Friday, May 1, 2009

The uncomfortable question at the centre of the "Devolution Experiment"

A letter in today's Financial Times:

The acerbic tone of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article “England might yet review the state of the Union” (April 23) detracts from his wholly justifiable claim that Scottish MPs should not be able to vote on English matters at Westminster.
He points out that the English dominated the British Isles for a thousand years. This period was followed by a broadening of the franchise and the need to take account of the aspirations of the Celtic peoples. The result was the setting up of the Scottish Office in Edinburgh and the Welsh Office in Wales. But they were strongly influenced by Westminster civil servants, who sought consistency throughout the UK when some variation was required.

Those who have travelled overseas will be aware that a common form of government is the federal system that enables disparate interests to be catered for while preserving the strength of a nation. The US, Canada, Australia and Germany are classic examples of the federal system working in the interests of the people.
Prince Edward Island in Canada, for instance, has a population of under 200,000 and yet has its own parliament and premier while sending delegates to both federal bodies in Ottawa. Ontario, with a population of more than 7m, sits comfortably alongside PEI and the other provinces and all are Canadians.

It is time for serious consideration to be given to introducing a federal form of government in the UK and harness the strength of our nation in world affairs.

John Jamieson Blanche,
Balfron, Stirlingshire, UK

The article he was replying to is here and it argued the devolution "settlements" have been unfair to England constitutionally in that they broke the workable "compromise" which had existed between England and the rest of the United Kingdom prior to 1997:
But today the English have reason of their own for bitterness. Devolution is a gross injustice towards them – they make up, after all, four-fifths of the British population. English vexation is stimulated further by the preponderance of Scots in the present government and has been given a final twist by a financial implosion that looks almost like a Caledonian conspiracy.

Wheatcroft finished with the observation that perhaps ultimately it will be England which will decide whether or not the Union is worth continuing with.

I’ve spoken on the inefficiencies and inequities of assymetrical devolution ad infinitum on here, so I won’t repeat them again now. What is clear is that both the questions and possible solutions put forward by both Wheatcroft and Blanche (should) pose serious questions for all United Kingdom Unionists.

We could, of course, collectively continue to stick our heads in the sand and imagine the problem away, but as Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, pointed out two years ago:
I guess that anyone who hasn't sacrificed every vestige of intellectual self-respect on the altar of the Labour Party will agree that this is a completely unsustainable view. There is a fundamental unfairness arising from the present situation and sooner or later this unfairness will create real resentment and undermine the integrity of the whole governmental system.

What's to be done??


Gary said...

Federalism is an interesting subject but would it encourage and give succour to nationalism just as devolution has?

O'Neill said...


The problem with the devolution settlements however is that they haven't sated the separatists' appetite and and also they have left a very unbalanced system in place. I think it is very difficult to argue on grounds of fairness that England shouldn't be given at least the chance to vote on having their own parliament (as was the case in the other three parts of the UK).

I would sincerely hope the popular vote would go against having the parliament, but if it didn't then we would then have essentially a federal system of government and one that would lead very quickly to the break up of our nation.

Dewi Harries said...

Nation? - Interesting word that O'Neill. Do you really think that the United Kingdom of Britain and about a half of Northern Ireland is a nation?

O'Neill said...

Depends on your definition of nation obviously- but yes, I believe it is.