A federal solution that works for all

The debate on federalism at the LD autumn conference last month was dominated by one question: can a policy that works for the devolved nations work for England? Can this week’s debate at the Scottish party’s conference provide a convincing answer to this question?

The difficulties become clear if we ask what sort of “federalism” would suit the various components of the UK. Law (2013) sets out a clear spectrum of the options for sharing power at two levels:

  • Devolution – where the powers of a state are shared, but at the discretion of the state
  • Federal state – where sovereignty is at state level, but the sharing of powers is entrenched, through a constitution or treaty
  • (Con)federal union of states – where sovereignty resides with the individual states, but the sharing of powers is entrenched, through a constitution or treaty
  • Confederation – ditto, but where the sharing of powers is at the discretion of the individual states

As examples, Law suggests the UK, US, EU and UN respectively. For the present discussion we can amalgamate the last two categories as “confederal”.

The crucial distinction is that the confederal options come from the starting point that each member state has the right to independence. For the devolved nations, and particularly Scotland, any solution has to be confederal. In contrast, a right to independence for regions of England has not been a plausible claim since Athelstan unified the country over 1000 years ago.

The other reason why the federal state solution does not work for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is the huge disparity in populations. Such a solution requires a federal parliament elected on an at least approximately proportional basis, in which the smaller nations will continue to feel marginalised. And for England it needs either an English parliament, or regional assemblies with different powers to the national parliaments – neither a satisfactory solution.

A confederal solution has not been much discussed in Scotland, where the current debate is mainly a shouting match between advocates of pure independence and unionists. In contrast, in Wales confederal ideas have long been part of Plaid Cymru’s thinking, and the recent report from the Independence Commission for Wales contains an interesting more nuanced discussion of the options and of possible routes to implementing them.

This report repeats the usual reasons why the federal state solution won’t work for the UK, but goes on to discuss two possible confederal options. In these the confederal government consists of a Council of Ministers, together with a small assembly or parliament that represents nations rather than individual voters. For example, Benelux has a Federal Parliament of 21+21+7 from the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg (populations 17.1, 11.5, 0.6 million respectively). For the UK, a similar formula that does not have a majority for any one nation might be 30+12+10+8 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. However, one of the principles of these confederal options is that they work as far as possible through consensus, in the case of Benelux through agreed four-yearly programmes.

The confederal option thus has the constitutional advantage of providing a framework for sharing powers among nations varying widely in size. It also has advantages in feasibility in that it does not force change to the historically-slow-to-change houses of Parliament. They can continue as the parliaments of England, rather than being forced into the mould of a federal parliament or having one set over them. Ideally the two houses should both be elected through STV, but that can be treated as a separate issue. Reform within England, and greater powers for localism, whether as a federal state (it is interesting to note that one of the components of Benelux, Belgium, is itself a federal state) or simply by returning to local government the powers they have lost over the last 40 years, can follow at its own pace.

Additionally, the confederal option is more of a political possibility. Mandates for independence can compel the UK government to engage in way that requests for federalism under UK sovereignty cannot. The Welsh report discusses how a vote for independence in Scotland would be likely to be followed by long negotiations, in which some form of “soft independence” would be one of the options.

A more direct route would be to treat the 2021 Scottish Parliament election as deciding whether there is a mandate to negotiate a form of independence rather than to immediately hold a re-run of the 2014 referendum. In contrast to the outright confrontation promised by the latter, a negotiation over confederation might just offer a win for both sides.

* Denis Mollison is Chair of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, and has been a member of the party since joining the SDP in 1981. Here, he writes in a personal capacity.

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  • Professor Mollison, as we have come to expect, writes a convincing and rigorous article for which I have much sympathy. As an expat Yorkie who has lived in Scotland for sixteen years I long ago came to the conclusion that putting all the limitations and complications on one side, Scotland is by far governed better than is England.

    I voted Remain in 2014 (partly in sympathy for the North of England to try to put a break on any future Tory Government). I will find it much harder to stick to this next time, especially after the experiences of the last eight months.

    Questions I would like Denis to clarify are how would his schemes :

    a) affect the possibility of Scotland rejoining the EU as its people clearly wish to do, and
    b) affect getting rid of nuclear weapons currently based in Scotland. ?

  • John Marriott 26th Oct '20 - 4:58pm

    A federal solution won’t work if you insist on pitting England, with 80% of the UK’s population, against the rest. Even the constitution expert, Professor Vernon Bogdanor said more or less the same in The Times last week. In any case before you talk about federalism, let’s sort out English local government first! COVID has shone a light on the deficiencies of the current centre orientated governance we still endure in England. Moving to a unitary system, rejecting the extra layer of bureaucracy that the creation of Metro Mayors has produced, then devolving more fiscal powers and responsibilities away from Whitehall could open the way to creating regional government in England.

    “But nobody wants it”, I hear you reply. Well, if you asked most people about Europe ten years ago, most would probably have replied that they had other more ‘important’ things to worry about. If all you are interested is giving them ‘bread and circuses’ and courting popularity then you may have a point. I, like JFK, want to do ‘the other thing’ not because it’s easy; but because it’s hard. He was referring to putting a man on the moon. I’m just talking about putting a bit of sense into the way we are governed.

  • …… delete break…. insert brake …para 2 …. pesky predictive text.

  • @John Marriott
    I would argue that is the status quo which pits the 80%, of England, against the rest.
    If England, and in that I include the English Lib Dems, ask for more money for education or health, they have a direct call on the Westminster “magic money tree”.
    They don’t have to cost it and make a corresponding cut in something else, or fund it through (limited) tax powers, like the other countries do.
    England, whether as a whole, or in regions, really need to be put on a equal footing.
    “But nobody wants it”. Well since it suits England, why would they?
    The simple choice is a plan for a Federal England, or lose Scotland.

  • Surely in a federal UK, there will be federalisation of the English regions. I’d say there’s definitely demand for it after the last few months. There’s definitely an appetite to devolve more power to the English regions. The difficulty is getting enough people to agree where the boundaries would lie, but my starting point would be the nine regions which were the government regions. Due to constant reorganisation I’m not actually sure what their current role is, but they seem to be of about the right size, and there is already some experience of things being organised along those lines.


    @David, there are a great many barriers to Scotland gaining entry to the EU, even in the case of independence. The SNP are being massively disingenuous every time they give the impression that it would be quick, easy or on the same terms we have enjoyed as part of the UK. The traditional SNP voters were anti-EU, and a lot of the ‘we were dragged out of the EU against our will’ rhetoric comes from people who previously campaigned for it. The turnout for the EU referendum in Scotland was much lower than the 2014 referendum, although it’s fair to say that events since have made a lot of those who were ambivalent about the EU very for it – same as the rest of the UK. But it remains to be seen if that would still be the case for all of the recent converts if it weren’t being used as an excuse to drive a wedge between Scots and the rest of the UK.

  • Gerald Stewart 26th Oct '20 - 6:36pm

    Alan Jelfs, there may be a case for some type of significant change to the way England is governed and that might be a version of federalism, but to adopt this simply to try to pacify Scotland is not a good or particularly valid reason. Scotland will almost certainly be independent within the next decade or so and good luck to them. Nothing forever, not the U.K. U.S.S.R. British Empire, or the E.U. everything changes, eventually, we should embrace the change. 🙂

  • I believe we should definitely have an English Parliament. It is quite wrong that Scottish MPs can vote on English only issues – especially separatists.

    As for devolution to English regions people gave up after the NE assembly proposals were rejected but that was partly because the proposals themselves were rubbish and very centralising. Maybe revolving power to the traditional counties would work.

    Devolution to Scotland and Wales has essentially been a failure as it has created illiberal one-party states. Not sure what the solution would be. Maybe return some powers to Westminster and introduce STV as the voting system.

  • @ Fiona The SNP aren’t the only party one can vote for that supports a fully sovereign Scottish Parliament……. and, if you look at history, a great many of the 58 Liberal M.P.’s elected in 1910 campaigned for this….. and but for the war in 1914 ??????

    @ Marco “Devolution to Scotland and Wales has essentially been a failure as it has created illiberal one-party states”.

    Oh dear, you really do talk a load of ……… Marco. Wales has a Lib Dem Education Minister in the Labour Cabinet and the SNP in Scotland depend on other parties (usually the Greens) to get their budget through. As someone who lives in Scotland I can tell you the Holyrood decisions have been a heck of a lot less illiberal during the last ten years at Westminster…….. and after over fifty years of voting Liberal/Lib Dem I think I know what illiberal means.

  • John Marriott 26th Oct '20 - 8:40pm

    Having an English Parliament wouldn’t help Lincolnshire, where I live. Decisions will still be taken centrally. Devolving powers away from the centre is surely a better bet to satisfy local needs.

    You seem to think that it’s all about party politics. Not at all as far as I am concerned. ‘One party states’? How did you come to that conclusion? Parties gain power because the electors put them there. Both Wales and Scotland have a form of PR, perhaps not the pure form you prefer but certainly not FPTP. Isn’t the Welsh Education Secretary a Lib Dem and didn’t the Lib Dems share power north of the border until a few years ago, if that’s what bothers you? Perhaps you don’t like what you see; but people in Wales and Scotland seem to at the moment. Why should I take what someone in London thinks is good for me? That’s what you’d get with an English Parliament based in London, or any other place for that matter.

  • Denis Mollison 26th Oct '20 - 9:54pm

    @John Marriott
    “A federal solution won’t work if you insist on pitting England, with 80% of the UK’s population, against the rest”
    “let’s sort out English local government first!”
    @ Alan Jelfs
    “The simple choice is a plan for a Federal England, or lose Scotland.”
    “Surely in a federal UK, there will be federalisation of the English regions”

    I don’t think you’ve understood what I’m proposing – I apologise if my explanation wasn’t sufficiently clear.

    My thesis is that essentially different kinds of power-sharing are appropriate for the four-nation level (confederal) and for within England (federal / devolution / local government reform). A major advantage of this framework is that it decouples the two processes: each can develop at its own rate, or you can have one without the other.

  • Denis Mollison 26th Oct '20 - 9:57pm

    @David Raw
    If the UK became a confederation of four independent countries, I would expect the EU to take a positive attitude to establishing as close relations as possible with those components that wanted them. If full membership is problematic, EFTA or the EEA offer an alternative (see discussion on pages 144-150 of the The Welsh Independence Commission’s report).

    As to nuclear weapons, last week the UN treaty to ban them reached 50 signatories and thus became operational (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/25/treaty-banning-nuclear-weapons-made-official-with-50th-un-signatory), so hopefully an independent Scotland could either simply get rid of nuclear weapons from its territory, or make their continuance conditional on serious moves across the UK to engage in the international nuclear disarmament process.

  • I thought that would go down well

    Re Scotland – you never hear of the Scottish Government described as an SNP-Green government. There is a perpetual nationalist government promoting Scottish “exceptionalism” and petty point scoring against Westminster. Home Rule has threatened the existence of the Union and undermined Britain’s standing (eg when they released that terrorist and gave Gadaffi a propaganda coup).

    Re Wales – you never hear the Welsh government described as a Labour – Lib Dem government either. Labour have run Wales permanently since the start of devolution. The tacit agreement was you can have an assembly as long as you vote Labour. Welsh voters played ball even when Scottish voters didn’t. They have done a poor job of managing the health service. Thankfully they don’t have law making powers.

    I’m sure Kirsty Williams is doing a good job but has she actually done anything differently to what a Labour minister would have done. Is she not in effect a Lib Dem serving in a Labour administration?

    I’m happy to be convinced I’m wrong.

  • John Marriott 27th Oct '20 - 7:32am

    You know, whenever I see Arlene, Mark or Nicola at the podium speaking on behalf of their citizens I honestly never consider what party they are representing. As the Kaiser said at the start of WW1; “I do not recognise parties any more, only Germans”.

    I wonder what media outlets you pay attention to. Yes, devolution works, like democracy can work if you give it a chance. It can be messy; but it’s better than what we’ve got in England at the moment!

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Oct '20 - 9:49am

    We 56 million English get 30 seats in this chamber and the less than 6 million Scots get 12?
    Now where did I put my calculator?

  • John Marriott 27th Oct '20 - 10:36am

    No, Mr Innocent. In my system, if you are referring to a Federal Parliament (although I’m not really sure) elected from NI, Wales, Scotland and however many English regions emerge, each population area would have around the same number of MFPs.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Oct '20 - 11:45am

    Thanks for the promotion of confederalism!
    It seems to offer opportunities for co-operative nationalism which could take us to a less class based and anti-democratic globalism than we seem to have currently.

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Oct '20 - 11:49am

    I think the proposal was 30+12+10+8? Wasn’t it?

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 11:59am

    @Innocent bystander
    You’re essentially agreeing with me: that was one of my reasons why a federal solution won’t work for the UK.
    For a confederation of sovereign nations you can’t have one able to outvote all the others combined. The example I gave was Benelux, where three countries with populations in the ratio approximately 30:20:1 have representation 3:3:1. Another example, of an admittedly much looser confederation, is the UN Assembly, where Tuvalu (pop. 10,000) and China (nearly 1.5 bn) each have one vote.

    @John Marriott
    My reasons why this nations+regions federal arrangement won’t work are given in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of my article (beginning “The crucial distinction ..”).

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Oct '20 - 12:17pm

    Thank you Dennis but I don’t think I was agreeing. As an English citizen my influence in this Confederation appears to be only a fifth of that enjoyed by the citizens of the other three nations.
    I also fear that offering to run the UK with the same clarity, purposefulness and unity as the UN General Assembly is not altogether helpful to the proposal.
    If this is a concept to pacify the Scots I would only warn that the English have their own perspective on Scottish independence. Millions, worldwide, would love to have free and unfettered access to all that England has to offer in employment, the arts and media, business and enterprise. If the Scottish want to deprive themselves of that well so be it.
    The 300 year old Welcome mat can be easily thrown away.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Oct '20 - 1:08pm

    Helen Thompson, writing in New Statesman makes a pretty good case for why independence is not the answer to Scotland’s problems:


    In fact, the only point that I could see she missed is Tam Dalyell’s “West Lothian question” from 1977 when the Callaghan government offered devolution as a sweetner for SNP support, and he was persistent in pointing out the consequences of allowing Scots and Welsh MPs to vote on England-only issues.

  • Peter Hirst 27th Oct '20 - 1:49pm

    A federal UK where the devolved nations can outvote England would certainly be a step in the right direction but would it be sufficient at least for Scotland? If we seriously want to keep Scotland within it, we need a mixture of the above and putting the nations in charge of what they delegate to the central government. The idea is to achieve a situation where it is neither credible or possible for any nation to campaign for independence.

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 2:09pm

    @Laurence Cox
    I think Helen Thompson’s punchline – “we must then find our collective way to a settlement that allows for Anglo-Scottish divergence without leading to constitutional crisis” – summarises what I was trying to do in my article.

    But I don’t see the basis for your claim that her article shows “why independence is not the answer to Scotland’s problems”. Helen Thompson’s article is all about the technicalities of constitutional problems and politics, not about “Scotland’s problems”. [And why “Scotland’s problems”? The independence movement is at least as much about “Scotland’s opportunities”.]

  • @marco

    “Re Scotland – you never hear of the Scottish Government described as an SNP-Green government.”

    For the simple reason that it isn’t. Bu the SNP Government is a minority government dependent on the parties to get its budget and legislation through ( not the Lib Dems however who have taken the position that they will not take part in budget discussions until the SNP renounce independence). Before the SNP came to power in 2007 ( as a minority government) there had been nearly a decade of Labour/Lib Dem government. So Scotland is clearly not an illiberal one party state with “perpetual” SNP government.

    “It is quite wrong that Scottish MPs can vote on English only issues – especially separatists.” EVEL has been in place for several years. Interestingly, the Internal Market Bill means that English MPs could now be able to decide Scottish education, food standards and whole range of other policies simply by virtue of voting on “English only” matters.

    Scottish people don’t think that devolution has been a failure as revealed consistently by the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.

  • @Fiona

    “The traditional SNP voters were anti-EU, and a lot of the ‘we were dragged out of the EU against our will’ rhetoric comes from people who previously campaigned for it.”

    I’m not clear what a “traditional SNP voter” was or is but there is clearly a lot more SNP voters now than there was and that has come about with a more or less unequivocal SNP policy in support of the EU and of an independent Scotland rejoining the EU. By contrast, the Lib Dems seem to have lost a lot of support.

  • Gerald Stewart 27th Oct '20 - 3:01pm

    Peter Hirst-, you are actually advocating for the minority to be able to out vote the majority, as a constitutional right?? How does that fit in with democracy?

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 3:30pm

    @Gerald Stuart
    See my reply to IB of 11.59

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 3:30pm

    Sorry – Stewart not Stuart

  • Gerald Stewart 27th Oct '20 - 3:45pm

    Dennis Mollison, no prob. I get the theory, I just don’t agree with it as a solution with which I as an English person would choose to live. Given the politics this would likely lead to the reverse of the current situation, in which the other nations with a smaller combined population would constantly or at least often out vote England. That to my mind is not a solution it is a reversal of the problem. If the majority of the population of Scotland feel so politically and socially different to and divorced from England then independence is an answer, not, in my opinion treating their votes as being of greater worth than the majority of the nation. That to me is not acceptable, I’d rather see the break up of the union and new relationships between the nations.

  • @Laurence cox

    The Thomson article in the New Statesman is poor for a Cambridge professor.

    Firstly, I would expect her to get basic historical facts right e.g. Scotland doesn’t have an established church!

    Secondly, she seems unaware of the current developments which are undermining both the Treaty of Union and the devolution settlement. On the former, the so called independent review of judicial review has been set up by and is reporting only to the Lord Chancellor of England and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster although its scope cover the Scottish legal system and the Court of Session. On the latter, the Internal Markets Bill is effectively bringing the era of devolution to a close ( see the Centre for Constitutional Change’s report :https://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/news_opinion/uk-internal-market-principles-will-create-distrust-within-union-says-new-report) if the complete disregard of the Sewell Convention on legislative consent hadn’t already done so. Andrew Bowie, the Tory MP for Aberdeen West and Kincardineshire, has said that the IM Bill is “just the start” and Scotland should “Get used to it” and, as an example of where that might lead to, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary for England, refused to deny that the UK Government could use the IM Bill to impose English fees policies on Scotland’s university system.

    So Thomson is disregarding the risks to Scotland of remaining in a union where increasingly the protection of devolution will no longer be available. In the past two decades, Scotland has seen it taken into a disastrous illegal war by a Westminster government, plunged into a deep financial and economic crisis by a Westminster government failing to regulate the banking system effectively, and now taken out of the EU despite a sizeable and increasing majority of it voters being opposed and its Scottish Government compromise proposals not even being considered.

    A continuing union will only work if Scotland voters and their elected Scottish Governments can have a decisive role on such major issues.

  • Gerald Stewart 27th Oct '20 - 3:47pm

    No offence intended from me either! 🙂

  • @John Marriott

    “As the Kaiser said at the start of WW1; “I do not recognise parties any more, only Germans”.”

    Very funny.

    Unfortunately the SNP are one of the main reasons devolution isn’t working. They cannot bring about reform because to do so would be to admit that they have all the powers they need without seeking independence.

    However the problem is not just the SNP it is the way devolution was done. It has created a “rival governments” situation where there is an adversarial relationship with Westminster.

    It is also very centralised meaning the two potential benefits of devolution aren’t realised – one is legitimacy as the Highlands and Islands don’t like being ruled from the Central Belt (Orkney and Shetland said they would seek self-government if Scotland voted for independence). Secondly you don’t get the “policy laboratory” effect where local innovations can be rolled out elsewhere if successful. Instead there is a recipe for inertia and resistance to social and public service reform whoever is in office.

    It would have been better to have a smaller and less powerful Parliament with a committee like approach elected by STV and have localism in Scotland for example cities like Glasgow could thrive under a high profile elected mayor willing to address social problems.

    I also can’t believe that Scotland could have different hate crime laws to the rest of the UK.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Oct '20 - 5:02pm

    Might all the “Four Nations” having equal powers and, thus, equal status and respect, lead to a more genuinely “United Kingdom” and reduce the problems associated with the current arrangements, which some might see as a miniature English empire?

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 5:02pm

    Suppose Scotland, Wales and N Ireland were already independent, and it was proposed to form a closer confederation, what areas of government would you wish to share (single market? shared currency? common foreign policy and defence?), and how would you set up governance for the confederation? I would suggest you would aim to act as far as possible through consensus, as Benelux do, and where consensus on a major issue is impossible leave that out of the sharing arrangement.
    Now natural Brexiteers woul likely baulk at any such arrangement, but I would have thought Liberal Democrats would be keen to make it work.

  • Denis Mollison 27th Oct '20 - 5:10pm

    Absolutely agree that SNP’s centralising tendency is retrograde, though the bit about Orkney and Shetland saying they would seek self-government if Scotland voted for independence is a myth.

    “I also can’t believe that Scotland could have different hate crime laws to the rest of the UK.”
    But we do, and a highly controversial new Hate Crime Bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-53567229).

  • Gerald Stewart 27th Oct '20 - 5:33pm

    Denis, I wouldn’t vote for a confederation. I certainly wouldn’t want the other nations to be able to out vote England on any of those areas. As for a single single market, if the other nations others were interested, then I would expect England having by far the greater share of said market to have the greater say in the rules. Much as the E.U. as the bigger partner in the Brexit negotiations also has the stronger negotiating hand. All’s fair in love and war… and international negotiations. Similarly if it was in England’s interest to enter into a currency union as the far greater part of the economy the final say on fiscal rules and economic policy would have to be with England. If other independent nations were unable to accept this they would be free to form their own currency, or apply for E.U. membership and join the Euro, giving them next to zero control of their own economy.

  • John Marriott 27th Oct '20 - 5:50pm

    @Steve Trevethan
    Yes, yes, yes. My view precisely!
    You obviously don’t get the Kaiser Bill quote. My point? We on these islands have much more in common than some of us are prepared to admit. The fact is that, north of the border, the SNP has, like William Webb Ellis allegedly did at Rugby School back in 1823, picked up the political ball and has run with it. Like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand recently, the SNP has in the past managed an absolute majority under a form of PR. That doesn’t happen very often – the German CDU did it once in 1956 – so they must have done something right, and I don’t just mean whipping up an enthusiasm for independence. It clearly doesn’t help the anti independence movement, largely orchestrated from Westminster, when the Scots were told that the only way of their staying in the EU was to stick to the Union!

  • @ John Marriott

    Oh I had assumed you were joking about the Kaiser and especially the bit about Arlene speaking for the whole of Northern Ireland!

  • John Marriott 27th Oct '20 - 10:30pm

    The point I was trying and, in your case, failing to make was that the politicians I named are, whether you like it or not, representing their ‘nations’, not their parties. Like the Kaiser, when facing the kind of threat currently posed by COVID, the last thing I want to see is anyone trying to make party political points out of adversity.

  • Robert Brown 27th Oct '20 - 11:37pm

    Denis has raised some interesting possibilities and there is clearly a spectrum of federal/confederal arrangements. The difference between the two though can be fundamental (cf American Civil War).

    However much of the comment in this conversation rests to my mind on the fallacy that “Scotland” or even more so “England “ has a single view. That is a nationalist not a Liberal perspective.

    More particularly the whole argument about whether 55 million people in England can/should be outvoted by less than 10 million in the other home nations is highly unsatisfactory – in a federal system based on the nations and regions, it is highly likely that say there would be alliances between Scotland, the East of England and the South West on fishing, between London and Scotland on financial services, or the north of England and Wales on industrial
    Policy. The examples don’t matter but you can see the drift. A decentralised United Kingdom – particularly with PR for Westminster – would quite simply operate differently from the present set up – and would reflect the true interests of the people of the different parts of our country. It would rebalance our constitution.

    Following the debate at the Federal conference on the our motion, the FPC has set up a working group to look again at the issue of England and English regions in a federal UK. Yes we need to consider the structures – and I too think the 9 statutory regions (including London) are at least an obvious basis. However much more is there a need to lay out and demonstrate the advantages to local people and communities across Britain of a federal solution.

    Denis’s confederal scheme has some features that may prove to be relevant but a federal United Kingdom is in fact much more dynamic, practical – and indeed Liberal – than he gives it credit for. A federal UK based on the nations and regions is also written into our Party’s DNA In its constitution.

  • Innocent Bystander 28th Oct '20 - 8:25am

    The urge to break up England keeps reappearing. The English will never permit that and nationalism is much more powerful than nebulous liberalism.
    Having failed at the emotional level it’s a non starter at the practical level too.
    By far the biggest is, of course, money. Where is it raised and where is it spent?
    Will there be more little Barnett formulae between London and all the others? The one we already have causes resentment enough and the one good thing about independence will be after all the cheering and waving of Saltires we can watch their economy collapse.
    But will these separate English regions have the same power as the nations? Parliaments? Tax raising powers? A flag? A national anthem? The nations have all of those?
    “Home Counties North,
    Of thee we sing,
    From Stevenage,
    To leafy Tring” ?
    Or will the English be fobbed off with some toothless “Assembly” while the nations have the power?
    Will the English be content with a plan that is not democracy at all but the crude breaking up of their home to appease unappeasable Scottish Nationalism?
    Put Federal and ConFederal in the box full of wishes and for dreams that will never come true.

  • Denis Mollison 28th Oct '20 - 12:57pm

    @Innocent B
    Again I agree with a lot of your points , though I wish your sense of humour were coupled with less aggression – do you really want the Scottish economy to collapse? (Which is a by no means certain outcome of independence, see e.g. https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2020/08/29/who-subsidises-who-is-london-really-the-one-doing-the-subsidising-or-the-one-being-subsidised-by-the-rest-of-the-uk/).

    Like you, I was trying to say that we need to decouple relations between the four nations (where I’m suggesting a confederal arrangement) from any reform of England’s government structure.
    As to the latter, you make good points as to why putting English regions on the same footing as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a nonsense. But that’s not to say that we should do nothing about the over-centralisation of English government that has crept in over the past 40 years – see, e.g., https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v38/n24/tom-crewe/the-strange-death-of-municipal-england .

  • John Marriott 28th Oct '20 - 1:32pm

    @Innocent Bystander
    You know, over the years I have found that when some people are incapable of thinking outside the box they often resort to satire and ridicule. Oh to have your unbridled certainty! Who are ‘the English’, anyway?

    I don’t know whether you follow Sport; but, even if you don’t, have a look on YouTube at any coverage of the 1966 World Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium and see how many Union Jacks outnumbered Crosses of St George. I grew up thinking of myself as British first, then Leicester second. I bet Gary Lineker probably did the same. Now I think of myself as a Lincolnshire Yellow Belly, as I’ve lived in the county for over half of my 77 years. Do I want my local decisions decided in London? You must be joking? (Now that’s not satire; that’s FACT!)

  • Innocent Bystander 28th Oct '20 - 3:23pm

    Dennis and John,
    I realise my words are not to everyone’s taste but they are benign and gentle compared to some English views on Indy.
    At the recent campaign banners waved which read “Nae English Slaves!” and blue painted faces don’t induce warm feelings in an English heart.
    The only two proposals offered, over and over again, are either one Scottish vote becomes worth five English ones or England is broken up into separate mini-states.
    That would not be acceptable to any other nation on earth, would it?
    I perceive Dennis, and correct me if I am wrong, that you think something has to be done to counterbalance the size of England in the Union and your proposal is probably a very valid one.
    But the English, i believe, will regard either option as too high a price to pay to preserve the Union.
    As to the new nation of Lincolnshire (anthem – “Lincolnshire Poacher”, flag – completely featureless) the problem will arise over funding. It will become obvious which regions are subsidising others because of ” local control”.
    London and the South East may well invoke “local control” of their own money and drastically reduce their own taxes and invite Lincoln to drastically raise theirs.

  • John Marriott 28th Oct '20 - 4:41pm

    @Innocent etc
    My point was that ‘Englishness’ is quite a recent phenomenon. I know that Rupert Brooke, and William Blake for that matter had a thing about England; but I reckon that both were not necessarily referring to the same England (a case, perhaps, of ‘Grantchester ’ versus ‘dark satanic mills’). The Cross of St George, who I believe, was Turkish (as for slaying a dragon, well, I ask you), has now been hijacked by the far right. As Oscar Wilde was supposed to have said; “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

    So I would rather identify as being British, because, believe it or not, I’m proud of what the people of these little islands have achieved, regardless of whether they had to indulge in slavery to achieve their aims. (A nod to ‘Black lives matter’, perhaps) After all, back then, nearly everybody was doing it and, indeed, the largest number of ‘slaves’ were members of our own mainly white working classes, whether crofters in Ireland or Scotland, mill workers in the north of England, coal miners in Wales, or agricultural workers everywhere. That was then and this is now, as they say.

    So, why nit divide ‘England’ up into regions for the sake of governance? It won’t be easy to decide where to draw the lines. What Messrs Sykes and Picot did to the Middle East back in 1916 may seem like a walk in the park compared with this task. However, why not try it? As JFK said about his first nuclear test ban agreement; “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We still aren’t there yet; but we keep trying!

    As for ‘Independence for Lincolnshire’ we need to get into the 21st century first. In many ways we are still stuck somewhere in the 1950s. That’s why, as my dear wife once said, old Tories move up here to die!

  • Innocent Bystander 28th Oct '20 - 5:01pm

    It depends on your definition of “recent”. Englishness was all there was until the Act of Union. I am proud of my nationality, which is British – for the moment, but I think the SNP will prevail, sooner or later and neither of us will be British any longer.
    I applaud Dennis for trying to preserve the Union which has kept historic antagonisms to the sports field for three centuries but all ideas are at the expense of English democracy or nationhood and can not succeed.
    I don’t want to be an English nationalist, instead of British, but I will soon have no choice apart from the unacceptable alternatives offered.

  • @robertbrown
    “Denis’s confederal scheme has some features that may prove to be relevant but a federal United Kingdom is in fact much more dynamic, practical – and indeed Liberal – than he gives it credit for…..”

    I think it is worth remembering that in Scotland at least unionism and Britishness are not the same thing historically and currently.

    The Scottish conservatives in their various guises were both unionists and Scottish nationalists. In the 2011 IIRC Census about 60% of Scottish respondents identified as Scottish only and less than 20%as Scottish only. So a lot of Scots have strong sense of nationhood even if they are supporters of independence.

    The practical political consequences of that in my view are that firstly an appeal to “Britishness” isn’t going to work in Scotland which is why the Tories in their post Brexit manifestation are going to fail mightily as they attempt to impose a British stamp on Scotland for example through the Internal market Bill. Secondly, Scottish people in the main do not see themselves as simply region of the UK and a federal solution which seeks to put their polity on a par with for example Yorkshire &Humberside or London will not gain traction. Thirdly and relatedly, any solution which doe snot in some way put a four nation or majority nationlock on decisions such as Brexit isn’t facing up to the reality of what has happened in Scotland and what us happening with the deliberate undermining of the devolution settlement and, with the Westminster review of Judical review, the Treaty of Union,

    In short, my reading is that the only option which may have some chance of preventing Scottish independence is a confederal option.

  • John Marriott 28th Oct '20 - 6:26pm

    @Innocent etc
    The kind of Federalism I have been advocating for years would enable the Scots to stay a part of the UK and yet more or less do their own thing. The same applies for NI, Wales and the English regions.

    Let’s differentiate between the SNP as administrators of Scotland and campaigners for Independence. In the former they would appear to be quite successful, given their current electoral popularity. However, going completely your own way, without the Barnett Formula, having to accept the Euro and paying for your own defence, might concentrate minds in a way that Johnson’s ham fisted bungling has failed to do. It’s a bit like people being prepared to support Lib Dems in local government but baulking at the idea of their forming a national government.

    Who knows, if WW1 hadn’t intervened, the Asquith government, supported by Irish Nationalists and allowing Ulster a certain latitude, might have achieved Home Rule for Ireland as a first step towards a Federal UK, which incorporated the whole of the British Isles.

  • I stand corrected as I thought EVEL didnt apply to all laws but it seems it does.

  • Gerald be Stewart 28th Oct '20 - 8:21pm

    I don’t see any solution that works for all, either with the status quo or some form of fedaral or confedaral, options one or more population of the constituents of the U.K. will feel they have been given the short straw, no matter how hard others may try to persuade them otherwise. As an English person, I would find the confederal option, or the federal regionalisation of England unacceptable. I would agree that English identity is not as visible as those of the other parts of the U.K. but put the English in a situation in which the other parts of the U.K. have a national government to speak for them but England does not, or where the vast majority of the U.K. can be out voted, then I think the English identity will become very much more aparent. I was born in Durham, once a principality with it’s own mint, love, ( that real illogical heartfelt love ), the city county and that entire north eastern part of the country, but identify as English first.
    If the U.K. needs to break up to satisfy it’s constituent populations then so be it, it could be a very exciting period for all concerned.

  • John Marriott 28th Oct '20 - 10:09pm

    In a Federal UK it would be the Federal Government, probably still based in London, backed by a Federal Parliament and scrutinised by a Senate, that would speak for the Welsh, Northern Irish, Scots and English to the international community. Internal affairs would be the responsibility of the individual nations and regions.

  • Denis Mollison 28th Oct '20 - 10:27pm

    @John Marriott
    That is one of the alternatives considered and rejected in my article.

  • Gerald Stewart 28th Oct '20 - 10:32pm

    John Marriott, understood, but domestically England would be at a disadvantage as arguably it is now, mitigated somewhat by having the majority of MP’s and the dubious EVEL which in any case hardly comes in to play due to the Barnet formula and various similar but different instruments for Wales and Northern Ireland.
    Even without a federal solution for the U.K. there is an argument for an English parliament to give England parity with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

  • John Marriott 29th Oct '20 - 9:05am

    @Gerard Stewart
    An ‘English Parliament’ would not give England parity with the other nations. How can it when it would represent 80% of the UK’s population? Having four ‘national parliaments’ in a Federal UK, each with the same rights and tax raising powers, would not be unlike the US Senate, where each state has two representatives. So Wyoming, with around half a million inhabitants is on a par with, for example, California, with nearly forty million.

  • John Marriott 29th Oct '20 - 10:07am

    @Dennis Mollison
    The problem with ‘nationalities’ is how you define them. Granted that most Scots, Welsh, English and Northern Irish still live in their respective ‘countries’. However, what about all those, who don’t – and I include the Southern Irish here as well? For example, the current Leader of Labour in Scotland is an Englishman and the currently far more successful captain of the English ODI cricket team hails from the Irish Republic. What about Gordon Brown or David Lloyd George or even the first Duke of Wellington? Surely they made their names away from their native land?

    They and all other bone fide inhabitants of these islands, and I include the Irish Republic here as well, have one thing in common, namely that their normal language of communication is English, or in some cases their version of it! So that, in my book, makes them citizens of the UK, and given the privileges afford Irish Republic citizens over here, might even be argued to include all the legal inhabitants of the British Isles.

    So, what am I getting at, you might ask? Well, what I’m getting at is that, when push comes to shove, we do possess a collective identity to the world. We tend to rejoice in collective success just as, unfortunately, failure encourages us to look for blame elsewhere. When he was losing, Sir Andy Murray was often referred to as “a plucky Scot”, while, when he was winning, he became “our wonderful Brit”.

    However, within these shores, when we govern ourselves we become more parochial, and why not? When a Bavarian, for example, is at home he or she takes pride in their heritage. When abroad they identify as German – and don’t forget that, before 1871 there was no such place as ‘Germany’. When was the Act of Union?

  • Innocent Bystander 29th Oct '20 - 12:07pm

    Your aspirations for collective identity are touching but in vain. I am sure there were many Yugoslavians who wanted that nation to retain its identity but were disappointed and the SNP will disappoint you too.
    The debate now needs to be how the English respond to a new and separate nation emerging to its North.
    It would be anathema to us if the Scots repudiated the Act of Union but continued to expect to enjoy the same free and unfettered access to our country that the Act conferred.
    The SNP have already declared an intention to open their borders to immigration, presumably to replace their citizens who head for employment in England.
    As if these immigrants wouldn’t immediately do the same.
    So we need to plan a border, we will need to divide the current passports already in issuance into Scottish validity and English ones. All sorts to protect our own position.

  • Gerald Stewart 29th Oct '20 - 12:17pm

    John Marriott. Why should England be the only part of the U.K. without an assembly or parliament dedicated to it’s governance, does that seem fair or equitable?
    I understand your argument, I just think it allows a minority to out vote the majority, which I don’t think is fair or equitable,would not vote for and would not choose to live under. Let’s face it the reason the SNP is riding high in Scotland is because increasing numbers of the population have very different political and social views to the English, I can’t see the Scottish reps in a senate type body, voting with England, on anything much. What I can see is Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voting as a block and overruling the wishes of the largest part of the U.K. I think independence is the way to go, Scotland can be fully autonomous, as can the rest of the U.K. Northern Ireland and Wales could stay in the remainder of the union or look at other options. Northern Ireland will probably ultimately unite with the republic in any case. Maybe Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might choose to form some Confederate union of Celtic states, who knows? but I couldn’t support the regionalisation of England whilst the others were governed as single entities.

  • John Marriott 29th Oct '20 - 1:42pm

    @Innocent etc.
    Yugoslavia? A confection created after WW1 out of the rotting carcasses of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, with life breathed into it by Josip Broz aka Tito after WW2. It disintegrated after his death. They didn’t even all speak the same language! Try again and stop obsessing about the SNP, for goodness sake! It takes two to tango.
    @Gerald Stewart
    It’s all about size, both geographic and population. Scotland may want to be independent; but what do you mean by “the rest of the UK Northern Ireland and Wales”. Where is England, then? A Freudian slip? England is NOT the United Kingdom. In any case, what if Wales or Northern Ireland go for independence as well? Ever heard of the domino theory? I don’t know where you live; but I can assure you that many people here in Lincolnshire are getting pretty fed up being dictated to by people in London. People in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester I might accept, especially if the money was there to make things happen. The way many in the U.K. government and Parliament behave you might be forgiven in thinking that we already had an English Parliament.

  • Innocent Bystander 29th Oct '20 - 2:23pm

    Do I take it that you believe Indy will never happen?
    I, on the other hand, think it is a racing certainty now. As to obsessing, Dennis’ original piece was about a Confederation designed wholly to neutralise the SNP agenda so I remain right on topic. My offerings are for a post Indy world because that is (in my view) inevitable and relatively soon.
    As to Lincolnshire freeing itself from the shackles of Westminster and the South East, I think we have covered that already. The break up of England is never discussed anywhere at all, apart from the back rooms of the LibDems who have managed to persuade 95 voters out of every 100 to vote for someone else.
    It is impossible anyway as there still would need to be a England tier before the Federal tier because of funding.
    Lincolnshire may well be delighted to be free of the shackles of the South East.
    The South East will be even more delighted to be rid of the cost of Lincolnshire.

  • Gerald Stewart 29th Oct '20 - 4:44pm

    John Marriott, not a Freudian slip, just a simple error not uncommon for me when typing on small devices, or larger ones .Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.🙂 Having parents that
    were born in Glasgow, I am fiercely aware that England is not the U.K. nor is it Great Britain or the British Isles and if my parents hadn’t taught me that it was also a point made throughout school.
    I think the difference between, me and some of the other people posting is that regardless of whether there should be a change in the way England is governed or not, some people think we should make changes to prevent Scotland leaving.
    I don’t sign up to that thinking, if any or all of Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland choose to stay in the current U.K. then great, if any or all choose to leave then best of luck, nothing lasts forever, but I won’t vote for a system for England that I don’t feel is fair simply to keep other parts of the U.K. from deciding to go for independence.

  • Gerald Stewart 29th Oct '20 - 6:15pm

    Actually John, whilst my prose and gramma could always do with improvement, I think you have quoted me out of context there, I was trying to say in my own inimitable way that-:
    I think independence is the way to go Scotland can be fully autonomous as can the rest of the U.K. – end point.
    Northern Ireland and Wales could stay in the rest of the U.K. or look at other options – end point.
    Now perhaps it would have been better phrased as Northern Ireland and Wales could choose to remain in a union England or look at other options…. but-:
    Are you sure you weren’t looking for something that really wasn’t there? perhaps it’s you that needs an appointment with Mr Freud?

  • John Marriott 30th Oct '20 - 7:36am

    Dear Gerald, Innocent and the rest
    Thank you for engaging with me in what is one of my hobby horses, namely how we can become more like the Germans, in terms of governance, at least. Naive as my ideas may seem to some, they are sincerely held in the belief that, despite all our differences, which, incidentally, we should cherish, we really are better together.

    “They may say that I’m a dreamer. I not the only one“ – at least I sincerely hope not!😄

  • Peter Davies 30th Oct '20 - 7:45am

    I would have thought the loss of Northern Ireland more inevitable though perhaps more distant than that of Scotland. Apart from the demographic reasons, the Brexit deal looks like a positive move to expel it from the union. This would give Scotland and Wales between them six times as many votes as Greater London which has a larger population than the two put together. England may not have much of a separate identity outside the sporting arena but in those circumstances they would probably exercise their right to secede.

  • Innocent Bystander 30th Oct '20 - 10:09am

    And I enjoy exchanging opinions with yourself on this and other topics. I admire your optimism and I know I make Eeyore look like Christopher Biggns but I live on realism not hope. Nationalism is a powerful and ugly force to which the English are not immune and I deeply regret our leaving of the EU, the best invention yet for taming frenzied nationalists.
    Germany, of course, WAS individual states until Big Otto did the Athelstan thing to them so federation is natural there.
    You offered Lennon as your theme song. There may be a better one for you from my youth which I seem to remember involved an ant and a rubber tree plant.

  • Gerald Stewart 30th Oct '20 - 11:40am

    John Marriot, thanks, I have also enjoyed the exchange of views.🙂

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