A Federal Britain?

 I write as one who would not have disturbed the union and see devolution as the most pernicious and reckless act amongst many already perpetrated by the Blair government .  But it is done and cannot realistically be undone.  So the  question the English must now of necessity address is not how to put the union back together again, but how best to guard their own country and  interest.  This is a matter of  urgency,  indeed self-preservation, for  Labour  have made it clear that English interests will not merely be casually neglected by this government, but placed under active attack.

The sense of national identity and the political power of the Scots and the Welsh is enhanced by devolution. It gives them considerable control over their domestic affairs, strengthens their ability to deal directly with non-British agencies such as the EU and, most importantly, provides assemblies for the expression of their national aspirations.

 England, on the other hand, merely loses by devolution.  As things stand, she will continue to pay heavy subsidies to the Scotch, Welsh and Irish; Scotch, Welsh and Irish members will continue to vote on all English matters and  Scots, Welsh and Irish ministers will help to determine policy which affects only the English. On the other hand, English MPs will be denied an opportunity to vote on many important areas of Scots, Welsh and Irish legislation and English ministers prevented from forming policy on domestic Celtic matters.

What would be the most stable solution to this mess of devolution? As the UK is comprised of four peoples who think of themselves as nations, the only devolved system with any hope of long term survival is a federation in which each constituent part is legally equal and responsible for its own domestic affairs.  (It might even be possible to bring the Republic of Ireland within such a federation). 

How would it work? There would be  home rule in each of the four home  countries and expenditure on all domestic matters in each country  raised from within each country. The federal government would be restricted to general matters such as defence, foreign policy, the issuing of currency and  the servicing of government debt. Payment by each country for these matters would be proportionate to the population of each country. Any other system, which in effect could only mean England subsidising the rest of the UK must mean one of two things: English political dominance, which would incite the age old Celtic hatreds of England, or ever growing  English resentment of the Celts. Both would be a road to the dissolution of the UK.

There  would be no need for additional politicians or hideously expensive new Parliamentary buildings.  Indeed, the number of politicians could be  reduced. This could be achieved by the Commons being used as the English Parliament and the members elected to the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments coming together in the Commons (or the Lords)  when federal matters  were discussed.

However, the devil as ever would be in the detail. For example, in our present circumstances it is only too easy to see the quislings who rule us offering a deal on the  funding of federal matters which would be unfavourable to England, for example, England taking a disproportionate part of the burden of funding the UK national debt and defence.   

The other problem with a federal system would the inability of any of the Celtic Fringe nations to maintain a First World style of living  if they had to live off their own tax receipts, a position considerably worsened if  they took a proportionate share of the UK national debt. Even if Scotland had control of their part of the British oil and gas reserves, it is dubious whether they  could keep up a reasonable standard of living; Wales and Northern Ireland definitely could not. If the Celts had to pay for  a share  proportionate to their population of  (1)  the UK national debt, (2) the funding of the banking  bail-out, both that which has happened and may happen  and  (3) the federal  expenditure such as defence and foreign affairs together with taking responsibility for the PFI/PPP funding and local authority debt  in their own countries it is probable that their economies would simply collapse.

It is important to understand how  dependent the Celts are on England ) Approximately £15 billion a year  extra goes from England to the Celts each year because the per capita Treasury funding is around £1,500 higher than that given to England. Not only that,  but tax receipts in the Celtic Fringe are per capita substantially lower than they are in England.  In addition, the Celts have much higher proportions of their national GDPs  deriving  from public service employment . This means that more of the tax collected  from the Celts is simply a book-keeping measure because  tax deducted from public service employees’ wages is simply moving money from one government ledger to another.  It is only the tax taken from wealth which is freshly generated which really counts. ( for references to back the assertions in this paragraph see on this see https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/celtic-hands-deep-in-english-taxpayers%e2%80%99-pockets/)

To these easily quantifiable  benefits may be added a disproportionate Celtic share of government subsidies to bribe firms into setting up factories on inappropriate sites and a  large share of public jobs not related to domestic  Celtic affairs.  Scotland, for example, administers much of England’s social security, PAYE and schedule D tax and has a disproportionate number of army regiments; Wales plays host to the Vehicle Licensing Centre; Ulster contains the Short shipyard.

The benefits the Celts receive from their association within the UK extend to the intangible but inestimable advantages of free trade with England and the assurance which being part of a prosperous and advanced nation state of fifty eight million  gives foreign investors and  companies.  Most importantly for small peoples, the Celts  receive  the  protection of the British state, which would be nothing without England.

The removal of English subsidies would significantly reduce expenditure immediately. Companies would be less likely to situate themselves in Scotland because of reduced grants. Public service jobs would reduce as England repatriated work dealing with English people and issues. Defence expenditure would be concentrated in England. The result would be increased unemployment and soaring welfare demands. It is  also probable that the more able and better qualified Celts would emigrate, largely to England. 

An equal federal system  would indubitably seriously  disadvantage the Celts,  but it would still preserve the benefits of being part of a long established and wealthy state, which gives diplomatic clout, military protection and assurance of political and commercial stability.  This should impress upon the Celts the reality of their situation, namely, that they have long been pensioners of England and that  if  having home rule might be hard,  going it alone would be much worse. Hence, a federal system in which each of the four parts of the UK was granted the same powers and responsibilities could cement the Union,  because it would force the Celts to a realisation of what full independence could mean. Sadly, I think it would be impractical.

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5 Responses to A Federal Britain?

  1. Rather than the ‘protection’ of the UK state give my the solidarity of a truly federal Europe of a hundred flags any day.

    The Cornish Republican

  2. Michele says:

    Oh Look – Here’s a sensible debate about the union, and as soon as someone suggests that England should have some democratic fairness … up pops Phillip again, and again and again.

    Stop hijacking the debate you fool – your only chance to achieve what you monotonouslyhark on about- self determination for Cornwall – is with an English parliament. Without that in place first you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell!!

    And even then you would have to convince the people of Cornwall – most of whom (except for your very little coterie of hopefuls) actually think you’re six quid short of a fiver!!

  3. graham wood says:

    An excellent and much needed comment – positive, full of realism, and IMO the only way ahead. Robert writes:

    “So the question the English must now of necessity address is not how to put the union back together again, but how best to guard their own country and interest. This is a matter of urgency”
    I fully agree, and it would would directly redress the many anomalies of the devolved four nations, and kill other birds with the same stone. Above all it would give for the first time in years full place and consideration to the English as a nation and a much fairer democratic representation which is denied them at present.
    Unfortunately we do not have such men of vision in our Westminster Parliament who are mentally impoverished and so emeshed in their own petty party interests which render them blind to the bigger picture. That vision and debate Robert has initiated and argued well. Where do we go from here?
    In my book one of the very first priorities is of course to break out of that other undemocratic federal union – the EU, but htat is another story and for another time.

  4. Philip R Hosking says:

    ‘Democratic fairness’…. You don’t seem to be displaying much of that in wishing to prevent me from giving my point of view do you? Ah yes the Cornish fly in the English nationalists soup. I’m sure you’d love to stamp on us wouldn’t you? Such maturity clearly shows that English nationalist must be ready for some responsibility.

    Your insults really don’t impress me and I think say more about your character than anything else. If anything the anger of an individual like yourself is fuel for me, but I’ll give you a chance. If you want to have an adult debate then try and addresses the points below.

    Perhaps you could explain how an English parliament would benefit Cornwall or benefit our campaign for devolution?

    “except for your very little coterie of hopefuls” Does this include the 50,000 who signed a petition calling for a Cornish assembly or the 37% of school kids who identify as Cornish rather than English or British? Perhaps you mean our three Lib Dem MP’s (and the people who voted for them) who support Cornish devolution?

  5. efgd says:

    Late for the debate – story of my life.
    David Cameron has publicly stated that he wants a UK, so there is no hope in parliament at the moment, as I am sure Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband wish to straddle the UK powerhouse. I do object to having to bailout Wales and Scotland – it would be good to see then raise their own funding for the “free services” which we in England have to pay for. I mean all the funding aka Robert’s suggestion, “There would be home rule in each of the four home countries and expenditure on all domestic matters in each country raised from within each country.”

    Good blog once again Robert.

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