Saturday, 26 April 2008

No Surprise that Another Town Wants to Leave England

After commenting yesterday about the difficulties of having pride in England and last month on the town of Berwick-on-Tweed which announced that it wanted to become part of Scotland (which it lies very close to) rather than England it was interesting to note that a referendum in Audlem in Cheshire in North-West England the people voted to move the town into Wales. Cheshire does border Wales, but Audlem lies East of the A41, 10 miles (16Km) from the Welsh border and there is the city of Chester and towns like Oswestry which is pretty large, Malpas, Coddington and Tattenhall which lie nearer to Wales. An alternative suggestion was that the town become part of Shropshire and that that whole county move into Wales, though obviously that would need a far greater level of support. Most of the commentary seems to feel that Audlem's decision is just another example of English village eccentricity. However, as with Berwick, you may start asking why do these places want to leave England.

Just under 3 million people live in the whole of Wales, and 66% of these in South Wales, whereas Cheshire borders with northern Wales. Wales covers 20,700 Km2 compared to 77,925 Km2 for Scotland and 130,200 Km2 for England. Thus you could imagine that the people of Audlem would like to be a small fish in a much smaller pool. Whereas England does not have its own parliament, Wales has an Assembly which has powers in particular in the areas of social services and education, and as with Scotland its laws on such things are increasingly diverging from those of England. A third of the population of England lives in the South-East (about 18 million people if you include London) in an area almost the same size as Wales so you can see why people in the rest of England may feel overlooked. The key issue for Audlam is that services in Wales are better and cheaper. There are not prescription charges whereas in England they have just risen; you do not have to pay to park at a hospital in Wales whereas you have to pay a great deal to park at English hospitals. So as with Berwick it seems to be the costs that particularly affect the elderly that impinge greatest on which state people want to live in. There are other benefits of being in Wales university students do not have to pay the fees (set at £3000 at present but set to rise sharply) that they have to pay in England (Scotland has also scrapped them); the same goes for the SAT exams for 7-year old children which have also been abolished in Wales.

Wales has a rich culture. The number of people speaking Welsh has risen. In 1981 only 18.1% of the population (around 400,000 people) spoke Welsh, now with it being a compulsory part of the National Curriculum and with more programmes in Welsh it has risen to 21% (about 611,000 people). Wales has a rich musical and literary culture that many English would be happy to become a part of. The country was independent until 1282 when it was conquered by English King Edward I and in 1532 it was absorbed into England. Consequently the development of its laws has not differed as sharply from English law as those in Scotland have always done, so it is far easier for a teacher or a solicitor being transported from living in England to living in Wales to continue in their job without the need for retraining which would be the case if they moved into Scotland.

The point that seems to be being missed by the bulk of England, and by those of us who cannot leave this state for another (the nearest one to me would be France, we could return to the control of Normandy!) is why people want to get out of England. The stated reasons are all around social welfare policies. In England we have no way to protest about these through regional on English elections and we seem saddled with policies which are unpopular and hit the people who need help (the elderly and pupils/students) more than anyone else. I think this is partly due to the fact that the bulk of the super-rich of the UK actually live in England and are unfussed if Wales or Scotland adopt a more balanced educational or welfare policy but are loath to tolerate it in England. We already have campaigns for an independent Cornwall, which was absorbed by England in the 10th century and are you suprised. Wales and Cornwall would never be rich countries but they would have, no doubt more popular policies than England. When doing the posting on proportional representation I came across the Wessex Regionalist Party formed in 1974 which still stands in elections and pressed for an independent Wessex. Wessex is assumed to include the south-western English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset though historically in the 9th century it was expanded North and East. The WRP also include the Isle of Wight which at times has been part of Hampshire and recently included Gloucestershire to the North West and Oxfordshire to the North East into Wessex so fitting the 9th century picture.

Ironically attempts to get regional parliaments in England, an idea favoured by New Labour when it came to power in 1997 have constantly failed. Interestingly if the government continues to pursue policies that upset people in the average town or village especially those who do not border with Wales of Scotland may start reviving these old earldoms and kingdoms of England to give them a chance to adopt more amenable policies. As I suggested, there are enough patron saints of regions to adhere around culturally, for starters.

What would be a better approach, though, I believe is for the UK government to actually listen to the ordinary people in England rather than the super-rich and adopt policies which satisfy normal people. It is unfair that we should suffer bad policies which the Welsh and Scots have managed to escape from and it is likely that we as a consequence, despairing of any movement from the government towns across England are going to look for border changes to help them out.

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