Absolutely wonderful result last night. The Scottish people rejected the false “pie in the sky” Socialist Utopian promises of the SNP and did it by a better than expected 10 point margin. Very good result indeed. Writing in the Daily Telegraph with his usual eloquence, Daniel Hannan, perfectly expresses how people who love the United Kingdom are felling today now that the great union is saved today.
But now there is that “vow” thing made by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. Constitutional change is coming. The devolution made by Labour under Blair was reckless and almost broke up the union by giving only Celtic ancient countries (mostly for Scotland but also Wales and Northern Ireland) devolved powers but left the majority of the country, England, with no devolved powers. Thus, it is good and welcome today that the Prime Minister is wanting more devolved powers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in addition to the “devo max” being offered to Scotland. English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish are all British. In this devolved settlement Scotland should not get preferential treatment like they did under New Labour.
What should not happen in a more federalised United Kingdom.
1. No English Parliament. Tim Montogomerie, among others in the Tory party, have recently called for an English Parliament to handle English matters. This idea is absolutely ghastly to me. First of all, England is home to 55 million out of the 65 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom. This English assembly/parliament would thus not only represent the vast majority of Britain’s inhabitants but creating a new assembly to represent more people than every nation in Europe outside Russia, Germany, France and Italy would not do anything to create more “grassroots” or “close to the people” representation that is the very point of devolution and federalism. Further, it would make the House of Commons fairly pointless- it would just delegate them to foreign affairs. Worst of all it would just add another pointless layer of government and regulations in England. So in this English Parliament world there would now be regulations and law from them, and then from the Westminster Parliament and then councils- not to mention the EU! Adding extra layers of government to represent 55 million people- stupid. Rather there is a very simple solution to the “English Question”- if the matter in Commons only concerns England have only English MPs vote on it. No extra government, no new taxes.
2. Regional Assemblies. Better idea than an English Parliament but still an unnecessary addition of layers of government. What is the point of having counties and town councils when you want to pile another regional government as a half way point between it and Westminster? In America, states have been reduced to regional assembly status (they were originally supposed to handle the primary responsibility of governing) and with our powerful federal government it generally just adds more regulations and headaches. No to that idea. (Here is what it is proposed to look like though: https://twitter.com/RGTyler/status/512740379154583552/photo/1)
3. Abolishing Lords and Replacing it with a Assembly chosen by the Counties/Cities/Regional Assemblies. We have experience with this one in America. For the first 125 years after the constitution was implemented, our Senate was composed this way. Then people decided that it was really silly to have the state legislators choose the Senators and just decided to directly elect the Senators. The temptation and end result would be the same in the United Kingdom and a British Senate would end up just competing with the House of Commons, as in the United States Congress, or giving it headaches like it does in Australia.
Honestly, Lords works just fine. The life peers, hereditary peers (in their diminished role), law lords and bishops bring their life experience and expertise and tinker with the bills passed by Commons to create the best laws possible. The Lords are good at pointing out flaws passed by the politicians and making new laws fit with the constitution. Are there too many people in Lords? Yes, Labour of course crammed the place too much in their time in power, because, among other reasons, they were mad about Lords fighting them on fox hunting. But the government promised the Lords a position for life, a civilised government does not just renig on its promises. However, most importantly, the constitution, the oldest in the world, works just fine having Commons make the laws and Lords tinker. No need to change that. As the expression goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
What to do- Empower the Counties and Devolved Assemblies.
A federalised United Kingdom is long overdue. Great Britian is one of the most centralised countries in the world. But while having government smaller and closer to the people is better for the most democratic decisions possible, having too many layers of overreaching government defeats the very purpose of having strong local government. Thus, as explained above, let’s not add any more government. Rather, let’s give greater powers to county governments, giving them most control of areas that affect people’s lives- tax, community planning and district rezoning among others.
Currently, the greater London Authority (mayor and assembly) represents the most people of any governing body under Westminster at 8 million people. Second would be Scotland at 5 million, third Wales at 3 million, fourth the West Midlands, 7th would be Northern Ireland and lastly, the Isles of Scilly with a tiny 2,200 person population. My plan calls for giving all the big devolved governments the exact same amount of devolved power- London, Scotland, Manchester and Kent, for example- all the same. These powers devolved to them should mean control of their NHS, control of their MP districts, planning and/or handing out permits for new building and housing permits as well as education. Obviously, smaller counties such as the Isles of Scilly would still have to have more of their decisions handed down from Westminster due to their inability to raise as much tax revenue as their contemporaries, but the government should devolve as much power as possible.
Back on February 1 of this year, I wrote in Conservative Home of the need for a 20/10/0 tax structure and the delegation of Westminster responsibility to “four corners” of governance. Those four corners would be: “¼ of the budget goes to NHS, ¼ to military, diplomacy and foreign aid, ¼ to infrastructure, and other government economic investment projects and ¼ to pensions, welfare to the neediest and other government social programmes to help the most vulnerable.” The rest can really be handled by the new devolved assemblies- government institutions already in place.
Best of all, with increased tax powers, education and constituency drawing powers, different regions will have the ability to be “laboratories of democracy.” Those who want less tax, such as Kent will likely be able to lure businesses that socialist places like Liverpool will likely not be able to. This also would let certain counties fund education and set standards to be in line with the locals community standards and belief and avoiding national clashes like we saw in Michael Gove v. the Teachers Unions on a national level.
As Boris Johnson said today “Beautiful, Bouncing Britain is reborn!” To use a “Borisism” let’s be sure to that Great Britain rises like a Phoenix from the Scottish Referendum ashes and creates a dynamic, fairer United Kingdom for the future.
(And oh ya, let’s vote out the EU in 2017).