Power up the North: English federalists on the march – Paris Gourtsoyannis

Where are the English federalists? It’s a reasonable question in response to proposals for constitutional reform on the periphery of UK politics – whether that’s from minor parties like the Liberal Democrats, annexes to UK parties like Scottish Labour, or from the devolved nations.

The Power up the North campaign is a sign of growing support for English devolution (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
The Power up the North campaign is a sign of growing support for English devolution (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

I’ve yet to come across a political scientist, constitutional scholar or pollster who says there’s any appetite for constitutional reform or devolution of any scale in England. No less a figure than Vernon Bogdanor dismissed the prospects of regional devolution or an English parliament in his latest book, preferring more of the same piecemeal municipal efforts that have created ‘metro mayors’ in Manchester and Liverpool.

This despite the truth apparent to anyone who looks at the UK’s constitution: the English are born free, but everywhere they are in chains. The 2016 Brexit referendum and everything that’s followed proves there is a growing English political identity, but no specific representation to express it.

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Of course, England and English concerns dominate the UK parliament and the machinery of Westminster government, which presents its own problems. David Cameron’s clumsy, ill-timed attempt to answer the West Lothian question, English Votes for English Laws, is unloved by everyone and has only put the Union at greater risk.

The status quo can only endure with continued English indifference about how disenfranchised it is. But the level of interest in and support for the Power up the North campaign by 33 newspapers across the north of England, spanning different publishers, is a sign that indifference is cracking.

Commuters on creaking northern trains know they aren’t being served well by decision-makers in London, and they know there’s no one closer to home who can do anything about it. There’s an inevitable logic to the solution.

The north isn’t wealthy, and with the Tories in power, it isn’t particularly powerful either. But the same was true of Scotland when the pressure for devolution became irresistible.

Power up the North has at least provided some kind of answer – where are the English federalists? Up there, maybe.