A great compromise is needed to reunite the United Kingdom

When the American constitutional convention assembled in Philidelphia in 1787 to revise the articles of confederation and create the present US Constitution, it had to find a way of balancing the interests of large states with those of smaller ones.

The problem was that some states wanted the number of congressional representatives to be proportional to the population of a state, while others wanted the number of representatives to be the same for all states. Naturally, each state preferred the plan which would give them a larger say in how the government was run.

After much debate, the impasse was solved by one of History’s great compromises. Instead of one legislative chamber, it was resolved that America would have two. The first, a house of representatives, would have a membership determined by population. The second, a Senate, would have the same number of members from each state.

In reaching this compromise the delegates from the smaller states accepted that larger populations meant a larger say, while delegates from larger states accepted that the United States would be more united if the smaller states had an equal say in governance.

Much of the United Kingdom’s present disunity lies in our failure to reach an equivalent compromise. For too long we have endured a system of government where one nation in our Union can override the will of all the others. We cannot endure such a system much longer.

More devolution isn’t going to help because it is not the division of responsibility between the nations and the state that is the problem. The problem is the unequal say of the United Kingdom’s constituent nations in its legislature and the running of the state.

To reunite the United Kingdom, we need to correct the imbalance of power at the heart of our legislature. We could do this either by new constitutional conventions or by establishing a Senate with an equal number of representatives from each of our four nations.

If our union is to have a future, we must make the relationship between our nations one of equality. Our largest nation must finally accept, as the largest US states accepted, that the best way to gain power over the future is to share power with others. That is the great compromise that is needed to reunite the United Kingdom.

* Scott Craig is a member of the Liberal Democrats, currently living in Edinburgh

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35 Comments

  • Neil Mackinnon 29th Nov '16 - 2:55pm

    This is spot on and an argument that is regularly made here in Scotland.

    Some conservative forces will try and muddy the waters by questioning what is a constituent part of the United Kingdom e.g. arguments concerning Cornwall or Yorkshire. We should see these for what they are – an attempt to stifile progress. It’s universally recognised that there are four constituent countries that make up the United Kingdom.

    The United Kingdom is drinking in the last chance saloon of history. If it wants to survive it must accept radical reform.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Nov '16 - 3:02pm

    This would lead to England splitting up into smaller nations because we wouldn’t accept having the same say as much smaller nations. It would be in the interests of the regions to break up and break up again – the balkanisation of the United Kingdom (and possibly Northern Ireland and other nations).

    As Joe says, it’s more of the same “electoral college” stuff where parties that win the popular vote have a less likely chance of winning the election.

  • John Peters 29th Nov '16 - 3:41pm

    The constituent Nations can leave the UK if that’s what they want.

    Scotland will undoubtedly vote on the issue once more post Brexit.

  • Barry Snelson 29th Nov '16 - 3:55pm

    This wheeze gets aired time and again and pointing out the obvious flaws, yet again, is sure to attract the usual denunciations and accusations of obstructionism.
    It must mean England has to be broken up or English voters told their votes count less, at about an eighth, of other voters in this Senate.
    The comparison with the USA is nonsense.
    The correct comparison would be a new “United North America” of a new nation made up of the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, and Canada and see if you could knock up a reasonable Senate for that which all would be happy with.
    At least this piece is clear, the largest nation has to accept being disenfranchised but still taxed, by others. The Union’s days are numbered.

  • David Evershed 29th Nov '16 - 4:33pm

    The equivalent to the American states in the UK is counties not countries.

    So the House of Lords would have an equal number of representatives from each county. We might also allow a few boroughs to have representatives.

    Being in the same geographical area does not mean there is a consistent political view of course. There is rivalry between our village and each of the surrounding villages, let alone between our county and the next.

  • Compromise! This is 2016. Words like compromise, consensus, empathy, understanding are just not in the lexicon. This is the year/era of nationalism, tribalism, division, intolerance, walls, winners and losers and worse. Lets face it the SNP isn’t completely innocent in this respect either. Personally, I would like to see more respect for the devolved nations. Whether your idea would work is doubtful, but if not, lets not stop looking for ways to address one another’s aspirations.

  • ROGER HEAPE 29th Nov '16 - 5:21pm

    I cant see why the Federal solution is not appropriate its certainly simple.
    1.Each country has its own parliament responsible for all domestic matters and elected by the same form of PR as used in Scotland.
    2 This means an English Parliament made up of existing English constituencies and their MP,s
    3.Non Domestic matters ie defense ,foreign affairs,currency,would be dealt with by a small federal parliament (poss 100 MP’s) .They would be elected either by equal numbers for each nation or in proportion to population.
    4.The House of Lords would be abolished
    Thus we have a solution which importantly saves money.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Nov '16 - 5:31pm

    It’s an interesting though not new idea to raise at this time of division, because of the voting in the Referendum, between England and Wales being pro-Brexit as opposed to Scotland and Northern Ireland being anti. The very fact of that two-way new division suggests that that your suggestion does not meet the times: why would Wales want to be separated from England constitutionally? In any case the idea has never seemed fair to me, because of the gross inequality of population numbers, which is a perpetual reason for England to be predominant. In England of course there are divisions enough, London vs. the rest, north vs. south, Cornwall for semi-independence, to ensure that we are already a semi-federation. No, I think the real argument should be about the House of Lords, that non-democratic body. There could be a case for a reformed House to have representation equally from each of the four nations, hopefully elected rather than appointed.

  • What worked pretty well was the constitutional arrangement we had before Blair thought devolution would be a good ruse to ensure, he thought, permanent Labour Party control of Scotland.

  • The Lib Dems supported the Together campaign when the UK as we know it looked to be under threat but if Together was a better option then why didn’t we see events supporting the union in Wales or Northern Ireland? Who even knows what is going on in NI politics?

    How much of a relationship is there between Scotland and Wales, Scotland and NI, NI and Wales? Or do we simply compete for funding from Westminster? How did the idea that Scotland could play a much bigger role in the UK decision making terrify the English into voting Tory?

    If Team GB is a fantastic demonstration of the UK pulling together then why does Clive Woodward keep slipping up to say England (why did the Irish presenter Graeme Norton get similary confused when it came to Eurovision?) and why were the two official Team GB celebration events both held in England?

    Culturally, politically and as a general understanding of each other, there needs to be a rethink in how the UK works and a much greater commitment to the union and the individual nations within that.

  • That’s a very hard sell, personally would favour the federal approach.
    Also think Scotland will go sooner rather than later, and good luck to them.
    Can’t see this happening anytime soon.

  • The discussion above is a demonstration of why Scotland will never be treated as an equal partner while it remains in the UK but can be an equal partner as an independent nation and member state of the EU where smaller member states have proportionally more influence and no single member state can override the wishes of all the others.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Nov '16 - 9:18pm

    Scott Craig did not mention the elect for the President of the USA. One aspect is that voting systems vary from state, despite the error the Supreme Court made in Bush v. Gore. Reasonably near equality between voters could be achieved if all the states counted the votes the same way and used proportional representation. Simpler would be to add up all the votes nationwide.

  • Peter Davies 29th Nov '16 - 9:20pm

    It is the division of responsibility between the nations (and other constituent parts) and the state that is the problem. If London had full powers over its own housing, transport, education etc. I wouldn’t mind the Scots and Manx having over-representation in the federal Senate.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Nov '16 - 9:53pm

    Another idea: I would support a minority mechanism if England got its own parliament, but I don’t want to get into a situation where England has no parliament and less say in the Upper House too.

  • @ DJ “How did the idea that Scotland could play a much bigger role in the UK decision making terrify the English into voting Tory”. Well, in Sheffield, a certain Lib Dem Councillor freely admits that he did just that to get a certain M.P. re-elected (by the skin of his teeth)..

    @ Peter Davies “If London had full powers over its own housing, transport, education etc. I wouldn’t mind the Scots and Manx having over-representation in the federal Senate”…… As a voice located north of the border, I’d just like to say : “Thanks a lot, pal. Very decent of you”.

    Having said that, having spent three days last week in London, I don’t know how you lot down there can stick it. Noisy, dirty, expensive, place with people walking round in a daze with earphones, bumping into others and a chaotic transport system. A joy to get back to civilisation.

    But seriously, what Lib Dems really ought to be talking about is putting life back into local government wherever it is. It’s been eroded and destroyed over the years especially by the Tories. The critical plight of social care for the elderly down south makes the point.

  • Scotland will vote for independence at some point and it only needs to happen once. It’s an inevitable consequence of devolved power and national identity. The only alternative would be to refuse further referendums, but this would cause tensions.
    A better idea would be to properly prepare for the eventuality.

  • I’ve always thought this is a good idea if the “Senate” is a fairly weak upper house. The different franchises would introduce a helpful check and balance to the UK’s increasingly majoritarian system.

    To save the wonderful nation that is the United Kingdom, it’s worth a try, but has English nationalism already gone too far?

  • nigel hunter 29th Nov '16 - 11:27pm

    Both system are antiquated and not fit for the world of today. They are both ancient and need drastic reform.

  • Al, independent Scotland in the E.U. would probably be a net contributor, particularly if the rest of the U.K. is out.
    You o.k. with that?

  • Although many might agree that the E.U. is dominated by Germany and France,
    regardless of the idea behind the various treaties. How many times have they been on the losing side of a vote of the European council… which isn’t even an official body within the E.U. structure?

  • I don’t think the problem is English nationalism. If you look at the vote, Unionists were more likely to vote Leave than any other group. Weirdly it also seemed to follow old religious divides with the UK nations with a higher Catholic heritage more likely to vote remain. So you could argue it was about a British view of sovereignty and identity.

  • Peter Davies 30th Nov '16 - 7:20am

    @David Raw: “I don’t know how you lot down there can stick it”.
    That sounds like a fairly good reason why the Scots should not have six times the say in our transport, housing and education policy as we do.

  • ethicsgradient 30th Nov '16 - 7:38am

    hi,

    Its an interesting idea. I could see a role for it in a reformed second chamber. Remove the house of lords and replace with a second revising chamber. This new chamber could certainly include representatives selected along the lines you suggest. Each region, country having same number of representatives. I would guess that applying this to theUK we could go by regions as well as counties. A speculative start… Scotland Northern Island, Wales, North (maybe lakes and Newcatle?) North West, North East, Midlands (maybe east and west midlands) Anglia, South west (cornwall +Devon? possbly separate?) South, South east and London? ….. I feel like I am just typing out TV regions??…. …

    I have often thought that a revising second chamber would have some form of expertise feeding into it. ( we get this sometimes with science life peers , or business people given a life peerage do to expertise in an area) but it would have to avoid patronage and nepotism.

  • Barry Snelson 30th Nov '16 - 9:31am

    The rise in English Nationalism is an example of Newton’s Law. It is an equal and opposite response to the rise in Scottish Nationalism and there are some bad feelings growing now, made ever worse by Nicola Nesbitt’s hostility towards the English.
    It won’t be an amicable divorce. I can see the English angrily removing the “Welcome” mat currently sitting at Berwick upon Tweed.

  • I agree with Scott Craig; it’s high time Lib Dems did some serious thinking about this since the quality of governance matters to all of us and there is scope for big improvements after years of the Tories steady erosion of the power and independence of local government. Some data for the constituent parts – % of area, % of population:

    England: 53, 84
    Scotland: 32, 8
    Wales: 9, 5
    N Ireland: 6, 3

    And therein (just as in the USA) lies much of the problem. Trudeau (the first) described his county’s relationship with the US as being like a mouse in bed with an elephant. No matter how much you’re in love you have a big problem every time the elephant turns over.

    I would lean towards a radical devolution of powers that don’t need to be held in Westminster to the constituent parts of the UK plus to 10 – 12 English regions making them functionally equivalent to the smaller parts in many ways. Some would be easy: Greater London, Yorkshire, Cornwall (very small but it’s characteristic of federal systems that some bits are small for historical or geographical reasons), the NE. After that it gets a bit harder but still doable.

    The drawback with this plan is the lack of tradition in many English regions but on the other hand it would give the HoL a new role representing the nations and regions comparable to the US Senate.

    One way or another Lib Dems should certainly take up the cause of local government reform since that is the party’s real power-base since the GE.

  • @ Barry Snelson And a happy St Andrews Day to you………………….

    I’m afraid your post is part of the problem….. and it is your problem. Who on earth is Nicola Nesbitt and what do you actually know about Berwick-upon-Tweed ?

    I suspect, as Paul Daniels used to say……………….. “Not a lot”.

  • Peter Arnold 30th Nov '16 - 3:41pm

    In the 1970s, the Liberal Party’s policy on this issue was for there to be a federal UK made up of the regions and nations of the island of Britain. It was the right policy then, and it is the right policy now. Whichever way you look at it, we must get rid of this idea that England, Scotland and Wales are each a united nation of peoples. They are not. Each of them is divided by language, religion, race and history. The best way of reconciling these differences is by the sort of compromise proposed by the the Liberals nearly fifty years ago, and put forward by Gladstone in the 1880s – “Home Rule all round”. Federalism is not a new idea in British politics, and it is the failure of our current leadership to promote it, that is one of the many causes of our current dire position. Federalism is implicit in our basic values, and explicit in the Preamble to our LibDem Federal Constitution. When, oh when, are we going to campaign on the things we actually believe in, and get rid of the siren voices who preach the doctrine of caution and gradualism. A federal system of government in the UK will give us a modern system of government that we have been missing for generations.

  • “And of course I didn’t frighten anybody into voting Tory”.

    And that’s very bad of you, Joe, so don’t misrepresent me because that’s not what I said. You know perfectly well you admitted trying to get votes in Hallam by playing the anti- SNP-Labour coalition card.

  • Peter Arnold,

    Thanks. I didn’t know federalism was policy back in the 1970s (before my time). And as you say it’s high time we dumped “caution and gradualism”. It’s not exactly working is it!!!

    Just one word of caution. Many – perhaps most – people now understand ‘federal’ to mean ‘centralised’ because of the way the EU has been sold as a federal approach when, by its own admission (“ever-greater union”), it has been on a drive to centralise power way beyond any reasonable justification and also – as we have just learned – way beyond what is politically acceptable.

  • Peter Arnold 1st Dec '16 - 9:45am

    Gordon, Thanks for your comments.

    In response, I would say that I’ve never heard anyone in the communities where I’ve lived speak about federalism, either for or against. It doesn’t figure in their lives. It only interests politicians like us. If, as a Party, we began to speak about it, to explain it (because it’s a fundamental belief of ours), then perhaps people will begin to see its relevance.

    On a practical level, I’ve always found that people are interested in their local communities, and they want their community to have the power to make a difference. That implies the devolution of real power, and that is one aspect of the federal idea. Up here in the North East, that idea is very popular, because many folk believe that “the government” doesn’t know what life is like here, doesn’t understand or care about us, and the political colour of the UK government in London has made absolutely no difference.

    If we believe in the federal idea (and I’m not convinced that the “powers that be” in our Party do) then we have a duty to speak about it, to take a lead in shaping public opinion, so that the issue becomes part of the political discourse. It’s our own failure, over many years, to promote the concepts and policy ideas contained in the Preamble to our Federal Constitution that is one of the causes of our current dire position. If we don’t talk about our own beliefs, who else is going to? The answer, of course, is nobody.

  • Gordon; I just don’t sense any public appetite for your suggestion. Labour tried to initiate something similar, it was rejected out of hand. Also would your suggestion include Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, being Divided into regional blocks?
    I think there would be more support for an English parliament solution to give the English some parity with the rest of the U.K.
    Either way I think Scotland will leave as soon as they feel they it is in their interests to do so, given what has happened with Brexit though, I would predict a number of challenges to the process if Sturgeon feels she can call a referendum on the basis of-:
    No pre agreed deal.
    Only the Scottish can vote.
    No U.K. wide vote on the terms of any subsequent deal.
    Surely the rest of the U.K. should be allowed a vote on, at least, the terms of any break up of the current union?
    Sauce for the goose etc.

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