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Federal UK 2020

Can the UK become a federation of equals by 2020?

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The “nationhood” of Scotland and the beast of English nationalism

Though my parents and most of my family were Scottish, I grew up in London and SE England. I didn’t connect well with my parents and I identified as English as a child, and this has stayed.  However, I did live in Glasgow between the ages of 21 and 25 in the 1990s, and I found that, despite my Scottish roots, I had much to learn about what being a nation meant to Scots.

North and south

I had always known that Scots referred to the whole of England as “down south” – the same term which the north of England uses for the south of England. When I arrived in Glasgow, I discovered that Glaswegians referred to the Highlands as “up north” – the same term which people from the south of England use for the north of England. Also, “the north-east” was the Aberdeen area, not the Newcastle area.

The variety within Scotland

Scots were quite varied too. Edinburgh and Glasgow were big rivals and the people and places had very different feels to them. I once went to Galloway with a Glaswegian friend and neither of us understood the accent of the (very friendly) locals. People from the Highlands and Aberdeen were different again, in accent, manner, and attitudes. The numbers were smaller but Scotland was certainly a nation of regions.

Some Glaswegians couldn’t place my London accent, wondering if I was from Manchester. How bizarre! Scots read different newspapers – the Herald, the Scotsman, and the Record – and had different news and TV shows.  They supported different football clubs.  They supported any nation except England at football (including Germany in 1996, much to my shock!)

Scots were interested in lots of things about England but England was always a different nation – a close one, too close for comfort at times, and one which needed to be handled with care because of its power and size.

“Feeling” the nationhood of Scotland

I was in Glasgow before moves towards devolution had really started.  Independence was a pipe dream and the SNP was a protest party often referred to as Tartan Tories because they scooped anti-Labour protest votes. I could not have imagined then how the political scene would change so much in 25 years.

Without my time in Scotland, I would not really have “felt” the nationhood of Scotland.  I would probably have recognised its nationhood intellectually, and begrudged them a certain special place in the political order as more than just a region.  But having grown up a Londoner, and unconsciously imbibed the long-established UK unitary constitutional system, I would probably never have grasped deep down that Scotland really was a nation, and not just a region of the UK.

When it comes to the House of Commons, Scotland is not even a UK region.  Regions have never had any status or recognition in the membership of either House of Parliament. Until 2015, when the English Grand Committee was set up in response to devolution, nations had no status either. Commons constituencies have more or less the same number of electors across the UK.

In view of the UK’s constitutional order and history, and the deeply embedded cultural values of most English people, it is simply very difficult for us English to meaningfully embrace the reality of the nationhood of Scotland, and by extension, that of Wales and Northern Ireland too.  This observation applies most acutely to people from the south East of England, being further from the borders with other UK nations, and closer to the corridors of power.

English attitudes to Scotland in the independence campaign

I observed the expression of southern English attitudes to Scotland during the independence campaign of 2014.  In the crudest terms, Scots needed to get back in their boxes, not seek special status over English regions, and be grateful for English subsidies. Politicians obviously had to come up with something more positive, which was when we were regaled with spin about a “family of nations”, the achievements of Team GB, and open and tolerant British values (as opposed to nasty nationalistic ones).  Beneath the feelgood bluster was always the dark spectre of financial penalties and uncertain consequences if Scotland broke away from the UK.

With wise leadership, the stirrings of English nationalism in response to the threat of Scottish independence could have been the beginning of a painful but cathartic journey towards recognition of our negative national traits, especially in the context of our relationship with the other UK nations.  But sadly, once the referendum was over, we English returned to our proud, resentful slumber.  Licking our wounds, we did not change for the better, and Brexit has shown the UK – and the world – that the beast of English nationalism is ready to hurt anyone who challenges it, even if doing so hurts England too. English nationalism now cares less and less whether Scotland leaves the UK.

English nationalism is the biggest barrier to a federal UK 

The current government can only bang an ever-hollower drum as it reminds us Scotland voted to stay in the UK, the UK voted for Brexit, and so the future of the UK and its direction are no longer in question. The UK will disintegrate.  The biggest barrier to a federal UK is a raging English nationalism which cannot see that other nations – in the UK and EU – have their legitimate rights too.

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UK Government policy on Brexit is being developed almost exclusively by English cabinet ministers. This must change.

So far, Brexit has done nothing except create more tensions between England and the other UK nations.  Majorities in Scotland and N Ireland voted Remain.  A second Scottish independence referendum is being discussed seriously, and the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday agreement is very uncertain.  Welsh lawmakers are predominantly Remainers, and have expressed concerns about Welsh voices not being heard.

In response, Theresa May has promised that the UK nations will be fully heard and consulted with. However, since this promise, she has appointed the newly-formed Brexit cabinet committee. This is composed of 12 English Conservative MPs, all of whom represent constituencies in England. The committee will call upon the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish secretaries only as required.  The latter also represents a constituency in England.  Absent these secretaries, the majority of the committee will be Leave campaigners.

The net result of this is that the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish executives can ask for ad hoc meetings with David Davis, (Brexit Secretary), Theresa May, and their corresponding secretaries of state. But they will have no direct say in the nitty-gritty of the development of Brexit policy, either in full cabinet or the Brexit cabinet committee. The cabinet itself is entirely composed of MPs with constituencies in England, save for the Welsh and Scottish secretaries.

So today’s publication by the Institute for Government which warns of a “full-blown constitutional crisis” (see article link below) should not be too much of a surprise.  The Institute says that relations between UK nations will be seriously damaged unless leaders of all 4 nations are involved in agreeing the “core planks” of the UK Government’s negotiating strategy, ahead of the Article 50 trigger.

Theresa May’s mandate to pursue any specific Brexit strategy, directly and also through her ministerial appointments is wafer-thin at best, given that the current government was elected on a Remain manifesto under David Cameron, not her.

It is absurd to imagine that a Leave-leaning committee made up almost entirely of English Conservative MPs appointed by Mrs May can fairly represent and take on board the views of all 4 nations on an absolutely colossal and explosive issue like Brexit. The fact that our constitution permits this is intolerable.

Mrs May needs to think long and hard about what a United Kingdom of 4 nations means to her in practice, when it comes to law-making.  She has the power to set up a cross-UK, consultative system which means that she and her ministers will not impose a solution on the UK countries, and also that those countries will be involved in the detail of the Brexit policy-making process.  Her ongoing failure to do this is another nail in the nail-infested coffin of the current UK.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/24/theresa-may-constitutional-crisis-brexit-deal-institute-for-government?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=196160&subid=12068776&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

 

The rights of UK nations and the problem of England’s dominance

What this article is about

This article sets out the variety of national identities across the peoples of the UK, and the untenable nature of the present-day constitutional position which does not reflect this variety.  The article goes on to explain that the result of this mismatch is that, within the current UK, English lawmakers and English political agendas inevitably dominate. This amounts to a constitutional suppression of the right of each UK nations to self-determination. The result is enduring resentment which continues to threaten the existence of the UK.

Our separate national identities

Scotland and Wales have a unique culture and a clear sense of national identity which is distinct from a wider UK cultural identity.  Along with Northern Ireland, they also have a unique civic identity which they express through the powers and institutions which the Westminster parliament has devolved.

England has a clear cultural identity though arguably no clear civic identity which is distinct from the wider UK identity, either on the street or in the corridors of power.  Recent legislation for an English Grand Committee within Westminster has altered the situation somewhat though I won’t go into this here.

Even if the people of any one UK nation considered themselves to be nationals of the UK first, it doesn’t follow that other nations do or should feel the same way. In fact, the present-day reality is that a majority of Scots consider themselves Scottish first and British second (or British not at all).  Northern Irish Catholics overwhelmingly consider themselves Irish first and British not at all. The picture is more mixed in Wales, while in England, there is more of a general sense that being British and being English is one and the same.  Northern Irish Protestants predominantly consider themselves British but obviously not English.

Nevertheless, the current reality on the ground is that each of our 4 nations has a sufficiently clear sense of national identity to be considered a nation, or a people, distinct from the other UK nations.   From this basic principle flows the concept of the right to self-determination of each UK nation – Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.

Each nation should have the right of self-determination, and decide freely to join or leave the UK

It is clear that there is no uniformity across the UK nations on what the British identity means. This naturally reflects the fact that each UK nation has a distinct civic culture and identity.  It logically follows that each UK nation must have complete and unfettered political freedom to decide whether or not they wish to be united with any of the other 3 nations, and on what terms.  Although each UK nation should have the right to self-determination, the present-day constitutional reality is at odds with this.

The constitutional suppression of the rights of UK nations by English MPs

This current constitutional reality is that the UK is a unitary state. The Westminster parliament is sovereign and the House of Commons is composed of members elected on a population basis. 85% of MPs are from England and this is because 85% of the population of the UK lives in England. Westminster has legislated to devolve certain powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These devolved powers and their terms are ultimately in the gift of the House of Commons. Therefore, MPs from England in practice have the power to delegate their own powers to UK nations and to retract them.

Though informal consultation make take place at the level of UK nations, the UK nations themselves have no constitutional status which requires them to be consulted, or which requires their consent to any issue of distribution of powers between Westminster and national governments.  The Westminster parliament remains sovereign.

Furthermore, the UK nations have no constitutional right to secede from the UK, or even to hold an election within their own nation on the issue of UK membership.

UK nations do not freely hand over power to the UK.  In practice, English MPs, through their huge parliamentary representation, have the final say on the national destinies of all UK nations.  This is an intolerable situation for any people which defines itself as a nation within the UK.  This is the ultimate source of every political tension between England and the other nations of the UK.

An intolerable constitution

The peoples of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have to request the delegation of powers to them from Westminster with its huge, inbuilt English majority.  The views of MPs and Lords from England may coincide at times with those of non-English politicians but why would any nation willingly leave its national destiny to be determined in this unpredictable way?  We English would not tolerate it, were the boot on the other foot.

If we English could put ourselves in the shoes of the peoples of other UK nations, we would see the injustice of the situation and understand and respect any desire for independence from any citizen of any other UK nation.

In short, the UK constitution violates the fundamental right of each UK nation to self-determination.  There is no question in my mind that the status quo is tolerable. The question is whether an acceptable federal solution can be reached or if the UK will disintegrate.

 

 

A new federal United Kingdom: suggested basic principles

1.       Each constituent nation of the United Kingdom – currently Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England – should have, and always retain, the right to leave the UK whenever they want. 

2.       The procedures for a nation to join or leave the UK must conform to international democratic norms but otherwise are purely internal matters for each nation.

3.       There should be a written federal constitution.

4.       The highest body of the federal executive shall be a federal council of leaders elected by each nation according to each nation’s internal procedures. 

5.       Every decision within the competence of the federal executive must be made on a unanimous basis or with a majority of 3 nations.  Exception to this rule are that:

a. England retains a veto over proposals agreed by the other 3 nations.  In other words, any three-nation majority must include England;
b. all four nations can agree that certain decisions are to be made unanimously; examples are 9. and 10. below.

6.       There shall be a federal parliament and federal Supreme Court. The precise rules relating to membership and procedures of the federal parliament and supreme court shall ensure that the decisions of English members alone cannot prevail.

7.       All three branches of government shall be subject to checks and balances by the others in order:

a.       to prevent abuses of power by one branch ;and
b.      to prevent domination by England in any area.

8.       The rights and duties of the branches of the federal government shall only be those which are explicitly identified in the constitution.  In the absence of any clear provisions on a given subject, each constituent nation retains the right to legislate.

9.       The current status of the UK’s membership of the EU, UN, and Council of Europe should be retained unless all constituent nations agree otherwise.

10.   No constituent nation shall or can be required by the others to host nuclear weapons or associated installations and equipment.

 

 

Welcome to Federal UK 2020. Can the UK become a federation of equal nations by 2020?

Where are we now?

The United Kingdom is sick.  For many, it’s dying.  What’s certain is that its future is uncertain.

The Brexit vote has rocked the UK’s political establishment. It has cast serious doubts over the future of Northern Ireland.  Support for Scottish independence remains as strong as ever, despite the 2014 referendum result.  A further Scottish referendum within the next few years is possible.  Everything about our constitutional system seems to be up for grabs.

What is this blog about?

This blog seeks to promote discussion and exploration of the idea that the UK could become a federal nation.  I believe that the peoples of the UK should be offered this option at the ballot box.

My blog posts will explore what I think a healthy, respectful, and stable federal UK could look like. The central issue that a new UK needs to resolve is the long-term dominance of the UK by England and the current Westminster Parliament.

My first blog post will set out the broad principles I believe should be respected in any new constitutional settlement for the UK.

Is the UK worth saving?

I don’t believe in a federal UK on any terms, just to stop the disintegration of the UK as it is now.  In fact, I believe that the disintegration of the UK into 4 nations is better than the current UK model.  Despite the colossal work that this disintegration will lead to, the current UK is not worth saving at any cost. But in my view, its revival as a federation of equal nations is worth exploring.

Who am I?

I would like to remain anonymous.  I am teacher who was born, raised, and lives now in England.  I have Scottish and Irish family but I regard myself as English.  However, I do care about good and respectful relations between the nations of the UK, whatever political structures are in place.

I have a legal background but I am not a constitutional lawyer, nor a politician, nor any expert.  I will probably write some naïve and wrong things in this blog.

Where do I stand on Brexit?

I voted Remain in the Brexit referendum.  I am very worried by what is happening in UK politics at present as a result. I believe that our peoples and legislators should be fully involved in whatever form Brexit takes (if any).

Pitch in!

Feel free to support or challenge as much as you want, as long as you are polite and respectful. Thank you for reading.

 

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