Blair gave independence referendums to two countries of the UK and began to do the same with the regions – crucially without suggesting the actual overall system. Scotland and Wales got their devolution whereas England, in the end, did not. It is very typical of the piecemeal approach of, what the French call ‘Anglo Saxon’ countries. ‘Grand plans’ are for others. Muddle and practicality is the substitute. There was certainly no proper constitutional plan and Brexit demonstrates all too clearly that that there still isn’t.
In the light of the rather subdued SNP proposals on independence, and with Scottish independence already rejected once, there is clearly hesitance by many on absolute independence.
I think federal proposals would be much more likely to be easily accepted – indeed I’d like them for regions of England.
For England, because of its large population compared with either Scotland or Wales, there would need to be regional assemblies. These would probably have to substitute for larger councils which would need to be abolished and merged, so that England is not overgoverned (which I would argue is already the case in Scotland and Wales, which to me is suggested by some quite long recesses of the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments). It is true that English regions are often ill defined and variable but we could start by making regions always coterminate with existing counties and perhaps we could enlist royal help – after all Prince Harry seems fairly well federalised: Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dunbarton and Baron Kilkeel – that’s a whole pub crawl of possibilities.
Decision making powers and responsibilities would have to be carefully specified. We do not want to alter the basic English and Welsh legal system, I would argue – not least as it often comprises a ‘service export’. Scotland, of course, already has its own independant legal system – albeit sharing a United Kingdom Supreme Court..
The most appealing part of regional and state federalism is that it brings more decision making closer to the voter, whilst at the same time distributing the overheads of a functioning state among as many people as possible. (Brexit is teaching us that overheads are better shared). So embassies would still be found in every country of the world (something which is noticeably lacking for the 5 million odd citizens of Ireland, for example), general trading standards can be common, control of air space and defence would all be standard. And probably because Britain – and especially England – is a crowded island there is less possibility of much difference between countries or regions especially when compared with the vast expanses of, say, America or Canada.
Yet if Scotland went completely independent would or should the remains of the UK still be on the UN security Council? At a time when Europe is struggling, against American inconsistency, to support the treaties it has signed, is it really the moment for what is theoretically at least, the world’s oldest Parliamentary democracy to crash out of those responsibilities it still has? Britain is no longer powerful enough to be able to plow its own furrow alone. It needs to beware of ‘hostile environments’….
All this seems, perhaps, to leave things not be much different from now.
A more substantial difference could be added. This would be a requirement for every country or region to have their own currency, which would be both physical and digital. This would be legitimised by the devolved state or region accepting it in payment for council charges and local taxes. I would anticipate that, in turn, all businesses would choose to accept the local currrency where thay had operations in that jurisdiction. Each currency would be exchangeable £ for £ with Sterling within its own area, but not generally outside it, building on what the Bristol pound, usually reckoned to be the most sophisticated local currency in Europe, has already achieved. Clearly the devolved state or region is likely to be predominantly dependant on central government finance but this local currency creation would give headroom for spending never to be wholly dependant on the central authority and give increased local control – and accountability. Indeed it might be good for prosperity to require local banks to print the physical money (as in Scotland, say – but with the proviso that these banks could not be nationally owned).
When England’s central bank (started, of course, by two Scotsmen 15 years before the Act of Union) has become a model for the rest of the world there is no obvious reason why Britain could not pioneer a second financial concept: a single currency with subsidiary currencies. Indeed, if the ECB wants to survive, the Euro might even copy it
This would probably leave the House of Commons with looking after only those ‘overhead’ areas of common control. Then perhaps the Lords should become a chamber of co-opted federal representatives?
Radical constitutional change has long been needed, though there seems little hope of much in the near future. Am I the only one feeling that whilst we don’t any longer have any tally sticks to burn to precipitate the shake up of our over centralised, currently incompetent government, since the Palace of Westminster is at the moment, alleged to be in such a disastrous state of repair, that perhaps we should harbour the desire that one of their plagues of mice find their way to chew through sufficient electric cables to achieve a similar result?
That would be a new story of mice and men.
I hope that federal change will arrive first.