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Imperial Federation: After 130 Years (Part 1)

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In this new series, our Secretary Edward Harris shares his history of the Imperial Federation League, which celebrated its 130th anniversary in November. Further parts of this essay will be shared over the coming weeks.

Between 1870 and the Great War, the world economy thrived in ways which seem familiar today. The mobility of commodities and labour reached unprecedented levels, the sea-lanes and telegraphs were rapidly becoming busier, as Europe exported people and capital and imported raw materials and manufactures. The economic climate was characterised by the relatively free movement of goods, people and capital. Technological innovations were believed to be annihilating distance and revolutionising the energy sectors, as telephones, radios, internal combustion engines, paved roads and oil-burning ships and power stations began to complement the coal- and steam-driven infrastructure of the Victorian economy. The development of the massive American domestic market and the opening of China encouraged business innovations and allowed substantial profits.

The many similarities between this earlier period of globalisation and today make one of the key differences seem especially striking: in the former period, international relations were not governed by nation states and bureaucratic treaty organisations, but by a series of empires. In practice, the imperial economies formed linked economic networks within the Liberal International Economic Order of the late Victorian world and its Edwardian twilight: unlike in the twentieth century, therefore, they encouraged rather than hindered the integration of the regions and continents of the world, and to an extent which was not only quantitatively but also qualitatively different from the ‘proto-globalisations’ or ‘regionalisations’ of the past. Led by the British Empire, which opened all its territories to free trade with the rest of the world, the principles which the Manchester School liberals had popularised in the 1840s were locking the world into an open economic system as never before.

Those free traders of two generations before, however, would have been astonished to learn that the apparent apotheosis of their movement would correspond, towards the end of the century, with the emergence of imperial instead of global considerations as key concerns for both British and colonial policymakers; but the increasing political maturity of the settler colonies, combined with a whole series of international political and economic developments, to transform many people’s thinking about the relationship between Britain and the Dominions, and the old model of metropolis-and-colonies would give way to a new kind of inter-imperial relations.

As for the old country, it was somewhat unexpectedly adjusting to the possession of an Empire unexampled in extant and complexity, bringing imperial questions into sharper focus at Westminster. Simultaneously, changing attitudes in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even South Africa matched this new imperial tone emerging in Britain: national pride in being ‘Britons overseas’ was at its height as the Empire moved towards its zenith, bringing imperial solidarity to its greatest height since the first colonisations. Moreover, having become sophisticated political societies at least as advanced as the United Kingdom itself (and in New Zealand’s case considerably more), they naturally expected that a larger rôle within the Empire and the wider world was their proper due, and that their status as dependencies should now give way to a near equivalence with the Mother Country. Read more

130 Years On

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This past Tuesday, 18th November, was the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial Federation League. The league, which you can read more about here, marked the first time anyone proposed that the self-governing territories of the British Empire should be governed as one. 130 years on, the United Commonwealth Society keeps the dream alive.

Membership Update – 5 November 2014

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Recently, supporters of the United Commonwealth Society have had only two options to become members: joining our discussion groups on Facebook and Google+.

As of this month, supporters can join the UCS by email. Send an email to our chair at chair@unitedcommonwealthsociety.org with your full name, email address, and location. You will receive a welcome email in response with further details about your membership.

We are thrilled to be able to expand our range of membership options to you, our supporters. Help us grow as a Society and as a voice in the realms by sharing the graphic below with your friends!

 

Membership V4

End of the Ensign?

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Now that the dust has settled on the Scottish referendum, it is time to turn our attention to the next big referendum to be held in the Commonwealth: that of the future of the New Zealand flag. Shortly after his re-election as Prime Minister, John Key indicated that a referendum on the flag could be held as soon as 2015.

Flag of New ZealandMr. Key has labeled the the current New Zealand blue ensign a relic of the nation’s colonial past, and wants a design that is uniquely New Zealand, “Whether it’s stitched on a Kiwi traveller’s backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations or standing in a Wellington southerly on top of the Beehive every working day.” Others disagreed, pointing out the flag’s symbolism: the blue field, which symbolises the ocean that surrounds the island realm, and the Union flag, which symbolises its lasting connection to the Commonwealth.

New Zealand has no shortage of alternatives. Several flag designs have been proposed, most often featuring the “silver fern”, New Zealand’s botanical symbol, or the red Southern Cross from the current blue ensign. Nor is such a move without precedent; of the 15 Commonwealth realms excluding the United Kingdom, only Australia, New Zealand, and Tuvalu currently have an ensign as their flag. (The ensign is much more common among territories and subnational units; six Australian states, fourteen British Overseas Territories, two Canadian provinces, and both New Zealand territories fly ensigns as their official flags.)

Where, then, does this leave the United Commonwealth Society? It is perhaps not surprising that many of our members from New Zealand have expressed a desire to retain the current flag, as do several members from other realms. Does this mean that the Society’s official position – if, indeed, we should have one – should be the same?

Have your say by clicking HERE or on the image below to vote in our poll. Help shape the policy of this Society by having your say!

NZ flag poll on EasyPolls.net

 

David J Haisell

Chair

10 October 2014

Quo Vadis, UK?

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As UK politicians debate carving out their own fiefdoms in the name of English democracy, and we in the UCS contemplate how this might potentially help or hinder a future realm union, here’s my two penn’orth:

Union Flag over Buckingham PalaceThere was a move a decade ago to introduce elected regional assemblies in England. A referendum was held in the North East but roundly defeated. The plans were not federal and contained only very limited tax raising powers. Now, the Left has revived this proposal, perhaps in a more federal form, as the supposed answer to the West Lothian question.

However, I have to say that although I was an early supporter of regional governments, I do have 3 major objections to the plans, even in federal form:

1. They would create built-in Labour and Conservative majorities in most of the country.
2. They would be likely to be dominated by urban conurbations with very different priorities from their rural hinterlands.
3. By denying England its own over-arching demos, they would be designed to kill English national identity, while Celtic nations enhance theirs.

Although I can see the arguments for it, I am not sure I would like to live under a powerful Yorkshire parliament. I think current proposals for devolution to leading cities or rural areas that ask for it is probably the way to go there. And this should take place under an over-arching federation of the four nations. I suspect that pragmatically, this would be more popular and be better for the English economy and identity.

Westminster can set UK wide taxes for the federal government. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can then set their own taxes to pay (at least partially) for their national responsibilities. Cities and other special interest regions (like Cornwall, or Rheged), can then have devolved regional governments, if they want them, with limited additional powers, answerable to their local national government.

Although I have always raised the obvious objection to England as being too large to fit comfortably into a federation, I’m no-longer sure this couldn’t be made to work. Within the UK, federal issues would remain a matter for Westminster, which could continue to be constituted as presently, or perhaps with a few more MPs for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The national governments would continue to have no say on federal matters, just as regional governments below them would have no formal representation at the national level.

Future realm federation would be gradual and probably along a confederal model anyway. A future Realm Parliament could consist of a British-style House of Commons, and a second revising chamber that gave more influence to smaller states, perhaps consisting of part appointed and part PR members.

I see no reason the upper chamber representation for England couldn’t simply be adjusted to both reflect the country’s large population and prevent it from dominating the upper chamber. The most important chamber would be the Commons anyway, where English MRPs would have up to 40% of the votes. It would then be perfectly fair to give England substantially less say in the revising chamber.

Nick Thompson

Chair Emeritus

28 September 2014

Scottish Independence: A Naive Dream

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As the Society’s Caribbean Representative I cannot help but weigh in on the debate going on in the United Kingdom following the impending referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent nation, which would of course put an end to the entity we now know as the United Kingdom and change the political face of Britain and Europe for years to come (assuming of course that the yes vote is passed), however after taking a look at some of the issues put forward by the Scottish nationalists, I’m convinced that the campaign is more of a scare tactic than anything else filled mostly with anti-English sentiment and does not represent all the facts. I’m by no means blaming the Scottish National Party (SNP) for all the misconceptions out there, but one thing is clear is that the Scots will be by no means better off should the vote go in SNP’s favour.

ballot_box_scotlandMany Anglophobes, not only in Scotland but all over the world, will no doubt be keen to support the ambitions of the SNP to be an independent country for no other reason than the fact that they still view English control of Scotland as a symbol of national subordination. However, those who do take this view do not truly understand the nature of the relationship between the two Kingdoms. In truth England does not dominate Scotland any more than Scotland rules England. The union between the two entities is not a forced one but one of mutual co-operation. Contrary to popular myths told to stir up anti-British sentiments, England has never annexed Scotland. Instead, the union between them is one that was approved by the parliaments of both countries to end hostilities and make the Realm a much stronger union than they would have had had they remained separate. The 1707 Act of Union is every bit Scotland’s doing as it is England’s, in fact, Scotland was keen to have the union of the two Kingdoms just to ensure that the English Parliament didn’t change the rules concerning the royal line of succession, which was in dispute at the time.

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The Last Queen of Scotland

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Tomorrow, the people of Scotland will face perhaps the most important day in their centuries-long history. They will assemble at polling stations to answer a simple, yet simultaneously complex question.

‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

The United Commonwealth Society has, so far, been silent on the matter of the Scottish referendum. Our official policy, as written on our Proposals page, reads as follows:

The UCS recognises the democratic right of Commonwealth citizens to self-determination, and would welcome an independent Scotland or Quebec into the Commonwealth should their citizens wish to separate. However, it is our preference that both Scotland and Quebec retain their current status within their respective nations.

It is true that, to an extent, that our proposed Commonwealth realm union would not be significantly hindered should Scotland choose to become an independent realm, as those backing independence propose. Should they be interested in joining the union, there will be no barrier to their doing so that would not be faced by any other member. In this sense, therefore, there is no conflict between a ‘Yes’ vote and realm union.

The Union Flag projected on Edinburgh Castle during the REMT

The Union Flag projected on Edinburgh Castle during the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Photograph: Patrick Grieco

 

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A Marriage Intervention

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I think Scotland’s government is having an affair.

In fact I know that Scotland’s government is having an affair. The subject of the government’s desires, the allure of power, and the illusion of a better life as a single, separated country from the United Kingdom family.

Just like the average married couple who split, but live in the same town, Scotland will keep bumping into the divorced United Kingdom. How awkward!

It will be awkward and will not go as smoothly as planned. What if the UK sees Scotland signing an agreement with a foreign country completely at odds with the UK’s way of thinking? The collection of islands that make up the British Isles could become very, very small. Ask Ireland.

But Scotland’s flirtations with the single life is not entirely her fault. You see, the UK is also to blame. It has neglected Scotland’s emotional needs. Sections of industry have been decimated because of national and global events. Unhelpful policies have been forced onto her and made life extremely hard. Maybe the UK has been too controlling, wanting to know Scotland’s every move, or worse, has the UK given her so much freedom under devolution that Scotland thinks the UK has given up or given the impression that you can live a single life while married.

King James (I / VI) likened the union of crowns to a marriage. A royal, cultural and political marriage.

Flag of the United Kingdom (C) UCS 2014

Flag of the United Kingdom (C) UCS 2014

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Our Union Jack

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"Our Union Jack" by Jon-Paul Teasdale

UK Regional Office Update

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After a successful first meeting of the UK Regional (UKR) Officers, held on 26th June 2014, there are some changes to announce to the organisation of the UKR Office.

First I would like to welcome Andrew Wright as our new Northern Ireland Officer. He took up his appointed post from 22nd June 2014.

Due to other commitments Kevin Ruiz is no longer able to fill the Gibraltar Officer position. The Council wishes him well in his endeavours. As our Gibraltar Officer position is now vacant we will advertise the position again shortly with our other vacancies.

 

To summarise the UKR Office consists of the following:

Jon-Paul Teasdale – UK Region Councillor / UK Regional Representative

James Nilsson-Forrest – England Officer

Robert Clayton – Isle of Man Officer

Andrew Wright – Northern Ireland Officer

 

More information of the Officer’s activity will become available as they develop through our usual membership channels.

If you are not already a member click here to visit our membership page and find out how to join.

 

Jon-Paul Teasdale

UKR Representative