A Federal UK – why not?

I was pleased to read the article by Christopher Harvey in this week’s Scottish Review (click here ). One of the depressing things about the endless debate around the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence is that it takes no account of the overall political shape of the United Kingdom, but is conducted purely in Scottish terms.  Those who do not wish Scotland to be independent (yet, in my case at least) can only make a negative contribution to the debate, or are pressed into a position where it seems, somehow, that they accept the status quo as a desirable option.  The status quo is not a desirable option.  It allows minority parties to assume power and impose policies that the majority of the population have not voted for.  It gives extraordinary power to Prime Ministers, allowing them to wage war against the wishes of the majority of the population.

From all points of view, it was, of course, a big mistake not to have a third option on the referendum paper. Such an option would have removed the partisan party politics which has led to the discussion into petty points-scoring, albeit the discussion would still have been cast in Scottish terms, since there are members of all political parties who would want to see some kind of Devo-Plus settlement.

However a Devo-Plus type settlement would still do nothing about the whole range of constitutional anomalies in the way that the UK is governed.  As the debate progresses, I am increasingly drawn to the idea of a multi-party constitutional convention for the UK, which would be asked to sort out the problems currently facing UK governance, not least the West Lothian question and what to do about the House of Lords.  These questions are far too important to allow them to be decided by whichever party is in government at any one time.  I would want to see a bicameral federal parliament, with the governing Chamber directly elected and a secondary chamber, representing the constituent parts of the UK, holding UK governments to account in terms of constitutionally defined aims of government – social justice, the national and international rule of law, a bill of rights, long term economic stability and sustainability and so on.   If these are the kinds of things which the SNP rightly calls for in an independent Scottish constitution, why can we not have them in a UK constitution and why cannot Labour, Liberal, SNP, Green and other parties broadly of the left see ‘governance’ as the first and most important issue facing the UK today.  Such an agenda would be well worthy of campaigning for, instead of the rather negative ‘better with what we have just now’, when we know what we have just now is not very good, and constitutionally messy.


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