As Scots debate independence, some in England say 'good riddance'

Tomorrow's Scottish referendum has prompted some in England to argue that Britain is better off without Scotland, and its departure would give the English more control over their own affairs.

Russell Cheyne/Reuters
A derelict cottage sits next to a highway near Blackford, Scotland, in January 2012.

On the eve of Scotland's independence referendum, there is no shortage of English speaking out in favor of the Scots remaining within the United Kingdom.

The leaders of all three of Britain's main parties – all Englishmen – are united in opposition to the "yes" vote. Bankers, actors, and authors have encouraged the north to stay. Even the queen has warned Scottish voters to "think very carefully about the future."

But not all the English are quite so enthusiastic. Some argue that what is best for the English, representing 84 percent of the population of what is still, today, the United Kingdom, has been overlooked – and that what's best is for the Scots to leave.

Robin Tilbrook, chairman of the English Democrats party which is supporting a "yes" vote, says the lack of consultation in England is fueling resentment.

“I think in the past few weeks when we’ve had a chance to see the last two TV debates, people in England hear the two sides debating what’s in the best interests of Scotland. No one is saying what’s in the best interests of England," he says. "I speak to a lot of English people in studios, in the street, and that’s registered with them and creating resentment.”

The United Kingdom is made up of four separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Since referendums in 1997, Scotland and Wales have enjoyed degrees of devolved power from central government in areas like health, housing, and education. Northern Ireland also enjoys similar decision-making powers.

But England, which makes up the vast majority of the UK in population and economic terms, has no national parliament of its own. It only has Westminster – where Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish members of Parliament are able to vote on all bills, regardless of whether only English citizens are affected.

Mr. Tilbrook says that may start to change. “There’s a lack of willingness to debate the future of the UK and England from national politicians and, surprisingly, national newspapers. They don’t want to talk about an English parliament, self-rule, or anything that upsets the status quo, but it’s coming," he says. "Scotland leaving the union will speed that up, which is why we support a 'yes' vote.”

Indeed, some MPs are now breaking ranks and calling for constitutional changes whatever the decision in Scotland on Thursday.

John Redwood, a former Conservative government minister and Welsh secretary, said on Monday that the current devolution deal was "lopsided." Arguing that only English MPs should vote on English matters in Parliament he told the BBC: “Scotland gets first class devolution, Wales gets second class devolution, and England gets nothing.”

Frank Field, a former Labour minister, has also called for greater English representation. He said he would vote for Scottish independence if he was allowed a vote. Under the referendum rules, only people aged over 16 who are residents of Scotland can vote in Thursday’s ballot.

Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, says the English response was dependent on the proximity to Scotland. He says some people in the north and northeast were concerned about the economic impact on their lives, but people living further south were dismissive.

He questions whether there is a popular move towards English self-rule. “Yes, there are people who are being disparaging about the Scots," Dr. Clark says. "But I’m not sure if there is any deep groundswell for an English parliament."

“What the referendum has done is prompt a lot of discordant voices to talk about the issue," he adds. "But there doesn’t seem to be any coherent single route to answer the English critics of the current system."

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