I agree with Sebastian Payne that Covid-19 has highlighted “the messy reality” of British devolution (“The pandemic may yet rend Albion asunder”, May 16).
While it may be English MPs (especially Conservatives) who currently fear the issue of federalisation most, the risk of the UK breaking up may ultimately lie in English hands.
Decades of English Tory rule at Westminster have fanned the fires of Scottish and Welsh nationalism. There is a reason why the Conservatives have never neared a majority in the devolved parliaments. Still viewed by many as the “Nasty Party”, the Tories struggle to make a good impression when it comes to local issues.
It is a divergence in ideology on Europe which has reignited the Scottish call for independence; the English Tories are again seen as taking the devolved nations down a path they do not like. But English responsibility for a break-up of the UK might not stem from Westminster’s handling of Covid-19 or of Brexit. Instead, it might be an English parliament (a seemingly “unavoidable” development in further devolution) which is the final nail in the union’s coffin.
Once English voters start distinguishing English issues from Westminster issues, the free rein
which the other UK nations enjoy will become more apparent. At that point, when political participation is geared more towards local issues than UK issues, a sense of Britishness may fade as St George’s flags are raised ever higher.
With free university education and other state-funded perks, Scotland will become a foreign country; they’ll do things differently there. In a federalised UK, such notable differences should be accepted, but why should the English pay for them?
The greatest calls for secession in Italy do not come from regions that have felt neglected and ignored for decades; they come from the wealthy north. Padania nationalists, who see the poorer south of Italy as an economic constraint, serve as a warning of what English nationalism could look like within a federalised UK.
English Tories might be tiptoeing around the issue of devolution now, but it is the devolved nations which should be most wary of a fractured UK. Little England is still bigger than independent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Welwyn Garden City, Hertforshire, UK