Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Federalism brings more problems than the obvious one

It’s clear that an increasing number of people are beginning to see a federal UK as a way out of the constitutional nightmare which has been created by a poorly thought-out and asymmetrical approach to devolution to those parts of the UK where there was a demand.  It’s also been clear to me for many years that not a few of those who sometimes call themselves nationalists would be, on the whole, content with such a proposal.  Like Home Rule, however, it’s a term whose meaning depends on who is using it.
Plenty of others have already drawn attention to the biggest problem with a federal UK – unless England is broken down into ‘regions’, a federation in which one member comprises 85% of the whole is unlikely to pay much regard to the views of the 15% if they happen to differ.  And whilst I instinctively favour a more local approach to government, I feel disinclined to try and insist that England should break itself up into regions with which there seems to be little natural identity or affinity, let alone demand for more local power.
Certainly some of England’s larger cities can see advantages in having more powers, but unless the country is carved up into regions based on those cities and their hinterlands, what happens to the more rural areas in between them?  London could certainly make out a good case for becoming a self-governing city state, and its mayor has already hinted at such a suggestion.  (Although going even further, and removing London from the UK might be more of a blessing to the rest of us than many realise.)
There is another aspect of federalism though which has received rather less attention.  Historically, federation has usually been much more about bringing diverse ‘countries’ or ‘nations’ together than about separating them.  It’s been more to do with convergence than divergence.  And the history of federal states has often been marked by a tendency for the centre to take on more powers whilst the components see their powers reduced.  It’s a danger which is likely to be even more acute in a federation dominated by one part.
It would be interesting to see how it might pan out in practice, and how strong the safeguards for the smaller parts might be.  I don’t think there’s much chance of it actually happening though.  One thing which would have to be absolutely clear in any federal approach is that the federal parliament and government would have to be separate from the English parliament and government.  I see no sign that any of the politicians and parties wedded to Westminster are even understanding that, let alone being ready to contemplate it.

1 comment:

G Horton-Jones said...


This confuses me
A federal UK is not the same animal as a federal England
I do not believe that a federal UK is achievable given the apparent God given right of Westminster to rule this island
A federal England would of necessity mean the granting of full independence to Wales, Scotland and the reunification of Ireland note Northern Ireland only exists because England reneged on its promise to transfer the six counties to the new Eire for which Michael Collins paid with for his life
Politicians and Parties are one thing electorate will is another matter