Expert Comment: Re-uniting a kingdomFriday 19 September 2014
Dr Michael Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Liverpool Hope discusses the implications of the no vote, and where the United Kingdom can go from here.
So Scotland has voted No. It is very clear that this is the beginning of a debate, not an end to it. Scotland has already been promised “devo-max", the ‘bribe’ of significant additional powers offered late in the campaign.
If this is done on a piecemeal basis, it will simply be shoring up trouble for the future. Instead, this is an opportunity for a thorough and very long overdue overhaul of the political system in the UK. I would suggest that there are certain obvious things that need to be considered.
First of all, a proper federal structure needs to be put in place to accommodate not just Scotland but also the other regions of the United Kingdom. The UK has always been a multi-national state, and a federal structure is the best way of catering for this. A federal system would provide an agreed formal basis for Scotland, and would also accommodate the interests of Wales, Northern Ireland and whatever emerges in England – a single English assembly, or a few regional ones.
A federal system would require the creation of a formal codified Constitution for the UK, setting out which powers will be held by the central government and which will be allocated to the regional bodies. And an added bonus would be that a constitution would also provide a guarantee of fundamental human rights and civil rights.
If there is a federal constitution, there would need to be a federal supreme court, whose job would be to ensure that neither central government nor the regional authorities exceeds their powers. This would be a straightforward development, since a UK Supreme Court was established in 2009.
A federal UK would also require a thorough redesign of parliament. Two developments would be crucial. First of all, the House of Lords would need to be turned into something more like a ’House of Nations’ which would give a formal parliamentary voice to the regions. Second, this would be a clear opportunity to introduce a new electoral system, perhaps with proportional representation for the House of Commons while retaining a majoritarian system for the House of Nations.
Finally, the United Kingdom and its regions do not exist in isolation. The British-Irish Council already exists to provide a forum where the various political institutions from Britain and Ireland can work together to solve problems of common concern. The development of a federal UK is an opportunity to strengthen and develop this Council in a way which would promote peaceful and harmonious relations between all nations and cultures on the ‘WISE’ (Wales-Ireland-Scotland-England) islands.
But it is not up to me or any other expert to dictate what exactly should emerge. Instead, the first step ought to be a Constitutional Convention, which would be charged with drafting a new constitutional settlement. By all means, such a Convention should consult legal, economic, political science experts. But it should also be open to input and ideas from all citizens of the state. This would be the best basis for building a strong 'United Federal Kingdom.'
Dr Michael Holmes is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Liverpool Hope.