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:
There 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.
28 September 2014