Tag Archives: federalism

Liverpool – a Federal Capital for the United Kingdom?

Should the capital of the United Kingdom should be moved from London to Liverpool?

For as long as I can remember the Liberal Democrats and the Liberals before them have been committed to a federal United Kingdom, but there have been many views about the exact form this federation should take.

The advantages of federalism are obvious. It separates macro-economic, foreign policy and defence decisions which have to be taken at a national level, and brings all other decision-making closer to those affected, resulting usually in better informed, and so better, decisions.

The …

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Leaving London

Britain is one of the most overcentralized countries in the Western world. Our political and financial institutions are concentrated in London, perpetuating regional inequality and overburdening the capital’s underfunded public services.

London might be open but it’s also full: strangers share bedrooms; commuters collapse on crowded trains, gentrification ravages local communities, savings accounts stay empty and the Westminster bubble remains as tight and cosy as ever.

There seems to be no end in sight to London-centrism. Jobs flow to London without serious consideration being paid to whether or not they might be better off elsewhere. For example, in 2015 George Osborne decided …

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Looking beyond Brexit

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce.

In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future.

Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order:

  • Improve Benefits. Universal Credit could have been a good idea, but under-funding has hit it hard and people are suffering. Improving the funding is a good place to start. We also need to go further. It is a scandal to have people needing to use food banks or losing the roof over their head because of the way the system works. I’ve spoken with people struggling to live on benefits, who voted Leave in the desperate hope that things would improve.
  • Wealth inequality. Back in the autumn, Vince Cable put forward a raft of tax reforms to make the system fairer, especially around inheritance and investment income and pensions. Univeral Basic Income has been on the edge of discussions for a long time. It is time to take it seriously — it can’t be done overnight, but it is time to start the conversation as a way to pick up where we are, and fears around the way in which technology is reshaping the world.
  • Brexit has pushed climate change from the top of the agenda. People have every reason to be worried. That means is that it is high time to turn that worry into action — around renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, zero carbon housing, improved public transport, and more.
  • The Blair government had some good ideas on devolution, with elected regional assemblies and pulling government offices and development to the same boundaries. The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.
  • It’s time to talk openly about federalism. Too often it’s a dirty word in British (or at least, English) politics. It’s time to dispatch the myth that it is about centralising power and put the case for doing centrally only what needs to be done there and pushing decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. That applies as much to devolving power from Westminster as it does devolving it from Brussels.
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Against comfort blanket constitutionalism

At Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, I committed a cardinal liberal offence. I voted against a pro-federalism motion, moved by Robert Brown and Lord Purvis. I opposed in sorrow and anger at the Party’s stasis on the constitutional question. I was also annoyed that attempts some of us made to secure a more robust debate at Conference on federalism, were rebuffed by Conference Committee. We were made to feel that the party bureaucracy did not want a real clash of ideas for Conference to resolve democratically.

The motion didn’t take practical steps towards advancing federalism any further than the Party already had. Its tone, if anything, made federalism more difficult to advance. Siobhan Mathers was right when she said in the debate that Lib Dems are excessively high-minded, believing they had more influence than was the reality on further devolution. Though the Campbell Commission reported first, it was outflanked by the Tory proposals on critical areas like welfare. The Party seems reluctant just to admit that, whatever the proximate cause, we lost our radical edge. We did not adapt to the shifting constitutional landscape even before the independence referendum.

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Gordon Brown shows Lib Dems must go further on federalism

I went to see a speech by Gordon Brown on the future of Scotland on Thursday evening. Given the current state of Scottish politics I might well have expected an impassioned attack on the SNP and a confident denunciation of independence.

Instead he was remarkably conciliatory on nationalism, given the past positions of the Labour party. He came out as a third-questioner – the never-offered option that has consistently found majority support. He called for a constitutional convention to address what he sees as the big issue in British politics – the ability of England to dominate politics due to its sheer size. He set out the case for special protections for the smaller nations, like in almost every other devolved country. He believed that Scots want something “as close as possible to federalism”.

He made no attacks on the SNP and even gave them some backhanded praise – surely their support for keeping the pound means they realise that the UK is a natural economic grouping? Instead he attacked the Tories – for cutting welfare and playing politics with EVEL – what other country gives special protection to the majority over the minority? The ìVowî was at risk of being broken he warned; Westminster may yet maintain a veto over key welfare powers.

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Opinion: Federalism and Constitutions

When I was 17 I took AS level politics, it was possibly the most unpopular subject in school,  my most abiding memory of this class  was talking about constitutions. We went into great theoretical depth about the type and purpose of constitutions before discussing whether or not the UK should have one. Everyone just assumed that having a codified and entrenched constitution (aka written constitution) was a far off fantasy that served no real purpose; we hardly even bothered mooting the positives of such a document.

The Scottish independence referendum has made it abundantly clear that the UK will be changed forever. A central plank of the Yes campaign was the writing of a new constitution. The very fact that no one, on either side, questioned the need for an Independent Scotland to have a constitution shows that people in the UK aren’t uniquely incapable of grasping the case for a constitution but rather the fact that things seem to be OK right now so why bother? There is, simply put, no impetus for a UK constitution.

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Opinion: More powers are not on the ballot paper

Scottish Parliament 23 May 06 067The three unionist parties – and, yes, that seems to include us – have united to promise more powers if Scotland votes No tomorrow.

But what are they offering, and is it “guaranteed”? I don’t question Ming’s sincerity when he claims that federalism is within touching distance but I seriously question his optimism.

Our own party has its plans for fairly radical change (though calling it federalism is stretching a point, and our policy is now entangled with plans for devolution on demand in the rest of the UK). Two and a half years ago we had the opportunity to have our version of federalism on the ballot paper. While not constitutionally definitive, the likely large majority this option could have won would have given it strong political traction.  But our Inverness conference rejected it in a nasty wave of anti-SNP rhetoric.

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Opinion: Federalism and hypothecation do not mix

I was dismayed to read in Mohsin Khan’s recent piece calling for an NHS contribution that the leadership is, again, considering an NHS tax.

How history repeats itself. Ten or so years ago, when working for the Welsh Party, I opposed plans for what the Federal Policy Committee was then also referring to as an NHS contribution. My contention was, and remains, that a commitment to a Federal UK is not compatible with hypothecated taxation.

Whilst taxes are collected at a UK level, spending priorities are determined by devolved institutions. In our devolved context, any claim that a tax is truly hypothecated is simply dishonest. We could not guarantee that a centrally collected NHS tax would be spent on the NHS in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.  It is impossible to require a particular portion of taxation to be spent in the devolved nations on specific areas without requiring them to do so by law.  This would laugh in the face of the liberal principle of subsidiarity and is clearly a non-starter.

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Danny Alexander and David Torrance discuss the Independence Referendum

imageIt is an hour and six minutes of your life you won’t get back, but it is actually worth listening to this conversation between Danny Alexander and political commentator David Torrance as part of Dundee University’s Five Million Questions project.

David has just written a book on Federalism so it was obvious he was going to be quizzing Danny on that subject.

It’s also available on You Tube here. Enjoy. It’s much better than a lot of the hot air around the independence referendum.

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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

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The Independent View: Scotland, vote no and let’s all move towards a Federal UK

Brazil v Scotland 22As an outsider, analysis about September’s Scottish Independence Referendum is something of a minefield. There is space to constructively critique the SNP’s proposals, but needs to recognise that I don’t have a vote, and that Lord Robertson-style hyperbole about a Scottish “cataclysm” is not just offensive – and for unionists, counterproductive – it is inaccurate, too.

So let me begin by making clear that in my CentreForum paper analysing Scottish independence published today, I believe that Scotland is perfectly capable of becoming an …

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