Tuesday, 14 January 2014

AGI, Cymru, Northern Ireland, Scotland and... England?

There has been a lot of debate (some heated) going on within the AGI recently with regards to national identity and how the various nations of the UK fit in to the AGI as a whole. Obviously this is a topic open to much personal bias so I’ll lay my cards on the table before discussing the debate. I'm English but apart from my long suffering support of the England football and cricket teams and a love of real ale I am not really interested in national identity. I don’t mind being described as English, British or if you like European, in fact I probably identify with my city (London) more than any of those other labels.

With my bias of apathy exposed there are two main issues, one of which has grown out of the other. The first is the relationship between AGI Cymru, NI and Scotland and the AGI as a whole (AGI UK if you will). Secondly coming out of this debate there is the question as to whether there is a need for and AGI England and this is the issue I am particularly keen to here comment on (as you may have guessed I’I'm not fussed).

Currently there is a feeling that there is an imbalance between the AGI as a whole and the national (and indeed regional) groups and that there is not enough engagement between the bodies. This is a fair point and definitely something that the AGI as a whole recognises and wants to address. There is also a perception that the AGI Council somehow corresponds to London and a narrow London view. Perhaps some of this perception is a result of how devolution has worked in the wider political landscape but it is one that I would challenge from my experience at the AGI. Although the AGI offices are based in London the significant majority of council members do not live in London and are in fact scattered as widely as Belfast, Edinburgh and Bristol (among others). Secondly (and crucially) all the national and most of the regional groups (except AGI North at the moment) have a representative on council. We are far from perfect but I would argue we are doing much better than Westminster.

It has been suggested by some that a good solution to this would be to create an AGI England group thereby ensuring that all the constituent nations of the UK have equal representation. The current lack of ‘AGI England’ is due to the wider nature of devolution. Devolved Government means different policies and different policy access points and this (along with new stronger identities) was the driver for setting up the national groups. Currently England in my opinion has no such driver for a national group; we are ruled from Westminster with no local representation and the main AGI is geared at the Westminster level. I can see the identity arguments for creating AGI England but I fear that without a devolved English state we would be expending some of our scant resources on a group that served no practical function.

Of course this is just my opinion and many will disagree. Really this is an attempt to assess whether our members feel there is a need for an AGI England group. I would also be keen to hear from members of the existing national groups as to what their perspective on this would be. Any thoughts on greater co-operation between the nations and the AGI as a whole also most welcome!

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