The Scottish Independence referendum has brought the issue of devolution and in particular the current, remote, centralisation of UK government to a head. There is a problem here in rest of the UK as well though. The Scots were only articulating what many of us in the rest of the UK also feel is true We as voting citizens are cut off and powerless to govern ourselves locally, regionally or nationally. What the Scots perceive as remote Westminster government affects the rest of us. One of Douglas Carswell MP’s reasons for finally deciding to defect to UKIP from the Conservatives was his realisation that if he was told (as he just had been) that his constituency had to have 12,000 new houses, that there was absolutely nothing he as an MP, or even in concert with any other MPs or local politicians, could do about it.
As Mr Carswell said, there is no local or regional democracy (which suited the SNP story) but there is also precious little national democracy due to the EU as well (which didn’t suit the SNP story).
What is required is a devolved local democratic structure that suits all the UK as well as the Scotish.
The issue of exactly what powers should be devolved to what local structures is going to be complex and really needs a constitutional convention to agree. Hasty last minute promises to placate the Scots is not the solution. You hear, for example, people quoting facts like ‘without the Scots MPs the outcome vote on military intervention in Syria would have been different’ but in any future devolved structure surely a vote to go to war would be a UK issue and therefore voted on by representatives of all the UK? Why would the Scots be excluded ?. But similarly a planning proposal for a big supermarket or a large housing development in a small town should be decided by the local residents and not forced onto them by central government. This all needs careful thinking through
The problem is that a democratic system of government should look like something the following pyramid.
All aspects of national government are covered by the top segment, all local government by the middle segment and the areas of individual control the bottom segment. The segments are evenly sized to indicate a balance between the powers (whatever that might be – the split is the part of the crucial detail that needs to be decided). The pyramidal shape is intended to indicate the reduction in the number of people involved as you rise higher up the pyramid. From approximately 60 million individuals at the bottom all the way up to one state at the top. The arrows are intended to indicate (a) how the members of the tiers of government are appointed (elected) and (b) the flow of control (power) that comes back down the pyramid from the law makers. We may decide that we need more layers but this pyramid summarises the basic idea.
In reality 70% of UK law is handed down to the UK government (the top section of the pyramid), by the European Union and, as Douglas Carswell found, it is also fair to say that UK government is ‘heavily centralised and ‘big’. The burden of regulation flowing from our government is so high, in fact, that it has to use ‘Enabling acts’, that allow ministers to effectively bypass parliament, to get it all onto the statue books.
So, in our diagram above, the top section dominates the bottom two. As mentioned above it is also too simplistic to represent the top section as just UK central government. The EU’s ‘power’ bypasses the UK government as all that the UK Parliament can do is to rubber stamp it into UK law – it can’t reject or amend it, so when illustrating the flow of EU power (the arrows on the diagram) we should miss out ‘Local’ and ‘National’ government. We also need to add some detail to the EU layer as one of the problems with the EU is that, while it all may sound democratic, it isn’t democratic. There is a very distinct divide between the people that we vote for and the people who exercise the power. So our ‘Pyramid’ should look more like this:
While it may seem that we are voting for MEPs who sit in a ‘parliament’ much like the UK parliament, this is an illusion. The European Parliament is effectively just a debating society that can produce recommendations – a better name would be something like the EU Advisory Council. Unlike the UK parliament the EU parliament cannot propose new laws, in the EU only the civil servants (the EU Commission) can introduce legislation, it decisions are rarely ever 100% binding on the EU and it does not operate like a ‘proper’ democratic parliament. Most MEPs can only speak for 90 seconds on any issue so democratic debate and scrutiny of the proposed law simply does not exist.
So by the time you have allotted 70% of the nation’s ‘power’ to the EU and heavily centralised the rest it is easy to see why the Scots felt so powerless – unfortunately the pro-independence politicians chose to blame Westminster for all this for their own reasons. The reality is that most of the problem is the EU.
UKIP is the only party that can provide a solution as it is the only party promising to free the UK from EU control. Once that is achieved then UKIP plans a major shift in power from central to local government This would affect all the UK, not just Scotland.
The key to all this would be referenda. Through the use of modern technology the use of referenda for a large part of the political process would be possible. Much as Switzerland has done for years.
What powers should be decentralised and to where should be decided by a UK wide Constitutional convention. We need to get away from the current situation were central government (EU or Westminster) makes the decisions and local government just get the choice of how to implement them. We need to empower the UK citizen to make as many of these decisions as possible. Ultimately we, the citizens, are what defines the nation and all its sub divisions and we are very much its owners in the full sense of the word. Our politicians were supposed to represent our wishes and have been doing a poor job for decades. It is time to change that,
Photo by PhylB