This began as a response to the excellent article by Robert Henderson (English votes for English laws) but there is a dimension that needs to be introduced and that is an alternative solution to the current constitutional mess. Sometimes one has to think outside the box.
As we know, the constitutional issues are becoming less and less clear, resulting in a likely unfair and unmanageable compromise, but that was always going to be the case from the beginning of the devolutionary mire. There will be no solution to this issue all the while responsibilities remain muddied. The Labour government of 1997 has much to answer for in creating this sorry mess in the first place. It is unforgivable that this was done purely for party political advantage with not a care for the peoples of all the countries that form the United Kingdom.
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are unnecessary levels of administration and are in addition to all the representation that existed before. With 59 Westminster MPs we simply added 129 more as MSPs in Scotland with all associated costs. The figures for Wales are 40 and 60 respectively. These increases in bureaucracy do no more work and provide no better representation, it’s simply more people and more mouths to feed and more egos to massage. The only people aided by devolved government are the political incumbents and despite their spurious arguments they are no closer to the people than any other central UK legislature. Additionally the devolution debacle has inflamed nationalism as opposed to quenching it and the proponents of it are no strangers to inciting hatred in order to pursue their own agendas. The very nasty edge of the recent ‘Yes’ campaign showed the ugly side of nationalism only too clearly.
In all of this the English, representing 85% of the UK get the worst deal. There is a strong likelihood that any future minority Labour government would be beholden to an SNP contingent that is only interested in cutting an even bigger slice of the UK cake for itself and with this becoming a real possibility, who would trust Mr. Milliband to put the people before his own ambitions?
We also seem to have forgotten that the Scots voted, by a very significant majority, to remain part of the UK virtually regardless of the terms and conditions of any current devolutionary settlement. The highly partisan SNP paint the astounding and incompetent intervention at the latter stages of the independence campaign as assisting the ‘no’ vote because more was being offered (to Scottish politicians) yet there is an even stronger argument that the ‘no’ vote may well have been growing because of opposition to increased powers to the aforementioned politic. As any mention of greater or even lesser powers were not on the ballot paper we’ll never really know for sure, but it will always act as a catalyst for exaggerated SNP claims.
The ‘Independence’ referendum itself had nothing to do with independence. How can a country be independent when its fiscal strategy is wholly determined by another country, England, and in the case of joining the EU, both the fiscal strategy and most of its law-making powers would be also surrendered to this undemocratic body. That’s not independence by any stretch of the imagination. As the military campaign of ISIS has little to do with religion so the independence campaign had little to do with independence. Both are about the same things – territory, money and power.
The result, though, was a resounding vote for the union, sending a clear message that the people of Scotland wish to remain under the legislative umbrella of Westminster.
In trying to fix the constitutional mess, brought about, initially, by the concept of devolution and then magnified with a political (rather than practical) additional devolvement of ‘power’, the coalition will add more complexity and more unfairness that will make it effectively unworkable, and all of this where there exists a rational solution which is both practical and politically fair.
Underpinning my observations below is a principled truism.
One country, one Government.
The UK is a single nation which can only function effectively with a single government but with powers appropriately devolved evenly and fairly to all local structures. It is true that of late our centralised approach to governance has become even more marked and our Executive is as detached from reality as any Plantagenet or Tudor monarch. This has to be addressed but can be done through regional government structures already in existence, even if some modifications may be needed to the organisation, responsibilities and powers of the network of county, town and parish councils. This has the unenviable benefit of being sensible, functional and egalitarian.
So, how do we get to there from where we are?
We’ll need three more referenda, one again for Scotland, one for Wales and one for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles as they have already petitioned for one (refused by the Scottish parliament) and it is they who own most of the oil which the SNP likes to lay claim to. It is likely that the isles would wish to remain within the UK. Northern Ireland is a more complex issue and would remain as it is.
The proposal is that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly be abolished and replaced by a regional and connected government structure right down to ward level irrespective of national boundaries. In principle local issues, certain tax raising powers and planning decisions would be devolved to such a structure with such things as council tax and business rates decided locally with the revenue from them going directly to the responsible financial body, probably the town/parish council. In this scenario the lowest (currently) level of local government would be the principle governing authority with district, unitary and county councils acting on behalf of and for their town/parish councils.
The referendum would offer two choices: 1) agree the new structure, or 2) separate from the UK entirely and operate as a completely independent nation. Such a solution provides the very independence that the independence campaign purports to champion, the only difference being that there will be no king of Scotland.
There can be no real opposition to local government actually becoming local except, of course, for those who occupy very comfortable positions in this complicated hierarchy who simply wish to retain their existing power and influence.
None of this will happen any time soon because the money and power lie at the top of the food chain and they won’t let it go. However, the people could drive these changes through if only they were engaged enough to care but, as we saw in the Scottish referendum, when there is an understandable question and a clear choice people do become interested.
It’s time the UK as a (successful) coalition of nations made up its mind once and for all. As it happens, functional and fair local democracy is a founding principle of UKIP and as we will have to proffer a national opinion upon the governing structure at some time. Perhaps this is the place to start.