England in the United Kingdom
England as odd man out
Nevertheless, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries there is a general recognition that the UK consists of four separate 'nations' in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not, of course, a nation in any
sense. The 'Catholic' community has close cultural associations with the Irish Republic and the 'Protestant' community with Scottish Protestantism. However, the term 'nation' is often used in this context for simplicity.
In the short period between 1997 and the present time, much of UK government has been transformed (Bradbury and Le Gales, 2008). First the conflicts in Northern Ireland over a possible union with the Irish Republic led to the settlement of 1997 when Northern Ireland's self government was established with links to both the British and Irish governments. Then in 1999, both a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly were elected for the first time, each with differing powers for their areas. However, there were no proposals for devolved power at the English level. England became 'a gaping hole in the devolution settlement' (Hazell, 2006a, p.
1) and left what is called the English Question (Henig, 2006; Hazell, 2006d). The English question is quite complex (Hazell, 2006d), but to put it briefly, England continues to be ruled solely by the Westminster Parliament, which is responsible for all the UK, with no clear central democratic body to represent England as opposed to the other 'nations'. So, laws which only relate to England are passed by a Parliament with the participation of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs).
The Labour Government of 1997–2010 did have proposals for limited devolution within England to directly elected regional assemblies, but these fell through when a proposal in the northeast region for an elected Assembly with substantial powers was rejected by a local referendum, leaving England as the odd one out (see below). In fact, democratic regional government within England was not a new idea. The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England (1969) chaired by Lord Redcliffe-Maud had proposed provincial councils for the eight provinces of England, to be elected by the main local authorities in the provinces, with at least 20 per cent of their members co-opted from industry and the professions. These were to produce strategic plans for development in the spheres of economic growth, industrial developments, housing, transport, further education and cultural facilities. These plans would then be approved by a Minister, after which they would become binding on their constituent local authorities. This proposal for a regional tier of English government was not, however, included in the reforms of 1972, although they were adopted in the pre-devolution reforms in Scotland in 1975. Instead, a degree of administrative decentralization was adopted for England with the establishment of regional areas for central government services administration. In 1973, the minority report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution chaired by Lord Kilbrandon also proposed assemblies for the English regions with substantial powers, but this proposal was also not realised. Following the Kilbrandon Commission, the UK government did commission a consultation document (Office of the President of the Council, 1976) into the ramifications on England of devolution to Scotland and Wales, but it rejected both an English Assembly, on the grounds that it would create a form of federation, and English regional assemblies (McLean and McMillan, 2005).