% of people thought the Welsh assembly had a negative impact on how Britain was governed, compared to 11% in 2007.
  • Those who thought devolution to Wales had made no difference fell to 24% from a high of 66% in 2003.
  • About a quarter (26%) thought Wales got more than its fair share of UK public spending, with slightly more (28%) saying it got "pretty much" its fair share.
  • Only 7% thought England got its fair share, while 40% thought it got less than it deserved.

Attitudes in England towards the constitutional status of Wales were divided.

But there was strong support for English votes on English laws in parliament.

A proposal to adjust procedures at Westminster so that only English MPs vote on matters affecting England was supported by 79% of people.

The UK government has launched a commission into the so-called West Lothian question - a situation that has arisen under devolution whereby MPs from the devolved nations can vote on matters such as health and education in England, but English MPs cannot do the same for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The research found voters in England becoming more assertively English, placing greater emphasis on English rather than British identity.

'Political expression'

It warns political parties to address "the English question" or risk a major backlash, regardless of what happens in Scotland where the SNP government has promised a referendum on independence.

Richard Wyn Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff University and a co-author of the report, said: "The more English a person feels the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with the way that the UK is being governed post-devolution, and the more likely they are to support the explicit recognition of an English dimension to their country's politics."

Prof Jones said politicians of all political parties were "incredibly nervous" about this.

"Reforming the organs of the UK state to take into account these sentiments in England is actually really quite difficult," he said. "Much more difficult than devolution for Scotland and Wales.

"If we ever move to a situation, and it could easily happen, whereby the UK government doesn't have a majority of English MPs - that happened in 1964, 1974 - if that day ever dawns, you're going to have a full-blown constitutional crisis."

IPPR director Nick Pearce said: "Our mainstream political parties need to embrace Englishness, take it seriously, and find new ways of giving it political expression.

"It is not something to be feared or abandoned to those on the margins of right-wing politics."

Eddie Bone, chair of the Campaign for an English Parliament, described the report as "significant".

He said it showed "the English no longer trust the UK government to highlight English concerns and that it's too focused on Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland."

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales Mr Bone said: "It also shows very clearly that when given the choice the people of England want their own parliament, they want their own democratic voice and their own government.

"It shows that the people of England have finally woken up to the fact, really, that their tax money is subsidising the rest of the United Kingdom."

However Karen Lumley, Redditch MP and a Welsh Affairs select committee member, said this was "not a view that I recognise".

"As an elected representative I have not had one single person in Redditch ask me about this," said Ms Lumley.

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