Thursday 10 July 2003

The federal question

According to Lord Palmerston, only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein question: one was dead, the other had gone insane, and the third was himself, but he had forgotten it. Scotland has trumped Germany - or was it Denmark? - with the West Lothian question: why should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote on English domestic matters when English MPs can’t vote on equivalent Scottish legislation? This is indeed the state of affairs since the establishment of the Scottish parliament. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Tony Blair would have been defeated on the introduction of foundation hospitals in the English NHS had he not been bailed out by Scottish Labour MPs. Not only was this a purely English matter, but those very same Scottish MPs oppose foundation hospitals in their own part of the UK and their Edinburgh colleagues have made sure that the Scottish NHS will remain unreformed. On top of this, the Health Secretary for England is a Scot, sitting for a Scottish seat, who, presumably, changes his opinion each time he crosses the border.

Enough of this nonsense.

In today’s Glasgow Herald Ruth Wishart writes:

The SNP says independence would remove the anomalies at a stroke but seems unable to persuade sufficient numbers of supporters to sign up to what's currently on offer.
It is clear that there is no majority for Scottish independence.

What we need is federalism, but, as Wishart points out:

The Liberal Democrats point to the neatness of a federal solution without solving the inherent problem of UK federalism being somewhat asymmetric when you factor an English parliament into the set up.
Regional parliaments for England would solve the "asymmetry", but there is no real demand for them in England, and, besides, why shouldn't England have its national identity recognised? I am not convinced that asymmetric federalism is an insurmountable problem. The "problem" of a federation dominated by England is largely caused by the state doing too much in the first place. Let's gradually cut back the functions of government towards its (arguably) legitimate one of protecting the citizen against aggression - and nothing else. This means having the police and court systems under the control of the various nations that make up the UK and keeping defence at the federal (UK) level.

The Freedom and Whisky constitutional plan is this:

Withdraw from the EU

Devolve all powers - except defence and foreign affairs - to the various national parliaments

Each parliament to be fiscally independent with contributions being made to the federal government in proportion to population

The federal government should be situated on the Isle of Man, which is not in any of the home countries but is equidistant from all four of them

The Irish Republic should be invited to unite with the North and rejoin the UK with Dublin taking its rightful place in the Anglosphere alongside Cardiff, Edinburgh and London