by Hazel Lewry
Implausible, if not impossible in practice. would be the most accurate summation of a properly federal future for any of the constituent nations within a UK framework.
Current federal proposals for the UK are, at best, a futile attempt to bubblegum and duck tape the Union together for a final few decades. Perhaps just long enough to largely finish strip mining Scotland of her precious resources.
History clearly describes why it is exceedingly unlikely to ever come to pass. The “Federal UK” proposals also show clearly how in England the average citizen remains almost totally disenfranchised.
It is appropriate to refer to our poor cousins, the English, as disenfranchised. At least they should be considered disenfranchised with respect to the Scots in 2011, and arguably when measured against many other nations.
The Mother of Parliaments has quietly been transposing into the Mother of Dictatorships, or at least gives every appearance of marching along that weary road. Perhaps she has always been that Dictatorship, only now we see it for what it is.
In England the Magna Carta was primarily founded to curtail of the monarchs’ powers in favour of the barons and was an attempt by the barons to protect and enshrine their property rights against seizure by the crown. To the feudal barons in England at least, people – the peasantry – were also property.
England’s’ law is fundamentally property based. England’s people were historically ‘subjects’.
In Scotland we have a system emanating from the dark ages, potentially earlier. Power was vested in the people. The monarch in Scotland was originally an elected position, albeit from amongst an elite company. The monarchs were “of Scots” not “of Scotland”.
The Scots and English are therefore arguably fundamentally historically different in outlook with respect to their national traits. They have been so for millennia.
It is still possible to have a truly federal union between such dissimilar nations, so what are hurdles that must be overcome?
Understanding the federal concept is something many appear to have issues with, including John Major who recently went on record with the statements that Westminster should reduce Scots participation in a “UK” government in return for full fiscal autonomy. That is not a meeting of equals. That is not a federal proposal. 600 representatives to 40. That is dominion.
A federal proposal that might function is more like that which exists in the US senate today.
The US system draws its strength from the rights of the individual, the citizen in whom all power is based: “We, the people” and “No taxation without representation” being two prime examples codified across the Atlantic. It does not sound like the Westminster system.
Arguably modern western federalism was born of a need by the 13 American colonies to eliminate the influence of the UK. Crucially in this new American federal union, each colony or state had an equal voice in the national senate, irrespective of population or geographical size. That is a truly federal arrangement.
The US system, flawed as it may be, seems to compare well to what is evidently England’s green and disenfranchised land. The English electorate gets a couple of votes every decade, polled for local and Westminster elections. With regards to what happens in between elections they have literally no voice.
Their protests are ignored – witness the recent 250,000 person demonstration against cuts. The only item of note that came from this act was a threat of legislation restricting individual or communal rights.
The Westminster version is not democracy. It is not freedom of speech. It is dictatorship. Elected dictatorship does not lend itself well to true federalism.
To get to a federal UK the first step is English civic nationalism – a resurgent and proud England with her own Parliament and voice. Only after England has an independent Parliament and voice can a truly federal union take place.
Westminster cannot reconvene the English parliament without making clear to all citizens of the UK and the global community that the United Kingdom was simply a political construct of the 1707 treaty. The ramifications internal and external to the United Kingdom do not bear contemplation for the mandarins at Whitehall. It would allow for a major revolution in English political life, in which the English once again have a Parliament of their own, responsible to England, acting for England, elected by England and working for the good of England.
The English would then have a similar situation to that which exists in Scotland today.
Which brings the question of the physical siting of the English Parliament – it could not be Westminster, for that is the UK Parliament. Birmingham or Coventry perhaps, both are more central and more easily accessible by the M6 after all.
The English though are likely to demand that Westminster continues as “their” Parliament. Where does the UK Parliament move to? It surely can’t share the same building, that would be like moving Paris to Brussels and snuggling it in beside Berlin.
Westminster would basically become the ultimate turkey voting for Christmas – in the hope that from the ashes of the past the parliaments and assemblies of the nations would come together and agree to a truly federal UK. Turkeys have a decided tendency to avoid the Christmas vote.
Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland might consider a future federal UK, or at least be prepared to open a dialogue, but what of England?
The English are exceedingly unlikely to accept a UK Parliament that has equal representation between Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish. Throughout the past 1000 years in its relations with the other nations of these islands England has sought and practised political and economic dominion. Equality is perhaps too large a step in too small a timeframe to be able to be considered.
Faced with an ultimate choice of national equality with Scotland, and potentially Wales / N. Ireland, in every presently foreseeable circumstance England will walk from any negotiating table that does not either guarantee her dominion, or force upon her far worse consequences. Basically England would perhaps accept a truly federal UK under only one circumstance, that where to do anything else would result in utter devastation within England itself.
And who would wish to be in any forced Union, federal or otherwise?
What of Westminster, her Civil servants and mandarins, her power brokers, lobbyists and associated troughers cannot permit any of this to happen. Vested interest will fight to protect itself, it always has, it will fight with every fibre of its existence.
Westminster would ultimately require radical reform, perhaps to the reduction of an entire house and the relocation of government itself. Expect the “Commons” to survive, although in different format.
What then of the House of Lords? It would be defunct unless the English choose to retain it. Too much ermine would require substantial trimming. Too much ermine will fight for preservation.
Over all of this there are too many arguments about un-required layers of government.
Federalism is an easily demonstrable exercise in obfuscation.
True federalism is impossible within the present political construct of the UK. The federal proposals are the latest attempt at delay/deny/hope you die policies with respect to self determination within Scotland, and the other nations of the UK.
For these reasons amongst others there is no potential path to a truly federal UK, absent some major form of internal revolution south of the Border what the future holds is an Independent Scotland, who upon her declaration will award the keys of freedom and truer emancipation to the Welsh, Northern Irish and English.
It will be up to the other nations which doors they choose to open with those keys.