LibLink: Charles Kennedy: Why our destiny must lie with the F word

Charles KennedyThe Independence Referendum campaign continues to be depressing. The only really good things associated with it tend to come from Liberal Democrats and most especially Charles Kennedy. He’s written a thoughtful and persuasive article in the Herald about the dilemma facing Scotland beyond 18th September as, whoever wins, we’ve all lost out from increasing centralism to Edinburgh in recent years.

He outlines the problem:

In the pre-devolution days of one- party Tory domination there was much legitimate railing against the excessive concentration of power within Whitehall. The centre accrued and amassed while the periphery lost out. Holyrood represented an emphatic emancipation from the power of centralisers. Yet look at the Scotland that has been developing and ask: where lies that aspiration today?

Our emergency services have been made national, more centralised and less regionally accountable. Consider the furore over armed police and wonder if that (unstated until unveiled) policy would have got so far under previous, more localised structures. Ponder the plight of our so-called local authorities and reflect upon the extent to which frozen council tax concordats with central government serve to enhance local accountability and diverse innovation more tailored to community needs.

The chain of command is top down, the culture target-driven. The derivatives, from the tick box methodology to the growing Leviathan of key performance indicators holds sway. And too much of what I hear and read of the independence version of Scotland’s future seems predicated on still further imposition by the “new centre” on the rest of us, individuals and communities alike.

It’s not going to be easy to sort this out in an independent Scotland, especially when the Yes campaigns assertions are, shall we say, a little inconsistent with each other.

The wider Scotland should retain its critical faculties where the prospect of an independent Scotland is concerned. Throughout this campaign, whenever policy trickiness has arisen, the Yes campaign has been keen to stress that it is not the SNP; a bit like the Catholic Church suggesting it has no responsibility for the latest Papal utterance. Time and again, the refrain that the future political governance of our land will be decided solely by Scots voting freely in an independent country has become conflated with a menu of supposedly desirable policies that seem guaranteed come what may. These twin assertions do not add up.

It’s different if we vote No, though..

A post-referendum Westminster, with Scotland a continuing participant, must try to encourage if not ensure that the further transfer of powers to Holyrood does not stop there; that at least within the Better Together parties there must be a will to win the argument that pursuing a rolling back reaches beyond Edinburgh to our other great cities, regions and islands. Indeed, the islands’ authorities have lit the torch. regardless of the outcome, they seem likely to anticipate a greater say in their own day-to-day decision-making. Let that principle be given practical effect for the rest of the mainland.

And where should we get to in the end?

All of which leads to the F-word: federalism within and across Scotland; federalism throughout the wider, developing UK. That is where we are heading, in fits and starts, in a very British way

You can read the whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jul '14 - 4:51pm

    This sounds a hopeful but realistic note – however, ‘Fits and starts’ towards a more federal UK are all very well, its the hiccups and steps back in between that get me down…

  • Its all very difficult, really.

    I can’t help but feel that people who say Vote No to Independence because we really want Federalism are falling into the same electoral trap as the ones who in 2011 voted No to AV because they really wanted STV.

  • “The only really good things…”

    That is a very depressing thing to read, I know that it is tempting to get locked into a party political mindset, but can you not think of anything to welcome from other parties?

    I’m never over seeing photos on Facebook of rooms full of people – yes no and undecided, does that not make you a little excited? All the polls are predicting a high turnout, most of whom will not be lib dems, is that really disappointing?

    A lot of the commentary on the yes side has focused around traditional liberal themes – land reform, bringing democracy closer to the people, greener politics, new ways of supporting both rural and urban communities. Even if you don’t agree with their way of achieving those goals shouldn’t you be excited at the prospect of building a wide consensus for liberal politics in the post referendum world, whatever the result.

    If welcoming the yes contribution is too much of a stretch, surely you can find something to like in the better together parties, or even recognise that without the SNP government no one would be talking about federalism.

  • “Why our destiny must lie with the F word ”

    What F word?

    Perhaps further Fiddling of devolution to entrench the discrimination against England, with the two fingered salute, telling England and the English as a nation and a people that they can F..Off as far as the LibDems are concerned, or perhaps you are talking about full Federalism with the EU to ensure that England is permanently regionalised to serve your EU dream, and wiped off the face of the map as a nation.

    I would suggest if you are looking for an F word to describe the determination of the Liberal Democrats to persue the eviceration of England, to give disproportianate influence to the celtic fringe, then that word is Foolish in 20ft letters, illuminated by a million candlepower searchlight.

    If you are talking about an English parliament in a federal UK, then perhaps there is hope for your party yet, although it is noticeable that there was not a single mention in the essay of England, effectively 80+% of the UK. Rather like talking about the list of Premiership champions since the Premiership came into being, and choosing to completely remove any reference to Man Utd.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jul '14 - 8:48pm

    It took me a while but I have it now … FARRON!

  • David Evershed 24th Jul '14 - 9:56pm

    “Why our destiny must lie with the F word”

    Who are the ‘our’ – Scotland, UK, Europe, the West, the World?

  • @David Evershed and Jedibeeftrix

    How far does the federalist idea extend?

    As far as the bonds of culture, economy and history can be extended. The European Union is already at those limits if not slightly beyond them, though, thanks to an overenthusiastic enlargement strategy pursued over the previous two Commissions.

    It is worth remembering who drove those expansions, and worth asking ourselves why they might have wanted to do this.

    Its also worth remembering that not all federal structures are identical, and that the European scale requires a much looser one than is needed at the national scale.


    Federalism is the answer for England. Why are its regions the poorest in the UK? Why does it always get a shoddy deal compared to the ‘celtic fringe’? Because it has no devolved administrations, no-one whose only role is to fight the corner of the regions and get a better deal.

    Well, except for London, which is the richest and most influential part of the whole union.

    A single English parliament would only recreate this unbalanced, overcentralised state. As you point out, England is 85% of the UK, so simply adding another parliament almost as big as Westminster would create two parliaments in England of almost equal legitimacy and almost equal legislative weight, both facing almost exactly the same challenges, problems and south-east bias. The union couldn’t possibly work like that.

    Why not? It would either have to be a union bringing together the three nations and their parliaments as equals, English, Welsh and Scottish, which would give such a ridiculously disproportionate boost to the celtic fringe’s influence (two thirds of the membership of the union, for one fifth of its population, tops) that it would inevitably drive English resentment to new highs and break the union. Or it would be an asymmetric devolution where the English parliament is senior to the others, which leads to the English parliament increasingly setting the agenda for the whole union with no incentive to compromise and no UK parliament powerful or legitimate enough to force the issue – after all, its only a small amount bigger. This would quickly end up fuelling resentment in the celtic fringe that will inevitably break the union apart that way.

    The only way to preserve a working union is to create six or so new regional assemblies in England, to go alongside the existing London one. Only then can England get the localised government it needs to redress the balance as regards the celtic fringe, and only then can we have a Britain that gives everyone on this island a fair representation, whatever nationality they might have.

    Of course, it may be that you’re an English nationalist and don’t want to preserve a working union. Fair enough. But you must realise that dropping the other members of the union puts England out of the top ten and ends it as a great power both militarily and economically. Positive engagement with Europe and the world would then be more important than ever to retain economic stability and political relevance.

  • peter tyzack 25th Jul '14 - 9:56am

    – it is depressing how people take words and give them other meanings to suit their own distorted agendas. Perhaps we should drop the word Federalism as it is clearly so misunderstood because of the repeated misuses, and despite Charles efforts, he is clearly not going to undo the years of Eurosceptic spin in one leap. ‘Regionalism’ is another, already quietly in existence in Govt Depts, but sadly taking their orders from Whitehall instead of from the locals they supposedly work for . The other troublesome word in this is ‘localism’, which is the same thing from the other end.. though you wouldn’t think so to hear Pickles and co.
    Simply put Liberal Democrat policy is to ‘win power in order to give it away’, and that frightens the power hungry old parties and their buddies who seek to control. We believe that power should be held at the lowest most local level, and only passed ‘upwards’ when there is a need to take a wider view.

  • As I keep saying, NOBODY IN ENGLAND WANTS yet another level of bureaucracy and expense to go with all the ridiculous levels of councils. Regional assemblies are simply a waste of money and when people have been asked they have roundly rejected them.

    Well, that’s not quite true. There are two groups who would welcome them:

    1. Political nerds who would love another chance to play at elections, and more opportunities to get themselves and their mates elected.
    2. Public sector workers for whom regional assemblies would provide a whole level level of civil service to provide sinecures and comfy pensions.

    But everybody else is fed up enough with parish, county, city, district councils and the last thing they want is yet another level of local government.

  • Charles Rothwell 25th Jul '14 - 11:14am

    How I envy you your omniscience/ability to speak for the whole of England and the entire UK. Speaking as someone living in most of the most depressed area of Yorkshire and the Humber (swatches of which have never recovered from the wholesale butchery of the pits, steel mills etc), I believe you would find huge support from among businesses and commercial organisations for pragmatic, focused and effective regional government which would help to promote and supervise such vitally needed projects a high=speed Hull > Leeds > Manchester > LIverpool link (rather than sacrificing yet more of the countryside to the HS2 project which will cut journey times to London by a whole 20 minutes (my goodness! How marvellous in the age of the internet, video-conferencing, 3 D faxes etc!) The KEY thing (unlike Prescott’s botched attempt in the North East) would be ACCOUNTABILITY. No-one (and certainly no LD) would be in the least interested in setting up the kind of one-party fiefdoms we have far too many of in this area at urban/district levels, though, that is for sure!)
    Re. Kennedy, I admire his consistent line. He seems about the only major UK politician prepared to take on the Red Tops/mind marshalling of the tabloids and actually stand up for the term ‘federalism’ (which has most certainly served Germany for well over 50 years very well indeed!)

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jul '14 - 11:19am

    @ peter tyzack25th Jul ’14 – 9:56am
    ” it is depressing how people take words and give them other meanings to suit their own distorted agendas.”.
    Come on Peter, do try to chill a bit! I have heard that MP’s of different parties enjoy a bit of fun sometimes and have even been seen to smile oocassionally 🙂

    Regarding your other point, I think that federalism best fits the nations within the UK but that regionalism is indeed the better term for England.

    @Dav25th Jul ’14 – 10:19am “NOBODY IN ENGLAND WANTS …”
    Dave, would I be wrong in assuming that you live in the South East?

    I for one most certainly want regional governments as do many – your acertion is simply wrong. Also the feeling is stronger the further you move away from London. In that way, many regions feel exactly the same way as the Scots and Welsh re devolution, just that we no longer have a bolstering national identity to go along side it.

    Northern Hiberno-Norse Mercian Angle.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jul '14 - 11:21am

    @Charles Rothwell25th Jul ’14 – 11:14am – Excellent points Charles.

  • @ T-J

    This is where the debate falls down, when the talk is about devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland we talk about what is best for them individually, without any consideration of the effect on England. Yet when we raise the subject of the same type of parliament and devolution arrangement for England, all of a sudden we have to consider how it might impact on the others.

    I am not particularly a nationalist, but I am increasingly starting to feel that way. I have watched a latent conspiracy by Labour/Conservative and LIbDems parties to advantage the celtic 15% of the population at the expense of the 85% English, mostly it would seem for party advantage.

    As for regionalisation of England, if the discrimination against England since the devolution settlement is anything to go by, coupled with the outright deceit of the last attempt to slice up England, for which the North East rolled up for you into a tube, and told you in no uncertain terms where to shove, on this matter you have no credibility whatsoever.

    If the destruction of England and the English as an entity is the price of keeping the whingeing celts on board, then I am afraid it is price the English are increasingly reluctant to pay. . A fully federal system with parliament or assemblies for England and London, as London is no more representative of England anymore, than Edinburgh is.

    If our celtic cousins don’t like having the federal state, ruled by the majority, then I am sure any federal arrangement will include a clause allowing them to leave..

  • The F word here is Fantasy. Federalism is not on the ballot paper in September because the Lib Dem leadership threw away the opportunity offered by the Scottish Government to allow a second question that would have put it there. It has no chance of happening any other way. The voters of middle England whose agreement would be needed will just never allow it. When was the last time a Focus leaflet in England mentioned federalism? It just doesn’t happen.

    Only a YES vote can give Scotland the powers it needs to create a society where people will be freed from poverty, ignorance and conformity to the dictates of Westminster. Federalism is just not going to emerge from devolution.

    That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats like former Chief Executive Andy Myles are supporting the YES campaign. Andy Myles commented, “I can see no evidence that it [devolution] will lead on to a modern British federation, where Scotland is a genuinely equal partner with the other parts of the UK. None of the UK parties are even talking about what I consider to be federalism. I have come to the conclusion that the best way forward is an independent Scotland within the EU.”

  • @Raddiy

    ‘This is where the debate falls down, when the talk is about devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland we talk about what is best for them individually, without any consideration of the effect on England. Yet when we raise the subject of the same type of parliament and devolution arrangement for England, all of a sudden we have to consider how it might impact on the others.’

    Because, obviously, when you’re talking about devolution for a sub-unit that’s 8% of the whole, the effect on the remaining 92% is going to be fairly small. Although some people were and still do raise the point, which is why we have the West Lothian Question still floating around.

    When you’re talking about a sub-unit that’s 85% of the whole, it is equally obvious that decisions made in that sub-unit will dominate the whole and set the agenda in the remaining 15% regardless of what they vote for. Not good, and not federal.

    England and the English have to decide whether they want to be part of a larger whole, forming say seven of Britain’s ten subunits, or whether they want to be a large single unitary state with all the inefficent overcentralised and locally unaccountable government that entails.

    ‘If our celtic cousins don’t like having the federal state, ruled by the majority, then I am sure any federal arrangement will include a clause allowing them to leave..’

    Federal states aren’t about a big country dictating to small ones. They’re about preventing the domination of one partner over all the others and making it necessary for all the members to come together and work for mutual benefit. What you’re imagining is a very imperial model of how unions work and explains both why we’re seeing Scottish nationalism on the rise and why your side is so frightened by the European Union.

    Obviously Federal structures are very hard to make work if the situation is where one partner of three is so much larger than the others. It wouldn’t be fair to the large partner to give the other two equal weighting, nor would it be fair on the other two to allow the large partner to just overrule them on everything.

    When the victorious allies designed Germany’s federal system in the late 1940s, it was recognised that Prussia, forming about 80% of the German state before the war, was always going to drag the rest of that country along on whatever ride it wanted to go on. That’s why the modern Federal Republic is formed from old medieval kingdoms like Bavaria and Saxony alongside a collection of more civic divisions in what was Prussia – they’re Germans with Prussian history and background, but still fundamentally Germans.

    England needs to ask itself a similar question. Are we British with English history and background that we share with the other regions of England, or are we determined that to be English we need to have a single government just for us and for all of us, in which case how much longer do we leave it before we organise against the unfair settlement foisted off on all of Britain by the union?

  • @ T-J
    To be honest the union settlement was disadvantaging England with the Barnett formula, even before the devolution Pandoras box was opened, with the active support of your party. England is a country and an identity in its own right just like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and has been for over 1000 years, it bears no comparison to Germany, which ignoring the post war federal settlement, was not even a country in its own right until 1871. California with 38 million people sits comfortably alongside a number of other states with populations of 0.5million, or a tenth of the population of Scotland, why should it be impossible to achieve that here.

    The last Labour government tried to con the people of the North East with an expensive toothless talking shop with less powers than even Wales, and was rejected. Any attempt at regionalisation of England, will almost certainly be gerrymandered by the establishment against the interests of the English, we have plenty of recent evidence to support that view.

    I doubt any of the parties would be considered an honest broker on the issue, when all three of them can barely mention the word England without puking up, your party certainly talks about England in the same partisan way you talk about the Israel/Palestine issue. Not a pretty sight!!

    Personally I don’t care if the union persists and devolution is scrapped completely and all power returned to Westminster, I have no problem with full devolution with an English Assembly. I have no problem with a fully federal system for all four countries.. Whatever happens if England as a nation, does not get fair and equitable treatment,, then it should just go it alone.

  • You call me up on comparing England with Germany – I didn’t, I compared Great Britain with Germany. GB is a bit older than Germany in its modern form, dating to 1707, but the point is that they’re political structures that stretch out over a similar range of people and are comparable in terms of economic strength and potential.

    As a side point, Germany as an idea is actually much older than the 1871 ‘Second Reich’, a name that really does imply the existence of at least one previous German state. The emperors of the Holy Roman Empire held ‘King of the Germans’ as their primary title, a style dating to 843 when Charlemagne established a single German kingdom. England at the time was dominated by Mercia, Northumberland and Wessex.

    On the American system, they use the idea of two houses of government to create one house propotionate to population and one where each member state gets equal weight regardless of population. These have to reach some balance and it prevents large members overriding small ones completely without letting single small states block the whole thing.

    In Britain this would be difficult to manage. Although yes, California is half an England while Vermont is a tenth of a Scotland, but you brushed on the answer yourself – ‘alongside a number of other states’. California sits alongside forty nine smaller states. The largest partner would find it impossible to dominate even if the system was like the UKs. In Britain there is at present only one large partner and only two small ones, plus Northern Ireland which frankly will never be a full partner in the British union.

    And last point, Labour’s North East assembly failed because it was a powerless talking shop that deserved to fail. That does not mean that there aren’t many in the regions completely tired with the southeast bias within England and keen on regional control of real policy. You only have to look at how much of the English reaction on Scots independence stories is jealousy mixed with the daft (hopefully tongue in cheek) idea of moving the border to the Humber to realise that.

  • Kevin Colwill 27th Jul '14 - 6:49pm

    Unless England are playing football, doing exceptionally well in rugby or have a good run in cricket… it doesn’t exist.
    There is no England, i.e. there is no shared agenda across all the English regions.

    London is it’s own country, the North shares little in common with the Midlands and the South West… well let’s say if you’ll never get it if you think Swindon or even Gloucestershire is in the South West you’ll never “get” it.

    An English assembly only seems preferable to English regionalism if you live in the South East.

  • “I can’t help but feel that people who say Vote No to Independence because we really want Federalism are falling into the same electoral trap as the ones who in 2011 voted No to AV because they really wanted STV.”

    Absolutely right. The Labcon spinners are now loudly declaiming that a No vote means a win for devo-max. Those same spinners will soon hope cynically to declaim that a narrow defeat for Yes has meant an end to the SNP, humiliation for Salmond, victory for London and London-based oligarchs from home and abroad, and an end to all this foolish talk of power for the provinces.

    It would be crazy to break up the UK. It would be even crazier to leave it in the hands of the oligarchs.

    A real Lib Dem Party would be out campaigning for devo max. It would have a second unofficial ballot outside all the polling stations to record an unofficial vote for that option. However, we don’t have a real Lib Dem party any more. We have a supine party who would like to be in permanent government, and whose promise to the big parties is that they won’t ever stand on their principles, or rock any boats.

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