Archive for the ‘Mess of Union!’ Category

Comments on “UK votes for UK laws” & “Devolution to Cities” - by Robin Baker

Mercredi, octobre 1st, 2014

UK votes for UK Laws

Christopher Chantrey’s article is excellent, well written and clearly argued. I just have one problem with it; I am not convinced.

That is because of a particular feature of the United Kingdom, which has led to the current structure: its imbalance. The UK is not comparable to Canada where the four major provinces have 86% of the population. In the UK, 84% live in England alone. That led to concerns in the other countries that, with a government chosen by the English dominated parliament, they were being swamped and their interests overlooked. Hence the demand for their own parliaments or assemblies. For the same reason there is no such concern in England and hence no appetite for an English parliament. But there is concern about too much government and its cost, which is why I do not believe that the idea of an English parliament and, inevitably, a separate English government accountable to it, will every fly.

Also it would all take too long, because the West Lothian question must be resolved as and when further powers are devolved to Holyrood. Since devolution, so far some legislation on education in England has been passed only with the support of Scottish Labour MPs. That is unfair. English votes for English laws could solve that. But we will soon be in a new ball game. The Scots have been promised “extensive new powers for the Scottish Parliament”. These will include powers relating to taxation. If the Scottish Parliament can vote on part of the taxes paid by the Scots, that means that the Westminster Parliament must vote separately on taxes paid by other UK citizens. To have such taxes passed only because of the support of Scottish MPs would not just be unfair, it would be intolerable. And since Milliband will not commit himself on this issue, I want to see the Conservative Party campaign not just on English votes for English laws but on English votes for English taxes. Then we will see how Milliband responds to the English electorate on that. Of course such a system would be a great disadvantage to the Labour party, but they should have thought of that before they introduced devolution in the first place.

All this has been considered by the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons, set up in 2012 and chaired by Sir William McKay. It reported in March last year and its conclusions can be summarised by:
“Decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England-and-Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England-and-Wales).
This principle should be adopted by a resolution of the House of Commons and the generalised principle endorsed.
The internal processes of the UK Government for preparing legislation should include separate consideration of the interests of England.
Devolution arrangements all contain legislative provisions which preserve the sovereignty of the UK Parliament. Similarly the principle contains flexibility to cover cases where the situation is not “normal” and where the interests of the whole of the UK need to be given greater weight than the interests of one part of it. The right of the House of Commons as a whole to make the final decision should remain. But there should be political accountability for any departure from the norm.”

So the analysis and the thinking have been done, the report has been published, we now just need to implement it.

Devolution to Cities

Michael Webster makes a good argument for further devolution to local councils. That is an interesting case but a complicated one because it would raise the whole question of local government finance. I do not think that it could work with a tax system that is not based on ability to pay. Let’s have a discussion meeting about it.

Robin Baker

UK votes for UK laws - by Christopher Chantrey

Jeudi, septembre 25th, 2014

The referendum on Scottish independence was bound to change the United Kingdom, whichever way the vote finally went. And since the result was announced on 19th September, the debate about the future of the UK has been as passionate as the campaign in Scotland was.

But aren’t calls for “English votes for English laws” and bids to re-open the “West Lothian question” getting in the way of the real issues?

Ever since the end of the 1990s, when Labour introduced devolved assemblies for three out of the four component parts of the UK , what was missing was an integrated, overall scheme for managing all the component parts of the UK in a fair and democratic manner, under a unifying, central authority. In other words, clear, workable constitutional arrangements… of the kind that other countries take for granted.

This isn’t an easy subject for us Brits to get to grips with. It forces us to use words we hate using, like the “c” words (as in Constitution and citizenship), the “f” word (as in federal), and the “n” word (as in nationality), none of which we are comfortable with at all. It’s much easier, for example, to talk about someone holding this or that passport (a convenient travel document issued on demand to those citizens desiring to travel abroad) than to use the “n” word. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to get used to it.

Let me ease you into the debate by inviting you to compare and contrast these two diagrams.

organization-charts

One of them shows a type of structure in use the world over in organizations of all kinds, including sovereign states. The other one is hardly used at all, with one notable exception. Which of them seems to you to be the better way of organizing an entity that consists of four component parts and a surrounding unifying structure?

Once we’ve agree on that, we shall have to conclude that, for an entity with four component parts and a surrounding unifying structure, we shall need not four, but five management structures.

Then, we shall have to decide which activities should be managed at the level of the unifying structure, and which at the level of the component parts.

Those are the basic decisions that have to be taken before you can get into which structure should be put where, and who should sit in this or that part of it.

It will take time, but hang on, we’ve done this before. In 1867 we drew up the basis for the sharing of power in Canada between the federal government in Ottawa and the (now) 16 provincial governments. In 1900, we did something similar for Australia, dividing responsibilities between Canberra and the states and territories. After the war, the UK took a major role, together with the other Allied Powers, in drafting the 1949 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany. Each of these cases proved the general rule: the number of government structures you need is the number of component parts plus one, the surrounding unifying structure.

Of course we are more familiar with terms like provinces (as in Canada) or states (as in Australia or Germany) than “components”. I am using the term “components” merely for convenience, so that are not distracted by the fact that the UK’s component parts are two kingdoms, a principality and a province. That they have different names does not matter: the need is to affirm their equal status. All the country examples I have just quoted call their surrounding unifying structure the federal government, based on a federal parliament and executive.

On the subject of status, note that disparate size of components need not automatically cause a problem. Of Canada’s 16 provinces, the largest (Ontario) has a population 92 times larger than the smallest (Prince Edward Island). Of Germany’s 16 states, the largest (Nordrhein-Westfalen) is over 26 times the size of the smallest (Bremen).

Another thing to note is that in terms of elected representatives, you either sit in a state or provincial parliament, or in the federal parliament, but not both.

I believe it will help us to move more swiftly to the kind of new constitutional arrangements that the UK needs, and which were envisaged by Mr Cameron on 19th September, if we understand these concepts sooner rather than later. After all, they are not complicated, our universities contain a number of extremely competent and distinguished constitutional lawyers who are raring to get going on this, and we do have some experience of doing this sort of thing for other countries.

Once the division of responsibilities is clear, then we can debate whether Westminster should be the English parliament or the UK parliament; where we should put the assembly which Westminster is not, which Westminster MPs should sit in each, and how and when we should make the transition. There are arguments for putting the assembly which Westminster is not, in some other part of the UK, perhaps in the north of England. But wherever it is located, one aspect must not be overlooked: the UK parliament must make adequate arrangements for the representation of the 9% of Britons who live outside the UK. Oh, dear, the “n” word again…

Christopher Chantrey

Scottish Referendum - A Message from Sir Roger Gale MP

Mercredi, septembre 10th, 2014

Good morning

Folks in far-flung places and those closer to home,

If you have family or friends or contacts who are eligible to vote in Scotland next week would you be kind enough to impress upon them the importance of the “No” vote to maintain the Union.

At the Battle Of Britain dinner in the House last night the point was made that it was at this time of year that so many of our young airmen gave their lives in the defence of the United Kingdom. The break-up of the Union would have disastrous consequences not just for Scotland but for the whole future of what most of us have worked all our lives for and hold dear.

That, of course, will embrace not only domestic but overseas interests as well.

We are making considerable progress over the right of Britons resident overseas to vote (and if you are eligible but have not yet registered please do so) and there are even some glimmerings – although I would not wish to overstate the case – of light on the pensions uprating front. We shall be stronger together.

This is a crucial moment in our Island`s history and we really do need to muster all of the support available.

With very best wishes

Roger - (Sir Roger Gale MP)

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Why the French Government doesn’t want a “Yes” Vote in the Scottish Referendum

Lundi, août 25th, 2014

Here’s a useful article by journalist Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris on why the French government doesn’t want a “yes” vote in the upcoming Scottish referendum.

http://w ww.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28739399

“Nothing unites different nations quite like mutual enemies. But the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France - both historic rivals of England - doesn’t mean that the French government favours Scottish independence. Far from it.”

“France is not Spain, where the precedent Scotland might set for Catalonia is very real. Here the regions make a lot of noise, but there is no risk of separation.”

“No, for France the argument against Scottish independence is our dream of a strong United Kingdom, fully engaged in Europe, whose purpose is to counter-balance a Germany that gets more powerful every year.”

“Anything that detracts from that strong United Kingdom - as Scottish independence would do - goes against French ambitions in Europe.”

The problem of Scotland

Mercredi, août 13th, 2014

Here’s an interesting article by Andrew Smithers writing in the on-line Financial Times on 13th August, 2014 and from which an extract is quoted below.

“Scotland is anti-Thatcher. The stated objections to Thatcher are that she was nasty and divisive. But the Scottish admire divisive people such as Nye Bevan, who called Conservatives “vermin”, Arthur Scargill, who aimed to bring down an elected government and succeeded in bringing down an industry, and Alex Salmond, whose style is often divisive and his aim always. The real objection to Thatcher is that she seems to have been right and her opponents therefore wrong. Her economic policies were aimed at increasing the pot rather than worrying about its division. If, as I expect, devolution weakens Scotland’s dependency culture, its government will shift in this direction. It will be fascinating to observe Scotland becoming more Thatcherite while pretending not to do so. Thatcherite policies will have to be relabelled, but this will be easy for good marketing men and, if you are in politics and not good at marketing, then you are in the wrong job.”

A Splendid Mess of a Union!

Samedi, mai 10th, 2014

At last a positive and emotional view of the Union with Scotland by historian Simon Schama, writing in The Financial Times of 9th May, 2014.

“A splendid mess of a union should not be torn asunder.
Scotland’s exit from Britain’s multicultural unity would be a disaster.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/085b4586-d5fc-11e3-a239-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz31IfNXNr8