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Does Gordon wish he were English?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 28 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

The domination of our headlines by the World Cup - something I am happy about as a football fan - has been accompanied by the revival of some old animosities between England and Scotland.

The domination of our headlines by the World Cup - something I am happy about as a football fan - has been accompanied by the revival of some old animosities between England and Scotland.

North of the border there have been a couple of horrific attacks on England supporters, and some blame for the background atmosphere is being pinned on Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, who has not concealed that he'll be backing whatever team is playing England.

It all smacks of petty resentment against an immediate neighbour with a bigger house and car.

It has not gone unnoticed across the garden fence. It was surely no coincidence that a YouGov poll published a few days ago in the Daily Telegraph pointed to increased disgruntlement in England with aspects of Scotland's current constitutional and political position in Britain.

It showed that 70pc of English voters want the scrapping of the funding arrangement - the 'Barnett formula' named after former Labour Treasury minister Lord (Joel) Barnett - by which about £1500 more is spent on public services per head per year in Scotland than in England. Predictably, 74pc of Scottish voters wanted it to continue.

The poll also underlined the long-standing 'West Lothian question' by stating that 55pc of voters believe that MPs representing Scottish seats at Westminster should not be allowed to vote on matters affecting only England and Wales.

And another finding was that 25pc think an MP with a Scottish constituency should be barred from becoming prime minister. An earlier poll for the BBC produced a much higher figure, one of 52pc, for people taking that view, and it was 59pc in the south-east of England.

This is not merely of academic interest. It is bound to play rather heavily on the mind of the man who is hoping within the next 12 months or so to become prime minister, Gordon Brown. Indeed, it would appear that it has already been troubling him, judging by his determination to have himself seen as an England supporter in the World Cup finals. There is a feeling he's trying a bit too hard, and that was reflected in the YouGov poll. It showed that 34pc of the people surveyed thought he genuinely wanted England to win, but 45pc believed he was "pretending, as a political ploy".

A deeper worry for the chancellor is that his Scottishness may play seriously to his and his party's electoral disadvantage when he becomes prime minister. It might be pointed out at this juncture that Tony Blair was born in Scotland and had part of his education there, and has a cabinet packed with Scots. But he does not come over to the English as being Scottish. Mr Brown does. And it's a gloomy, Calvinist sort of Scottish bearing that is likely to do him no favours in much of southern England when put against the light and modern manner David Cameron is cultivating.

There is more to this, however, than charm or its absence. The devolution settlement for Scotland and Wales was a poor one for England and left unanswered the West Lothian question famously asked by Tam Dalyell. It allows MPs with Scottish seats to take votes in the Commons which affect policy in England but have no bearing on Scotland (and does not permit MPs with English constituencies to vote on the same policy areas as they affect Scotland).

It is an obvious anomaly and unfairness. And soreness about it was increased at the last general election when the Tories won slightly more votes than Labour in England. Since then the government would have been in considerably more difficulty over its trust schools bill, which does not affect Scotland, without the backing of Scottish Labour MPs.

The Labour-dominated Scottish affairs committee of the Commons caused some surprise recently by openly acknowledging increasing "English discontent" over the West Lothian question. It suggested four possible solutions: Scottish independence, an English parliament, fewer Scottish MPs and restricting voting on laws affecting only England to MPs with English seats.

All of these options present great problems to a unionist Labour Party intent on stretching its rule at Westminster. But the issue and sense of grievance in England is not going to disappear. The present set-up is not sustainable, and dissatisfaction will rise if the Tories win more seats in England at the next election but Labour is still able to scrape a majority in the Commons.

It is just possible that Mr Brown occasionally wishes he were English. If he were, his days in No 10 could be significantly easier and his chances of winning a general election as prime minister much better.


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