Constitutional reform: a coherent national policy or not?  – Part 2

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In 2014 the Liberal Democrats endorsed Policy Paper 117 calling for a federal United Kingdom. It said that having an English Parliament would create a terribly imbalanced federation. It must follow that English Regions would be the constituent parts alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There can be no part-federalised England: if one understands the West Lothian Question, one must appreciate the absurdity of replicating it any number of times and ways within England itself. The remaining alternative is not to propose federalism, in which case the party would have wasted six years, abandoning its aims and objectives.

Unfortunately, Paper 117 was circumspect in proposing the regionalism it implied was necessary. The proposed devolution-on-demand is neither a route to structural coherence nor fair to anyone other than those who are first to grab the powers they want. It is a purely locally-led, “bottom-up” free-for-all which sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to a “top-down” imposed solution. However, it is not a Liberal answer, it is a chaotic libertarian one. Furthermore, devolution is becoming a dirty word, characterised by successive governments creating or abolishing local government structures on a whim. It is therefore time to stop talking about devolution altogether. We need federalism and we therefore need a process to regionalise England – fully and rationally.

Federalism motions (based on English regionalism) were twice submitted to Federal Conference in 2016, to no avail. These followed co-ordinated motions passed by NW England and East of England regional conferences in 2015, decrying chaotic, arbitrary devolution and calling on the party to make progress on a model for a federal UK. Subsequent calls to get Policy Paper 130 to cover regionalism more extensively fell on deaf ears. The meagre 400 words on devolution-on-demand seemed more laissez-faire than the proposals of Paper 117, arguably a backwards step.

The Scottish Party urgently needs a positive and distinctive federal proposal with which to fight the 2021 elections, but Autumn Conference will debate a policy motion having a massive English-shaped hole in it. The authors, I know, were happy with much input offered by English members based on English regionalism. It was not the authors’ choice that such content was not accepted.

An amendment will be submitted to the federalism motion stating openly that there will be a tier of regional parliaments across England having constitutional parity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. English Liberal Democrats owe it to Scottish members to work on the English Question and the Federal Party owes it to the English Party to make policy for England as it supposedly should do. I hope Scottish members will also help us to help them. We can then move on to the issue of proposals for the English regions or for the process by which they may be defined. This process must combine locally-led ideas and identities but within a framework that guarantees a rational outcome for all of England. This is the consensual and coherent position on that spectrum between top-down and bottom-up solutions.

Let’s stop talking about devolution. Let us propose a visionary new United Kingdom with a much less centralised form of government and with a proper answer to the English Question, and please let’s make progress before the UK disintegrates.

* Michael is an English Council representative for the East of England

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  • Does Mr Kilpatrick remember the 2004 North East Referendum results proposed by the then Labour Government ?

    Or is he determined to go down yet another Lib Dem blind alley to provide yet another lair of politicians and bureaucracy which the electorate won’t buy ?

    Far better to strengthen local government with well funded locally based unitaries and scrap the nonsense of ‘super’ Mayors.

    Referendum results (without spoiled ballots): North East Referendum, Nov 2004.

    Yes: 197,310 (22.1%) No: 696,519 (77.9%)

    Results by local council areas
    Local authority Yes votes No votes Yes % No % Turnout*
    Alnwick 2,771 11,666 23.7% 76.3% 57.4%
    Berwick-upon-Tweed 2,250 8,597 26.1% 73.9% 52.3%
    Blyth Valley 7,523 21,178 35.5% 64.5% 45.5%
    Castle Morpeth 4,776 16,952 28.1% 71.9% 57.2%
    Chester-le-Street 5,487 15,610 35.1% 64.9% 49.5%
    Darlington 4,784 32,282 14.8% 85.2% 49.0%
    Derwentside 9,718 22,888 42.4% 57.6% 49.1%
    Durham 9,791 24,106 40.6% 59.4% 48.3%
    Easington 8,065 21,520 37.4% 62.6% 42.5%
    Gateshead 17,011 52,459 32.4% 67.6% 49.3%
    Hartlepool 4,887 24,240 20.2% 79.8% 42.9%
    Middlesbrough 7,977 33,543 23.8% 76.2% 42.1%
    Newcastle 19,984 61,477 32.6% 67.4% 46.4%
    North Tyneside 15,203 55,121 27.5% 72.5% 50.7%
    Redcar & Cleveland 8,493 43,250 19.7% 80.3% 50.6%
    Sedgefield 9,040 23,583 38.3% 61.7% 48.3%
    South Tyneside 11,329 41,029 27.6% 72.3% 46.3%
    Stockton-on-Tees 11,050 52,040 21.3% 78.7% 48.3%
    Sunderland 17,927 71,893 25.0% 75.0% 43.4%
    Teesdale 2,020 8,972 22.5% 77.5% 56.9%
    Tynedale 5,146 20,975 24.5% 75.5% 55.4%
    Wansbeck 5,947 15,503 38.4% 61.6% 46.6%
    Wear Valley 6,131 17,635 34.7% 65.3% 49.9%

  • Why ?

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '20 - 4:03pm

    Yeah, I get the desire for neat federal solutions, I do. The trouble is, Scottish autonomy is far more than I think anyone would really want for English regions. People often don’t realise (though I’m sure the author does) that Scotland has a completely separate legal system and education system from England and Wales: it’s not just about administrative responsibility or prioritising budgets, nor even about revenue-raising (though I think many people would balk at different income tax rates in Nottingham and Birmingham). In Scotland, juries have 15 members who give majority verdicts, choosing between three options; the range of offences, the age of responsibility and the limitations on detention are quite different; in schools, primary education starts earlier but goes on longer; four-year degrees are the norm at university. And so on and so forth.
    Is there any appetite for variation of that sort between the regions of England? I don’t think there is – I think it would have to be, effectively, imposed on English regions just so that it can be maintained in Scotland without offending the ghost of Tam Dalyell.

  • Andrew Tampion 4th Sep '20 - 4:42pm

    Like Malcolm Todd I see no demand for the regionalisation of England in the way proposed above. I also see no sufficient cultural or political identity within English regions, which I accept do exist, to justify it. I go further in saying that there is no need. An English Parliament based outside London could be part of a Federal United Kingdom. With a United Kingdom Parliament dealing primarily with Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade together with UK budgetary matters and any internal transfers that might be necessary.
    For me this and other articles I have seen take the wrong approach by going from the top to the bottom ratrher than building up from Parish and Town Councils with powers at the local not the national level.

  • There is no barrier to having different education systems across England. The only significant situation in which a “purist” view of a federal UK seems unusual is, as you say, relating to law and justice. Scotland indeed has always had a different legal system. Note that motion F11 calls for Wales’s legal system to be separated from that of England.

    But when suggesting that the regions of England should have “constitutional parity with Scotland etc”, this primarily refers to their constitutional status as bodies to whom the UK govt is subsidiary: they are the federal states whose existence cannot be tinkered with by the UK govt at a whim (as is the case with a devolved system).

    It is the expectation within a federal union that the constituent parts would have the same powers, yes, but with the UK being what it is, a realist will acknowledge that until there is an appetite for different legal jurisdictions within England, there will need to be some form of all-England legislation. It should be the expectation that in virtually every other walk of life, the regional federal bodies would have the same degree of powers as Holyrood. There is no aversion to this: a ComRes opinion polls of English residents during the Scottish Independence referendum, for example, showed strong support for varying tax-rates, localised control of health and education, etc (the question was not more specific than my choice of words, if I recall).

  • From a Scottish perspective, I expect we have got past federal solutions as realistic options for these reasons:

    1. The approach assumes that Scottish voters want to save the UK. It is not clear that they do. “British” is not a strong brand in Scotland: in the 2011 census 62% of respondents in Scotland identified as “Scottish” only and the events in the past few years are likely to have weekend it still further. UK constitutional reform isn’t really the issue any more, it is the survival of Scotland as distinct country as provide for in the Treaty of Union in the face of a usurping British nationalism.

    2. Linked to the first point and also for the reasons David Raw sets out , Scottish people do not in the main see themselves as just a region of the UK and would not take kindly to being seen as equivalent for example to Yorkshire and Humberside or any English region however defined.

    3. The existing devolution settlement is under direct threat from the current UK Government as is the very basis of the Union, the Treaty of Union, with the review of judicial review which threatens the independence of Scots law and the Court of Session ( and which is reporting only to UK Government ministers). Fancy federal ideas however well intentioned are not where the battle is.

    4. I cannot see how the solution to the “English Question” deals with the “England Problem” from the perspective of the devolved nations as it does not seem to define what powers will be held at federal level and how issues of federal governance will be handled. For example, will there be a four nation lock on federal policy? Or will England’s several regions be able to outvote the the three “nation” “regions” at feral level ? Unless Lib Dems can say how being taken out of the EU against Scotland’s would have been prevented under a federal solution this does not really change the power imbalance and in effect is a proposal for a far more incorporating British union than has ever been the case.

    5. In any event, the prospect of any federal solution being implemented by any party likely to hold power in the next decade is vanishingly remote.

  • Andrew, why does everything have to validated solely by identity politics? The problem that, for example, there is no powerful East of England government with the power to invest in and legislate for a new freight rail route from the East Coast ports into the centre of England, irrespective of the unhelpful central government, is not created by there being a lack of a strong “regional identity” for the East. Nor would a strong identity for the East be the justification for creating such a region (whether that regiona had 3,4,5 or 6 counties). The justification is practical, administrative, and about the core principle of democratic government: that is that it should be as close to the people as is practicable and that the distribution of powers should be sensible from top to bottom.

    What that means is for large-scale infrastructure but which is not national in scope, there is often a need for cooperation on a regional basis, and that does not require everyone to be walking around wearing an identity. Identity, where it is strong and meaningful, is something that has to be respected and taking into account when devising some form of administrative boundary, but it is not, in some circumstances, the prime motivation.

    There is no such thing as the perfect divison of the country for administrative purposes. The pre-industrial-era historic counties are meaningless in many respects. The county/district government structure that exists across a lot of England results in empowerment *only* at a local level with there being a big gulf between the county tier and Westminsters. The tiers of our goverment are inappropriately positioned. Sorting this out, and also allowing the creating of a federal state with a proper constitution, are therefore both beneficial, and to a good extent intertwined.

  • I must profess bafflement whenever someone suggests an English Parliament and in the same breath suggests it should be outside London. I never get this conflation of local with the appropriateness of its very existence. It isn’t really going to rebalance England, which is by accident of history, dominated by an excessively large London.

    Rebalancing England isn’t going to be achieved by retaining a Westminster UK government but having an English government somewhere else. The rebalancing will be better achieved by allowing diversification of the political landscape and a constitution which better rebalances our national health and wealth and moves power downwards.

    Yes, Andrew, you’re right that there should be more powers at the bottom of the pyramid – the parishes, town councils and more. But there also needs to be a better distribution of other powers, not having them all concentrated at the apex of the pyramid, Westminster, and with very little inbetween.

  • Does Mr Kilpatrick remember the 2004 North East Regional Referendum , rejected by 78% of the electorate proposed by the then Labour Government ? Does he really think the Liberal Democrats are better placed to sell it than the Blair Government was ?

    Far better to strengthen local government with well funded local unitaries with elected Councillors based on the Scottish system and to scrap the so-called ‘super’ Mayors.

    Result (without spoilt ballots): North East Referendum, Nov 2004.

    Yes: 197,310 (22.1%) No: 696,519 (77.9%)

  • Hireton, obviously there appear to be a growing number of Scots who no longer wish to save the UK. If we had had a radical and visionary model for a new United Kingdom back in 2014, who knows how things might have panned out? The No vote might have been smaller and the independence momentum might never have been retained.

    Your point 2 is curious. It does not belittle Scotland that Yorkshire has the same powers as it. Neither does it belittle England not to have an English Parliament whilst Scotland has one. This aproach of envy and pure identity politics is not healthy. So far I have more Scots and Welsh combined signatures to the amendment that English ones. That’s because they recognise the need to create a union which works for everyone and that means a union not dominated by England. England is 85% of the Union. To have two parliaments one representing almost exactly the same size of electorate as the other is not useful for England and it still doesn’t solve the localism problem within England itself. Secondly, any arrangement in which England is a unitary member of the federation results in a terrible imbalance of power. This was discussed and recoginsed in the Lib Dem Policy Paper 117, adopted in 2014, and that’s why it rejected an English Parliament.

  • Julian Tisi 4th Sep '20 - 5:12pm

    David Raw asks the right question – why? Until we can answer this in a way that speaks to the average voter clearly and persuasively then we should think more before suggesting any change. There is simply no appetite for regional government in England and there is certainly no justification for an English parliament, when England forms the vast majority of the population of the UK. I agree that devolution on demand is far from ideal for the reasons you say. Going back to first principles, as liberals we believe in power being held at the appropriate level and ideally at the lowest level – ultimately, that of the individual. However as a party we have become obsessed with adding layers of government – either uber-local or regional, just to even things up or prove our localist credentials. Extra layers of government cost money and can add confusion. There may be a case for regional governments in England roughly at the Euro-constituency level (London already has the London Assembly) if such government had power devolved from central government plus some of the powers currently held at local level, where centralisation might result in economies of scale. Then perhaps we could say that there should be just one level of local government below this and no more (e.g. borough level). We don’t need to insist that such regional government has similar powers to Scotland just to even things up, but perhaps London might be a better template for the sort of powers held regionally? Overall I feel we need to think more about this first.

  • Reflecting more on my earlier post, I would argue that the only viable option for the Lib Dems is to propose a confederal state made up of the four constituent parts of the UK union with safeguards at the confederal government level against domination by England of confederal issues.

  • I think you’ll find, Julian, that it is the Conservatives who have been hell-bent on adding extra layers of government as the strings attached to receiving extra money. See City Deals and all that stuff. I, as a Lib Dem, did not ask to have FOUR tiers of local goverment where I am:
    South Cambridgeshire District Council
    Greater Cambridge City Deal (South Cambs + City of Cambridge)
    Cambridgeshire County Council
    Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Mayoral Combined Authority.

    Lib Dems are not obsessed with adding layers. Many Lib Dems around here would prefer a unitary authority – but a small one (Cambridge + SCambs) not the massive ones as now being proposed by the Government. Unitary authorities, smaller than Counties, represent an increase in the localism and responsiveness but with fewer tiers.

    it is a crying shame that, in the face of all the constant reorganisations and extra tiers being introducted ad hoc, the Liberal Democrats as a party have not created a more coherent vision for governance across England. Having regions and small unitaries would, in my view be the better option for most of the East of England (no large cities).

    With a tier of unitary authorities and a tier of, let’s say, between 8 and 15 regions, there would be a net reduction in the number of elected politicians but they would be better *distributed*.

    As for appetite: as I say above, there is plenty of support for more localised control of health, transport, education, and for varying tax rates across England. Of course, nobody has ever formally asked me if I want a region so the claim that there is no appetite for it is based solely on a failed referendum on the wrong idea being attempted in just one region of England 16 years ago. That’s dead and buried.

  • Julian Tisi 4th Sep '20 - 5:41pm

    Michael, it sounds as though we’re on a similar page. Part of the opposition to regional government is around cost and bureaucracy but if we can sell regional government as reducing cost, confusion and bureaucracy then it might become a vote-winner. In this case everywhere would have, first, a regional / London / national (Scot, Wales, NI) layer, plus second, one further local layer.

  • Julian, exactly, thank you. Although I’m sure a lot of electorate are interested in what councils *do* as much as what they cost.

    A while back I worked out the numbers for the East of England, imagining a region that was the same as the “Euro election region” of six counties. I added up the district councillors and county councillors and then imagined a parliament of 129 MPs (same as Scottish Parliament, yes?) and a tier of unitaries. It’s a significant reduction in elected people. Fewer politicians but politicians more evenly distributed from top to bottom, as it were.

    Oh, let me point out that the electorate for the Cambs & Pboro Combined Authority is less than 25% larger than the electorate for Cambs County Council. You really couldn’t make it up.

  • In answer to David Raw, it’s rather more useful to look at what the dreadful model for the NE “regional assembly” was back in 2004 rather than list all the details of the referendum result. It was a toothless, pointless body of approx 30 people who would “be responsible for a range of activities currently carried out mainly by central government bodies, including regional economic development”. As indeed the opposition to the proposal argued at the time, this “white elephant would have no powers”. It was just a pointless talking shop. The failed project in 2004 has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on proposal for a proper regionalisation with real powers taken away from Westminster and delivered to regional parliaments.

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '20 - 6:01pm

    If you believe in a Federal UK with only specific areas such as Foreign Affairs, Defence and possibly Economic Planning being the responsibility of a Federal Government and Senate, then it makes sense to devolve all other powers to the four nations that make up the U.K. The problem as I see it is that England, by population, size and economic clout alone, would dwarf the other three. The answer would surely be to divide England up into regions; but the $64000 question is where to draw the boundaries.

    If you are prepared to devolve power, and I mean real power and not the watered down version offered by Lord Prescott to the North East of England, which was decisively rejected in a referendum, then you have got to be prepared for people exercising that power to make mistakes. So, you have got to trust people and stop trying to interfere.

    However, before any consideration towards regionalising England takes place, local government structure there needs reform. For me that means creating the same structures in all the nations ie unitary authorities and neighbourhood councils. As far as I know, England, which still retains three tier systems in many areas, is the odd man out. So let’s get rid of the remaining County and District Councils and replace them with Unitary Councils, while offering enhanced powers to all Town and Parish Councils. Then we need to tackle Local Government Finance, which won’t be easy.

    Much of what I was going to say has already been covered. Does the public want change? Probably not. Do we need change? Most definitely!

  • John, yes, that is the $64000 question. What is key is not proposing first the boundaries themselves, but proposing the *process* by which you arrive at a set of boundaries. I can expand on that if you like? It isn’t rocket science, as much as people protest about lack of identities making the whole idea impossible.

  • @Michael Kilpatrick

    “It does not belittle Scotland that Yorkshire has the same powers as it. Neither does it belittle England not to have an English Parliament whilst Scotland has one. This aproach of envy and pure identity politics is not healthy.”

    Well, you may think that but if you your aim is to stop the disintegration of the UK you need to have a bit of empathy and perhaps humility to understand that Scotland in the main regards itself as a country and a nation in union with others not a region of one country.

    It matters in very practical terms depending on what your proposed governance model is at your federal level. Unless there is a country rather than regional model all you are doing is proposing a federal model of English domination of the UK which is actually a more thorough-going incorporating model of union than anything which has been proposed before. Again, the acid test is what say Scotland would have had over Brexit in your model compared to what has happened in the present one.

  • Cen Phillips 4th Sep '20 - 8:18pm

    “It does not belittle Scotland that Yorkshire has the same powers as it. Neither does it belittle England not to have an English Parliament whilst Scotland has one. This aproach of envy and pure identity politics is not healthy.”

    Exactly. We’re talking about ‘government’ here, not ‘identity’. Why would a ‘nation’ feel itself belittled by a ‘region’ having the same governing powers over its own affairs? It doesn’t make the region any more a ‘nation’, nor does it make the ‘nation’ any less one – they are still different things, regardless of ‘powers’. If a ‘region’ picks its own song, that doesn’t make it a ‘national anthem’ – all the things that mean ‘nation’ will still only apply to ‘nations’ even if the ‘regions’ have the exact same legal powers.

    The big probkem with this ‘union’ has always been the imbalance, with one ‘nation’ being so much bigger than all the rest put together. By creating a system that makes that one nation a single ‘block vote’ in influence over the Federal government, wielded according to the desires of its most populous areas rather than being reflective of regional needs, you are only making that situation worse. It is an unsustainable model, if you don’t want the smaller nations to get fed up and leave.

    The only way to ‘fix’ the UK is to allow the regions of England to speak for themselves, and join their voices and influence with the different voices as they agree or disagree – to end the ‘block vote’ issue, while bringing power and responsibility much closer to the people.

    As for the ‘demand’ issue in England, then it does depend on whether the people of England want the UK to continue – if they don’t care about that, then we can forget the whole thing, break up the UK and be done with it. And if this supposedly ‘federalist’ party doesn’t put something concrete on the table as a proposal very rapidly it will all be academic anyway, because Scotland will be gone (and if that happens Wakes will probably follow within a decade). It’s that simple. We can’t continue just stating ‘we’re Federalist, but we won’t tell you what that means becausewe can’t decide ourselves’. We need a firm and reasonably detailed outline proposal on the table early enough to be gaining momentum before any Scottish referendum, or we’ll just be laughed out of the whole debate (and rightly so).

  • Robert Brown 4th Sep '20 - 8:53pm

    One or two observations –

    1. We always talk about the ‘nations and regions of the UK’ which is a perfectly satisfactory description of the putative federal units which belittles no one.

    2. The fact that precise powers vary between different federal units doesn’t really matter – it exists in the federal arrangements in Canada and Spain for example. Yes it causes lots of mini West Lothian questions but that is not the same problem as one big WLQ.

    3. We need to think more about powers. Regional government may imply different education systems for example which in turn requires some legislative powers at regional level – but not necessarily wholly different criminal law systems. It might or might not mean splitting the NHS on a regional basis (which arguably makes it more manageable).

    4. The Local govt structure is surely a regional responsibility. There is no earthly reason why it should be uniform in Manchester. Cornwall and Carlisle. In Scotland, the two tier system was abolished before the Scottish Parliament was established – which helped in avoiding the over government issue. If we wait for that in England , we will wait for ever. However there might be sense in a Royal Commission on Local Government in England to make proposals for the consideration of the new Regional bodies – combined with a commitment to reduce overall the number of politicians and the cost of govt structures.

    5. People also, in my view, underestimate the dynamics of empowering the Regions. It is highly unlikely that say 10 English regions would get together to do down Scotland or Wales – much more likely would be alliances between say Scotland, the East of England and the South West on fishing – or between Wales, the North East and the West Midlands against the economic dominance of London – or even between Scotland and London on financial services. Without question centres of power like this around the country would help to rebalance the London-centric nature of our politics.

    7. Yes we do need to identify and demonstrate the practical advantages of federalism and of regional government. We have put far too little effort into this as opposed to arcane constitutional arguments.

  • @Cen Phillips

    By putting ” ” round nations and regions you demonstrate for you that they have exactly the same significance which seems to be as administrative units. That’s entirely logical in a technocratic way especially if you regard yourself as British.

    And I see that @Robert Brown sees Scotland as equivalent in a Lib Dem federal structure to say Yorkshire & Humberside if that turned out to be a new UK region.

    It won’t wash in Scotland but good luck in getting something agreed in England.

  • Cen Phillips 4th Sep '20 - 9:55pm

    In the context of the sensible, fair and equal administration of parts of the UK according to the priorities and votes of the people who live there, whether a piece of land or ‘administrative unit’ constitutes a ‘region’ or a ‘nation’ is largely irrelevant. ‘Nation’ is about ‘identity’, not about administration – we’re talking about the difference between ‘Nation’ and ‘State’ in the context of the UK not being the more typical post nineteenth century model of a ‘Nation State’. Scotland and Wales don’t lose their national identities because their larger neighbour nation has been broken down into ‘regions’ for administrative purposes, or because those administrative units within the same federal structure quite sensibly have the same constitutional position and powers.

    And, by the way, I have never and would never describe myself as ‘British’. As Gwynfor Evans put it, ‘Britishness…is a political synonym for Englishness which extends English culture over the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish.’ This is about reforming the administration of the UK so that it can work fairly and sensibly for everyone in all of the nations, as the last viable alternative to breaking up this badly broken union altogether. The current model has failed the smaller nations and the regions of England equally, and the idea of an overwhelming English block dominating the UK (at the expense of English regions as much as the smaller nations) in any form is unsustainable. I can assure you that the North East, South West, etc. regions of England having their own parliaments and voices won’t make me any less Welsh.

  • Hireton, Scots who are hardened separatists will never support federalism. They have only one agenda. I wouldn’t pretend that I or anyone could persuade them to change their minds with only a policy on a federal UK as the sweetener. However, the same is not true for Scots who are not steadfast, life-long separatists. Nothing is every quite so black and white. Some of them will be hardened unionists come what may. Others will be wavering voters who need to be shown by the political parties asking for their votes that the union can be made better and thus be something worth trying out for a bit longer.

    I will say again: currently I have more combined Welsh and Scottish members signed up to submit the amendment that English Lib Dem members. Presumably because they think it’s absurd to debate a national party policy on the very essence of the nation which doesn’t even mention 85% of the country, and also presumably because they endorse, for very good reasons as Cen Phillips has offered, the regional model for England. Not just for their own benefit or England’s benefit, but for all our benefits combined.

  • Michael, that’s because nobody gives a toss. England is Britain in many people’s eyes and what you’re doing is making the building blocks of the United Kingdom mere bricks.

  • Back to the question of whether a policy on federalism should have any English content or not: if it is the view of certain bodies within the Liberal Democrats that we need to allow a “simply and easy policy debate” solely for the purpose of the Scottish elections in 2021, I feel there is something disturbingly vacuous in that mindset.

    Scots will need to know what the relationship between Scotland and England would be under a constitutional proposal. If a political party espousing constitutional reform can’t answer that, it will look foolish. If that party is to use the word “federal” then the policy, in what level of detail it has at this particular stage, must talk about the whole county, the whole federation.

    Consider this: if the intention is that the English constitutional position is left to be determined later by the English Liberal Democrats in isolation, what are we to do if the Welsh and Scottish Parties subsequently don’t like the result? They would have endorsed a federal solution for themselves only to realise that the later English choice of direction makes a mess of the whole thing.

    Specifically, what if the English Liberal Democrats later decided to reverse the decision of Policy Paper 117 (from 2014) and campaign for an English Parliament rather than regions, thus creating a federation with an over-dominant England? What would the Scots and Welsh make of that U-turn made without any consultation, especially if they rather distrusted the idea of an English ‘block vote’ and had supported federalism in 2020 based on the regionalist agenda?

  • @michael kilpatrick

    You may need to try to understand the history of the UK and unionism in Scotland a little more. Until quite recently the strongest unionists and the strongest Scottish nationalists were the Conservatives.

    Again you are not answering the question of how the federal level of government will work. There is no inherent reason why a confederal structure with four national parliaments should not work for all countries in the union. The federal solution being proposed here does not save the UK, it eradicates it to produce a uniform British state. It is a logical, technocratic solution but with no chance of success.

  • George Thomas 5th Sep '20 - 8:43am

    Radical solution: re-draw boundary lines so that the four nations are countries of equal size with equal governments and then have a UK parliament elected to manage UK affairs.

    Depending on ones point of view, we are either a country made up of four nations, a union of four countries acting as one or (as per current tory view) hang devolution, England is the most sizeable and therefore should make all the decisions. Devaluing country/nation status cannot be dismissed by saying “why does everything have to validated solely by identity politics?” nor can threat to Holyrood, Senedd or Stormont posed by current UK government acting in post-Brexit world.

  • Cen Phillips 5th Sep '20 - 9:55am

    “There is no inherent reason why a confederal structure with four national parliaments should not work for all countries in the union.”

    Yes, there is. England is far too big within the union for that to work. It’s that simple. A single English block fails the regions of England, leaving them as forgotten afterthoughts to the most populous and influential region (which uses their democratic weight for its own ends regardless of the regional opinions). It still leaves it with one block vote influence that massively outweighs everyone else put together, so it still means the Federal level of government behaves as if the UK is ‘England plus a couple of minor territories we don’t need to think about’, as it is now only more so. The only way to decentralise the attitudes of the UK as a whole, and to effectively decentralise government and bring power closer to the people, is to break that big block vote doen into regions that act and speak for themselves. It would be impossible to effectively decentalise the UK (so that it functions for all of the nations and regions) with a federal structure without decentralising England with proper regional government at the same time.

  • Just what the nation needs is yet another layer of bureaucracy …..Today, with just Scotland and Wales being part of mainland Britain, there is confusion over the response to Covid (for example returnees are subject to different rules of isolation) imagine the mess if regions decide..
    The way things are going even I may (at 77) see one or more bits of the current UK disappear….

  • I’m not sure what expats is referring to, as I have always made it clear that my preference for structural reform is to have a single tier of local authorities (which are small enough to be locally responsive) below a tier of regions, doing away with the county/district two-tier authorities for large swathes of the countryside. So, English regionalism doesn’t “add yet another layer of bureacracy”.

    Of course, if we were to have an English Parliament as well as a federal UK parliament, those two bodies would only be 15% different in size. That would be a pointless layer of “bureacracy” if ever there were one, especially as it would not address the problem of England being centralised which would, ideally, still require some sort of regional structure to resolve that.

  • John Marriott 5th Sep '20 - 2:26pm

    “Another layer of bureaucracy” you say?

    Well, if you mean something to vote for, where I live, starting at the lowest tier we now have: 1 Town Council 2 District Council 3 County Council 4 Parliament. I suppose I ought to add Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) as well, although even fewer people seem to bother to vote for him or her, and the House of Lords if it’s ‘bureaucracy’ you are bothered about. So that makes five opportunities to vote and six “layers of bureaucracy” if you want to be pedantic. If you lucky enough already to live in a Unitary area, take away one layer.

    Now, under my system, we would have: 1 Town Council 2 Unitary Council 3 Regional Assembly 4 Federal Parliament. I would abolish the role of PCC and make the role of the scrutiny of policing the joint responsibility of the Unitary Councils and the Regional Assembly. “What about a Senate/ Upper House?” you may ask. Well, like the Bundesrat in Germany, I would have its membered ‘nominated perfect by the English Regions and the Parliaments of the other UK ‘Nations’. So I reckon that also makes six “layers of bureaucracy“.

    Mind you, knowing my dodgy maths, perhaps we had better get the Headmaster to check it. Over to you, Mr Raw, sir.

    By my reckoning that means we have one less election to worry about but the same number of “layers of bureaucracy”. So, where is that extra layer you are on about?

  • John Marriott 5th Sep '20 - 3:09pm

    Sorry about the idiosyncrasies of my iPad. That sentence about the Senate should have read “I would have its members nominated by the English Regions and the Parliaments of the other UK ‘Nations’”.

    By the way, the argument Mr Kilpatrick puts forward against an English Parliament makes perfect sense. Do I still want most of the decisions about my area still to be subject to the whims of a Parliament opinion London, or wherever else you choose to put it? No thank you. Am I happy to let a Federal Parliament, probably in London, decide on UK Foreign
    Policy or our nation’s defence? Of course I am.

  • @ Cen Phillips

    “Yes, there is. England is far too big within the union for that to work. :

    A simple four nation lock on decisions on confederal issues would solve that. England can then organise itself internally however it wants. As it is, I can see no description in either the original posts or in btl comments about how the Lib Dems propose that the federal level of government would work and how that would prevent England dominating the new federal Britain with standardised administrative regions which you propse as it would no longer be the UK as a union of countries.

  • I’ve said before that I see no evidence for any significant public appetite for this model of a federal U.K. I don’t believe the English population would tolerate the regionalisation of England whilst Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain governed as single entities. Where is England’s voice in this model?
    In my opinion there would be more support for an English parliament within the current political structure than for any model of fedaralism least of all the model described above.
    The more likely future is, Scotland becomes independent, Northern Ireland unites with Ireland, Wales remains with England or chooses independence or (least likely in my opinion), tries to Join with Scotland or Ireland.
    I may be wrong but I don’t see any fedaral U.K. being formed in my life time, all things considered, that should be at least another 40 years, during which I believe Scotland will become independent.
    No need for a fedaral U.K.😄.

  • Surely a Senate to replace the current Westminster model with oversight on trade, defence, foreign affairs also health research, transport research etc. With a English parliament having the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. Then also make the senate truly equal that its members are drawn equally from all corners of the UK. There needs to be a Frank discussion on immigration, Scotland for example needs to attract immigration to parts of the Kingdom due to the aging population and general population movement. So a devolution of immigration to the nations will be a good idea. Federalism as long as it goes hand in hand with a good government base and good governance should be the ultimate goal. If Scotland wishes to go independent then I think it must be given that choice and we should accept it and support it. But we must have a credible plan to face the electate in all nations

  • Hireton, were England to represented by its regions in the federation, it does not mean that you can’t have a “four nation lock” (or a three-nation lock if we chose).

    What is wrong, assuming the English regional model I have proposed, with a slightly more sophisticated formula such as: “a majority amogst federal bodies *but also* a minimum of [n] non-English votes”? Where [n] could be anything from one to three, three representing your four-nation block? Also the word “majority” could be replaced by “supermajority”.

    There are any number of intelligent mathematic solutions to this problem of consensus-reaching in democratic bodies. As well as requiring supermajorities (or nation-count locks), you can give member states a weighting in voting based accurately on their relative population size, or by the Penrose method or by the Jagiellonian compromise, and no doubt there are other methods too. If I’ve understood it correctly, the Jagiellonian compromise means that for a collection of M bodies, the optimum threshold for a consensus is determined by 0.5 + 1/sqrt( pi * M). Which means a threshold of 66.2% for 12 bodies (e.g the former EU electoral “regions” of the UK: Scotland, Wales, NI and 9 English regions). Therefore requiring a majority by 8 of the bodies. With England representing 9 of the 12 bodies that would not be good enough and hence you would need an additonal lock of [n] non-English votes. But again, it’s not rocket science, and there are so many, many ways of resolving the issue of an imbalanced Union.

    The motion up at Liberal Democrat conference isn’t at that detailed stage yet – as much as I wish it were.

  • John Littler 5th Sep '20 - 7:00pm

    The North East referendum offered a powerless body designed retain power in the centre but employ Labour activists.
    Since then, people have seen the benefits brought be the devolved assemblies and the result of deep devolution via a federal system to regions would be different. It would also be probably the last chance to stop the UK from breaking up, to balance it, while devolving more powers to Scotland, Wales and N.I.

    But there is no point replicating 90% of Westminster in another English Parliament, also based in….England. Also distant from most of the country. Also, towering over the other administrations in size, budgets and prestige.

    The Canadian government have long failed to understand why the UK only devolved power to part of the country instead of producing a comprehensive balanced and fair system. A Federal System would allow the devolved bodies a say at the centre in Westminster and allow people in the regions feel they were represented better

  • @ Michael Kilpatrick. Have you costed the project ?

    If so, how much will it cost and do you regard it as Of higher priority than Improving and raising the levels of universal credit ?

  • John Littler 5th Sep '20 - 7:11pm

    The way England were split into regions would take some considerable thought and debate.

    There are already regions used by the Business Department ( ex DTI), which are rather on the small side in some cases, including having the North East separate from Yorkshire and Humberside, or the Midlands divided into East & West. Regional votes on how this was constituted might be a way forward

    Academic studies show the most efficient government is where the number of citizens present is between 2m & 10m. That put’s England way outside that range for a devolved body and it is too remote and unresponsive for most issues and most people

  • Cen Phillips 5th Sep '20 - 7:55pm

    “Academic studies show the most efficient government is where the number of citizens present is between 2m & 10m. That put’s England way outside that range for a devolved body and it is too remote and unresponsive for most issues and most people.”

    Indeed. This policy amendment doesn’t specify the regional units within England, but the NUTS1 regions fit quite nicely into that range, so would be the most obvious starting point for that discussion. They also have previous status as democratic ‘regions’, being the basis of the former European parliamentary constituencies.

  • If the argument against an English parliament is that it would be too distant from the regions, should Scotland not also be split into regions? I know a number of Scottish people, particularly those in the islands of the ‘highlands and islands’ who feel Holyrood to be as distant and irrelevant to them as Westminster.

  • Andrew Tampion 6th Sep '20 - 4:57am

    Michael reference your reply to my post at 4th Sep 4:56pm:
    I believe that successful nation states, whether unitary or federal are based on strong internal cultural and political links and that therefore unless a region of the UK has such internal links that any attempt to impose a regional identity, to use your word, is likely to fail. At the risk of poking a stick into another hornets nest I believe that one of the reasons that Leave won the 2016 referendum is that too few UK voters felt themselves to be European in the way that EU advocates mean the term.
    Turning to your 5:03pm post the reason for an English Parliament, should one be created being based outside London is that the UK and England are to Londoncentric. This has many adverse consequences such as the disproportionate funding of public transport in London compared to other parts of the Country. An English Parliament based London would compound this. In this respect the recent proposal to move the House of Lords to York had some merit because I am confident that the Lords and Civil Servants staffing it would have made sure they had better services.

  • Andrew Tampion 6th Sep '20 - 5:01am

    One further point. How to the advocates of English regional devolution propose to get democratic legitimacy for their proposal. Previoouly devolution has been endorseed by referenda. So presumably these proposals would also follow the same procedure.
    But what happens if some of the proposed regions vote in favour of the plan and others vote against?

  • John Marriott 6th Sep '20 - 9:34am

    @Andrew Tampion
    You know, I really don’t think that most people are that bothered where you draw the lines. What they want is government at whatever level (perhaps the word should be ‘governance’) that actually understands and reacts to their needs and which they can remove more easily if they don’t like what’s happening. Basically, they want to be left alone to get on with their lives. It’s a pity that more people aren’t prepared to take an interest in civic affairs; but, was it not ever thus? Maybe if they felt that what they thought and said actually counted for something they might adopt a different attitude.

    If ‘Democratic legitimacy’ is required then people will have to vote. However, if this happens, then I hope that both sides of the argument are given sensible guidelines in which to operate. We do NOT want a rerun of the AV referendum where, in the immortal words of Aussie skipper, Bill Woodfull, during the 1932-33 Body line Crisis; “One (side) is playing cricket and the other is not“.

  • Andrew John 6th Sep '20 - 10:31am

    John we all want accountable governance that understands and reacts to their needs and concerns. I just don’t see the public support for your proposal. So what I’m suggesting is starting from the bottom and trying to encourage support rather than as I read your comments looking to impose it from the top down.
    As far as democratic legitimacy I have explained myself poorly. What I mean is if you, for example, divide England into 9 areas based on the previous Euro election areas, and have a vote what happenes if 5 areas vote for and 4 vote against, or the other way round? Do you say to the ones who voted against you have to have Federal government even though you voted against? Or do you say to areas voting for sorry you can’t have it even though you voted in favour? The more regions you break England down intio the more likely at least one will vote against.

  • Yes, and Harold Larwood was badly treated by the toffee nosed MCC establishment for doing what his Captain told him. The poor old blxxxy infantry always get the rough end of the stick. ‘Twas, and is, always the case.

  • John Marriott 6th Sep '20 - 3:28pm

    And yet, David, where did he and his family emigrate to after WW2? Good on yer, cobber, no I’ll feelings then?

  • Peter Hirst 7th Sep '20 - 3:45pm

    Would England buy federalism as the price for protecting the union? Possibly if correctly framed and communicated is my answer. So this might be an opportunity to solve the english question. England could remain for symbolic, sport and cultural occasions. As long as fans could support England, I suspect many if not most would not be too concerned about its loss of political power. Devolution on demand as part of federalism is appealing.

  • Peter Hirst-:
    ‘England could remain for symbolic, sport and cultural occasions’
    Try putting, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland in place of England and consider how that sounds and what response you may get.
    It is my observation that many Lib Dems have little respect for the notion of England or perhaps more to the point Englishness. Most of my Lib Dem friends will not identify themselves as English, preferring to use British instead,(somewhat ironic as large numbers of Scottish and Welsh will never use British seeing it as another word for English), it would be perhaps unwise to assume that is the majority view in England though.
    I for one want an English parliament.

  • Daniel Walker 8th Sep '20 - 7:09am

    @Tynan “ I for one want an English parliament.

    You can have an English parliament in a federal UK if and only if it is co-equal with the Scots, Welsh, and NI parliaments, with equal representation at whatever Federal level there is (so effectively any two components had a veto). That’s obviously unacceptable due to differences in population (it works OK-ish, and only ish, in the US Senate only because there’s more than 4 states)

    What I don’t get is why you think dividing England up by regions would be the end of England, any more than dividing Yorkshire into Ridings or subsequently into counties and unitary authorities was the end of Yorkshire as a concept.

  • I don’t think it would end England, I just don’t think there is any appetite for it, and certainly not as a last gasp attempt to keep the union intact.If the Scottish want independence they should have the courage of their convictions, both countries would ultimately be fine.
    Why not divide Scotland into regions? I know people in the highlands and particularly the islands who have no great love of Holyrood.
    On Yorkshire, living in York , I would say that the identification of Yorkshire as a single entity has in fact been diminished. There is local rivalry between north, south and, west Yorkshire and many people don’t even think of East Riding as being part of Yorkshire. A lot of people in York see it as somehow separate from and different too the wider ‘Yorkshire’, so my personal experience is that regionalisation can in fact lead to at least some dilution of joint identity, which is perhaps what underlies some of the fedaralist agenda.

  • Clive Sneddon 13th Sep '20 - 3:08am

    What is a parliament for? To legislate. Unless the North of England wants to live under different laws from the West of England, there is no merit in creating parliaments for the regions of England. If English want to continue to live under English law, they need an English Parliament. Geographically, England and Scotland are closer in size than some might think. Both badly need devolution of decision making, to elected bodies taking decisions as local people wish, within the common legal framework of each country. The UK signed and ratified in 1998 the Council of Europe’s European Charter of Local Self-Government. We need as a party to find out what communities regard as the best units to exercise local decision making. I suspect the Scots might prefer the former Burghs. The French have the possibility of forming Associations of local communes, which allow local authorities to work together on issues that affect a wider area than just one local authority. The Federal states I am aware of have upper and lower houses, the upper house having an equal number of representatives from each state, and the lower house having representatives chosen to represent a roughly similar number of voters. Pace the discussion above, the national federal states in the UK are the four nations, though there is also a case for Cornwall as David Cameron once said. The consequence of this would be that the English could be outvoted in the Upper House. Given the history of Brexit, dragging the Scots and the Northern Irish out of the EU against their will and thereby fuelling Scottish Independence and the possibility of a United Ireland, some of us might think it good that the English could be outvoted. Given the role of the Liberal Party in passing the 1911 Parliament Act which tilted power to the House of Commons where it is now available to Government whips and ministers, has this Liberal measure not wrecked the division of powers going back to the 1689 Bill of Rights, from which the Executive in the person of the Sovereign has since withdrawn only to be replaced by the Sovereign’s now all powerful ministers? A coherent federal policy needs to welcome a restoration of the limits on Executive power and ensure that local decision making is not impeded by the centre.

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