Editor’s Note – Is there a way of reuniting the ‘United’ Kingdom? In this opinion article, Rowan puts forward his suggestion as to how we solve the feeling of isolation that has clouded politics for too long and why we should all embrace federalism…
The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK
Federalism – the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and constituent units.
In 1707 the first Act of Union was passed in parliament and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. In 1800, the union was expanded to include the Kingdom of Ireland and, after years of struggle to secure home rule, the southern part of Ireland fell away to form the Irish Free State in 1922; leaving the UK in its current form comprised of England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. In 1998, the Union underwent a major democratic advancement. For what was almost 300 years of Union, the nations of the UK had been without a democratic voice in their own countries. This changed with the devolution of a parliament to Scotland and assemblies to Wales and Northern Ireland. From this point forward these elected legislatures have relied on devolution, promises from central government which give more powers to these bodies.
However, this is an intrinsically flawed system of government. Westminster has no obligation to provide the devolved parliament and assemblies with the powers that are promised and this can lead to anger, discontent and, as seen recently in Scotland, cries of independence from the union. By embracing federalism, the inefficiency and confusion of devolutionary government could be resolved. The definition of Federalism is ‘the distribution of power within an organisation’ and it is a system not just adopted by the USA. Federalism differs from devolution in that the powers and capabilities of the sub-divisions of government are enshrined in constitutional law and are in no way controlled by or reliant upon the central government.
My vision for federalism is, as far as I am aware, utterly unique; forget your ideas of the USA and its 50 states because here they would be inapplicable. This is because the United Kingdom is unique. Nowhere else have four different cultures been squashed together in such a way that they are all still considered separate nations within a nation and this must be represented. Therefore, a federal United Kingdom would require four fully autonomous parliaments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, the one nation which has received no devolution, save for London and some metropolitan mayors in major cities. These Parliaments would have full control over taxation and other fiscal policy, allowing for the nations to healthily compete for business and create a varied economy within a country that can suit the needs of every British citizen.
One issue of our centralist system of government is the existence of regional neglect. This quite simply equates to central government’s incapability to address the issues and problems within a specific region or regions. A federal system would establish official legislative regions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and expand London’s regional assembly system across the other nine regions of England and the new administrative regions within the other three nations. Such a system would allow for local people to elect representatives to deal solely with regional affairs that would be too insignificant for a sole central government to address and too complicated for the largely ineffective local councils to address. These representatives would also work together in their local areas or wards with other representatives from nearby areas and local people; so as to fulfil the role left by the removal of the centrist and ineffective local council system.
A final matter to address is the central government itself. If there are autonomous parliaments and regional assemblies, what is the point of a central government? Quite simply to represent the country on the international stage and preserve the United Kingdom as a single country. The central government would be elected by a party list system of proportional representation. This would mean that the party itself would be elected and effective experts and experienced decision makers could be appointed democratically in order to check the laws passed in the lower parliaments; essentially making the unelected House of Lords redundant in its purpose and able to be disbanded. This parliament would be responsible for international relations, including diplomacy and international negotiation, the military and relations between the 4 nations, with a federal secretary appointed to represent the central parliament in each parliament.
To summarise a federal system of government, if established in the UK would allow for the union to survive into the future and would allow for the regional issues and the national issues facing the United Kingdom to be resolved very quickly and very efficiently.