The Acting Witan arose out of a group called the Mercia Movement, who researched and published as The Mercia Manifesto their vision of an autonomous and sustainable bioregion in the English Midlands. In 2001 this led to the calling of a widely publicised Mercian Constitutional Convention to debate a draft constitution for the region. The Convention worked patiently and good-humouredly for many months to agree a constitution. Its efforts culminated in a declaration of independence read out in front of the Birmingham Council House on Mercian Independence Day, 29th May 2003. Those who wished to remain active in campaigning for de facto self-government constituted themselves as the Acting Witan and have continued to lead political regionalism in Mercia.
At one level this may all sound like play-acting, the Government-of-Mercia-in-Internal-Exile. In fact, relentless legitimacy is remarkably powerful in its ability to put the London regime on the spot. The Acting Witan has signed up over 2,000 people as registered citizens of Mercia. How many citizens does the UK have? None, is the answer, only subjects of a Norman Crown. How good does that look in comparison? The Witan’s Convener, Jeff Kent, has succeeded in having himself removed from the electoral register on the grounds that he’s a Mercian, not British citizen. Bureaucracy has no way of knowing how to respond to the unexpected and so eventually gives in. We were told of correspondence with the London regime in which civil servants are being backed into a corner until they ultimately accept the role being written for them, as the UK’s appointed negotiators over the formal transference of power to Mercia.
Meanwhile, Mercian consciousness is growing, thanks to helpful events like the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. We were shown letters from successive Leaders of Stoke-on-Trent City Council looking forward to working with the Acting Witan in promoting Mercian culture. Plans include a Mercia Day, which Stoke acknowledges will need to be co-ordinated with other local authorities across the region.
One reason perhaps why regionalism is rushing up the agenda, driven this time from outside the London parties, is the size of the gap between what those parties laughingly call ‘devolution’ and what the term actually implies. While Scotland has a First Minister accountable to Scotland’s parliament, the regions of England are to be reorganised into arbitrary areas headed by elected mayors that no-one asked for. And accountable? Oh yes, once every four years, and in the meantime free to strut about like Mussolini to conceal their lack of real power. Patience with London’s lies is wearing thin.
Natural and human systems often have a weak point that is an aspect of their greatest strength. The London regime’s greatest strength is its antiquity, and its weak point is the ultimately unlawful nature of that, namely, the Crown stolen at Hastings. The Acting Witan plans, when its resources allow, to set up a regional court to try establishment figures for numerous crimes against the land and people of Mercia. Seats in the public gallery can be expected to go very early that day!
Our relations with the Acting Witan have always been exceptionally good. Both our movements recognise that the other is trying out an experiment to see if it works. Ours is to see if an English regionalist party can follow the electoral path to success that the Celtic nationalist parties have mapped out. The Mercian road to regionalism seeks instead to re-invent politics itself from the bottom up. It’s not a race, but we both hope to learn whatever we can from the experiences of the other.
WR started earlier, in a blaze of publicity in 1974, and have managed largely to avoid splits and splinters. Mercia has not fared so well, with a galaxy of often tiny groups claiming to speak for the region, sometimes reacting to the discovery of the others by refusing to work with them. It could be a parody of Monty Python’s Life of Brian: the Mercian People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Mercia. From what we observed yesterday, that seems to be on the point of changing. The ground has been cleared. Now the time to plant has come.