Federalism – Wherefore The Union?

I have long been of the view that a federal UK would be the eventual outworking of devolution.  Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has been calling for a constitutional convention for the last few years. Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser outlined his thoughts on Slugger earlier this year.

UKIP Deputy leader Paul Nuttal also belies that a federal UK is the future

Below,  Christopher Luke outlines his own thoughts, with which I largely concur.

The Smith Commission
7th Floor
144 Morrison Street
Edinburgh EH3 8EX

Dear Lord Smith

To someone like myself who – despite being half-English and half Ulster-Scots, and also having a Welsh sister-in-law – was denied a vote in the recent referendum on Scottish Independence on account of my being resident in England, I welcome this opportunity to comment upon the future governance of Scotland.

I am sure you will appreciate that, given my family’s roots in all four parts of the United Kingdom, I am unashamedly a UNIONIST with a capital U, N, I, O, N. I, S, T. I believe very strongly that the sum of the Union is greater than its component parts; that the Union is – or should be – a partnership of equals in which no one part has, or should have, dominance over the other three; that without any of its parts the residue of the kingdom would very soon cease to remain “united”; and that one’s primary allegiance, other than to Almighty God, should be to the maintenance of the Union of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than to any political party (or parties).

Like a four-piece jigsaw puzzle or a multi-threaded tapestry, each piece of the jigsaw – each localised but, nevertheless, currently interwoven thread – is unique and special. Without the contribution of any one piece or thread the picture itself becomes incomplete, its beauty marred, and its value depreciated by others at home and abroad. It is therefore fundamental to the well-being of the United Kingdom (as a whole) that a way forward is established which will buttress the Union of the United Kingdom for many years to come, lest we degenerate into being merely a federation of semi-independent nation-states bound and gagged together, possibly via our shared membership of the leviathan European Union.

The Union of the United Kingdom has served the diverse peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland well for 213 years, whilst the legislative union between Scotland and England established by the 1707 Treaty of Union – and underpinned by the earlier Union of the Crowns of 1603 – has proved to be largely successful in promoting peace and harmony, growing prosperity and lasting stability, between the peoples of England and Scotland for that much longer. Together, we have become – to coin a phrase – “a force for good” on the world stage, and have achieved much more together than would have been the case had we remained – or, God forbid it, were we to ever again become – apart from, rather than parts of, one another. We are not merely strangers, or even neighbours, in the same street, but members of the same family and occupants of the same house.

It is to be regretted that successive UK Governments (of all political hues) have not always appreciated the motives of the electorate in voting for particular political parties in the various states/regions of the United Kingdom, and have often used – or should one say abused – those states/regions who have rejected Members of Parliament belonging to political parties other than their own, as being not unlike the political equivalent of rats in a vivisectionist’s laboratory when experimenting with controversial policies (particularly relating to the reform of local government finance and the restructuring of local government) to the detriment of good relationships between the government and the governed as a whole. The latter has been compounded by Scotland having its own legal system and complications/misunderstandings surrounding the level and range of powers hitherto devolved to the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government between 1921 and 1972 – which many see as a prototype for legislative devolution elsewhere in the UK – rather than the comparatively short period of direct-rule in the Province between 1972 and the restoration of some semblance of devolved government in Ulster in 1998 ahead of the creation of the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament or any serious consideration of how best to enact and execute legislation for solely English matters.

At the outset I declare that, historically, I opposed the devolution of fiscal and primary legislative powers to those directly-elected bodies often referred to as “the devolved institutions” – believing such bodies would indeed institutionalise the anomaly which has come to be known as “the West Lothian Question”. In my heart of hearts too, I would much prefer all pro-union parties in Scotland would revert to a pre-1995 scenario when Scotland enjoyed a modest degree of administrative devolution channelled via a two-tier structure of local government (i.e., regional and district councils) rather than a smaller number of unitary local authorities with the Scottish Parliament acting as both a state-wide upper-tier of devolved administration (in a local authority sense) and a legislature (in a law-making capacity) for functions and services transferred to it from the United Kingdom Parliament and Scotland Office. However, recognising that this is not an option being actively considered by any of the main pro-union parties in Scotland I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that, in order to overcome the anomaly of the West Lothian Question, rather than devolve more powers over a wider range of government functions and public services in Scotland, all efforts must now be placed on federalising the governance of the United Kingdom as a whole, if we are to avoid creating two classes of Parliamentarian in the UK Parliament and institutionalising the very division which the United Kingdom Parliament was created to dissolve.

Both the Prime Minister and a large element of both the Coalition Government and HM Loyal Opposition appear, at best confused, and at worst ignorant, over the differences between devolution and federalism. The two are not synonymous. In a federal United Kingdom, the state legislatures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, would not be subordinate to the United Kingdom Parliament (from whom they would devolve their authority, and by whom they could, if needs be, be abolished), but autonomous from each other and, most importantly, fully independent from the federal parliament and government of the United Kingdom at Westminster, to allow all Members of the United Kingdom Parliament to continue to vote on what would then be solely UK-wide matters. This could be further strengthened by transforming the House of Lords into an elected senate (comprising either of nominated representatives from an English Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament or directly-elected senators from each of the states of the UK chosen to represent that particular state rather than any political party) and, furthermore, possibly abolishing the Scotland Office and transferring its remaining powers to the Scottish Parliament. It is significant that, to the best of my knowledge, during the recent debate on devolution in the House of Commons on 14th October 2014, not a single MP cited Edmund Burke’s apposite remarks in his speech to the electorate of Bristol on 3rd November 1774, when he said “(The United Kingdom) Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain as an agent and advocate against other agents and advocates, but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest that of the whole, where not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a Member indeed, but when you have chosen him he is not a Member of Bristol but he is a Member of Parliament.” In other words, all Members of the United Kingdom Parliament should be entitled to debate and vote on all legislation enacted in the United Kingdom Parliament. The Prime Minister’s proposal for “English laws to be made by English Members alone” not only transforms the Conservative Party into an English Nationalist Party – with as much contempt for the Union as a whole as the separatists in the Scottish National Party – but it seeks to destroy the legislative union which the United Kingdom Parliament was created to maintain.

Furthermore, by failing to explain that the “Barnett Formula” – designed in the late 1970s by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Joel Barnett, as a “short-term solution” to minor Cabinet disputes over the cost of executing and applying legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the countdown to expected devolution in 1979 – was never designed either to be permanent or a territorial subsidy by the taxpayers of allegedly “prosperous” England to fund the machinations of profligate elected local representatives in the purportedly “disadvantaged” regions/states of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s Government is failing to remind others that it is a temporary means of addressing the higher cost of providing/purchasing services in rural parts of the United Kingdom with a smaller population spread over a larger geographical area, until such times as the elected representatives of those regions/states assume responsibility for their provision from Whitehall, which can only increase (rather than diminish) existing acrimony between the Scottish electorate and voters in the remainder of the United Kingdom to the detriment of the Union as a whole.

Time alone will tell whether a decentralised, or federal, United Kingdom will prove to be as lasting and secure a legacy for future generations as the post-1707 pre-1995 legacy was for those of us who were fortunate enough to have enjoyed the dying days of the latter. It is undeniable, however, that the status-quo is unsustainable. Whilst the recent referendum on Scottish Independence may have sedated the clamour for an independent Scotland for the time being, it has not fully slain the prospect of Scottish Independence in the future. The latter would surely lead to wanton instability and the long-term destruction of all of us.

May Almighty God be moved to afford the unionist parties wisdom in how best to buttress the Union of the United Kingdom and improve the governance of Scotland in the months and years ahead.

With kind regards, I am
Yours sincerely

CHRISTOPHER LUKE

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  • Robin Keogh

    Thats the most boring piece I think I have ever read on Slugger

  • carl marks

    agreed, a UKIP party political broadcast, loved the appeal to god at the end and don’t we all know he a right wing unionist so divine assistance is a sure bet!

  • terence patrick hewett

    I’m sure Shane Greer’s promised articles will light the blue touch paper!

  • apollox

    Devolution didn’t stop the slow disintegration of the union and neither will federalism. With the European Union offering a fair and equal path to prosperity, and no prospect of war coming to any of the four nations of these islands, the union is an irrelevant, historical relic at best, and something far worse if you weigh in the blood and suffering it’s been responsible for in its jingoistic quest for ‘greatness’.

  • Scots Anorak

    “Furthermore, by failing to explain that the “Barnett Formula” – designed in the late 1970s by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Joel Barnett, as a “short-term solution” to minor Cabinet disputes over the cost of executing and applying legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the countdown to expected devolution in 1979 – was never designed either to be permanent or a territorial subsidy by the taxpayers of allegedly “prosperous” England to fund the machinations of profligate elected local representatives in the purportedly “disadvantaged” regions/states of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s Government is failing to remind others that it is a temporary means of addressing the higher cost of providing/purchasing services in rural parts of the United Kingdom with a smaller population spread over a larger geographical area, until such times as the elected representatives of those regions/states assume responsibility for their provision from Whitehall, which can only increase (rather than diminish) existing acrimony between the Scottish electorate and voters in the remainder of the United Kingdom to the detriment of the Union as a whole.”

    Well, that was a long para-sentence-space-bat-angel-dragon. One thing that it doesn’t say (at least I *think* it doesn’t say) is that in nearly all financial years Scotland is not actually subsidised by England. Unionist commentators like to point out that Scotland receives more back per head through the Barnett formula than is raised there per head through tax. However, that’s without apportioning a geographical share of oil and whisky duty (not to mention the money that could hypothetically be saved in the event of independence by, say, scrapping Trident and drilling for oil off the west coast). The Better Together threesome also like to talk about a financial “black hole” in the event of independence, studiously neglecting to mention that the UK as a whole currently has a proportionally *larger* black hole. In fact, one can only assume that Scotland’s generally better financial health is why the Unionist parties are so keen to devolve income tax but not those other more lucrative taxes, while the SNP and Greens want to end cross-border transfers entirely.

    For that reason, I’m inclined not to view the Barnett formula as having anything to do with social need or geography but rather with the political imperative of keeping Scotland (relatively) sweet while still not actually giving it all its money back.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-news-we-knew/

  • Virginia

    Federalism is brilliant. Would recommend a read of The Federalist Papers, by Hamilton, Jefferson, & Jay.

  • eireanne