Constitutional reform: amending Motion F11 “The Creation of a Federal United Kingdom”

In my earlier two-part article ‘Constitutional reform: a coherent national policy or not?’, I described how I view it as essential that a constitutional reform policy be framed to encompass the constitutional arrangements of all parts of the United Kingdom, lest it otherwise make a mockery of the term ‘federal’. This requires us to answer the English Question.

In discussing English regionalism and federalism on various forums including the Liberal Democrat Federalists group on Facebook, I have observed criticism of Motion F11, our proposed amendment and the party’s overall policy slate, some focusing various aspects such as the lack of detail on the fiscal arrangements within a union of bodies having considerable autonomy, legislative and tax-varying powers. Unfortunately, we seem to be rather good at not putting flesh on the bones of complicated policies: Land Value Tax has been on the back-burner for 100 years, the Universal Basic Income motion up at Autumn Conference faces criticism of its lack of depth, and Local Income Tax came and then vanished in a puff of smoke over twenty years ago. The latter was something I hoped would lead to the diverse political landscape I espoused in part one of my earlier article. With regards to federalism, what did we do with Policy Paper 117 after it was endorsed in 2014? I’m tempted to paraphrase Indiana Jones and say “we might as well have mailed it to the Marx Brothers”.

But we are where we are, as they say. There was resistance from certain quarters to having English content in motion F11 despite support from the authors, and the conference debate is rather short. In such circumstances our submitted amendment can do little more than offer the opportunity of a clear direction of travel on the English Question in line with the analysis of Policy Paper 117. But no, there is no further discussion of fiscal arrangements nor of the issue of legislating for all-England affairs if one assumes that the English regions are not to become separate legal jurisdictions. How many more years will it take the party to finish this thought process?

The amendment is signed by two regional parties of England and members from England, Wales and Scotland. This demonstrates that Scottish and Welsh members appreciate how a federalism policy must encompass the whole nation and that they support the model having English regions as the constituent parts of a federal UK rather than a unitary England, such consensus being key to the whole thing. The text of the amendment is as follows and I hope for its inclusion such that Liberal Democrats may debate federalism properly and coherently at Autumn Conference:

In ‘Conference notes that’, add after (D) line 13:

E. Policy Paper 117 rejected an English Parliament sitting alongside the parliaments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as representing an imbalanced, unworkable federation.

In ‘Conference calls for’ add after (2.d) line 54:

e. Creating, in accordance with Policy Paper 117’s rejection of an English Parliament, a tier of regional parliaments across England as constituent parts of the federal union which will achieve constitutional parity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

f. Creating the process by which England can be fully regionalised based on locally-driven identities and desires within a framework that provides a coherent overall structure.

In ‘Conference calls for’ add after (5) line 80:

6. The Party in England and the Regional Parties in England to offer proposals for the regions of England, whether in outline or detail, for consideration by the English electorate.

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

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  • If you ask the British public if they want yet more politicians I suspect the resounding answer would be NO! The only way these ever expanding levels of politicians can justify their existence is by passing laws, very few of them of any use to Joe Public. The more politicians interfere in things the worse they get. Increased levels of local taxation at a time when council tax has reached eye-watering levels of rip-off will generate little enthusiasm.

    On the other hand, if these regional bodies could miraculously reduce the overall political cost and number of trough-feeders (being polite) then there might be some merit in the idea,

    This is a very similar thing to Brexit, taking back power just means the politicians have more power to muck up people’s lives, ditto these regional bodies. The reality is that the further you are away from the centre of power, the easier it is to completely ignore the ever ending stream of pointless laws. Having regional bodies armed and loaded will be a disaster at an individual level but marvellous for the political class.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Sep '20 - 12:40pm

    There is no regional identity unless based on counties. counties are reflected in councils. This was a;ll realised decades ago when Prescott promoted regional assemblies no one wants.

    Its either English Parliament or keep as is, English votes for english laws, in the commons.

    Who identifies as being an East Midlander?! Answer, not one person more than likely!

    In yorkshire they want. or some do, an assembly or parliament. That is a throwback to old indentity based on a rather similar one to the county one in council areas.

    The motion is no good unless it gets this.

  • Lorenzo, I dispute that county identities count for as much as you think they do. I also dispute that identity politics is the sole reason for creating administrative and political divisions within a country. It is clearly not.

    Either way, it most likely that the boundaries of regions for England will follow county boundaries although will contain multiple counties. Even this, though, is not a given. Most of our “historic counties” are just that: historic. They predate the industrial era and the subsequent massive changes in population distribution and in economic centres around the country.

    And please, let’s no continually go on about what happened in 2004 in the Northeast. Prescott’s proposal was not a regional parliament and it had no real powers. It was small (circa 30 members, if I recall) talking-shop with a remit of “promoting, this, promoting that” with no legislative powers. It was about as far removed from the notion of a regional parliament having powers similar to that of Holyrood as we can possible get and as such is utterly irrelevant to today’s discussion.

  • Frank, it seems reasonably obvious – I hope – that the existence of regional parliaments with significant legislative and fiscal powers would be accompanied by the reorganisation of local government within each region. Many people would prefer unitary authorities, although not the unreasonably large ones currently being proposed by the Conservative government.

    With a parliament representing, let’s say, anything between 2 million and 8 million people, there is no need for the existing – and frankly absurd – two-tier system of county/district authorities in those many parts of England where they exist. The regional parliament would be assuming many, many powers currently exercised remotely from Westminster and bringing them much closer to the people. Consequently there would, as there is in Scotland, be hopefully a move to a single tier of local authorities.

    The maths is quite straightforward. In the East of England for example, imagining the region were the same six counties of the old Euro-election region, a parliament of 129 MPs (the same number as Holyrood, let’s say) would be created but over 300 county councillors would be removed and the powers of the counties would move downwards to unitary authorities. This represents a reduction in the overall number of politicians and a better distribution of those politicians.

    One would have to be a bit silly to propose an increase in the total number of tiers of government. That’s partly why an English Parliament isn’t a good idea for it still fails to solve the remoteness of government in England.

  • John Marriott 14th Sep '20 - 1:49pm

    Tiers of government are not the problem as much as elections to them, in my opinion. How many ‘elections’ is too many? Let’s look at a possible ‘ Federal/devolved’ scenario and let’s start at the bottom (and this would apply across the new Federal U.K.):
    First election: for Parish/Neighbourhood Council
    Second election: for Unitary Council
    Third election: for Regional Assembly/Scottish/Welsh/NI Parliament
    Fourth election: UK Federal Government
    Abolish the PCCs and return policing to Unitary Councils. Nominate members of the Federal Senate (replacing the House of Lords) from the Regional and National Governments.

    At present I can potentially vote for the following: 1 Parish 2 District 3 County 4 PCC 5 Parliament. So I reckon that makes one less election. So, what’s the problem, especially as many people can’t be bothered to vote in the first place?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Sep '20 - 1:51pm

    Michael there is evidentially but rarely, cited view that regions have no identity that would be definitely enough to foster the push for parliaments. In my example, as a londoner, born and bred, I recognise that as an identity, though one I feel only a little as am keen on much of the UK. I moved to Nottingham nearly twenty years ago, and yet there is no, word for one from Nottingham, other than my own, a Nottinghamer! But there is a sense of feeling in that city that gives it a similar thing going on, as do cities like London. But no one , not me, nor others, can say we feel we are now all, East Midlanders!

    There is, in me, as a patriot of part italian, irish background, a sense of being English. There is throughout England. There is no reason why we could not have an English parliament. Or, leave as is.

  • I do wish the Liberal Democrats would talk about something down to earth and real instead of blowing bubbles in the air….. especially now given what’s happening in our care homes and with those receiving end of life care.

    Why not start by campaigning for a proper Care Service that doesn’t pay peanuts to its care workers whilst at the same time exporting millions in profits to offshore tax havens.

    Meanwhile Mr Kilpatrick….. who wouldn’t dare say it in Yorkshire…. wants to spend billions on yet another expensive rejig of English governance. What local government really needs is proper funding and accountability not more deck chair pushing on the SS Lib Dem Titanic….. and it needs it now.

    It’s a national scandal that the average hourly pay for a Care Worker in United Kingdom is £8.41……. below the national minimum wage of £ 8.72 ……. and they couldn’t even get proper PPE in many cases.

    (citation : Average Care Worker Hourly Pay in United Kingdom – › Job=Care_Worker › Hourly_Rate.. The average hourly pay for a Care Worker in United Kingdom is £8.41.

  • Michael Kilpatrick, it is arguable that Holyrood is at least as remote from some parts of Scotland as Westminster is from some parts of England, so why not also split Scotland into regions?

  • There are plenty of people from the Lib Dems talking about care services, defence, education, transport, you name it. It just so happens that I’m talking about a different topic and it just so happens that there is a motion on federalism at our conference. I’m not sure where your view that “Lib Dems don’t talk about down-to-earth matters” comes from. Indeed, there is a motion titled “Improve Mental Health Support for Health and Care Staff” at the forthcoming conference too. And, not surprisingly, a debate on the Covid response.

  • Denis Mollison 14th Sep '20 - 3:26pm

    Sorry Michael, but this amendment would be very damaging to the party’s position in Scotland. Putting “a tier of regional parliaments across England” on “constitutional parity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” can only lead to a watering down of devolution. It will be interpreted by many as implying that S, W and NI are just regions of Greater England.

    And this at a time when devolution has just been dealt a major threat by Johnson’s latest power-grab, the “Internal Market Bill”.

    Maybe this proposal would have looked good before devolution, but now it would be a step back. If we want the UK to remain united (and that’s becoming quite a large “if” for some of us), we need to revisit Policy Paper 117, and ask how the “imbalanced” federation of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be made to work. I think the answer to that has to be that each has its own parliament, combined with a federal Senate or perhaps just a federal Council of Ministers.

    I appreciate that few in England want to take federalism seriously; that is why the motion in my view correctly left the situation in England for the English to work out later.
    But if the Liberal Democrats are to thrive in next year’s election in Scotland we need a Federal policy that strengthens devolution rather than threatening it. That’s why I shall be supporting the motion and voting against the amendment – or at least against part (e).

  • I see that some round here don’t watch the news…
    Currently we have 4 assemblies and from media reports people are getting confused about the CoViD19 advance and laws as they differ between assemblies. The media (eg. the BBC) kindly helps by reporting on all of the assemblies but people for various reasons don’t listen and get confused between what Nicola Sturgeon and colleagues say and what they need to do in England etc.
    I suspect, there is a real likelihood that, without clearly defined areas of responibility etc. there will be much confusion both in the minds of the public and in the minds of the federal assembles.

    Aside: To further illustrate the confusion that arises, try reporting a diesel spill to the relevant authority. Firstly finding a place (other than 999) to report such an incident is challenging, then it is made your responsibility to determine whether the spill has occurred on an unadopted road, a road owned by one of: a local authority, county authority, highways agency… It took about 2 hours to report the spill and for the agency I finally reported it to, to confirm that indeed they did have responsibility for that specific section of road etc…

  • Denis, that simply isn’t true. Scotland is no less a nation whether or not England has a Parliament or its regions do. Neither Scotland nor England didn’t exist for nearly three hundred years because they didn’t have Parliaments within the United Kingdom.

    Devolution is a pretty dirty word these days: it just means the government of the day creating or deleting or changing government structures at a whim. That’s why we shouldn’t be talking about devolution at all. Talking about devolution to Scots is just talking about the status quo and that is not at all a progressive or unique position away from those of the separatist nationalists and the intransigent status-quo unionist in the Conservative party.

    What’s more, if we are to have a federal UK, which is what many Scottish members want hence their bringing this to Autumn Conference in order to prepare for the 2021 election, we simply must have a position on the relationship between the nations. Whilst most separatist voters won’t be interested either way in what the Scottish Liberal Democrats have to say, I would very much like you to explain what happens when a more engaged floating voter asks a Lib Dem campaigner “what is the relationship between Scotland and England, our overbearing and overly populous neighbour, in this proposed federal union?”. If the answer is “errrr……” then that’s the end of that.

  • What’s more, Denis: if the Scottish Liberal Democrats espouse federalism at the 2021 elections and the English Liberal Democrats then *later* determine the constitutional arrangements for England without any cooperation with the Welsh or Scottish parties and in a way that would leave Scots still subject to an overbearing large neighbour, how do you think that would look in Scotland? How on Earth can it be possible for a policy on constitutional reform which affects the very essence of the whole Union be formed piecemeal as if the constitutional arrangements for the various component nations had no bearing on each other? It’s absurd.

    We have to reach a consensus on a policy which is truly national in scope. I remind you that the authors of F11 did ask for and receive input from English members earlier this year for precisely that need. Some Welsh and Scottish members have signed our amendment for exactly the reasons stated in my article.

  • It takes a bit of a brass neck for a Cambridgeshire Lib Dem to tell a Scottish Professor who happens to have given evidence to a House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that he is wrong.

  • Denis is welcome to answer directly the question I posed to him about the reaction of Scottish voters. As I’ve said, given the choice between having an English Parliament or a set of English regions as the federal parts of the UK, I have Welsh and Scottish members accepting the latter as sensible and we also have Policy Paper 117 rejecting both an English Parliament and English Votes for English Laws. If they believe we should go back and reverse the intent of Policy Paper 117, membes are of course welcome to argue that corner.

  • Do you honestly believe, given their well known good opinion of the country, that the considerations of the Welsh and Scottish have taken the best interests of England or more to the poin, the English into account? Or perhaps they have been biased in determining what is best for the whole U.K. whilst being content that English members have not contributed?
    Also as a point of curiosity may I ask from what quarters did the resistance to having English content to motion F11 arise?

  • Tynan, are you referring to the Scottish and Welsh authors of the motion? The authors of the motion approached the English party for input on the motion. After the request was passed on by the chair of the EP, a group of members of English Council discussed and provided input. A lot of it was supported by the authors. It was neither the English Party, the Welsh Party nor the Scottish Party which advised that there should be no content referring to England in the motion. I gave input separately before I knew the other EC group were doing this. That’s because we have a Liberal Democrat Federalists group on Facebook (which has received a steady flow of new members this last week or two) and I and several others had a conversation separately with Wendy Chamberlain who was until recently the parliamentary spokeswoman.

    The motive of the authors was pretty clear: they wanted to progress on federalism as an alternative to separatism or the status quo. They were not out to “stick one” to the English nor to ignore them and create a model of federalism solely for their own narrow interest at the exclusion of others. From the outset, as far as I can see, the intent was to collaborate – as indeed any sensible party policy affecting the entire nation should rightly do. One of the authors of the motion stated clearly to me back in June that they prefered ” a federation based on the English regions” and that happens to suit a lot of English members who want a regionalised England.

  • @Michael Kilpatrick

    I made the same point as @Denis Mollison re putting Scotland ( and Wales and NI) on the same constitutional level as English regions in previous posts on this topic.

    In doing so, you are proposing a completely thoroughgoing incorporating union. It would be completely different to the basis on which Scotland entered the union and which appears to and substantively will end Scotland as a country to create a uniform British state of regions.

    You have still not offered any description even in this regional uniformity how the federal level of Government would work which I suggest will be far more important to Scottish voters than how England decides to organise itself. If your model simply replaces current Westminster sovereignty with UK federal sovereignty with no safeguard for Scotland as a country it will be stillborn in Scotland. e.g. if your model could still have led to Scotland being forced out of the EU on the badis of English votes it is pointless.

    As one view from Scotland, if a federal model in a referendum involved placing Scotland on the same political and consitutional level as a regional grouping of English counties I would vote against without any doubts.

  • Michael Kilpatrick, thanks for the additional clarification. Given what you have said it does seem strange that there remains, as you say, an ‘England shaped hole’ in the motion. The level of interest just on this site would suggest 50 minutes to be a very short period of time for the debate, but I’ll be interested in seeing the outcome.

  • Tynan, I agree – a 50-minute debate, shorter than some of the other debates, is I think outrageously brief for what should be a more substantial argument – and a more substantial motion with more detail, but the party just seems unable to get to grips with difficult topics.

  • Denis Mollison 14th Sep '20 - 10:07pm

    I agree that the motion is imperfect as it stands; it’s just that I think we need to go in a different direction. If our policy is to stand up in Scottish and Welsh politics, it needs to work from the perspective where one imagines 4 very different sized nations negotiating a federal arrangement. From that perspective, it’s pretty clear that each should have its own parliament, and that the federal body (responsible mainly only for foreign affairs, defence and macroeconomics) needs to operate as far as possible through consensus rather than just counting votes which would almost always give all power to the one large component: that body could be either a Senate or a Council of Ministers. Certainly, retaining two parliaments (HoC and HoL) with federal responsibilities is top-heavy.

    There are (at least) 4 points of view among English Lib Dems and the wider English public about the options for England in a federal structure: (a) English Parliament, (b) Regional Assemblies, (c) neither, (d) haven’t thought about it, with (d) probaby the most widely held. From a Scottish federalist perspective, I think only (a) is politically viable (England is welcome to have assemblies as well if it likes, as a tier below their parliament). The motion is not ideal, but it leaves that option open (“(g) A Royal Commission … bringing forward proposals on how England would operate within a Federal United Kingdom …”), so I shall be voting for it; whereas your amendment closes it off, so I shall vote against it.

  • Hireton, if you want my opinion on how significant constitutional or treaty changes – which would include for example a hypothetical Brexit-like scenario – would work, then:

    If England were a single federal state within the union rather than the regions then adecision would have to be enabled by the combination of both a majority of the popular vote nationally *and* a majority of the member states of the federal union. We could argue whether with four federal states that should mean three out of the four or two out of the four in the case that one of the two is England. Remember there are no other federal unions in which one component state outweighs the population of all the others combined.

    Were the English regions to be the federal states as per my preference then my suggestion would be a requirement for three conditions all to be met: (a) majority of the national popular vote (b) a majority of the federal states (c) a minimum number of non-English states within that majority.

    In each context, pick your definition of “majority” – whether a simply majority, a supermajority or a turn-out threshodl – or both.

    It’s pretty obvious that if we had a multitude of English regions which in certain contexts will have common views then we couldn’t possibly rely simply on a majority of the 10 to 15 component states, as they would always outweight Scotland, Wales and NI.

    But don’t blame either me or the authors of this motion for the fact that this party can’t and won’t get to grips with all these issues in a timely fashion.

  • Denis, I am of course disappointed that after six of years of the party doing nothing to move forwards after Policy Paper 117 there are some members who would like to undo some of its conclusions too. As I said earlier, one of the Scottish authors of the motion was very much of a different view to you with regards the English Parliament vs Regions question.

    It’s also interesting to observe that you are happy with the motion committing the Liberal Democrats to a firm view on the position of Wales: ” 4. The transfer of additional powers to the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) to create broad parity with the powers of the Scottish Parliament including the creation of Wales as a distinct legal jurisdiction.” but would rather not reach any such commitment on England or its regions. By the way, from where did you conjure up the point about the Royal Commission for England? There is no such clause in motion F11.

  • Michael Kilpatrick, using your English regions federal model, t by my reckoning the Brexit vote would give a majority of the national vote, majority of the states and one non English state. Leaving arguments re the wisdom of Brexit to one side for once, would that have been sufficient to carry the vote in your view? If not how would you envisage the response of a majority of those who voted being ‘forced’ to stay in the E.U. by a minority of the voting population. If you will, also park any argument that the original vote should have required a super majority for such a significant change.

  • There’s no answer to that, Tynan. This country can’t organise consistent votes and can’t decide whether significant constitutional changes should require thresholds or supermajorities . Just look at the two different ways in which the Welsh and Scottish devolution referendums were run in 1979 and 1997 to be start with. It’s farcical.

    So, with a union in which one member state is 85% of the population alongside three other states, what is the correct method? Should it require three out of four states to pass, in which case Brexit wouldn’t have passed? Or all four? Or England plus one other? I don’t know. There will be so many views on that.

    In a federal union in which it would be possible for a majority of the popular vote to go one way but not provide a majority of the states , I believe the majority would have to understand that it’s the price to pay for having a union that preserves the interest of its members states as well as the interests of each individual citizen. It’s inevitable that these two will not always coincide.

    Besides, in any such union there are bound to be the odd referendums from time to time and I would expect those to have either supermajority criteria or turn-out thresholds. This will mean that the majority will be familiar with the idea (as happened in 1979) of winning but not winning.

  • Denis Mollison 15th Sep '20 - 9:03am

    Perhaps “six of years of the party doing nothing to move forwards after Policy Paper 117” is an indication of problems in what PP117 suggested?

    Apologies ref. Royal Commission – this was in the June draft but not the final motion.

  • Denis, FPC back in 2017 claimed “there was no appetite for discussing wider constitutional reform within the party” in response to my open letter to them, the purpose of which was to suggest that Policy Paper 130 either include a more in-depth discussion on regional devolution (as part of the roadmap to federalism) or that it should avoid the subject entirely such that it might be discussed separately, properly. This was, I must remind you, after two English regional parties had passed motions in 2015 calling for the federal party to move forwards on federalism and improve our English devolution policy. And after a third region, Yorks & Humber, had previously called for a Yorkshire Parliament with powers similar to Holyrood and, effectively, a federal state implying a regional model. We also had tried twice in 2016 to put a federalism policy motion to the party conference. In the meantime the three northern regional parties have been discussing amongst themselves to coordinate their response to “Northern Powerhouse” ideas and others relating to regionalism – such as whether they might propose a single northern province or three separate regions.

    Fast forward to 2020 and there is evidently a need to have progress on federalism from at least the Scottish and Welsh parties. As part of the frankly farcical machinations that have beset this motion, the English Council passed a motion which called on FCC to accept appropriate amendments with English content. As a response to that, FCC wrote to FPC to say, and I quote: “FCC is conscious that the question of English devolution is linked to that of federalism and would welcome a motion in the future that would allow the party to reach a position. […] English devolution is a pressing issue and therefore we wondered whether FPC might want to consider factoring in some work in that area.”

    No kidding? Some of us have been pressing on the matters of both federalism and English devolution for several years. It seems certain quarters within the federal party are finally waking up to the fact that we’re not much of a reformist party? I’m also wondering if our various attempts – two attempts in 2016, the three regional party motions in 2014/15 and the subsequent open letter to FPC and then the attempt to modify the motion endorsing PP130 – were just invisible to some people?

  • So, to get the point: obviously there are people who disagree, such as yourself on the EP vs regional question, Denis. However, at no point has anyone made serious attempts to bring the question of EP vs regionalism back on the agenda and to reverse the conclusions of PP117. Neither have, as far as I’m aware, any members of FCC or FPC ever suggested we should. All they’ve done is fail to wake up to the calls from various quarters to get on a finish a job half-done.

  • There are plenty of reasons why in a Federal Uk, certain parts of England might want to align politically with Scotland and Wales rather than the London area. This would give W&S more clout than they would have in a purely 4 state federation unless powers were reserved for them that to me seems unreasonable. Politically all parts of the federation should have equal say on the issues that concern them. This is why the present system is unstable with England being so over powerful with attempts to compensate being unfair to some parties. Devolution is more to do with powers that are handed down to the component parts.

  • I very much agree with Peter in that parts of England could often be more aligned with Scotland than with London but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a reason to allow simple majority voting to reach constitutionally important decisions without additional criteria requiring some non-English content to the majority. In that sense we would have a “quantum England” being a single state and a set of federal regions at the same time

  • Martin Boffey 15th Sep '20 - 12:02pm

    I am an Englishman first and a Unionist second. I have no desire to see the United Kingdom broken up but if independence is at some point the democratic choice of the people of Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland (or a United Ireland) then so be it. What I would oppose vehemently is any suggestion that England should be carved up and dismembered into artificial bureaucratic micro-states in order to “buy” the continued membership of the other constituent nations of the UK. England is England. It has been a proud and singular nation for over a thousand years, and its people’s birthright and identity should not be stripped away in some desperate attempt to avoid Scottish or Welsh independence. There must be a better way.

  • I have to say that although I understand the argument for a federal model, I’m with Martin Boffey on this and for the same reasons, I think most of the English would be and rightly or wrongly it is, for me at least, as much about feeling and identity as anything else.

  • Martin Boffey 15th Sep '20 - 1:09pm

    Thank you. I too understand the argument for a federal model, but it is going to take considerable skill to make it work in a UK context. It seems to me there are two realistic ways of solving the “English question” in a federal model and neither of them work very well: Regional Assemblies or an English Parliament. I wonder whether the answer could be “both” rather than “neither,” although without all the additional elections and politicians that would involve. What about a new cohort of c.450 of elected representatives who would sometimes sit together as an “English Parliament” and sometimes as 9 separate “Regional Assemblies” of c.50? This would enable England to survive as a separate and unified legal jurisdiction, but at the same time extend similar functions of the London Assembly to the other regions of England. The House of Commons would then have a much narrower remit and the HoL could potentially be dispensed with altogether or replaced with a more fit-for-purpose chamber.

  • Emotive words, “carved up” “micro-states”. “Buying” peace. “Proud nation”. That’s just shallow identity politics. Administering England regionally doesn’t carve it up, abolish it or destroy any English identity.

  • A much more democratic model would be to replace the HoL with electronic voting and referendum on major issues, this would largely prevent instances where power starts to send the politicians mad and at least give the general public the feeling that they have a say – perhaps with a discount on council tax if they vote a certain number of times as an incentive, though given half a chance of a referendum on it, they would vote to get rid of council tax!

  • Martin Boffey 15th Sep '20 - 2:05pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick
    I didn’t say anything about buying “peace” – that one’s on you. And as for using “emotive words” – well maybe it’s because it’s I’m passionate about it. Why is it that when liberals speak passionately in favour of EU membership it’s just that – passionate pro-Europeanism – but when it’s saying something positive about England it becomes “shallow identity politics?” What’s so wrong with being proud of my Nation? It doesn’t make me an EDL thug. It’s your proposal that wants to create regional parliaments of constitutional parity with Scotland, Wales and NI “driven by locally-based identities and desires.” If that’s not a carve-up based on shallow identity politics then I don’t know what is.

  • Martin Boffey 15th Sep '20 - 2:28pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick
    If you really want to get down to brass tacks then answer me this: In your brave new world of Regional Parliaments in England on a constitutional par with the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and NI, who is going to make the laws in England? If the answer is the Regional Parliaments, then that’s a recipe for chaos, confusion and bitterness and the erosion of (until-recently) highly-respected English Law. My answer is no-thank-you-very-much. If the answer is Westminster, then we will still be in exactly the same West Lothian/EVEL horlicks we are in now and you will have achieved nothing other than to establish 9 new regional talking shops full of mediocre-at-best politicians on fat salaries.

  • In the real world you have to have an accommodation between identities and administrative function. The two extremes of “carving up England” would be (a) civil servants drawing arbitrary lines on maps behind closed doors and (b) a free-for-all in which people who want to express an identity are allowed to do so without any consideration of the overall structure’s coherence. The point between these two extremes in which you consider the needs of the whole (in terms of satisfying the economic and geographic sense of all the regions and the coherence of each) as well as the needs of certain areas which express a stronger identity than others (e.g. Yorkshire) would be how you compromise to reach the best-fit solution. Also, locally led “desires” don’t all equate to “identity”. They can also equate to the local views on social, economic and geographic practicalities as to what districts/counties make sensible groupings. And that’s why this is not just about identity politics – although you can’t ignore identities.

    As for English law, it would – hopefully – remain almost the only thing that genuinely needs to legislated for across all-England unless you’re a purist-extremist who wants to argue for separate legal jurisdictions, which I think a bit over the top. There are various ways other than a dedicated new English Parliament to do this limited function and not much else.

    No, EVEL is not one of the answers. That’s a dreadful constitutional bodge which existing Liberal Democrat policy has already rejected.

  • “civil servants drawing arbitrary lines on maps behind closed doors”.

    Whether you like it or no that’s how it happens and will happen, Michael……. if it ever does…….

    Either way, I can’t see it being the clarion call that will lead to a Lib Dem revival…… and in any case to introduce it there’s the small matter of needing to win another 316 seats first.

  • Michael Kilpatrick-:
    ‘As for English law, it would – hopefully – remain almost the only thing that genuinely needs to legislated for across all-England .’
    That is quite a statement though, it may be a limited function but one with wide ranging and significant impact across the proposed regions of England. If not via EVEL, which I agree is a bit of a bodge job, how do you see English law being proposed and voted on in your favoured federal model?

  • Martin Boffey 15th Sep '20 - 6:08pm

    Parliaments that don’t make laws……well, they’re not Parliaments at all then are they? Because “In the real world” that’s what Parliaments do. They certainly wouldn’t be on a constitutional par with the Scottish or Welsh Parliaments, or even the NI Assembly. This is just getting weird now.

  • I’m with Martin Boffey!
    As a Scot, I don’t want England to be broken into regions.
    I don’t want parity with one of these regions.
    Alaska and California seem to manage OK within the USA (I accept there are others).
    What Michael Kilpatrick suggests is an insult to England, to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland.
    We have a United Kingdom. Parity. What are you playing at?
    Government of countries is more than about numbers. You have to take account of emotional ties. Who, in their right mind is going to prefer to be an East Midlander than an English person (Henry V and all that (from a Scot))?
    My suggestion, Mr Kilpatrick, is a nice cup of Horlicks and early to bed…

  • There is no binary choice being made between the East Midlands and England. It’s rather like saying that Scotland as a country and an identity didn’t exist between 1707 and 1997. It clearly did – although it was governed by a government dominated by its overbearing neighbour.

    Chris, why is it an insult if Yorkshire has a parliament as strong as Scotland’s? What sort of parity does anyone have within the current framework? How does it belittle Scotland that someone else has the same powers as it but happens to be a region of England not a country? In no way does this “make Scotland a region of England”. Neither does it make England not exist as a country – a country which hasn’t had a parliament of its own, distinct within the United Kingdom, since 1707 either, but, like Scotland, existed in every other sense.

    Can you explain your reference to Alaska and California, please?

  • @Michael Kilpatrick

    I wasn’t blaming anybody for anything just giving some comments from a Scottish perspective.

    I think what is clear that the Lib Dems are very far away from having a coherent set of practical proposals for a federal UK. Any commitment to that in 2021 in the Scottish elections is just a vague aspiration and there is no real prospect of a practical proposition to run in or alongside the independence referendum which will undoubtedly happen in 2021 or soon after. So it looks like independence would be the only choice other than sticking with Brexit Britain.

  • @ Michael Kilpatrick
    My apologies for the late reply and I doubt you’ll ever see it.
    Alaska and California are both parts of a federation. Nobody claims that they cannot have a federation because California outnumbers Alaska’s population by so many.
    Under your system, every state would be Alaska-size.
    For the UK, look at the western Isles and the Isle of Wight who, up until recently, had one MP apiece despite massively different-sized electorates.

    If you can’t see the insult – and again, my apologies – you can’t see the problem.

    Kindest regards.

  • It’s interesting timing that the Internal Market Bill is going through Parliament while we are having internal discussions on this very big issue of how to implement federalism. The Bill, if enacted, takes back significant powers from the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. This is a reminder to everyone who bothers to take notice that devolution is a flimsy and impermanent arrangement that lasts as long as the whim of the Westminster Government allows it to, and no longer. The present system in this country of an all-powerful Westminster government is not working. For example it is trying and failing to deal with the pandemic from the centre. Solutions closer to the grassroots using trusted local institutions are being advocated by the Independent SAGE group of experts. Regional governments could do that. We don’t have to reinvent anything: just look at federal systems around the world and borrow good ideas. But we do have to see the case for change. Going back to the grotesquely unbalanced idea of an English parliament that the party has already rejected is not the answer.

  • Chris, I have never said that a federation with states vastly different sizes – as Alaska and California – cannot work. Neither that every state should/would be “Alaska sized” or that they should all be very similar sizes (self-evidently Greater London or some larger regional unit containing it would be several times the population of Northern Ireland).

    What is pertinent is not that California is so enormous compared to Alaska, but that California still only constitutes one eighth of the population of the USA (and there are several combinations of two other states that outweigh it). England, on the other hand, constitutes some 85% of the entire UK.

  • Michael

    I am seriously not (in youthful parlance) “dissing” you, but who, seriously, is going to push through this federalism? I have listened to Labour MPs over the years talking about dissolving the House of Lords, only to find themselves at a future date, in ermine.
    In the same way, when the Union is in “peril”, the so-called Scottish Labour Party brings out someone to talk about Federalism or even “Home Rule” to stave off the Nationalists.
    What, I ask, is the point of arguing about angels dancing on the head of a pin?
    So far as emotion is concerned, every US citizen that I have met (this is not scientific) considers themselves to be US citizens. That is not the case in Wales or Scotland ie UK citizens. Trust me, I’ve been to Northern Ireland; I know they’re BRITISH.
    You have put your head above the parapet and for that I applaud you but, currently (opinion polls to be believed?) most Scots don’t think of themselves as “British” and most Scots don’t want to be “British” (this might change).
    What David Cameron and his friends missed in 2014 was not that they had beaten the Scot Nats but that almost half of the Scottish electorate (that voted) did not consider themselves UK citizens and wished to be in a different country like the Anglophone Australians, Canadians, Americans and Irish.
    If you ever read this, thank you. If you manage to get this far, I’ll be amazed.
    Just some thoughts.

  • Chris, you and I are both aware that unless by some bizarre circumstances a massive landslide provides a Lib Dem majority in Parliament, any reformist policies require the cooperation of other parties. We can’t really be sure what will happen in the next ten years and what absurd and disproportionate results the First Past The Post system will throw at us, but this issue of federalism (or indeed any constitutional reform) is no different from any other policy that a minority party might have. It’s no more silly or pointless for us to debate it than it is for anything else.

    What’s more, whilst I’m not overly optimistic about reformists in Labour – or even the Conservatives for that matter – getting the ascendancy, it is a fact that more Labour politicians are making noise about electoral and/or constitutional reform than previously. Labour in this respect were foolish in the coalition years and the Lib Dems didn’t exactly get the best deal either out of their position of pivotal influence. I hope no-one makes that mistake again when circumstances allow a movement for change to exert influence in Parliament a second time.

    As for Scotland in particular, we’ll only find out if politics is so polarised that no-one is interested in a positive reform of the Union if someone gets on and promotes it. The many real-life benefits of overall reform of the UK are far wider than just keeping Scotland onboard, though. The trick is knowing how to sell it on the doorstep – it’s not exactly a case of putting on your best nerdy anorak and saying “Can I interest you in some federalism, madam?”

  • That’s how I like my politics – friendly. Thank you for taking the time to interact with me. I appreciate it. Good luck in the future but we’ll probably still disgree.
    Thank you.

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